Is faith more than metaphor?


Cover of David Tacey 'Beyond Literal Belief'

For many years David Tacey has written and spoken of the need for spiritual depth in Australian young people, who have largely rejected religious belief as irrational. In his latest book – Beyond Literal Belief: Religion as Metaphor – he outlines the problem he sees, discusses the inadequacy of the response among the Christian churches, and proposes a solution.

In his judgment, the narrow assumption that reality is confined to what can be seen and measured, is thin and damaging. It disallows the access we need to deeper and intangible human reality.

The churches, which do speak of another world, fail to provide this access to our contemporaries because they demand that their stories, symbols and creeds be literally understood. Our prevailing culture rightly dismisses this claim as unbelievable.

He argues that the Christian story, like all religious beliefs, should be seen as metaphor. Although tied to the historical life of Jesus, it points to the deeper reality within us. When we cease to understand literally the stories of Jesus miracles and his rising from the dead, and the belief that God became man in Jesus, we can enter the deeper reality that these stories intimate and find illumination in them.

Tacey argues further that in turning from a literal understanding we recapture the original Christian message. It was based on a life-changing spiritual experience associated with Jesus, and expressed in metaphor. But these metaphors soon came to be taken literally, and the literal interpretation was later enforced by the authority of the institution. Only in recent centuries have brave thinkers seen the absurdities of a literal understanding. Tacey appeals to Jung’s exploration of myth as a way of expressing deep aspects of the human world.

The urgency with which he has addressed the shallowness of the culture inherited by young people, and his despair at the failure of the Christian churches to meet their hungers, explain why he criticises so vehemently those in churches who resist his interpretation.

This makes it difficult for me as a Catholic priest to engage helpfully with his argument. I have long admired Tacey for the seriousness and effectiveness of his reflections on religious education. I also find illuminating his exploration of Christian stories and Christian symbols. But in taking issue with his central argument, I shall inevitably be seen to share the timidity, lack of intellectual rigour and self interest he finds in the churches.

I certainly acknowledge that I have an interest. I would have much to lose were I to adopt his reading: the loss of a personal God to whom I can pray, of a Christ who is a living presence among his followers, and of a community in living continuity with Jesus’ disciples.

But quite apart from self-interest, I am not persuaded by his argument. It rests on polarities that over-simplify a more complex world. I refuse the choice offered between a literal understanding, lumbered with all its associated crudities and historical barbarity, and a metaphorical understanding, endowed with a spiritual depth. I too abhor the crudities and embrace the spiritual depth, but I claim the freedom to move between with a range of interpretations as appropriate.

Early Christian writers identified a number of levels of interpretation of stories and symbols not as mutually exclusive alternatives but as different layers. Spiritual, theological, moral, and historical lines of interpretation are deployed as appropriate for different kinds of texts and purposes.

Stories that have to do with God’s relationship with human beings are often layered with vivid imagery, such as angelic visitations, clouds, storms and other meteorological phenomena, terror and so on, that evoke the inexpressible. Such imagery speaks of a God who always lies beyond the horizon, but who illuminates and reaches out to us in all the beings and events of our world.

The question raised by Tacey is whether the Christian faith in a personal God who loves us and who shares our life in Jesus is itself mythical in the sense that it discloses a deeper truth about reality, or represents a reality that is disclosed to us.

The key to answering that question is whether the Resurrection of Jesus is best understood as an act of God in the world that affected Jesus, and consequently the consciousness of the disciples, or as a transformation of the consciousness of the disciples.  

I would argue that it is reasonably understood as an event touching Jesus. The Gospels situate Jesus in a Jewish world where many people awaited God’s imminent intervention and rule. This hope was seen to involve an event and a mediating person through whom God would act. Jesus’ disciples placed their hope in him. It is difficult to see how that hope could have survived his humiliating execution. It needed evidence of an act of God vindicating Jesus.  

The Resurrection of Jesus is described as such an act of God, in imagery associated with God’s action, but also with an insistence that it was Jesus who was raised to life. That claim, if true, expands our view of reality, a view that of course needs to be tested by reason, but not dismissed because it is incompatible with contemporary understandings of reality.

My disagreement with Tacey’s thesis does not diminish the seriousness of the question he raises and the challenge he makes. Whether we wish to commend a faith based in the tradition, or one based in the exploration of myth understood in the strong sense Tacey gives it, we need to commend it in a culture in which any view of the world that goes beyond the empirical is strange. In that we all have much to learn and unlearn from one another.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street



Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, religion, fait, atheism, David Tacey, Jung, metaphor



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"Spiritual, theological, moral, and historical lines of interpretation are deployed as appropriate ..." So, you're not going to include Mythical as a line of interpretation that is ever appropriate for anything in the Bible? And of course there'll be no argument about which line is 'appropriate' where. I am sympathetic with this: "I refuse the choice ..." When offered a choice I find it's usually best to reply: "I'll have both, thanks" When I look at my own generation, brought up with traditional Catholic teaching, almost none of us believed any of it, hence the next generation's disinterest.

