Religion & Beliefs

The Torah’s Not Just a Metaphor — But Creationism Still Sucks

Jewcy’s own Peter Bebergal has a nice long article over at Nextbook about the religious ramifications of Creationism, and anything that limits the Bible to literalism. His point, basically, is that besides the dangerous negative effect that creationism has on … Read More

By / May 29, 2008

Jewcy’s own Peter Bebergal has a nice long article over at Nextbook about the religious ramifications of Creationism, and anything that limits the Bible to literalism. His point, basically, is that besides the dangerous negative effect that creationism has on science and people’s understanding of the world, it also limits the Bible to a historical account of the world, instead of a story with limitless metaphorical possibilities and implications. Creationism disallows some of the deeper and more transcendent understandings of the Bible. I have two problems with Bebergal’s critique. The first is that historical events can have metaphorical implications. If the Bible is a literal account of the world’s history, that doesn’t make any of its metaphors any less potent.  It might even lend them some credibility to them. If the world really was overrun by a huge flood, with only one family and a boatload of animals surviving, that would certainly serve to teach us a lesson or two about behavior, reward and punishment, and what it means to be a human entrusted with restarting a frightening venture. Having a generally literal understanding of the Bible doesn’t preclude us from adding commentary, or another level of meaning that can be relevant to our lives. Second, the Bible is not all stories.  Much of it is a presentation of a legal system, which does certainly have metaphorical implications, but which is also clearly presented as a literal guidebook for life. Here are things we can and cannot eat. People we can and cannot marry. Here are rules for warfare, for farming, and domestic life. These things can be understood metaphorically, but for millennia Jews have understood them to be commandments, not just metaphors designed to get us thinking about the world around us and our place in it.

Understanding the story of creation as a metaphor concerning responsibility, partnership, and ecology is all well and good. But if you understand the commandment ‘Do not murder’ as anything other than what it seems to mean on its face, you’re being intentionally obtuse. I don’t go in for Creationism or Intelligent Design. I love Judaism and Torah, and I believe in God but I’m embarrassed by the conduct of many religious people in the face of hard science. Like Bebergal I’m looking for something that can jive my religious convictions with Jewish text, but for me it needs to be more than a metaphor.