Monday, February 13, 2012

Teaching Children About the Scriptures: Literal or Figurative?

I teach my children that much I believe of scripture is literal and much is figurative / allegorical / mythological - and that each and every one of us needs to figure out how we are going to make those distinctions - and that different distinctions are fine, as long as they are carefully considered and personally owned but open to alteration. I tell them that BOTH extremes (totally literal and totally figurative) are the easy way out - that it's trying to figure out an acceptable middle ground that is hard. I also tell them, however, that it's only in the difficult things in life that real growth occurs - and it's only in making those distinctions that PERSONAL revelation occurs.

Think about that a little more deeply:

In my opinion, NEITHER extreme involves personal revelation, since EITHER extreme merely is shutting down intellectually and defaulting to a no-conflict setting. I believe reality almost always lies somewhere in the middle of the "opposition in all things" - which is how I have come to see EVERY volume of scripture in our own canon AND most of the holy writings of other religions. That's why I believe "as far as it is translated correctly" applies just as much to each and every one of us as we "translate" what we read as it does to those who have translated our scriptures over time. 

Finally, I think kids should read the scriptures even if only to understand how other people viewed their relationship with God. There is great power in that alone - especially if it motivates them to try to articulate their own view of that relationship for themselves.


ji said...

"each and every one of us needs to figure out how we are going to make those distinctions"

Not really -- to me, it doesn't matter -- I'm much more concerned about the message -- for example, I really don't care if Jonah is fact or a good story and I don't engage in that argument -- well, maybe you're right and this is how I figure it out.

Papa D said...

I agree, ji. That is a great example.

At the most basic, root level, I really don't care if a story is literal, figurative, allegorical, mythological, etc. - as long as I get meaning and inspiration from it. I like to study things and try to understand them intellectually, but I don't sweat it at all. It's what it does "in my real life" that matters the most to me.

Anonymous said...

Good,good Papa,I'm comfortable with this,much more comfortable teaching this to my children. But am I watering the gospel down in order to make it acceptable to them? I'm never sure,but it's the only way that works to keep our kids on board given our family's experience.

I'm also thinking these days that scripture can mean different things for me at different times in my life. And of course,this is not what we learn in sunday school,and can leave my children feeling on the margins of the church system. Nothing feels simple,and sometimes we all need simplicity.

Paul said...

This is something I never thought about as a young person -- not necessarily because I thought it was a literal, but because I was more like ji.

But as I've matured (I hope I'm maturing!), I've come to realize that it does not need to be literal to be valuable, any more than Oedipus or King Lear need to be literally true to be useful. (No, I'm not reducing scripture to well-written literature, but you know that.)

I don't feel a stong need to be right or wrong about what is literal and what is not, however. I'm confident that when that knowledge is most important to me it will come.

I agree that introducing the idea that scripture might be figurative can be useful for a young person and might insulate him from some of the shocks that a literal interpretation would require.