Russell | 13 May 2015  

I think David Tacey's insight into what he perceives as a lack of spirituality in Australian young people comes from his work as an academic at a university. He also perceives a deep longing for this within them. How that longing is answered is the key question. The debate between "literal" and "metaphorical" Christianity is a red herring. Whilst I have no doubt that the Resurrection happened or that something happens in the Sacraments I think reducing this to formulae often misses the deeper point. Christianity was a way of transforming people at their very depths. Those who were around Jesus at his time such as the Apostles knew this as have the whole gamut of genuine Christian mystics through the centuries. Ordinary people, without any visionary experiences, can, I am sure, experience it. I think there is a real problem in that many people see the discrete Churches as institutions without realising the truth they embody. Perhaps Christians have been at fault here in presenting their Churches as almost hereditary and semi-exclusive clubs with newcomers unwelcome or at best tolerated. A few examples of genuine Christians living transformed and sanctified lives which effect humanity at large may be the answer.

Edward Fido | 13 May 2015  

Is faith more than metaphor? You betcha. The Bible, amongst other fine attributes, teaches us to read ourselves. How we are placed in the story. It's a hard lesson and one we often don't want to learn. Sometimes I doubt but at the deepest level I believe the resurrection happened and people were changed by it. The loss of engagement which the church faces with young people is worrying and I wish I had an answer.

Pam | 14 May 2015  

I admire the moderation of Andrew's comments especially in his very respectful and reasoned manner of disagreement with Tacey's main thesis. A fine example of the kind of dialogue we need today acknowledgement

Richard Dunleavy fms | 14 May 2015  

As to believers of the future, an insight from my 6 year old grandson was enlightening: "Jesus died twice! He was alive, he died on the cross and he came alive again - so he had to die twice." I am wary of being absolute with my answers!

Narelle Mullins | 14 May 2015  

I agree with Andrew that there is much that is appealing and convincing in David Tacey's thesis and much with which I wholeheartedly concur. For me what confronts what is a very reasonable progression to Tacey's final position is my experience of the Resurrected Christ as a reality in my own life. I know this can be regarded as the shaky ground of a further extension of the metaphor played out in human psychology. However, I cannot but trust the relationship forged from the generous and unwarranted intervention of the Christ into my life. The way forward for the next generation is, I think, the same as it always has been, encountering Christ in the intimacy of their own story, devoid of the accretions of the centuries but enriched by the experiences they were meant to promote.

Kieran | 14 May 2015  

In religion, analogy is justifiably used to convey important lessons by way of simile, metaphor, parable, allegory, fable or myth. Religions in general find one path, attuned to their culture that invokes in them a sense of the Personal God. If they insist on a literal acceptance of their interpretation, they become a stumbling block rather than a stepping stone. The evolving Spirit of mankind once found Man as the closest image of God, but now much more appropriate images are available. A violin can produce sublime music; To a literalist it is only vibrations of dead wood and catgut. The sun radiates every colour, enabling each flower to reflect its own beauty, according to its nature. Our Personal God supplies us with a variety of experiences that enable us to respond personally, according to our disposition. Personal prayer is not to tell God how to run the universe, but to dispose us to lift our spirit to harmonise with God, as presented in Edwin Hatch's beautiful hymn, 'Breathe on me Breath of God.'

Robert Liddy | 14 May 2015  

I think we should think in terms of mystical rather than mythical.The weakness of fundamentalism is that it wants to take the words of the bible literally which miss the subtleties which the writers express

john ozanne | 14 May 2015  

"A culture in which any view of the world that goes beyond the empirical is strange" does not know its mathematics, the Queen of the Sciences. Goedel's theorem shows that Truth does not imply Proof. However, empiricists believe that it does. I prefer my universe to be open to the unprovable Truth.

Peter Horan | 14 May 2015  

Thank you Fr Andrew for your perspective on metaphor in relation to faith. For faith to be alive any engagement with young people needs to be a response, not an answer. Having worked with metaphor for many years I know it doesn't touch the sides when engaging with Christ-centred transformation and what then unfolds. I respect David Tacey greatly and thank him for his continuing contribution to a dialogue on and about spirituality. I sense that metaphor only has some resonance when portraying it within a context ... that is a communal context of experience. Without then linking it to a greater narrative, it can fade into insignificance and irrelevance. This is why genealogy has become important to explore further in so many families' lives. Situating all of those layers of narrative within the Biblical narrative brings a depth and spiritual vitality to each person's life that can transform an individual's journey into a deep sense of belonging with God, the cosmos, and our neighbour. I sense that metaphor alone cannot satisfy such deep yearnings.

mary tehan | 14 May 2015  

Thanks Andrew for posing the question.

Michael Duck | 14 May 2015  

Pam, I can channel a young person's question to you: if God can manage a resurrection why can't I see it on Youtube?

