Friday, March 30, 2012

The Literal and the Figurative: Either or Both

I know lots of members who take lots of things figuratively in our scriptures, but conversion (drastic change) often must be founded on a feeling of literalness - and differentiating (comparing differences, especially to establish supremacy) often is the root of conversion. Thus, many new converts ground their testimonies in literalism - and it takes maturing in the Gospel and personal confidence to begin to be able to let go of that and embrace figurative interpretations that generally are highly personal.

In other words, conversion to the group requires a degree of uniformity that is served best by literalism. The individual exploration that follows one who matures as a disciple requires one to let go of that literalism (to some degree and with regard to some concepts) and embrace a more figurative perspective. On the other hand, even most of the more mature members of any religion hang onto a literal interpretation of something - some core concepts or principles that remains literal for them. I believe the most mature members are able to consider BOTH literal and figurative interpretations - and actually see both kinds of perspectives as legitimate, worthwhile and inspired, even with regard to the same event or story. 

Literalness provides safety; figurative-ness can be dangerous and scary. Therefore, literalness is NOT a bad thing for those who need safety more than they need to explore. It just appears restrictive to the explorers.


Howard said...

Our early encounters with the Spirit tend to be an answer or no answer at all, not "yes" or "no". So we pray and ask perhaps over and over; "Is the church true?" or "Is the BoM true?" and we receive an answer! Hallelujah, we take it to mean "yes" but I think it means something more like Nate said “Come, follow me”. With more experience we can begin to parse the Spirit's answers allowing us to loosen our grip on the iron rod. If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Papa D said...

Excellent insight, Howard - and I really like phrasing our answers as whatever we need to hear in order to get the message, "Come, follow me."

Paul said...

Hmmm. I think I like where you're headed with this, though I'm not sure I would have approached it the same way.

It almost sounds like you're saying, "When you're young you believe in a literal Santa Claus, but as you mature, you can accept the concept of Santa and that you are Santa."

But I think you mean more than that, as indicated in your suggestion that seeing both interpretations has value.

For me, I don't think a lot about the literalness question, though if I really think on it, I can see that some accounts strain credulity.

There are some points of literalness that are necessary for me (and I'm not claiming they must be literal for all), including the resurrection and the atonement, the existence of God the Father & Jesus Christ as corporeal beings, among other things.