Friday, January 7, 2011

Allegories and Gods

Creationist hack Ken Ham is right within a much larger instance of being wrong:

[I]f the book of Genesis is an allegory, then sin is an allegory, the Fall is an allegory, the need for a Savior is an allegory, and Adam is an allegory—but if we are all descendants of an allegory, where does that leave us? It destroys the foundation of all Christian doctrine — it destroys the foundation of the gospel.
True enough. Allegories can only illuminate by representing something arcane, obscure, or unintuitive in terms of something familiar. This is what all figuration accomplishes, if it accomplishes anything, and it's a long way removed from the straightforwardly factual declarations of an authoritative entity. Genesis 1:
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Either this happened as stated -- an entity called "God" said and did thus and so -- or someone in the distant past fashioned a narrative that tries to make sense of the world's origins using simple terms. It accounts for water, sky, and land in roughly the way an adult might explain to a child how the foundations, roof, and floor of a building relate to one another, or -- maybe this is closer -- the first chapters of Genesis recapitulate the way a developing mind would eventually work out the constituents of the universe, working from basics (water, sky, and land) to the more complex (people, animals, society).

Or maybe I am completely misguided in my breezy reading of Genesis-as-allegory, but that's precisely the problem with allegories, myths, metaphors, figures -- they're open to multiple readings, and their value (if any) is in working through the varied possibilities and trying to extract insights, understandings, clarifications, refutations, and confirmations of what we only dimly perceived before the encounter with the the narrative. All narratives are, in principle, equal, and that's directly contrary to the first commandment given by the authority-god of the Bible -- he is to be elevated above all others.

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