Russell | 14 May 2015  

The problem for me is that anyone engaging in this discussion who expressions any doubts on the resurrection will immediately be hailed with threats of ex-communication, heresy and ultimately of life of misery in hell. But by simply saying you believe, suddenly you will be saved. I don't know if God can read posts on internet forums, or if she can read our thoughts, but I gain solace in the fact that Jesus suffering on the cross felt an overwhelming fear he'd been abandoned by his God.

AURELIUS | 14 May 2015  

Hey Russell. If God produced a resurrection on YouTube, how many billion hits? But then, there may be thumbs down for tampering with the Tube, hiring special effects people, etc.

Pam | 14 May 2015  

Congratulations Andrew on your excellent article. I had the opportunity of hearing David Tacey speak last night about his book. I was not, I am sorry to say, overly impressed. I waited patiently for him to talk about the importance of faith in our lives. I believe faith is the cornerstone of a connected life. Our faith allows us to live by the grace of unseen strands. Faith is not mythical. This is not to say, however, that we should not question our faith. Many of us, the old as well as the young, struggle with the deep questions of life and the reasons for our existence. Our journey of faith is an ongoing process. As believers, of course we will face doubts, uncertainties and scepticism as we search for the truth and so it is OK for us to ask questions. We have to remember that our is still a 'grass-roots, church made up of ordinary men and women who struggle to lead lives according to Jesus' teachings. Many believe we are living in a New Age Utopia, myths and all, but sadly, that Utopia, like the emperor's new clothes (new ideas), is merely an illusion.

Peggy Spencer | 14 May 2015  

I agree with those who congratulate Andrew on his honouring of David's studies and reflection even as he disagrees. As one who has lived many of the beliefs as outlined by Andrew and has also let most of them go I find a number of problems with Andrew's outline of his worldview. Some of these are: the resurrection implies an interventionist God - why Jesus and not say someone else? - and why no now? what of those who believe in Allah, or Buddha - are they wrong? and finally I personally see a danger in the concept of a 'personal' God as it often leads to acts of discriminations and even violence in its name. I am not accusing Andrew of these just that they can easily follow on from what he expressed.

Tom | 14 May 2015  

Oh really! David Tacey comes across as so old hat. At least, when I hear him go on about Literal versus Metaphor as though that were a summation of some vast debate, I really do wonder. While rejection of the Literal sounds like an admirable and courageous move when talking about Spirituality, actually Tacey is as much a believer in the Literal world as his neighbour. No soul without the body. It’s a false dichotomy. Even the most Metaphorical of poets will tell you they are dealing with Literal facts. Just take Shakespeare, who knows quite well the difference between the world of plunging metaphor and the shipwreck that starts The Tempest. Most of us learnt this kind of thing at school. I also get quite tired at his tilting at churches and deeply committed religious people, as though he alone ‘gets it’ in a discussion about spirituality. I find it is they, and not just Tacey, who usually has something perceptive to say about the life of the Spirit. When I want food I don’t go to someone who wants to tell us it’s all about Literal versus Metaphor. I want to be fed. But anyway, it will be admitted, we are all of us old hat, figuring out what the Spirit is doing. I count myself one of that band.


What a wonderful...deep and meaningful....chain of posts. A million miles from the scrapping that follows events here on earth. Whether David Tacey or Andrew Hamilton I am sure it is the Holy Spirit doing her little bit.

Mary | 15 May 2015  

The metaphor/literal distinction is misleading if it is regarded as clear cut. Both modern linguistics and semantic philosophy take the view that metaphor is an ineradicable component of all description. There is no "literal" without an admixture of metaphor, analogy etc. The underlying hermeneutic theory of this debate is contaminated by what some have called 'conservative hermeneutics'. The eastern churches and the apophatic theologians (oxymoron) quite rightly say, with Derrida and many functional linguists, that literal descriptions of ineffable things are not possible. As someone trained in linguistics and anthropology, as well as later study in semantic philosophy, I find the methodological level of this debate sadly wanting and far short of the state of the art in scriptural hermeneutics. But wishing to be respectful, I must note that there is something to be learned there as well, even from Jung.

Inigo | 15 May 2015  

The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. ( Albert Einstein - The Merging of Spirit and Science)

AO | 15 May 2015  

With due respect to Einstein, the heights or depth of mysticism, in the tradition of Great Spiritual Doctors of the Church, is ultimately not the hype sensations of the mystical in the inaugural emotional levels of Mysticism but later stripped of all emotional hooplas, the ultimate is the Mystical unions of Gods will and ours within the in the dark night of the Spirit blinded by His Light"[a scandal to religious-emotion addicts.] Ask the Crucified One[Eloi,Eloi Lama Sabacthani] stripped of all razzmatazz [and far removed from the darkness of mortal sin]. Nevertheless, every level of mysticism is grace giving and most worthy as are Einsteins most edifying outpourings] Einstein was the brilliant scientist, but John of the Cross and ilk were his counterparts in mystical theology. Further his "To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists," is epistemologically debatable.

