Thursday, July 30, 2015

When Stories Outgrow What They Are Intended to Teach

A friend of mine said the following a while ago, and I thought it was profound.  The discussion was about the benefits of taking some things literally and other things figuratively, mythologically or symbolically.  I bolded a few things I want to highlight. 

When it comes to religion I've found that the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything (other than 42) is . . . hymns. I hope you're still with me, I was serious. That's my answer for a lot of the questions I've had (in my life).

So why hymns?
Setting scriptures or gospel principles to music helps us remember the principles better. It's a mnemonic. For instance, I have several hymns memorized but I have a real hard time committing those scripture mastery scriptures to memory.

I think that was the point of all the stories in the scriptures - being vehicles to help us remember the principles they relate. The problem is that the stories grew a life of their own - so much so that the principles the stories teach are completely overlooked or overshadowed.

Noah's Ark for instance. It can be a story about following God . . . or about seeing a job through to completion, planning ahead, providing temporal needs for your family, and doing the right thing despite peer pressure . . . or we can search a mountain range for remains of a boat and try to arrive at the true size of a cubit to see whether there was enough room for the dinosaurs.

Adam and Eve is another one that's trending these days. My facebook feed is filled with creationists attacking evolutionists and vice-versa. In some ways, the story has outgrown the teachings, even to the point of contention.


ji said...

I am sympathetic to your perspective. I don't like doctrinal disputations, and I accept there may be some embellishment or hyperbole in the stories in the scriptures. However, I am concerned about the slippery slope. If we start turning some of the stories in the scriptures into fables or myths, where do we stop? Some people already say that even the crucifixion and resurrection are useful myths, but I value them as historical happenings. Many people who call themselves Christians already see the virgin birth as a myth. The miracles, too. I used to be a Presbyterian, and there are many there, including among the clergy, who believe nothing is really literal and it is all stories for us to think about. So with that background, I cannot happily endorse others turning everything in the scriptures into stories.

You mentioned Genesis stories, but what is the difference between those stories and New Testament stories? We have essentially equal evidence for both. For that matter, where is the historical evidence that Joseph Smith really had a vision? I have heard that some Latter-day Saints question whether that ever happened. It seems to me that too many in the crowd who call the stories myths do so for the purpose of weakening faith in themselves and others. As long as that is their objective, I simply cannot agree with them. I may not openly disagree, but I sometimes will share a thought on the value (or at least the lack of harm) in approaching the stories as real people and real events.

I want to strengthen faith, so I cannot heartily endorse the views of those who want to weaken or destroy faith. Those people are often in the forefront of insisting the stories are myths, and I oppose them because of their purpose, not necessarily because of their facts. Well, in these matters, none of us have any facts, do we? But I am sympathetic to those who quietly wonder about a particular story but who are still faithful.

On the other hand, I am sometimes offended by the strident and loud approach of those who insist on absolute scriptural inerrancy.

Papa D said...

You have identified the central issues, ji - and I share those concerns. However, given what I know of historical records and the teaching of principles and "morals of the story", I am hesitant to insit on many things being literal rather than symbolic in nature.

My primary desire is that our scriptures bring meaning and power into our lives in a way that brings us closer to God, and I know some people need literal views to do that while others need something else. I have come to embrace the icea of allowing all people to interpret scriptures according to the dictates of their own hearts and minds, let them interpret how they may.

ji said...

let them interpret how they may

That's right.

Those who prefer seeing the stories as real should not beat others over the head, so to speak, with an insistence on that perspective, and equally, those who prefer seeing the stories as myth should not beat others over the head with that insistence. Unfortunately, in our current culture, it seems fashionable to espouse the latter view (seeing the stories as myth), and those who do seem to mock those who espouse the former view (seeing the stories as real). I don't like the mocking, the pointing the finger, the smugness, and so forth that I sometimes see among those who espouse the stories-as-myth view. I have discerned that some who espouse that view do so as a matter of intellectual honesty (that's good) but some do so with a purpose to destroy faith (that's not good).