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April 21, 2014

Those who know me will be aware that I’m very decidedly an atheist. Nevertheless, as Samuel Butler said, all atheists should go to church once in a while, so yesterday I went along to Holy Communion, it being Easter Sunday – partly because I retain a nostalgic affection for the Church of England (I used to be a choirboy) and partly because I thought I’d drag my children along and bore them out of their skulls, just as I used to be bored out of mine.

The first thing that struck me was the richness of the language. In the prayers and hymns one is constantly hearing, saying and singing words like glory, love, power, eternal, Heaven, angels, life everlasting etc – so much more satisfying than the anaemic prose of everyday life. There is something nourishing about being exposed for an hour to such positive and poetic language, so rich in associations. One doesn’t normally get much chance to hear words like that, let alone sing them. It’s a mood-enhancer.

The second thing was the frequency with which the phrase ‘son of God’ was used. It’s never occurred to me to wonder about this before – the idea that Jesus is supposed to be God’s son is so familiar one just gives it a free pass – but really, what does it actually mean? How could God have a son? Surely (if he existed) he wouldn’t be the sort of being that sired children? He doesn’t reproduce; he doesn’t have genes to pass on. If Jesus had had a DNA test, it would have revealed… what? OK, since God is supposed to be magic he could just create Jesus ex nihilo – but then in what sense is Jesus God’s son, as opposed to just another of his human creations, like the rest of us? What does that relationship consist in? Perhaps a theologian would say that the word son is a metaphor here. But then what is it a metaphor for?

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One Comment
  1. Your last question could probably be appropriately applied to nearly everything in the Bible that is dismissed as metaphor when it conflicts with some other finding. The big question is: what method is used to determine whether something is a metaphor? And even when the metaphor is granted, some of the them have no obvious meaning.

    You do bring up an interesting point though, one which I never thought of. If God is not material, in what way can Jesus be Son of God? Certainly, the honest interpretation of historical Christianity is that Jesus was a real person and he really sits in Heaven next to God the Father. What other meaning could possibly be attributed to Jesus having risen “body and soul” into Heaven. If this is a metaphor as well, it is yet another nonsensical one. What possible metaphorical meaning does a body rising into Heaven have? Where then is the real body? Or was the body a metaphor too and the story is just telling us God punished himself metaphorically to save us from himself? Is the pronoun “himself” also metaphorical? At this point, we may as well just say the whole thing is a metaphor with no applicability to reality.

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