Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hmm …

… Why I Left...and Yet... | Commonweal Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Even as a boy, I never believed in an Iron Age Hebrew deity who gives a damn about our mammalian plight. When Orwell, writing about Waugh, remarked that one really can’t be Catholic and grown-up at the same time, he was getting at the wild implausibility at the hub of Christianity. But “God” and “Christ” are, above all, terms of poetry, of allegory and metaphor and myth. Flannery O’Connor once famously snapped at Mary McCarthy when McCarthy said that the Eucharist is only a symbol: “Well, if it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.” Reluctant as I normally am to dissent from O’Connor, I have to side with McCarthy there. Religion not only traffics in symbols, it survives by them, and to mistake the figurative for the factual or allegory for history is to mistake much indeed. But mouthy unbelievers who find, say, Original Sin barbaric and absurd are missing the point on purpose: whatever else it is, Original Sin is most potently a metaphor for the inherent psychological wackiness of our kind, all those pesky hormonal urges that make us batty. Of course we are born blighted: evolution by natural selection is a malfunctioning process. Never mind your soul: just look at all those problems with your teeth, your back, your knees.
Odd Catholic education he must have had. I don't ever remember believing in an Iron Age deity either, and I doubt if he thought of it in those terms when he was a child. As for O'Connor's remark, a symbol in the sense McCarthy was using the word is just a literary device. A real symbol does what it symbolizes, in this case the Eucharist, which for the faithful doesn't just represent the bread of life, but is the bread of life. A symbol, in other words, isn't just a high-falutin' metaphor. I wonder how deep into Aquinas's Summa he ever got.

Now anyone is free to doubt all of what I have just said, but it helps to take the time and trouble to understand these matters accurately and precisely.

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