Monday, September 29, 2003

In a Glass Snarkly

Today’s Bizarro cartoon takes place in the Garden of Eden. God tells Adam, “Try to keep in mind this is an allegory & you’re actually off evolving from apes somewhere else right now.” I don’t know if that’s particularly funny, but at least it has the virtue of explaining something. Most of the folks who tell themselves and us that the myths and dogmas of the revealed religions are merely allegories of higher truths aren’t in a hurry to identify just which higher truths they are allegories of. Their reticence is understandable. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy Bible stories as stories–I certainly do—but it is rather harder to extract a benign or plausible message from them—Shut up and obey? Curiosity is a great evil? Women are weak and treacherous? Kill all of them including the children? Of course earlier readers of scripture detected or imagined other, more acceptable meanings in the old stories. These days the lukewarm faithful find it enough to assume that an acceptable decoding is possible. Meanwhile, the true believers reject interpretation itself.

Christians have attempted to read scripture allegorically for a long time, of course; but it eventually became heterodox to acknowledge that the stories about the Garden and the Ark were fables. The allegorical interpretation, however edifying or important, was something added to an underlying literally true narrative of the creation of animals and people and the early history of mankind. If anything, the Christian Fundamentalism of the last century or so is a radicalization of this anti-alchemical transmutation of a golden mythology into leaden science fiction, and the atheists owe them one for turning a once elusive quarry into a sitting duck, i.e. a set of demonstrably false statements about matters of fact.

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