Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Mythology

Christmas is such a great holiday. The Christmas story about the birth of Jesus is a fantastic example of a myth with deep metaphorical meaning. It also illustrates two important points about the religious language of metaphor. The first point is that myths may be based on actual events. Most scholars agree that Jesus was most likely born into poverty. Carpenters, like Joseph, where landless and generally poor. Also, Galilee at the time of Jesus’ birth was a violent place where the Roman troops actively oppressed the population. Because of this, the possibility that Mary was raped has been raised. Personally, I think this version of the story is even more powerful. The second point is that metaphorical understanding is not just intellectual; it is also emotional. Sometimes, intellectually understanding the meaning of a metaphor destroys the emotional message by making it into an abstract academic exercise. I think this is why a lot of people need to believe that the story is factually true - to avoid undercutting the emotional message. But you need to receive both messages. This means believing in the story, but not necessarily believing the story (although parts may be true). 

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