Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Way of Allegory in Religion

H.J. Paton reminds us at several points in his book The Modern Predicament published in 1955 based on the Gifford Lectures of 1951/52; that the philosophy of religion continues to revolve around similar issues and stances have a familiar ring. Aldous Huxley had published The Perennial Philosophy in 1945 which would have introduced to a large audience ideas about the source of the religious spirit which are commonplace in Vedanta and Sufism. Atheistic appal at the removal of scientifically dismissible beliefs to the sphere of the symbolic is universal and the saying of Karl Barth –' it does not matter whether the serpent spoke, but what he said' – leaves them speechless.

Ultimately the religious spirit must be left to evolve its own symbolism and ritual, but where it is not strong enough to do so, men have always tried to meet this situation by what may be called the way of allegory: they have interpreted what traditionally seemed to be plain statements of fact as myths or parables which reveal a higher truth.

Those who adopt this course are commonly attacked, or even despised, both by the upholders of orthodoxy and by those who wish to sweep all religion away. They are spurned as half-hearted and dishonest triflers by men who, for quite different reasons, unite in persisting that religious statements must be taken with absolute literalness.

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