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21-05-2018, 06:32 PM
RE: Great quotes
(21-05-2018 04:26 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  Okay I'll bite. How is the story of Jesus a metaphor for anything?

By the time people were interpreting the Jesus story, God the Father was thought of less as a tribal chief and more as the Platonic form of the Good. (A similar evolution had been going on with Jupiter.)

The form of the Good is by definition not something people can see. It is purely intelligible and hard to think about. We only know it through extrapolation from what we experience in the world.

Jesus is a symbol (metaphor? synecdoche?) for the Good in the world we know. He is a way of thinking about what it would be like for Goodness itself to take human form. What would he do? What would happen to him?

This is in replacement of goodness as ordered in a series of specific laws. When we think of the Good as a person, the issue becomes infinitely more complex -- because people are infinitely complex -- and difficult to agree about. We have to think really hard.

The overall symbol has been analyzed in more specific ways by a lot of smart people. Rene Girard, for example, uses the whole story as a metaphor for the ways in which people find it easy to fix the blame for their whole society onto individuals.

Historical evidence indicates that the real Jesus, if he existed, was far less than this. The Jesus story only takes on significance when it is used as a metaphor, which is the way most people use it (even if they don't know that's what they're doing).
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21-05-2018, 08:07 PM (This post was last modified: 21-05-2018 08:38 PM by Thoreauvian.)
RE: Great quotes
(21-05-2018 06:32 PM)Belaqua Wrote:  
(21-05-2018 04:26 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  Okay I'll bite. How is the story of Jesus a metaphor for anything?

By the time people were interpreting the Jesus story, God the Father was thought of less as a tribal chief and more as the Platonic form of the Good. (A similar evolution had been going on with Jupiter.)

The form of the Good is by definition not something people can see. It is purely intelligible and hard to think about. We only know it through extrapolation from what we experience in the world.

Jesus is a symbol (metaphor? synecdoche?) for the Good in the world we know. He is a way of thinking about what it would be like for Goodness itself to take human form. What would he do? What would happen to him?

This is in replacement of goodness as ordered in a series of specific laws. When we think of the Good as a person, the issue becomes infinitely more complex -- because people are infinitely complex -- and difficult to agree about. We have to think really hard.

The overall symbol has been analyzed in more specific ways by a lot of smart people. Rene Girard, for example, uses the whole story as a metaphor for the ways in which people find it easy to fix the blame for their whole society onto individuals.

Historical evidence indicates that the real Jesus, if he existed, was far less than this. The Jesus story only takes on significance when it is used as a metaphor, which is the way most people use it (even if they don't know that's what they're doing).

Okay, perhaps the Jesus story was a metaphor for a certain cultural idea of goodness. Back to the original quote, how does that make it true? A metaphor is like an argument from analogy. It may be true but it also may be false. So I guess that's my real question: How can religions express truths about the real world with now-dated metaphors? Even allowing that they were originally intended to be metaphors (which is far from proven), that doesn't make what they convey truth.

Was the very concept of God only intended as a metaphor for the truth, whatever it was in reality? I highly doubt it.
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22-05-2018, 03:15 AM
RE: Great quotes
"I have something to say to the religionist who feels atheists never say anything positive: You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil—you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself." (Dan Barker) Consider
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22-05-2018, 04:20 AM
RE: Great quotes
(21-05-2018 08:07 PM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  How can religions express truths about the real world with now-dated metaphors? Even allowing that they were originally intended to be metaphors (which is far from proven), that doesn't make what they convey truth.

Was the very concept of God only intended as a metaphor for the truth, whatever it was in reality? I highly doubt it.

I guess we could approach the problem of truth in religion in two ways: first, people may find the historical and scientific truth in the stories of secondary importance, because they are more interested in the moral commitment involved. Second, there may be moral or ethical truths which are, again, more important than other kinds of truth.

Two examples of the former type:

From the Phaedrus, Stephanus #230a:

[Phaedrus asks Socrates if he believes the old myths are true. After mentioning some Euhemerist explanations, Socrates says he doesn't care much.]

"If anyone has doubts about these creatures and wants to use a rough-and-ready kind of ingenuity to force each of them to conform with probability, he’ll need a lot of spare time. As for me, I never have time to spend on these things, and there’s a good reason for this, my friend: I am still incapable of obeying the Delphic inscription and knowing myself. It strikes me as absurd to look into matters that have nothing to do with me as long as I’m still ignorant in this respect, so I ignore all these matters and go along with the traditional views about them. As I said just now, I investigate myself rather than these things, to see whether I am in fact a creature of more complexity and savagery than Typhon, or something tamer and more simple, with a naturally divine and non-Typhonic nature. But anyway, my friend, if I may interrupt our conversation, isn’t this the tree you were taking us to?"

