One of the most common tropes among progressive religious believers is Religion As Metaphor. "Religious beliefs don't have to be literally true," the trope says. "They're just useful metaphors: stories that give shape and meaning to our lives."
I'm not buying it. I'm not buying it for one simple reason: If religion is just a story, then why does it upset people so much when atheists say it isn't true? Any more than it would upset a fan of "Alice in Wonderland" if someone told them it wasn't true?
I'm seriously not buying it. I think the "metaphor" trope is just a disingenuous way for believers to slip away from hard questions about their beliefs. But it's got me thinking: If religion really were just a story -- a story that people found comforting and inspiring, a story that people sincerely knew wasn't true but still enjoyed telling and re-telling -- what would that look like?
And would atheists have a problem with it?
I was debating the other day with a believer who was getting bent out of shape about how religion was just a story people found comforting. People didn't have to believe religion was literally true for it to make a difference in their lives, he insisted. So why was I being so intolerant and mean and trying to take it away? And it suddenly struck me:
The version of religion he's talking about?
Thus begins my new blog post up at AlterNet, What if People Actually Treated Religion as Just a Metaphor (Like Trekkies and Secular Jews)? In it, I talk about what religion would be like if it really were just a metaphor, as many progressive believers claim; if it really were just a story that people found inspiring enough to devote their lives to. I look at a community that's passionately devoted to a story that they know isn't true -- namely, Trekkies. And then I make a somewhat more serious comparison: I look at secular Judaism. and how that community is finding a way to sincerely treat religious traditions and stories as metaphors, without needing to believe in God. To find out more, read the rest of the piece.
BTW: This is the second in a four-part series of pieces on atheism I'm writing for AlterNet. (#1 was The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful.) If you've been wondering why I haven't been doing as much blogging lately on my own blog: This series is why. It's drawing a fair amount of my time. If you're wondering why I've been doing my atheist blogging for AlterNet instead of my own lovely blog: $$$. I'll be reprinting all these pieces here on my own blog soon; in the meantime, enjoy them on AlterNet!