Thursday, June 18

Beyond Literal Belief: Religion as Metaphor by David Tacey

Having read this fascinating book here are my thoughts and those of a friend of mine in that order.

David Tacey’s latest book aims to demonstrate that religion needs to be interpreted as a metaphor, to reveal its true spiritual relevance and unchain nearly two thousand years of unfounded dogmatic demands. His aim as dedicated in the book “to future generations, may you make more sense of religion than the generation before you.”
From this rather grand objective one is drawn to Tacey’s engaging and well-constructed arguments that mythical foundations underpin spiritual experience and understanding. 
I became less convinced however with his assertion that Jesus’s message was to say the kingdom of GOD was available existentially then; for which he was subsequently crucified. Indeed, the idea that everything could be underpinned on the basis of the interpretative metaphor did not resonate with me, since I think many of the biblical writers were also recording a recollections of events at that point in time. 
The problem is exasperated by the paucity of what is known of Jesus, restricted as it is to his short lived public ministry. Paul’s letters focus similarly on the resurrected Jesus to only make a few fleeting gospel references.   
All I think we can say for sure from the biblical accounts is that Jesus left us with the idea of a universal ethic of love, some definitive ideas on living as described in the Sermon on the Mount and food for thought in regard to the parables, which continue to offer many different interpretative outcomes.

Hence I don’t think the question of whether or not Jesus proclaimed the kingdom was here – within us, or yet to come as in the so called “second coming” can be answered unequivocally as tenaciously in the former as Tacey appealing argues. This seems to me to be an enduring mystery. However one author who might add more weight to Tacey’s conclusions is Scholar Elaine Pagels who has investigated the documents and implications from the discovery of the 52 texts in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, (known as the Gnostic Gospels) which are very different to the new testament. I think if Tacey had placed more emphasis on sources from outside the biblical texts that would have added more weight to his otherwise rather broad brush approach.

Second review  
After the long, wonderful and passionate Preface - and I always admire David's passion in his writing - I expected a sustained expose of at least all the happenings in the synoptic Gospels. However, the whole book and main argument is a Jungian and Spongian argument.  Jungian, because a great deal of the book is devoted to explaining Jungian theory. Spongian, because the more important arguments and propositions are the same as advocated some time ago by the American Episcopal Bishop Spong.

Selecting various events. Happenings, sayings in the New Testament rather lacks that sustainability I hoped for.
That quite a few of the 'miracles' and so on are metaphors is, I thought, well accepted by the average thinking Christian. Nobody is too fussed about the virgin birth of Jesus.  If that is a metaphor for expressing the divinity present in that 'event', Tacey gives an excellent insight.  However, biographical/historical texts not only consist of metaphors, exaggerations, embellishments and so on, but also of some facts. That we cannot always discern them after 2000 years is the big conundrum we are dealing with.  Let me give an example: The wedding feast at Cana. There is no particular reason to assume that Jesus, his mother, and his friends did not go to the feast.  The miracle of changing water into wine is, I thought, a great exaggeration.  Changing one glass of water into wine is as much a miracle as changing gallons of it. This could be seen as a metaphor of something, but a close reading shows that nothing of that was remarked upon by the guests. What was commented on was the overthrowing of accepted ritual, i.e. serving the best wine last instead of the bad wine.
Why Tacey spent so much time on the virgin birth and only a fleeting reference on the core of Christian Faith in the NT, that is the Eucharist, is something I cannot understand, since the whole book is an  expose (and indeed the theory) of metaphors as interpreted by Karl Jung.
So summing up, I admire the passion of the writing, but I am not at all convinced by the argument.


Tom said...

Interesting post. I wonder whether at some stage at the feast, the wine was just watered down. Elaine Pagels, interesting writer.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Tom.
Pleased to hear you found the post interesting. Indeed I agree it could be that at some stage at the feast, the wine was just watered down, to preserve the full strength for later , in marked contrast to the conventional practice at that time. I think a lot of the parables were thought provoking of that ilk, since what springs to mind is the first shall be last as in the prodigal son and so forth; the kingdom to come was available to all and not just the first chosen by way of an inheritance of a promised land.
But of course, all of this remans shrouded in mystery and can be viewed in any number of different ways. Best wishes

susan said...

While I can only base my own interpretation of David Tacey's book on the thoughts both you and your friend have written here I must agree that his arguments do appear somewhat narrowly defined if they only reference the synoptic gospels. It's certainly true that within a century of Jesus' death much of what he'd taught was excluded in order for the church to survive in that tempestuous period. That we now have access to the Gnostic Gospels - in particular, the Gospel of Thomas - allows us to have a deeper understanding of the core beliefs.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
Although Tacey’s approach in my view is too much of a broad brush approach there is no denying he is also a remarkable scholar. Hence I think you would enjoy listening to his interview with Dr Rachael Cohn on the ABC's “In the Spirit of Things “
Best wishes