If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” ― William Blake
Religion, without a doubt has been a factor for a lot of good in this world. The devout have fed and housed the poor, lived upright and moral lives and advocated the ‘Golden Rule’ for people to live by. But Religion has also fueled some of the most vile hatred and horrific wars the world has ever seen. From the Muslim conquests to the Christian motivated crusades of Europe, the Salem witch trials in New England and the Inquisition in Spain; an ideology was so strong in the minds of these people, it caused them to carry out depraved acts of murder and destruction. People today still have these same convictions. But what if we’re missing the genuine philosophical meaning of these religions because of the conditioned mindset we approach our interpretations of their derived texts?
The fundamental religious believe their ancient texts to be wholly inspired by God and read it as historically true. Both Islam and Christianity hold these beliefs. But what if the real meaning of these ancient writings were not meant to be read as actualities, but rather as spiritual metaphors of a timeless message?
What we know for sure is that these two major religions of the world were formed around the same time in relation to the timeline of history. Christianity started around 30AD and Islam around 622AD. Both believe that Adam was the first male on earth. Both recognize the Old Testament prophets. It’s also been proven that both religions have historical inaccuracies in their sacred texts, and some believers are unfazed by these revelations. In Christianity, because of the many translations and understandings of them, many different sects have formed throughout the centuries including–Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Latter Day Saints and many others. All claim supremacy in their collective understanding of ancient scriptures. Each believe to solely hold the truth of salvation and eternal life.
So the important questions are:
Why do believers zealously defend an ideologue derived from a murky interpretation of ancient texts written by unknown authors in the most uneducated part of the world?
Why are these religions the cause of so much divisiveness, bigotry and hatred in this world?
I’m truly convinced the answer lies in the fact that people don’t read or understand metaphors anymore. And when we take metaphors as absolute truths, we submit ourselves into the world of duality that causes us to see the world through the foggy lenses of Good and Evil. This is what causes our –me vs you, my religion vs your religion– mentality. We tire ourselves with constant conflict with nature instead of transcending duality and living harmoniously in the world. We’ve created in our minds the illusion of self and time.
By reading the stories of the Bible as literal historical realities, the vital message that the myth was meant to embody is stripped away. We lose the real meaning. Jesus knew the power of metaphorical language and taught with beautiful parables that sometimes his disciples couldn’t identify with. They were trying to understand Jesus literally instead of grasping the message the parable was purveying. There minds weren’t capable of deciphering truths in the form of symbolism. Jesus, at times, became frustrated by their ignorance.
Genesis, which likely wasn’t the first book written in the Bible as many believe, is mostly mythical stories that cannot be read as history, but instead, as a witness to a truth in a way that history is unable to reveal*. Understanding metaphor is the key to abstracting a hopeful message from these fables written in the Old Testament, instead of just disregarding them because modern science has proved them invalid.
(*Many scholars agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, written by an Israelite about 1500 B.C. Christianity and Islam both derive their roots from the Sumerin mythology and according to Wiki, Sumerian civilization started between ca. 4500 and 4000 BC. )
One of the greatest thinkers on comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell, explains that “When you translate the Bible with excessive literalism, you demythologize it. The possibility of a convincing reference to the individual’s own spiritual experience is lost.” This is why he believed it was important to read myths and understand ancient symbolism. He also knew how beneficial it was to read other cultures religious texts so they’d be able to see the correlations with their own. It’s quite a revelation and would probably help taper off some of the illusions that senselessly divide mankind.
Now, when we read the first chapter of the bible, we can either interpret it literally or metaphorically. If we read it literally, we have to accept the fact that we have no clue who wrote it and there was no eye-witness account to these significant occurrences. We’d have to accept that God, the all-loving creator, created the devil knowing full in advance of his evil ways. We’d also have to believe that Satan took form in a talking serpent (a legend older than Genesis) and tempted Man to defy God, (which God, being all-knowing, would have known beforehand). There is no free-will when a creator has full knowledge of future actions and feelings of his creation. Or we can read it metaphorically, like the great teachers and poets throughout history have taught. Joseph Campbell explains the Fall in Genesis like this…
Why was this knowledge of good and evil forbidden to Adam and Eve? Without that knowledge, we’d all be a bunch of babies still in Eden, without any participation in life. Woman brings life into the world. Eve is the mother of this temporal world. Formerly you had a dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden – no time, no birth, no death – no life. The serpent, who dies and is resurrected, shedding its skin and renewing its life, is the lord of the central tree, where time and eternity come together. He is the primary god, actually, in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh, the one who walks there in the cool of the evening, is just a visitor. The Garden is the serpent’s place. It is an old, old story. We have Sumerian seals from as early as 3500 B.C. showing the serpent and the tree and the goddess, with the goddess giving the fruit of life to a visiting male…
In the Old Testament story God points out the one forbidden thing. Now, God must have known very well that man was going to eat the forbidden fruit. But it was by doing that that man became the initiator of his own life. Life really began with that act of disobedience.