To me this indicates: while we are still ignorant of ourselves and mostly immoral, analyzing old stories for their historical truth is of little importance. We should work on ourselves first.

And another example:

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

The first half you can see refers to the old legend that Jesus visited England when he was a boy. But notice that the whole stanza consists of questions. Blake doesn't know whether the story is true or not. Yet the concluding part of the poem is a statement of his commitment to [what he sees as] Jesus' goals. Even in the absence of definitive historical knowledge, his commitment to the morality is unchanged.

[Above quotes included so as to fit in with a quotes thread.]

The second type, in which the truth involved is non-scientific moral truth, is well shown by your namesake. He went to the woods to look for truth, but did no scientific research. He wanted true answers to such questions as What is a good life? and What is a good society?

I suspect that the modern world is for the most part farther away from answering those questions than we were in his time. Though Thoreau himself didn't ask the questions in explicitly religious form, they are the same questions that religion seeks to answer.

I'm sure that a lot of Christians today conflate moral truth with scientific or historical truth. They think that for the former to be true, they have to accept what the Bible says as the latter. I think this is largely a recent error, since our scientific age wants us to think that the word "truth" always refers to things that science can demonstrate, and the literalists pay unconscious homage to that idea by pushing metaphor into the wrong category entirely. But older people were often wiser than we are today, and knew how to read these things.
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22-05-2018, 06:20 AM (This post was last modified: 22-05-2018 07:31 AM by Thoreauvian.)
RE: Great quotes
(22-05-2018 04:20 AM)Belaqua Wrote:  The second type, in which the truth involved is non-scientific moral truth, is well shown by your namesake. He went to the woods to look for truth, but did no scientific research. He wanted true answers to such questions as What is a good life? and What is a good society?

I suspect that the modern world is for the most part farther away from answering those questions than we were in his time. Though Thoreau himself didn't ask the questions in explicitly religious form, they are the same questions that religion seeks to answer.

In Walden, Thoreau wrote: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms."

In his correspondence with H.G.O. Blake, Thoreau also wrote: "When a mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all encumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary from the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. I would stand upon facts."

Thoreau wrote his book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers during his stay at Walden Pond. A large portion of its chapter Sunday was about how to approach the sacred texts and mythologies of various nations to learn truths about living. He wrote: "To some extent, mythology is only the most ancient history and biography. So far from being false or fabulous in the common sense, it contains only enduring and essential truth, the I and you, the here and there, the now and then, being omitted. Either time or rare wisdom writes it." He was also very critical of literalists and dogmatists in the same chapter. And I must admit I spent over two decades studying Sufi "teaching stories" because of Thoreau's influence.

However, very few religious people interpret their sacred texts and mythologies that way. These days I'm inclined to believe that fundamentalists are the closest to understanding the original intentions of the writers of such things, because they believe the words mean what they say. So such ancient texts couldn't have been all that good if different people derived different and conflicting "truths" from the same stories.

Thankfully we now have better resources available than Thoreau had in his time, so we no longer have to guess at the answers. To simplify my life, I have reduced the equation by eliminating religion, since I don't think it's necessary. It's much clearer if we talk directly about essential issues.
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22-05-2018, 05:26 PM
RE: Great quotes
(22-05-2018 06:20 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  However, very few religious people interpret their sacred texts and mythologies that way. These days I'm inclined to believe that fundamentalists are the closest to understanding the original intentions of the writers of such things, because they believe the words mean what they say.

I'm understanding your approach better now. It's so different from the approach I take, or the approach in the books I read, that I hadn't followed you well.

I'm not sure how many religious people read in what way. The best way isn't decided by voting, so I'm not really concerned with that. It may be that literalists are closer to the original intentions of the authors, but I'm not sure about that. For one thing, there are a lot of different types of myths and metaphors, and their authors no doubt had different intentions. I don't see any reason to think that writers long ago were limited to literalist approaches. In fact it looks to me as if they were more comfortable with metaphor than modern people.

Also, myths are public property and there's no reason why we have to stick with the original intended meaning. When a modern reader interprets a myth to find a true moral reading, this may have little or nothing to do with the myth's original message, if there even was one.

(22-05-2018 06:20 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  So such ancient texts couldn't have been all that good if different people derived different and conflicting "truths" from the same stories.

This depends on the standards you're using to judge "good."

As I say, we're using different ones. In my opinion, many of the very best stories are good exactly because they prompt different readings.

