The Barefoot Bum wrote an excellent blog entry entitled ”The Moral Failure of Figurative Theology.” I am not quite ready for it to be consigned to the back-room of blogdom.
There has always been a tension regarding the literalism of the stories of the Tanakh. At one time, most Christians believed the Great Flood literally occurred as recorded in the Bible. (Whether Judaism always believed it to be an actual historical event is a matter of another discussion.) Christians believed there was an actual 40 days (and nights) with actual rain, and the entire planet, every continent, every mountain, every single piece of earth was covered with water. And Christians believed the entire animal kingdom was saved by virtue of one (1) very big boat.
Science began to discredit the story in two primary ways: 1) Geology demonstrated there was no universal flood and 2) Biology demonstrated the difficulty in all the species (including insect, plant, fish, and avian) either surviving such a flood, or fitting in such a boat.
This tension caused Christianity to fracture into three predominant groups. The first group continues with literalism. Any evidence pointing to the contrary is discounted, discredited or disavowed. Literalism is maintained at the cost of science, observation and (in my opinion) reasonableness.
The second group assumed a combination of literalism/allegory. That there is “some truth” (and how much is a matter of debate) to the story, but it didn’t actually happen as literally written out in Genesis. Most hold to a “local flood” concept.
The third group considered it a complete allegory. Entire myth. That this was just a story, made to give a moral point. Much like Aesop’s fables—there was no talking mouse and talking lion and never expected to be. The idea was what was to be conveyed.
We see these machinations in Creation (OEC vs. YEC vs. theistic evolution). In Exodus (including the Ten Plagues and Joshua’s genocide.) In the stories of Judges. Regarding David and Solomon—even later prophets like Daniel or Isaiah. And yes, in the New Testament as well. Did the authors of the gospels record what Jesus actually said, or did they record what they expected him to say? Did the author of Acts recording the literal speeches of Peter, Stephen and Paul, or summations or even broad doctrinal statements?
But The Barefoot Bum takes it a step further. A warranted step further. If the stories presented are of figurative historical nature; are the moral dictates within the stories equally figurative?
Going back to the flood story. If it was only a local flood, or was entirely a myth—what is the moral being proclaimed here?
God sees wicked people.
God kills all the wicked people.
God saves a few humans and a few animals.
In our current society, we attempt to rehabilitate people. If they are doing something wrong, we hope to give them an opportunity to correct their ways. We punish people based upon the extent of their wrong-doing. We do not levy the death sentence to rapists and jay-walkers alike.
We punish the actual wrong-doers. We do not electrocute the murderer, then kill his wife, then kill his new-born son and 5-year-old daughter. And kill his dog, his cat, and 10 gold fish.
Yet these are the very actions of the God of the Great Flood. He didn’t attempt to rehabilitate. He administered the same punishment for all. He killed 2-day-old infants for the sins of their fathers and mothers. He killed all of the household cats (except 2) because…well…cats are evil, I guess. (Dogs, I could see. But cats?)
In fact, we start to see figurative morality begin to take hold in the claims of Christianity. Ask about Onanism. Or the Mosaic Law. (“Much of that was done away with by the New Covenant.”) Or slavery. (“Their slavery was different than our slavery.”) Or Polygamy. (“Uh…er…”) Or women wearing gold 1 Tim. 2:9. (“That has to do with modesty, not actually wearing gold.”) Or Divorce. (“The wronged party can re-marry.”) Or alcohol. (“Their wine was different than our wine.”)
We see how the morals being imposed within the Bible no longer apply today (eating pork) or mean something else today (women dress modestly) or only meant for that time period (polygamy, slavery). They become a “figurative” morality.
Which brings us to the great question as posed by The Barefoot Bum. I would state it as follows (making it my own):
If the stories of the Bible are figurative, and the morals are figurative—what possible mandate would the Bible have upon us today? In other words—if we do not rely upon the Bible for history and we do not rely upon the Bible for morals—what DO we rely upon it for?
Other than stories of how former civilizations viewed their gods.