Jesse Galef did an excellent article showing the problem with “Metaphorical Truth“. He analyzes the issue beautifully. Below is my take on it. But be sure to read his short article.
Did George Washington cut down a cherry tree and then confess his misdeed, or didn’t he? If he did, we have more evidence that George was an honest man. Indeed that is the exact intent of the author —Parson Weems. But if George did not cut down that cherry tree, we are still lacking evidence. George may have been an honest man, but we should not look to this myth as evidence.
Is the Bible true? Fortunately, many liberal/progressive Christians are now willing to concede that much of the Bible is not literally true. But many are loathe to totally give up on the word true even of the verses they consider non-literal. “True” after all is a powerful word. Every religion wants to consider its positions “true”, they all want their god to be “true”. “True” is not a word one wants to give up on easily. Few will easily forsake the word “true“. Sure, they may concede a certain story may not be “literally” true, but they still want that story to be “metaphorically” true.
Their tool to preserve “truth” in a myth is a hermeneutic style called “Narrative Theology“. Using the Narrative approach they feel they can both keep valuing these passages and still consider them true in some sense. But should they be allowed to keep both these? I can understand the valuing a message in any myth (as I illustrated “valuing” in the Hindu story on Ganesh) but that is far different from considering the myth to “true”.
Theologian N.T. Wright recently did quick 10-minute video, Meaning and Myth, telling us how we need to embrace myths as “true” while we still recognize them as non-literal myths. In this video, he is willing to call Gen 1 & 2 “myths” but still wants them to be right about God’s working in nature and right about “a primordial couple getting something wrong”. But you see, he offers no evidence for that. He is trying to count these stories as evidence while he simultaneously calls them a “myth”. He wants to sound cool, modern, intellectual and yet sneak back in the same of ideas.
This Metaphorical Truth Slight-of-Hand can be found inside all of the following packages:
- Post-liberal theology
- Radical Orthodoxy
- Emergent Church movement
This flavor of progressive Christianity uses this intellectual slight-of-hand so they can feel that have escaped falling into the abyss of rationistic, individualist theological liberalism. But such a move is dishonest. Now, I must say that outside of the “Metaphorical Truth Slight-of-Hand”, there is much about this “Narrative” approach that I do see as valuable including:
- Viewing the story as complete in itself (non-reductionist)
- Seeking deep messages and themes without focusing on literal truth
- Trying to feel the intent of the author
- Allowing a story to speak to you on a personal level
But we can do all this without clamoring to preserve the word “true” with the phrase “metaphorically true”. And we can realize that a myth is a myth and not confuse them with actual events. Sure, the story can affect you deeply and mean a lot to you, but that does not make it “true”– literally or metaphorically.