And now for something completely different.
I’m not religious, so I have no dog in this fight. But here’s a quick take on Biblical literalism, and why, to me, it always seemed like a strange view.
Two thought experiments:
1. Peter is hanging out with Jesus. Jesus looks at a mess James has made and says, “James is a pig.” Peter freaks out: “Jesus, you said James is a pig. But he’s a human being! You must either be fallible or a liar!” Seems like Peter is being an idiot. Obviously, Jesus could speak in metaphors without being a liar or a fool. Speaking in metaphors can communicate more understanding than speaking literally, especially when dealing with limited beings like ourselves. What Jesus is saying is true, if not literally true. It communicates something true, though it’s not literally true.
2. Jesus finishes giving the parable of the good Samaritan. An audience member raises his hand. “Jesus, did that actually happen, or is that just a fictional story?” Jesus says, “No, it’s just a fictional story meant to illustrate an idea. It’s like a thought experiment.” The audience member gasps, “Jesus is a liar!” Again, that seems like a stupid reaction for the same reasons as above.
Once you grant that–and frankly it seems absurd not to–I don’t see why you wouldn’t grant that much of the Bible could be metaphorical rather than literal, even if you believe that the Bible is the unerringly true Word of God. You wouldn’t accuse Jesus of being a fool or a liar in 1 or 2, so why couldn’t large portions of the Bible be metaphorical? Therefore, biblical literalism is a silly position.
P.S. In grad school, I took a class on pragmatics. Turns out that identify just what counts as a “literal” meaning is rather complicated thing. Indeed, we rarely speak literally, and the most natural way to interpret what others say usually involves adding more meaning than is contained in their words taken literally. See, e.g., https://books.google.com/books?id=ItPyx3ftrIIC