If not literal then what?

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Cadence
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If not literal then what?

Post by Cadence » 10 Feb 2014, 12:26

When I was a believer especially when I was young I believed everything literally. Adam and Eve lived in the garden. Noah built an ark. Moses parted the Red Sea The stripling warriors really never lost a man. Then I became aware of science and critical thinking. I realized none of these things really happened. I lost my belief in the literal nature of the scriptures

So if not literal then what? If we take the literalness out of the story what do we have left? We have just stories. They may teach a lesson or maybe even inspire you but how can they be any more valuable than that? How can we chart a course on that?

I know many turn to mythology when their shelf collapses and the have to face the fact none of these things they were taught actually happened. I guess I can not make that leap. If I were living long ago and I needed mythology to explain things perhaps, but today we have something called the scientific method that takes care of that.

For me when it was literal it was true, when it was not it lost its value
Faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction--faith in fiction is a damnable false hope. Thomas A. Edison

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

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hawkgrrrl
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by hawkgrrrl » 10 Feb 2014, 12:47

There is still experience that is transcendent. Just as you don't go to church to learn science, you don't go to science class to have spiritual experiences or serve others.

Curt Sunshine
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by Curt Sunshine » 10 Feb 2014, 13:06

This is probably at least the third or fourth time over the years that you've posted pretty much this exact same post, so you must feel strongly about it. ;) :smile: It's cool, since it's an excellent topic.

Personally, I find lots of good in literal interpretations of many things if I'm not sure whether or not they happened - and almost no good in literal interpretations of some things even if I'm not convinced they didn't happen. If I am convinced a story didn't happen literally (like God commanding Joshua and the Hebrews to commit genocide - don't believe that one at all), I don't even try to find personal meaning from a literal interpretation (no good comes to me from believing that story as a literal, accurate account) - although I have no problem finding meaning in it if I am talking with people who do believe it literally (in most cases, but not the one I mentioned above). However, I find even more power and meaning in quite a few things that I few strictly as mythological or figurative.

For example, I have no belief that Noah's flood really was world-wide (although mythological flood narratives are so omnipresent throughout history that I do believe catastrophic floods have been used to teach great principles in many societies) - and I can find wonderful meaning in the morals I see in the story. The same is true of Job and Jonah - and when Jesus was said to have walked on water. Once they are free from the confines of literal interpretations, I am free to create meaning for myself (even if most other people then and now don't see it the same way I like to see it) - and that is powerful and liberating to me.

The best example of this probably is the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac. I don't think it even happened, but, either way, I like to read it as a test that Abraham failed. That reading is incredibly powerful to me, regardless of whether or not it is historically accurate.

For me, the mythological or figurative often is more powerful than the literal, since I have more freedom within the first category to find meaning that resonates within me, personally. I'm not confined by what makes sense to someone else.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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nibbler
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by nibbler » 10 Feb 2014, 13:13

When it comes to religion I've found that the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything (other than 42) is... <drumroll> hymns. I hope you're still with me, I was serious. That's my answer for a lot of the questions I've had with respect to the church.

So why hymns? Setting scriptures or gospel principles to music helps us remember the principles better, it's a mnemonic. For instance, I have several hymns memorized but I have a real hard time committing those scripture mastery scriptures to memory.

I think that was the point of all the stories in the scriptures, just a vehicle to help us remember the principles they supposedly relate. The problem is that the stories grew a life of their own. So much so that the principles the stories teach are completely overlooked or overshadowed.

Noah's Ark for instance. It can be a story about seeing a job through to completion, planning ahead, providing temporal needs for your family, and doing the right thing despite peer pressure... or we could search a mountain range for remains of a boat and try to arrive at the true size of a cubit to see whether there was enough room for the dinosaurs.

