Wednesday, October 18, 2006

No Literal Truth

All meaning is transmitted by metaphor, through an act of poetry. This is the secret of all scriptures, all spiritual teachings, all wisdom of any kind that has been thought, spoken, or written down through the ages.

It’s a secret because society has hidden this truth, while proclaiming as law a falsehood called the literal truth. This law was motivated by the fear of death, and it pretends to protect us from annihilation through a system of belief.

As soon as the Bible, or any religious book, is declared literally true, it loses all meaning, because meaning is only accessible through metaphor. Metaphor is the gatekeeper of subjectivity. Even fundamentalists, who falsely believe that they are interpreting their scripture literally, only gain access to meaning for themselves through the power of the metaphors conveyed in their scripture.

Through mythology, the ancients combined metaphor, the language of the subjective, with interpretations of the cosmos that united communities in shared belief. But with the rise of science, born of an inextinguishable thirst for knowledge, mythology could no longer play this dual role. Modern fundamentalism clings to its mythology as objectively true, as if it were on the same level as science, while at the same time emptying its mythology of all metaphorical power.

Why? Because religion, for the vast majority of mankind, became a mere tool for social control, a method of domestication. Meaning was banished to the realm of the “esoteric,” the “occult,” “mysticism.” And if those who entered this realm—the mystics, the poets, the seers and seekers—got too close to the truth, organized religion would attack, punish, and persecute them.

Thus we have come to a time, our modern era, when religion must see through its own mythology, recognize that mythology is fundamentally different than science and cannot contest its realm—if it is not to become a completely negative and destructive force, in other words if it is to avoid the spiritual dead end of fundamentalism.

Spirituality is not going away. Human beings will always need to create and experience meaning in its many forms—such as love, beauty, wisdom, and compassion. The idolatry of sacred scriptures, the setting up of the literal truth as religious dogma, the attempt to project human limitations upon the unlimited, represents an obstacle in the way of meaning, not a way to meaning. The reified notion of a being out there who watches and rules is our darkest metaphor, a symbol of our fear of death. The secret of all religions, the supposed mystery of mysteries, always comes back to the self, the anonymous and impersonal self that we all are, the naked self that feels joy, hope, fear, and desire—the self that dies.


whig said...

Well stated.

Matthew said...

A beautifully written piece, thank you, Chris. Please continue your efforts. There is great content here, and it does take hard work. Peace, love and goodwill does take work, but it's more enjoyable that way.