Monday, July 7, 2008

Plain Speaking and Metaphor

The preacher on television said that some one's heart was "full of the holy spirit". It was beautiful how he said it. You could tell why he's on television and I'm not.

The thing is: what does it mean?

Since religious people deal in the greater mysteries of our existence, they rely pretty heavily on metaphor to try and make sense of things that don't make much sense. The bible itself is full of metaphor in a thousand different varieties.

Metaphor can be a crutch though, and over-used it can get in the way of people understanding what it is we're trying to say instead of illuminating it.

I don't know what "full of the holy spirit" means. Hearts aren't full of the holy spirit, they're full of blood. As far as I know, the holy spirit doesn't actually infest our bodies, and even if it did, since we don't have a really specific idea of what the holy spirit is, how would you know?

In the example from television above, "full of the holy spirit" was a metaphor for someone taking action in the real world based on their religious faith and teaching. If the preacher wants to teach us listeners that this is good to do, then he should have spoken plainly rather than rely on a metaphor like "full of the holy spirit".

Jesus used metaphor, like when he asked peter to be a "fisher of men", but he also spoke very plainly too.

Some men came to Jesus. They said, "Teacher, what should we do if someone hits us on the side of the face?" Jesus said, "Turn your face and offer them the other side to hit as well."

That's pretty plain speaking. Jesus leaves us no question about what he means and "turn the other cheek" became one of Christ's most remarkable and memorable lessons.

It's important for religious people to remember that when we teach about our faith, it's more important to be understood than it is to use flowery code words or phrases and a lot of times, plain speaking is a much better choice than metaphor.

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