Why Christians hate metaphor


God is a metaphor

Of all concepts, God is the one grasped, of necessity, entirely through metaphor. Father and King are popular ones.

God is a father. Really? Then half of me came from his penis. “Naw! Dat naasty,” says the average American Protestant. “Dat just mean he yo creaduh.”

It is the role of theology to debug and clean-up the embarrassing metaphors that constitute original mythology. The Hebrew war god was a father, once. But for the sake of plausibility his semen was replaced with clay. The story guardians decided that God made people by molding clay figurines and blowing onto them like Dr. Frankenstein. The demotion of God from Sky Father to Sky Sculptor was the greatest advance in early Hebrew myth-making, but still way far behind the Indians, who self-consciously demoted the gods to psychological metaphors long before anyone else.

The English word God is etymologically mythical-parental. There are two possible Proto-Indo-European roots for God. One is “to pour, libate”; the other, “to call, to invoke.” The latter derives from “one to whom sacrifices are made.” This is the god of mythical thinking—the god who does favors for favors received. I give God something valuable (oil), and God gives me what I want in return. So the English God is parental in its etymology.

When I use the word God I really mean Urgrund, or original ground of existence. For this reason, I will use the word Urgrund when I mean God proper, and God when I mean the cleaned-up Yahveh popular these days.

Meaning (like sensation) is internal to consciousness

Actually, all meaning is metaphor. The meaning of a concept is intelligible only as multipart collection of other concepts, so our grasp of meaning is in fact representation or unpacking by metaphor. For example, the perception of a table is grasped through metaphor—wood block and supporting surface are completely separate concepts. Even numbers are metaphors. There are no numbers out there in the sense world. However, we can embody the activity of counting, where we cut spatialized time and then recombine the parts into sums. By abstracting from the act and the material, ghostly numbers appear.

Everyone admits that consciousness does not grasp the inner reality of things due to the fact that sensation is a modification of consciousness. Color is the typical example. Red is created by the subject, only exists for the subject, and so must exist in the subject. The objective world outside the subject only has position and movement.

Taken together, sensations make a sense-world, which we take to be a point-of-view on the physical universe. The sense-world is the universe that you see yourself in right now. But the stuff of the sense-world (sensations) are modes of the subject. Sense-objects are made of the very same stuff that you can control in your imagination. Anything you imagine is made of subjectivity. You know that the red of the car is subjective because you can make red by yourself in your imagination. Pictures and sounds and tastes and smells and feels (hotness, roughness, coldness, softness, puncture pain, wetness, air blowing) are created at your command. You are god of your imagination, and your imagination is internal to consciousness.

The objects of sensation are really subject-internal effects of subject-external causes. We all know that colors are not properties inside of things, but only how my receptive fields are perturbed by the impact of their surfaces.

Meaning, like sensation, is internal to the subject. The meaning of one concept is fabricated out of others—out of concepts that it is not. Meaning-making uses the internal to re-present what is presented from outside the self. Everything is made of what it is not. We cannot access things and understand them without propping them up from underneath.

Biblical meaning is therapeutic, not journalistic

So meaning generally is metaphor, and non-empirical meaning in particular is necessarily metaphorical—consciousness is breath, God is sky father, angels are sky-born (and so fly like birds). We can call this universal nature of meaning as metaphor the first level of Biblical metaphor.

The second level of Biblical metaphor is the fact that we explicitly use the story elements as personal metaphors for therapeutic purposes. Bible stories are almost always explicitly interpreted (applied) as metaphor. When you hear a great sermon, it’s because the preacher has used it as a metaphor for the struggles, suffering, and psychodynamics of his listeners. You have been a Moses leading yourself out of the Egypt of addiction. You have been crucified with Christ during your divorce, and, like Christ, you will be resurrected into a higher order of existence soon. Suffering makes us grow, just like Jesus.

Despite our reliance on metaphor at every step of the meaning-making process (especially for non-empirical concepts like God and consciousness) Christians insist that the key concepts of their religion refer to historical facts. And if you tell a believer that the immaculate conception of Mary, the virgin birth of Jesus, the death-and-resurrection of Jesus, and the ascension of Jesus, the function of Jesus as sacrificial Lamb of God—that these are metaphors, he will protest.

Having rejected the authority of interpretive community, Protestants find authority in the text of the Bible. Metaphors can be authoritative—if they are apt. But Protestant text worship ties authority with historicity. The presumption is that a metaphor’s aptness isn’t good enough. For the Protestant, there are no metaphors, only physical descriptions. To the Protestant, saying that a Biblical description is metaphorical is a threat to the Bible’s core value, which is being a true summary of everything important.