Father John George | 15 May 2015  

I have been forced by life, no, by church representatives, to acknowledge the metaphor that is the church at least - it is Plato's cave and now that I have left and seen the reality for what it is, I cannot and do not want to return. Of course everyone here won't agree with David - it costs too much: Leaving the cave is extremely painful and frightening, but oh the freedom once outside. And it is freedom - deep psychological freedom. Is God still there - Yes, but not the god of the church - God is a verb who lives and moves and has Being only in the actions of life and love. When the church rejects you in most practical ways, God dies there, does not exist. God only exists in Love. Love is not a metaphor, it is a reality - all the rest, the dogmas, the stories, the creed - these are all metaphors created for simple people, for religion, which, yes, is a needed structure in society but which also keeps people childish and dependent (not childlike, but childish). I trust David's approach well and truly over that of almost every Bishop and priest I have known (the nuns have been far better). As Andrew said: "This makes it difficult for me as a Catholic priest to engage helpfully with his argument." Of course it does and will.

Ed | 17 May 2015  

Since a metaphor, as such, is an intellectual construct, I cannot see how it can be regarded as an adequate definition of religion, let alone the Christian faith, which have both historical and practical dimensions.

John Kelly | 17 May 2015  

To "A bird in the hand" who complained that it is "as though he alone ‘gets it’ in a discussion about spirituality".
Mirrors are painful - is this not what the church has said to every human being for the last 2015 years - "we alone get it". David would never say that. The church would rather have that monopoly and that's why young people, and not just the young anymore, are leaving, because it is so painfully and obviously NOT true. Jesus has 'left the building' regardless of attempts to captivate him in tabernacles. Jesus only exists if and when we as humans live Him: In that sense there is no Spirit without a body. God can only act through humans and when humans don't act like God/Jesus, God/Jesus is not there. Metaphors help us understand but when we mix the metaphor with reality, we end up with a church that we are witnessing today: Bishops who say "we care" and then ignore and abandon you - in lived reality.

Ed | 17 May 2015  

David Tacey says in a lecture/essay about his book that “This is the terrible fate of religion in our time. It puts itself in opposition to the thinking mind” and “The wonder is that these literalised myths lasted as long as they did, since they flew in the face of common sense.”
But, so what, quantum science puts itself in opposition to the thinking mind and rejects common sense. “Today, quantum experiments deny a common sense physical reality. It is no longer a logical option." (Rosenblum and Kuttner, Quantum Enigma, pp.5, 6, 118)

Quantum science discovered that the Universe is all about unity but that contradicts our common sense and logic because when we look around us everything looks separate. So quantum science has discovered what religion and spirituality have always known, but have forgotten, that we can only consider unity by going beyond rational thinking and even accepting contradiction.

So when religion and spirituality are about unity what we do not need is more metaphor. What we do need is to respond to what quantum science is telling us which is that the Universe is so mind bending that the quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg could only ask "Can Nature possibly be so absurd?" and the answer is "Yes. It is not the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics which is strange, but the Universe itself." (Mermin, R.R., p.95)
But instead of absurd and strange Universe read this mystical Universe which is all about being one with each other and the Universe and God and that is no metaphor.

Warren | 17 May 2015  

Anyone willing or brave enough just to say, "I don't know"? As usual, discussions such as these deteriorate into deep, deep, deep philosophical babble - ie a battle of egos.

AURELIUS | 18 May 2015  

Two questions: 1. The events at Fatima now called the "Miracle of the Sun" occurred only one hundred years ago. Thousands witnessed to them, including hardened atheists, such as (inter alia) a leading journalist with the anti-Catholic "O Seculo". Is the Fatima miracle a pure "myth" a la Tacey's Christianity? If so, how was it the case that absolutely nothing happened empirically, yet even hardened anti-Catholic journalists, who were on site, found themselves denying that, albeit grudgingly? 2. If the tenets of Christianity were understood as "myth" at the beginning, when was the Great Disruption, such that, with all the emphasis then on holding fast to traditions, one generation correctly understood, e.g. "Jesus rose from the dead" to be a purely mythical, if existentially inspiring, formula, but the next generation got the whole thing balled up and took the formula to be an historical fact? (Perhaps we've misinterpreted Sr. Lucia as well - perhaps the Great Disruption re. Fatima has already occurred?) I know the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons and most Protestants are committed to variations of this story. But does Tacey reference some sober historical scholarship on this? Otherwise, Tacey with this book is a leading candidate for the 2015 Barbara Thiering Prize for Totally Implausible Accounts of Christianity.