Adam and Eve is another one that's trending these days. My facebook feed is filled with creationists attacking evolutionists and vice versa. The story outgrew the teachings, even to the point of contention.
He who sits alone, sleeps alone, and walks alone, who is strenuous and subdues himself alone, will find delight in the solitude of the forest.
— Buddha

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On Own Now
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by On Own Now » 10 Feb 2014, 14:04

cadence,

It's a very good question. I think part of it for me is that many, or most, of those stories had a meaning way deeper than the recounting of what happened. Even when I believed them to be literal, it wasn't the story, but what it meant to me that resonated. When I started to look at things as less certain, I realized that the meaning was still there. When I looked at things as 'certainly not' it became a little tougher, but the meaning remains.

Lots of good examples, but I'll pick on Lot's Wife, 'cause it's a brief story. Like you, I have a past version of myself that would have simply accepted that Lot's Wife was turned to a pillar of salt. End of story. Obey or God will kill you. Move along. Later, but while I was still a believer, I realized that the story wasn't real, or at least if it was real it didn't matter, and that there was a message in the story... and that the message was more important than the details of the story. After leaving the world and setting out on the Path of God, we can still fail by turning back, as she did... or as Jesus might have said, 'have an eye single to the glory of God'. Now as a full non-believer, I look at it as still having the same meaning. I can layer on top of that curiosity about the origin of the story. I wonder to myself if there was a pillar of salt out there in the desert and the story was told that that was Lot's Wife, for whatever reason. But all my thinking about that doesn't change the meaning of the story. In fact, in a way, my myth-analyzing is just a substitute for my earlier literal interpretation. But the meaning of the story transcends the arch of my changing reception of the story.

I think, in all honesty, that I like the NT more now than when I was a believer. To me it offers a "something to believe in" concept. Jesus has made it possible, according to the NT, to attain God-centered living and to rise above worldly concerns. The weird thing is I still think that is spiritually possible, even if there is no God.

For me, both of the above examples are made freer and more applicable to me by releasing them from the notion of literal history.
"Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another." --Romans 14:13

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Cadence
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If not literal then what?

Post by Cadence » 10 Feb 2014, 14:12

I like what Nibbler says. If these stories became more than they were intended then it makes sense to take them back to what they were. Problem is the average member is no where near that and it will be along time before they are.

It also begs the question why God supposedly has to use fabricated stories to make a point. He could have just told us straight up how things work. Makes me wonder if scripture is anything more than the musings of men. Are we trying to apply meaning to something that is less than we think it is. Are we elevating random stories to larger than life lessons because we think god had a hand in them.
Faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction--faith in fiction is a damnable false hope. Thomas A. Edison

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Cadence
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If not literal then what?

Post by Cadence » 10 Feb 2014, 14:15

Curtis wrote:This is probably at least the third or fourth time over the years that you've posted pretty much this exact same post, so you must feel strongly about it. ;) :smile: It's cool, since it's an excellent topic.
Not exactly the same question but close. Glad someone is paying attention.
Faith, as well intentioned as it may be, must be built on facts, not fiction--faith in fiction is a damnable false hope. Thomas A. Edison

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

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GodisLove
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by GodisLove » 10 Feb 2014, 14:41

Cadence are you by chance an engineer? Your discussions mirror so much of what my husband says.

I find it interesting that my favorite stories in the bible are the parables. I like the ability I have to put myself in that place and it is nuanced to some degree. My husband has never liked these as much. He likes black/white and needs logic. Everything can be solved in a logical fashion. I guess I am not logical and see what good can come out of the story, not so much if it could happen.
Curtis wrote:For me, the mythological or figurative often is more powerful than the literal, since I have more freedom within the first category to find meaning that resonates within me, personally. I'm not confined by what makes sense to someone else.
Much more articulate as always.
Not one Sparrow is forgotten
E'en the raven God will feed
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need

Then shall I not trust Thee, Father
In Thy mercy have a share?
And through faith and prayer, my Mother
Merit Thy protecting care?
Shaker Hymnal 1908

Curt Sunshine
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by Curt Sunshine » 10 Feb 2014, 14:52

It also begs the question why God supposedly has to use fabricated stories to make a point. He could have just told us straight up how things work. Makes me wonder if scripture is anything more than the musings of men. Are we trying to apply meaning to something that is less than we think it is. Are we elevating random stories to larger than life lessons because we think god had a hand in them.