Below are just a few examples of the illogical fallacies written in Genesis if one reads it as actual truths. If we define these as literal historical facts, we run into major contradictions and untruths, whether its science, archaeological or common-sense. But if we can read these symbolically as a spiritual message, then we’d be truer to our rational nature.
- God couldn’t have created light a few days before he created the sun like it is written. We know now that light is obviously produced by the sun, but the authors at the time had no idea about this science. (1:14-19)
- God couldn’t have created plants the day before he made the sun, because we now understand that sun is needed to drive their photosynthetic processes. No sun= no plants. (1:14-19). 1:11
- In Genesis 1 the entire creation takes 6 days, but the universe is 13.7 billion years old, with new stars constantly being formed.
- “When the animals left the ark, what would they have eaten? There would have been no plants after the ground had been submerged for nearly a year. What would the carnivores have eaten? Whatever prey they ate would have gone extinct. And how did the New World primates or the Australian marsupials find their way back after the flood subsided?”
- There is an estimated 8.7 million species on earth. Did Noah snatch all of them up and put them on his boat?
- Gen 32:30 states, “…for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” However, John 1:18 states, “No man hath seen God at any time…” Both statements cannot be true.
If we read irrational stories in the Bible and try to convince our conscious, against reasonable evidence, that these are literally true, we lack the sincerity of being rational human beings. But if we understand the allegory and metaphorical meaning of these fascinating stories, we’d be able to recognize the mythical meanings that exist in ourselves.
We all came from the same place no matter what our beliefs are. We are one.
Below, I want to leave you with wonderful article from a retired pastor called, Rethinking the Genesis Message. He struggled as a Reverend to accept the message of Genesis as true history. So this is how he coped with the contradictions between modern science and his faith.
Rethinking the Genesis Message.
By the Rev. Howard Bess
It is unfortunate that the collection of writings that Christians most revere has been entitled The Holy Bible, a title that has placed this collection of letters, essays, tracts, poetry, myths, legends and stories in a category that does not allow for critical examination. Many believers treat the Bible’s contents as the unquestioned word of God.
“The Bible says” are three words that end discussion rather than initiate debate. New titles have been attempted. “Good News for Modern Man” and “The Message” are attempts that come to mind. However, neither of these titles, nor others that have been tried, grabbed the imagination of readers sufficiently. I want to make the case to read the Bible material as “Life in the Pursuit of the Good” — though I acknowledge that the Bible can be read with an almost endless number of perspectives.
Much earlier in my theological career, I struggled with the seeming conflict between my Christian faith and modern science. My struggle focused on the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Conventional understanding told me that this story was an account of the God of the Israelites creating all things out of nothing in seven days.
I was exposed to all kinds of explanations about how the story could be reconciled to modern science. However, modern science won all the arguments. Genesis 1 simply did not pass scientific muster. So, I reached my next conclusion. Unwilling to throw away Genesis 1, I concluded that the chapter was not history and could not be understood as history. Genesis 1 was written as a myth and should be read as a myth.
Myth is a time-honored literary form used to talk about God, but myths never make scientific sense and can never be read as history. Myths can witness to truth in a manner that mere history can never speak. Thus, I read Genesis with new eyes.
The Genesis 1 story has ancient roots that go back to Mesopotamia, the cradle of western civilization which covered the same area as modern Iraq, with Babylon its capital city. In Mesopotamian mythology, a recurring theme was the struggle with chaos, with their answer to chaos, war. But chaos could not be defeated by fighting it. Chaos kept coming back to haunt the people of Mesopotamia. In their mythology, war was inevitable and victory over chaos was temporary at best.
According to Biblical tradition, Abraham grew up in Mesopotamia, was familiar with the ways of that region, and – by the call of God – went on a grand journey. Over the ensuing generations, Israelite thinking took a turn away from the Babylonian myths. Genesis 1 is the Israelite response to chaos and endless war.
In the Genesis 1 myth, the Israelite God confronts a world that is without form and is engulfed in darkness. In modern language, the earth was chaotic beyond useful function. So God sets out to do something about chaos and the useless nature of the world. Simply by speaking, the Israelite God made light, vegetation, animal life and finally human life. God’s world was to be a place of plenty and robust life. As God completed his actions, he paused periodically and said that what he was doing was good.
This alternative reading of Genesis 1 and understanding Genesis 1 as myth were for me a marvelous discovery. I could let science do its work, while I was given a new vision of what my life as a religious person was to be about. Jesus and Paul affirmed the message that evil/chaos is never to be fought but overcome with the doing of good.
Genesis 1 lays out the message about the power of doing good, though mankind keeps finding ways of nullifying the program. Christians, Jews and Muslims all say that they embrace the Genesis 1 story. However, much of the time we choose to be Babylonians, warring against chaos rather than addressing it with good.
In that way, we ignore one of the most profound ethical statements ever proposed.