There are so many ways to understand religious texts. But the following scene on Deep Space Nine caught my attention.
“You are both wrong. The only real question is whether you believe the legend of Davy Crockett or not. If you do then there should be no doubt in your mind that he died a hero’s death. If you do not believe in the legend he was just a man and it does not matter how he died.”
Worf Star Trek DS9 S7:E7 “Once More Unto the Breach”
I couldn’t help but get goosebumps at how similar this line of thought is to how a lot of theologically progressive Christians approach the Bible.
If you are not familiar, the two main camps in any religion are those that believe that every event that is meant to be taken literally actually happened (namely the miraculous). In Christianity they are fundamentalists. Though Catholics and Orthodox take is seriously too.
And then you have the “liberal” or progressive Christians who don’t take every word written as literal history and are ok with viewing key events in the Bible as myth and symbolism.
This is something I’ve struggled with for a while because growing up as an evangelical it was a point of pride that we believed the whole word of God. We didn’t cherry pick which verses apply. We accepted it all. Except, of course where it conflicted with our culture.
I’ve often thought that the strength and weakness of Christianity is how deeply the major points of theology are enmeshed in the history of a relatively small patch of land.
I say strength because if it’s true, then it provides something valuable when approaching God: evidence.
But I also say weakness because the actual historical evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are very thin.
But as Worf points out here, what matters is do you believe in the legend? The way I parse that question is to reframe it as, is the narrative so unique, so beautiful, so inspiring that it literally draws you to have faith in its intrinsic power?
For example, I wasn’t there on Omaha beach, but whenever I watch movies about D-Day and hear the stories of the brave things men did on that day, I believe that many of them were heroes, giants among men and it inspires me to be brave.
One of my favorite passage of scripture is of Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples. As he spoke to them and opened up the word of God, their hearts began to burn in them and through that experience they became aware of Jesus.
These days I’m much more progressive in my beliefs, and I don’t actually care if Jesus rose from the dead or not. Well that’s not true. I do care. But it is the story, with all it’s pathos and critical insight into the human condition that really matter.
But I’m done trying to pin my faith in a historical event. Why? Because quite frankly unless someone invents a time machine, those events will always be in question.
Why should I believe something literally happened 2000 years ago? Or 3000 years ago? For me the question is not do I believe that the stories in the Bible are all real historical events that happened, but do I believe in the meaning of the story itself.
I’ve mentioned this before, but considering how vast the universe is and even just considering how long humanity has been, well humanity, I find it hard to believe that the God of the Universe would only reveal himself to one small group of people in the desert 3000 years ago.
Rather, I view the Bible as an archetypal metaphor for the various kinds of experiences that we all have on the way to lay hold of the kingdom of God. And as far as archetypes go, death to the flesh and resurrection to the spirit is one that will always hold great significance for me.
In closing, I don’t fault fundamentalists for wanting to hold on to belief in the literal truth of the story. But I think approaching the Scriptures symbolically, mythically, is an equally valid form of reverence.