HH | 18 May 2015  

Ed while atheists never stop talking about God, ex-cavemen, and cromagnon can't stop harking back to the cave!
God was eternally antecedent to man's living and loving. Chicken came before the egg [bio-paleontology 101]
#Jesus has a super-eminent Presence in the tabernacle, and other supplementary presences, beyond such substantial multilocations. So He is hardly captive in a tabernacle, though lovingly resident there
#Dogmas are hardly the exclusive province of simple people, There are international theology faculties And add history of learned Fathers and Doctors of the Church and Church Councils resplendent with professors of dogma.
#Evangelist ex 'cavemen' invariably stand at door-step with pamphlets and books wíth blank pages!
Finally "deep psychological freedom" while cathartic is not necessarily a litmus test of health, such release can also be a correlate of successful crime!

Father John George | 18 May 2015  

HH the question I would like to ask in relation to yours is what has been the long term fruits of this 'event'. Nothing much, I'd suggest. All reflections of a "God out there" perception based on metaphors believed to be reality and a deep lack of psychological internalisation of more realistic truth about who and what we are as familial and social creatures belonging to an endless cycle of influencial social and psychological input - an influence which remains unconscious and run by metaphor until we can become more rationally conscious and begin to understand that who we are, what we 'believe' all relates to what we have experienced as children. But, we're not children anymore, are we? I know the church leaders would rather we were - compliant and obedient so they can have the power and privileged they have dedicated their lives to.

Fatima, what on earth and in heaven was that all about in the end? And I ask this as a social psychologist not as a faith person.

Ed | 19 May 2015  

Our Lady of Fatima was not given to mere metaphor. Our Lady predicted the end of WW1; later an even worse war ;Conversion of Russia
It seems to me that Fatima had much to offer mankind spiritually and much much more re tragic events[An apparition loaded with reality near devoid of poetic metaphor]
Viva Fatima! To underline the utter realism of the apparitions, she enacted the staggering "miracle of the Sun" to corroborate her presence attested by atheists. Hard nut scientists, godless media and soaking wet cum spin dry crowds and odd miracle or two to boot
The underlying message=conversion prayer and penance, Saint JP2, a strong devotee of Fatima was instrumental in bringing the Soviet empire to its knees[latter attested by Gorbachev and polish communist President Jaruzelski.

Father John George | 19 May 2015  

Fr John George;
"Finally 'deep psychological freedom' while cathartic is not necessarily a litmus test of health".

You may be right but I tell you, neither is 'faith' a litmus test for health: I think I've known far more wacky 'faith' people than psychologically free people.

In regards to Jesus being in the tabernacle, I meant that this was more a perception of people than a spiritual reality according to what you believe.

As for the rest of what you've written, if I could understand it, I'd reply.

Ed | 19 May 2015  

Since the Enlightenment and the rise of reason in the 18th Century and that of modern science, including Darwinism, in the 19th Century, organized religion, especially Christianity, has been vainly trying to accommodate itself to the juggernaut of atheist materialism. The latter seems to have had most of the high cards in the metaphysical poker game between the deists and the atheists. Science seems to have demolished all the major tenants of religion, chief of which is that we live in a consciously ordered universe presided over by some benign deity. The fact that we live in a random universe where “bad things happen to good people” and vice-versa has destroyed this view in modern man’s eyes. Moreover, the capacity of modern science to “seemingly” explain away all spiritual and supernatural phenomena in psycho-sociological terms and to apparently prove that the human mind is nothing more than a computer made of meat has obliterated the last vestiges of many people’s spiritual beliefs. To cope with this onslaught organized religion, especially in the West, has retreated into a wishy-washy theology where basic religious beliefs are to be as merely symbolic representations of deep psychological needs to find order and reason in the universe. It seems that David Tacey’s work is merely the latest effort in this regard. Focusing on your inner feelings with a dash of Jung and vague quasi-mysticism seems to be the approach of such writers. One wishes instead they would take on the scientific establishment directly and marshal the present the vast amount of scientific evidence that we do live in a spiritual universe, that people have soul, that we survive death, and reincarnate, that ghosts etc really exist (among many other spiritual phenomena). For about 150 years a vast amount of research has been accumulating proving such notions. But the scientific establishment has successfully buried this evidence and bamboozled what passes for the intelligentsia in the West into believing that such things are mere fantasies etc. (See “The Conscious Universe” by Dean Radin for a comprehensive summary of this evidence). However, while we may live in a spiritual universe do we live in one that is moral by any human yardstick. This is despite the mystical experiences that some people genuinely have where they see a universe suffused with love and meaning and the ‘interconnectedness of all things”. The trouble is that in such exalted states they don’t seem to see all of reality only its more beautific aspects. They can provide no explanation for the Auschwitzes, Year Zeros and endless other obscenities of this world. How do such horrors be part of any benign order? I could go on but ………. . .