I wouldn't use "fabricated" to describe the stories, just because of the automatically negative connotation most people will put on that word. My answer would be what nibbler said - that telling a story or setting something to music is incredibly powerful for a whole lot of people, much more powerful than merely relating factual information.

I believe strongly that "scriptures" are the best approximation possible from the people who wrote them - and that those that last do so because they resonate with a large number of people.

If by "less than we think" you mean "not actually dictated word-by-word from God's mouth to the writer's brain to the fingers that wrote the words to the page from which we read" - absolutely, I agree with that. However, if they really are a people's understanding of God and their relationship to God, I think that is significant and worthy of study and contemplation - even if we end up viewing what they wrote differently than they did when they wrote it.

I also see scriptures often as a people's ideal, even when it conflicted with their reality. It's the same kind of thing as the American ideal of "all men are created equal" - penned by males only who owned slaves. The irony is incredible, but it doesn't have to detract from the ideal they wrote - and it even can add to the "mystique", if you will, that they wrote something they weren't living at the time. The idea that all men are created equal can't be interpreted literally in any way that is objective, so, literally, it is not accurate - but it still is empowering and ennobling and liberating as worded. It's a myth, and always has been - unless it is imbued by something other than the objectively observable - unless it is stripped of any literal understanding.

I don't mind at all elevating stories that I feel should be elevated; I don't like elevating stories I don't think should be elevated. I guess that's because I'm human and, in the end, not that different than anyone else, conceptually.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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mom3
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Re: If not literal then what?

Post by mom3 » 10 Feb 2014, 16:02

For me they are spiritual. They are the wind or water that helps shape my spirit. Are they flawless? No. But I really do find life lessons in them. For me I approach them as water or wind. I read them - then let the water absorb. I don't fix it or arrange it. Ironically it becomes part of the well that life draws from in my darkest hours. The events, lessons, parables - rise up as needed to help me. Give me nourishment or a drink if you will. I do the same with history. I have read so much WWII material it's crazy. That war and it's events and memories are moving into a mythology state. Time will continue to do that, but the lessons that it can teach people will be endless. Human suffering, selfishness, empowerment, forgiveness, fortitude, faith, science, technology - it's all there for us to use. It is the mulch of human existence.
God supposedly has to use fabricated stories
I wonder about that. Did God create scripture or did man? Scrolls were found, letters collected, human stories rehearsed. From there hands upon hands left their mark on the product. So is it Gods or is it our effort to try to reach him, to find purpose in this inconsistent life, to create an answer for the unanswerable. Through that book or books - God teaches us. Remember Jesus of the New Testament used Noah as a reminder and example. Does it mean then that it happened or did he know that he could use that story/scripture to illustrate his point? The other day a woman posted a comment on her facebook "Remember Noah was amateur and his boat succeeded. The Titanic was built by professionals. And look what happened." I don't know if I concur with her sentiment, but that's how she uses that story to encourage herself and others to try new things. If it works and inspires, who am I to knock it.

Last of all - I use other books as scripture. I look for what answers my soul. I know when a connection is made. I love Thoreau, Emerson, Lusseyran, Tolstoy, and others. Buddhism has no scripture but pages of instruction and sage thoughts with imagery. It helps me everyday. Even just a paragraph.

My question to you is wind literal? It shapes all the time. Yet I can never see it. Only the affects of it. That's how scripture works for me.
"I stayed because it was God and Jesus Christ that I wanted to follow and be like, not individual human beings." Chieko Okazaki Dialogue interview

"I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ....Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve." - Richard Bushman

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