Now all this, if taken literally, is absurd.
If it is taken symbolically, it is a profound
expression, the ultimate Christian expression,
of the relationship between God and man in the
Christian experience. But to distinguish these two
kinds of speech, the non-symbolic and the symbolic,
in such a point is so important that if we are not
able to make understandable to our contemporaries
that we speak symbolically when we use such language,
they will rightly turn away from us, as from people
who still live in absurdities and superstitions. --
If Tillich's words ring true for the intellectual, faith for many
people is not an intellectual activity or defined as a way of acting
based on one's way of seeing the world. The truth of their faith must be
concretely, literally true -- based on a actual, not archetypal, event
that occured within the confines of matter, energy, space, and time.
To have faith in such a context requires an act of will to belief in
an event for which there is no proof.
The Character of Religious Language
In the simplest of terms, a symbol is something that stands in
the place of some other thing. All words are symbols for ideas.
In religious language, the symbols we call words stand in the place of
other symbols, symbols which point beyond the literal, concrete object
symbolized to tell more about the speaker's experience.
The character of
the words with which people
communicate religious experience and interpret that experience
is closer to poetry than prose.
of the experience it seeks to describe.
Psychology of Religion's attempts to understand religious experience and
behavior can be defined by whether a literal or symbolic experience was
People use the same religious language to mean events that they
consider factually, if unverifiably, true and for events that
are archetypally true in human experience but not factually true.
Many believers, perhaps the majority, hold that the scriptures of
their tradition are literally true. It is a condition of their
faith that this is so, despite repeated failures to substantiate
literal claims. One such famous failure is Albert Sweitzer's
Search for the Historical Jesus.
response to literal interpretations is to dismiss
religion entirely as meaningless because the religious language doesn't
refer to anything real and tangible.
Freudian and Object-Relations theories of psychology of religion have
focused on fuandamentalist, literal interpretations of religious experience.
Our experience of a object tells us more about ourselves than the object itself.
The words we choose to describe the experience reveal what is important to us
in that experience.
The Master said:
The tendency to literalize and concretize the symbols of our
experience has been much criticized by
psychologist, James Hillman.
Writing cannot express words completely.
Words cannot express thoughts completely.
Are we then unable to see the thoughts of the holysages?
The Master said:
The holy sages set up the images
in order to express their thoughts completely. (Ta Chuan)
Communication Styles and Personality Types
The literal and symbolic interpretations correspond to the
S and N attributes on the
personality assessment. A more thorough discussion of personality
typing and religious understanding will be dealt with later in these
pages. Such differences can also be seen as stages in
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