Dennis | 20 May 2015  

Ed, you could start by asking "What actually happened at Fatima?". No-one has concluded the whole thing was just a "metaphor". The miraculous events of Fatima are a matter of recorded history, and, with respect, no amount of social psychology is going erase that. (For entertainment, I recommend visiting some skeptic sites to check out the hilarious ways they try to explain it away.) The best that our enlightened non-religious friends can hope for is that the whole thing disappears down the memory hole if it's not talked about. And that strategy appears to be working. But I believe there's a name for this process in psychology: it's called "suppression" or even "repression" and, if I understand correctly, it's never regarded as healthy. I referred to Fatima simply because it's so recent (Sr Lucia died in 2005) even someone like Dr Tacey would look rather silly trying to dress it up as purely metaphorical. It would seem far easier to attempt to dispose of events 2000 years old in this way, but the pesky thing is that Our Lady at Fatima (etc) seems herself to take those ancient "metaphors" as literally true ...

HH | 20 May 2015  

The Great Disruption?! I think I've heard it all now - using philosophical/theological reasoning methods related to the resurrection to score party political points for carbon polluters! It's usually abortion and same sex marriages that's pulled out of the hat to distract and divide..

AURELIUS | 20 May 2015  

HH, all I can say is, tell it to the victims giving their stories at the Royal Commission which I hope EVERYONE is watching. See what all this means to them. I have met the enemy, and it is within the church, and it has tried to control my life from day one and totally stuffed me up in the process. But, thanks to secular science and psychology and sociology I am recovering, finally. I have spent nigh on 50 years asking God/Jesus and Mary to help - never came. Now it is. That's the simple truth - no metaphors or even faith needed - just the faith in a few people who love me and who I can trust - not like all those priests I have been to, one who tried to have sex with me during confession. (Probably won't print that one either, hey). Why do people not believe those who have experience from a different angle, who have the epistemic advantage of knowing things differently and often better. The princes of the church have a deep and sad epistemic disadvantage - they do not want to know what our reality is, they can't.

Ed | 20 May 2015  

Ed - thanks. Wow. Sounds like you've been thoroughly screwed around by some people in the hierarchy. Pure evil, in fact. I'm not totally surprised - I've encountered it before. You've taken this to another level, and I hope you understand I can't really reply to your very brave post in a blog discussion. I don't mean to sound patronising in any way, but I reckon Fr H might be able to share with you some considerable wisdom and support. I say that knowing I have deeply opposing positions with him on a number of political and maybe theological issues. But I think he's someone who will be the first to fight from your corner, as it were. Beyond that, I'd be honoured if you want to contact me privately. No strings attached. Hey, we're all in this together. Prayers for you and your loved ones, and thanks again for your comments and questions.

HH | 20 May 2015  

Thanks HH. I truly appreciate your response. It all a bit of drowning not waving but I will survive in spite of the church.

Ed | 21 May 2015  

Cheers, Ed. Reach out. We all need to, often more than we realize.

HH | 21 May 2015  

In conclusion: My mum, God bless her, is one of those women who have had a religion from the day she was born. That religion, developed over 2000 or so years has had the time to create this alternative world, a world inhabited by saints, angels, books such as The Little Flowers of St Francis, the Gospels, all magnificent metaphors for life. This religion has created such an impregnable world view that logically makes sense until you start to realise that The Little Flowers of St Francis are mere shadows on a wall written and created by equally ‘fantastic’ people but ones recognised as very useful by the men in charge of the shadows, the ones that have recognised the power of fantasy and who have come to recognize also, the wondrous power inherent in the political/monarchical structure of a mother church and it ‘papa’. For many Catholics theirs has been a wonderful life. I was abused and sought answers. What I have been presented with was a very scary reality – a church, not inhabited by saints and angels, holy pastoral men but by politicians, business men and quite infantile psychologically at that, for whom the metaphors of the church are consciously used as controlling agents to give the masses their needed satisfying world view. These leaders know exactly what they are doing. Proof? In the words of a bishop revealed at the Royal commission: "Bishop !!!! told us if the church had to pay that amount to every survivor the church would go bankrupt. Bishop !!!! told us that we were in danger of destroying his church. He said, "Andrew, you need to understand something, the church has endured for thousands of years, and in another 40 years or so, you people will all be dead and this will be forgotten about and the church will endure for thousands of years more". " There is your reality - no metaphors needed. This has absolutely been my reality as well. Until the church takes on this mentality, abuse of many kinds will continue - it is the perfect recipe for such abuse. Enough. If people want to save their church, these men need to be challenged even more so than the paedophiles and abuser of all ages. If this doesn't happen, none of the marvelous words and metaphors that create and feed 'faith' will work anymore. Thank you for listening.

Ed | 22 May 2015  

I find it hard to recognise my own book in what Hamilton has written. Even the title of this review, "Is faith more than a metaphor?" fails to do justice to my book. Of course faith is more than a metaphor, so I have been set up as a straw man in this review, and then knocked over. I wonder if Hamilton read my book, because if he did, he would see that it is a fierce defence of faith in a modern, faithless world. I never once suggest that faith is "merely" a metaphor. Is this a case of deliberate misreading, or has there been some other motive? But to suggest that my work encourages, to quote the review, "loss of a personal God to whom I can pray, of a Christ who is a living presence among his followers" is a complete, utter misreading of my work. How dare this kind of thing be published, so that readers throughout Australia and beyond will assume I am some kind of atheist, when I have striven all my life to encourage faith and to believe in a personal God. Forgive him Lord, for he knows not what he does.

