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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brother Jake: Meant Symbolically

by Brother Jake (bio)

For those who are a fan of Wicked’s "Defying Gravity," you're probably gonna like this (if you're into crappy rip-offs of stuff that's actually good).

Symbolism is a powerful concept. Its ability to convey a myriad of differing ideas to many people simultaneously makes it an adept teaching tool, which is why it is so darn useful in a religious context.

However, it seems that the tension between symbolism and literalism can create a bit of a logical minefield when applied within a religion as attached to literal ideas and absolute truth as Mormonism is. (As a point of clarification, when I use "symbolism" here, I mean it in the broadest "this-didn’t-mean-what-it-said" kind of way.) I have noticed that when trying to reconcile statements made by past prophets and apostles with secular knowledge, apologetic members often throw on their symbolism-colored glasses and poof! Adam and Eve become non-literal characters, horses become tapirs, the global flood becomes local, and the scientific and religious worldviews return to harmony.

But ... do they really? Because, while I do think there are often legitimate reasons for reevaluating religious doctrines through a symbolic lens, I think doing so creates a bit of a quandary, since there's little doubt that these seers and revelators intended their teachings both as literal facts and prophetic assertions. Throwing down a symbolic remix of a prophetic statement that changes the statement from its original intended interpretation brings up interesting questions.

Like, for example, does such a reinterpretation undermine the idea of a living prophet as the literal mouthpiece of God? Are there any concepts that are inherently exempt from being reinterpreted as an exclusively symbolic (the Atonement, Christ, God, etc.)? If so, why? Often, these reinterpretations come about when scientific discoveries make a religious idea untenable; are there any instances where the opposite was the case, and scientific findings were reevaluated when not in harmony with prophetic statements? Were the scientific findings refashioned as a result?

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours.


Brother Jake
Twitter: @askbrotherjake

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