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Biblical Literalists vs Figurativists


vcczar
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I'm reading an interesting but flawed book that covers the "Gnostic Christian" interpretation of Early Christianity, although the two authors seem more like committed atheists (note: While I am agnostic, I think atheism is potentially as flawed as religiousism).

I find little enlightening in the book--even while it is interesting--except the consistent discussion of Biblical literalists vs Biblical Figurativists, the latter who are Christians but believe the that the Old Testament and New Testament are to be taken as allegory, etc. For the latter, they are comfortable with the idea that Abraham, Moses, David, and possibly even Jesus didn't even exist. That the scripture, taken figurative, leads to the proper philosophy/spirituality in life. The authors claim that Biblical Literalists--and literalist in any religion (fundamental Islam, Crusaders, Maccabean Judaism, etc.) have led to among the most violent episodes in history, while Biblical Figurativists tend to be pacifists and tolerant. However, while I find myself mostly in agreement with the book in this one area, I'm going to add another level -- Certainism. 

A certainist, by my definition, is someone who speaks something as a truth and may perversely be misleading in order to establish their own authority and to justify the truth they are attempting to present. I think most vocal athiests are certainists as are all fundamental religious people. These authors fall into the traps of being a certainists. For instance, they argue Jesus never existed because Jews and Romans never wrote about him while Jesus was alive. They mention authors that wrote about Jesus within 100 years after Jesus's--including noting some forgeries--, but they seem to purposely leave out the one mention of Jesus that is probably the most convincing historical evidence for Jesus. This is the one passage in Josephus that mentions Jesus that is in all manuscripts of Josephus (other Jesus entries were doctored). In this passage, Josephus mentions that "James the brother of Jesus" was stoned to death by order of a Herodian high priest. Modern scholars, religious and otherwise, recognize this James to be James the Just, who led the early Jerusalem Church. The authors also don't account for the possibility that Jesus did exist but that his story was greatly embellished by his followers, applying Pagan myths/biography to Jesus (since his life in the Bible mirrors Osiris, Dionysus, and many others). The authors seem geared to obliteratre Jesus by using the pagan myths to nullify the existence of Jesus, when in reality, they should probably consider if these myths were applied later by Greeks and Hellenists once Christianity intruded into the lives of Gentiles and was evolving from a Jewish sect. In the flaw with a certaintist, is they are prone to create an alternate reality, distorting truth in order to contrive a false truth that because traditionally or conventionally a truth. 

Let's take a look at how a literalist might read a sentence -- consider how a biblical or constitutional literalist might read the following:

"I am mad." 

The first word is simple enough. The second word is a non-specific word that confirms the third word as part of the first. However, the third word is confusing. Is the speaker angry or insane or both? A translator might use one of these more specific words as a replacement, espeically a certainists translator because they'll need to reinforce their truth. Do they want the speaker to be angry or insane? Let's say a translator translates it to:

"I am insane." 

Since this is written in the 21st century, "insane" today can also just mean "shocking and outrageous." Again, we don't have the truth. A certaintist might translate "I am mad" to either, "I am mentally ill." or "I am outrageous."

But the only truth is, the original words were "I am mad," whatever that might mean. 

Using this example of a hypothetical 21st century sacred text with a sentence of "I am mad." A literalist certaintist would likely create a translation to justify an established truth or tradition, probably "I am mentally ill." A figurative certaintist would probably either settle on "mentally ill" or "outragious" or come up with an argument that the speaker is both, but that whatever the speaker was saying it isn't supposed to be taken literally. I don't think it is possible for one to be a non-certaintist literalist, but maybe I can be convinced. However, I do think non-certain figurativists are common (probably agnostic or non-practicing secular Christians), and I think they're prone to accept "I am mad." as a sentence with a variety of meanings of which we can't possibly know the original intent. That is, it is valid to have multiple interpretations of which truth cannot be found, but of which one of these is likely the truth. This group is likely to be agnostics or liberal Christians, in the cases in which they are religious.

While the book has flaws (I am only 25% of the way through it), I do find the religious literalists vs non-literalist discussion interesting. While I disagree with much of the book, I do believe strongly that the world would have been better off and would be better off without religious literalists. The same, for me, goes for Constitutional literalists (originalists). There's certainly a connection. I think most Constitutional Originalists/Literalists are also Biblical Literalists (although there are exceptions, say an agnostic libertarian), and most Constitutional Non-Literalists/Figurativists are also Biblical Figurativists (although there are exceptions, say a very politically liberal, devout Roman Catholic). 

I'm curious what other people's thought are on this topic. 

 

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