It sort of looks to me as if you're taking a da Vinci code approach to myths and metaphors, etc. As if the writer had a message that can be given in plain language, but chose to encode it behind a veil of symbolism. Then the reader's job is to get back to the unadorned message and perhaps paraphrase it into easy words. But I don't know why a writer would do that. If he had a non-symbolic non-metaphoric message, why would he write a myth?

One of the good points of a myth, as opposed to a self-help manual, is that it remains a useful text over the ages and in different situations. In this way, the myth becomes far more than the original text; it becomes the text plus all the later interpretations of it. We can't read Greek myths or Bible tales without the weight of history on them, and I don't know why we'd want to (beyond very limited historical research).

(22-05-2018 06:20 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  Thankfully we now have better resources available than Thoreau had in his time, so we no longer have to guess at the answers. To simplify my life, I have reduced the equation by eliminating religion, since I don't think it's necessary. It's much clearer if we talk directly about essential issues.

When you say "better resources," here, I think you're meaning we have greater knowledge about what the original writers may have had in mind. But I'm not convinced that this is what Thoreau wanted to know.

And I think that "much clearer" writing is not always better writing. Myths and metaphors have uses and benefits that straightforward discursive writing does not, and there is room in the world for both.
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22-05-2018, 05:57 PM
RE: Great quotes
(22-05-2018 05:26 PM)Belaqua Wrote:  When you say "better resources," here, I think you're meaning we have greater knowledge about what the original writers may have had in mind. But I'm not convinced that this is what Thoreau wanted to know.

And I think that "much clearer" writing is not always better writing. Myths and metaphors have uses and benefits that straightforward discursive writing does not, and there is room in the world for both.

I went further down the "teaching story" rabbit hole than you seem to imagine. In theory, they are written to educate the pattern seeking right hemisphere, which supposedly has its own kind of intelligence. We would definitely have to go into specifics to discuss that further, but I find the whole topic exhausting because of my personal -- and not positive -- experiences.

As for what Thoreau wanted to know, you are no doubt right. He wanted to find God in nature, to see the natural world as itself a series of metaphors for the divine. And he wanted to express what he discovered in his "excursions," his books. He failed. And had he lived long enough he likely would have become an environmental scientist instead. That's where he was heading in his journals.

"Better resources" are those which can be relied on to actually, not just hypothetically, reflect aspects of reality -- facts, or truths if you like. I am convinced that myths can reflect human fears and desires, but very little about the world we actually inhabit. Because of the stories we keep telling ourselves, we persist in trying to adjust the world to our fears and desires rather than ourselves to the world. So yes, I have a significantly different priority in mind for truthful literature.
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24-05-2018, 06:10 AM
RE: Great quotes
"What, indeed, is an atheist? He is one who destroys delusions which are harmful to humanity in order to lead men back to nature, to reality, to reason. He is a thinker who, having reflected on the nature of matter, its energy, properties and ways of acting, has no need of idealized powers or imaginary intelligences to explain the phenomena of the universe and the operations of nature." (Baron d'Holbach) Consider
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24-05-2018, 07:32 AM (This post was last modified: 24-05-2018 08:38 PM by GirlyMan.)
RE: Great quotes
(21-05-2018 04:26 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  
(20-05-2018 10:53 PM)GirlyMan Wrote:  "Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble." - Joseph Campbell Consider

Okay I'll bite. How is the story of Jesus a metaphor for anything?

It's a metaphor for the divinity of man (John 1:14, Mt 5:17), ... and its ultimate absurdity (Mt 27:46). Sartre and Camus would be proud of Jesus. Smile

(21-05-2018 10:37 AM)Grasshopper Wrote:  
(21-05-2018 04:26 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  Okay I'll bite. How is the story of Jesus a metaphor for anything?

Since he was said to be both God and man, he may be a metaphor for the divinity that exists in all of us (if there is any divinity at all); or to put it another way, if there are any gods at all, we (every one of us) are those gods.

HA! Grasshopper said the same thing. Smile

#sigh
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24-05-2018, 06:45 PM
RE: Great quotes
"Back in my early childhood I learnt that God doesn’t fight on any army’s side. So there was little point in praying. Nonetheless, before every battle, prayers were read, all kinds of incantations were incited, staged by all sorts of preachers. We attended these ceremonies and I saw how all the soldiers stood in place, as though they couldn’t believe their ears. I couldn’t believe it either, but I counted for nothing… Since then, I have given up belief in God, in a ‘light’ that leads us, or anything of that sort. Goethe said, if God created this world, he should review his plan." (Marlene Dietrich) Consider
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