Professor David Tacey | 23 May 2015  

Thank you for your posting, David, and I acknowledge the hurt it has occasioned you. And I reject any imputation that you are an atheist. Those labels are abhorrent and show no respect either for you or for your book. I reviewed the book precisely because I admire and respect your work in trying to make a space for faith in culture that leaves no room for it. The header, crude as headers are, was a question, not a statement. My review focused on the interpretation of the stories and symbols on which Christian faith is grounded, not on the quality of the faith of which you spoke. You take offence at a quotation from the review. In it I spoke of my personal interests I saw to be at stake. And re-reading it, I should have spoken, not of a personal God to pray to' (which could be taken to make a more universal claim), but 'the personal God I pray to', to emphasise that it is my personal way of faith I was referring to. The reason why I saw my way of praying and living in the church as being at stake is that my prayer to and through Christ as a real presence in the world rests on the belief that a personal God has entered our world in Jesus, who is the Son of God in a unique sense, and whose resurrection is an event of God in this world that affected Jesus as well as the faith of believers My understanding of your book is that you to argued for a faith in which these foundations would be interpreted in a less 'realistic' way. If that is indeed your position, I respect your interpretation, which is in no way atheistic, but I do not see how it would support my own lived faith. And I would want to defend that lived faith and its groundings as reasonable. That said, I want again to repudiate any claim that you are an atheist, and to emphasise again the importance of the task we both have, of encouraging religious faith in a world that increasingly dismisses it.

Andrew Hamilton | 24 May 2015  

"the task we both have, of encouraging religious faith in a world that increasingly dismisses it". But WHY is the world dismissing faith, particularly religiously dogmatised faith? (See Ireland). My conservative Catholic family and friends say it's "Satan having a field day". My abuse victim friends say it's because firstly that they were abused and left damaged but more so because the priests and Levites of the church who saw them there passed by AND they had church law on their side and used civil law to back that up. David, you once wrote to me many years ago when I was strugglig not just with y faith but my study as well. The fact that you wrote back in kindness and useful input kept me on the path of good for some years following. It was the fact that you DID write back, something my own bishop won't do. That's why I am much more inclined to believe what you write and say over him or his ilk: Why cannot the church get this, Andrew? Why? Because they are frightened to side with the robbed, truly side with them and see them through to healing no matter what it takes rather than accuse them of being there through some fault of their own - of "being in the unfortunate situation they have found themselves in" to paraphrase. They say this and then they say they are sorry about all that, then they leave you to suffer and dissolve away. That's why people are abandoning the church at least: as I said, the metaphors it employs, no longer work because those preaching those metaphors 'don't work'. David's insights work and they work, because he works. We are what we do.

Ed | 25 May 2015  

Dr Tacey protests that he believes in a “personal God”. Yet, in a recent interview he said: "Do I believe in God? I think that the God that churches talk about is hard to believe. But I think there is something deeper than the God of the churches. There’s a God in creation, there’s a kind of a deep intelligence and a deep spiritual undercurrent in nature and the world. And that’s the kind of God I would believe in. But the idea of an old man in the sky,... interested in our toilet behaviour and our moral lives ... I think that’s a construction of human imagination and I think that God had to die so that the deeper God could be revealed." []

If I knew someone who, though intelligent, was totally uninterested in the moral life - his or anyone else’s I would consider him a seriously defective human being, not a complete, fully functioning person. Maybe even as the android character Ash in "Alien". I think likewise about a God that is totally indifferent to our flourishing as human beings, which flourishing is what the moral life is aimed at, after all. That’s not a loving God. But the capacity to love is as essential an element of the traditional concept of "person" as is the capacity to know. So Tacey’s God is not a loving God - or at least, not one that loves us humans and desires good for us. Analogy in theology is about finding the least-worst human names to put on the infinite reality which is God. "Person" is by no means the least-worst analogical term for the God Tacey believes in, given that he seems to rule out his intelligent God's doing any loving. He should logically prefer to say he believes in a "computer" God – (albeit not a *personal* computer!) – since computers, though “intelligent”, are equally uninterested in our moral lives and lack the capacity to love.

HH | 30 May 2015  

HH yo might be right but when the princes of the church are far less 'loving' that the secular memebrs of society, and, than people like David Tacey, who is a very 'loving' man, then such words are hollow, sounding gongs. God is love and when his representatives do not live in Love then God is not in them. No more theory, please. The church is what the church does - and she has abandoned me, labelled me, and fully knowing what will become of my/our lives (I say 'our, because my whole family has been affected not just by abuse, but more so even by the church's (an archbishops) unwillingness to see us get established again - that archbishop saying he was "sorry for the unfortunate situation I had found 'myself' in. This was after many attempts and requests for a meeting with him to see my face and hear my voice, my side of the story. David Tacey's 'god' is more real than this archbishop's and his church's. I can only now find Gos in nature but more so in people of Love, because God is Love - a verb, being, not a metaphor to be used for the continuation of power and abuse.

