I believe we think in metaphor. I’m sure I do. All the dead metaphors lying around suggest this: melting pot, wall of separation, war on drugs, information superhighway, to mention just a few. Many people, unfortunately, discount metaphor and this limits their thinking.
If we think in metaphor, this would be the way we think about deity, about religion. It was reading the work of the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides which first made me aware of this. He asserts that we can only talk about God by analogy. If we say God is good, we are only saying that this attribute of God is in some way analogous to the qualities we admire in a person we call good. It makes sense that, if we are creatures, our Creator is beyond our understanding. Our ideas can at best be vague approximations.
The problem is that modern popular language dismisses metaphor because it is not “true” by which is meant that it is not factual. The reduction of “truth” to “fact” is unfortunate, because it easily constricts reason to “thinking about facts.”
Beginning in the mid-19th century, those who wanted to gain public attention for new religious ideas presented them in scientific language: the mediums of spiritualism tried to present their work as science; Mary Baker Eddy not only called her belief system “Christian Science,” her basic text is The Science of Health With Key to the Scriptures. Similarly Madame Blavatsky presented her ideas, to which she gave the name Theosophy, as science.
In our time the dominant popular world view limits the reading of sacred texts because if the only truth is fact, then scripture must be either factual or false.
Fortunately one can escape this trap and think more broadly. One can read one’s sacred text as human interpretation. One can recognize that all language about God has to be metaphoric (including such terms as “Father” for God),. But those who do read their scriptures in this broad way find themselves on one side of a very large gap between two kinds of believers. And those who take their sacred text literally have the strength of popular scientific thinking on their side.
Some people who are raised in a literal belief system abandon it to find other levels of awareness through other traditions. Those other levels inform all religions, including the one the former believer has left, knowing only the version diminished by reductive language.
I choose to stay in my tradition and explore its alternative meanings. This is hard to explain to both literal believers and non-believers. It is probably wiser to hint at it in poetry than to write explanations.