Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Literal vs. Metaphorical: The Inanity of the Po-Mo

Tonight at church I was talking to someone about the interpretation of Genesis. I proceeded to complement the person on a lesson they had preached where they avoided categorizing the interpretation of Genesis as either literal or metaphorical. This then led to an argument about one of the inane and nauseating details about narrative theology: the ability of its proponents to talk circles around an issue without ever actually getting to the point.

This person told me that the interpretation of Genesis should be neither metaphorical nor literal. Now, I don't claim to know everything, but to me the word metaphorical and the word literal are two words which could be used to describe the entirety of language. Here are the definitions for "metaphor" and "literal", respectively, as provided by Random House: metaphor: a "figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance." literal: "in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical." So, metaphor is defined as something not to be taken literally, and literal is something which is not metaphorical.

I kindly pointed out this objection to the person, who told me that the way in which I had set up this problem meant that the metaphorical interpretation of Genesis meant that the story was incorrect. However, because it was a story (i.e. metaphor) it need not be true or false.

So, there I was left to wonder whether what this person had told me was a metaphor, literal, or neither.

“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.”


Anonymous said...

This is just the kind of double-speak that compels me to advise people to simply ignore theologians. I have done so for some years, and my Christianity has remained intact. In fact, I sin less; because, not listening to theologians causes me to cuss less -- indeed, not at all now.

Mediocrates said...

I'm right there with you. What would the neither be like, what is neither? I know what a metaphor is, and I know what happens when you take something literally. But what is a neither? Something that isn't a literal description but also is not a metaphor or analogy? What is this? It means nothing. I don't think they were using double speak, I think that not only did you not know what the theologian was saying, but he/she didn't know what they were saying.