Ed | 01 June 2015  

The words from Tacey's interview cited by HH above suggest a gnostic view of God at a far remove from the scandalously incarnate God revealed in the person of Christ and proclaimed by the Church.

John Kelly | 01 June 2015  

You know, I fully empathise with Catholics - I was a very committed one all my life until recently - I was into Carmelite spirituality at a great depth. But I just cannot fathom any of it anymore. None of the metaphors make any sense anymore. This started particularly when I was lying in bed one night praying and all of a sudden, it hit me.: Is there a receptor that is picking up my prayer? It just all of a sudden made no sense and given what I had learned about human psychology, the possibility that I was 'praying' only to myself became ever more real. I decided to write to an 'adviser of faith' on Cath News to tell him of this: His response was - be careful, the devil likes to try and trick us. From that point on I gave up and just cannot, will not pray anymore. Now after this discussion, I have also realised how wrong (or clever) it has been of the church to create a personal God - it allows people to abdicate belief in a verb God, God who is love because it allows a detached God, an 'other' which is not possible if you believe that God is Love: Why? because if one believed only in a a God is Love god, then they can only be love or they are not being God or allowing God to be. A separate being called God can be much more easily ignored. That's why I cannot pray TO a God anymore - I have to be prayer, be Love. Not easy but the only thing that makes any sense anymore. It also helps me understand the archbishops of the world who just don't know how to be God, be Love - they are only being human, not God. And being human is a psychological, political, social state of being, not a spiritual one. So is their church - it is a human organisation - and aren't we seeing exactly how ordinarily human they are - just like every other human organisation - no different, until they be Love, again - like Jesus tried to show us. Jesus didn't say "look at me", "pray to me", he said DO as I DO.

Ed | 01 June 2015  

As I said to my archbishop 'friend' and one of his assistants, what's the use in praying to God for assistance to help me and my family survive? Is God going to drop the very needed money from the sky? No God can only work through human beings, like the Good Samaritan. If you don't WANT to do this, then that's a whole different ball game - it's a church thing, a political, financial decision so just tell me that you won't do - tell me ANYTHING - speak to ME face to face. That's the only way God can reach me, can help me/us. So unless you can do this, if you just want to pass by on the other side, don't try and palm yourself off as a representative of, a metaphor for some 'other' God to the rest of the church, something you do so beautifully. Too easy, too escapist.

Does this make any sense to anyone in a lived reality kind of way. Or is it all just me - am I just simply an idiot, a whinger, a reject, a nothing, an ingrate? I'm just trying to survive all the abuse in my life,the effects of that abuse AND now, even more so, the complete destruction of my faith because of all those I once trusted, one held highly and respected, who said they were my brother, my father, my bishop, my pastor, the representative of Christ on eart - all, and I mean all - just saying, "Go away, we're sick of you" Oh, if only they'd even actually say that - that would be something. No, they know we will all disappear and the church and its 'othered' God, will continue as it has for 2 millennia. I am now convinced after researching at least 70 cases of child sexual abuse, that this is the overwhelming but very secret true agenda of the official church> I just wish they would prove me wrong.

Ed | 02 June 2015  

My God is incarnate in me because my body contains light and earth. As a vine's roots grip the soil so does it reach for the sky. It is the ordinary work of the vine-dresser to prune errant branches, encouraging strongest growth for accessible fruit. a plant needs such care! Even the presence of smoke can sour the flavour cultivated. At 39 weeks pregnant I am soured by the memory of trying to read Tacey for truth as a young adult and feeling cheated by the self-sufficiency of the dialectic of context. Myth can become useful but for me it was mainly to support my freedom to live chastely, that I may use all my energies to win my heart's desiring.

Louise O'Brien-Jeffree | 17 June 2015  

David Tacey has so deconstructed Christianity in his new book that he simply falls into the old heresies of Arianism, Eutychianism and Gnosticism. Radical Orthodox theology reminds us that the Gospel we have inherited is startling and astounding, as well as dangerous and subversive. David Tacey would reduce radically orthodox Christianity to an interesting metaphorical documentation of a time when people struggled to deal with the ineffable nature of God and the mysterious nature of God's activity in the world. His book would dilute the challenging words of Christ such as Christ's challenge to engage in radical, mutual community en Christo; and reduce Christianity to a poetic, gnostic attempt to understand God. In fact, I'd have to say that I think David Tacey has abandoned Orthodox Christianity in this book.

Chris | 17 June 2015  

I agree with your disagreement with Tacey's thesis. If the literal belief of Jesus' Resurrection is replaced by a myth all is lost as St Paul wrote. 10 of the apostles who attested to the resurrection by their martyrdom confirms it as an historical fact whatever others write 22 centuries later.

Maurice Hall | 23 July 2015  

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