Literalists and Religious Argument


Those who criticize religious ideas as not being literally true make exactly the same mistake as the literalists they argue with. Literalists are not appropriately ‘religious’, they don’t approach religion in an appropriately adult fashion, since religion is intrinsically metaphorical, and metaphorical to such a degree that each metaphor can have multiple meanings. Perhaps the problem doesn’t indeed lie with religion, but with a lack of imagination and a lack of an adult understanding on the part of literalists on both sides. The following quote addresses the metaphor of the ‘virgin’ and the proper meaning of ‘virgin birth’, rather than arguing over a children’s story.

1. “Virgin” designates a human being who is devoid of all foreign images, and who is as void as he was when he was not yet. Observe that it could be asked how it is possible that a person already born and already using reason could be as devoid of all images as when he was not yet; in fact he does know many things, and all these are images. How then can he be so void?

2. Listen closely to the instruction that I am going to give you. I could have so vast an intelligence that all the images that all human beings have ever received and those that are in God himself were comprehended in my intellect; however, if I were in no way attached to them , to the point that in everything I do or neglect to do, I did not cling to any of them with attachment— with its before and its after— but if in this present now I kept myself unceasingly free and void for the beloved will of God and its fulfillment, then I should indeed be a virgin, without the ties of all the images, as truly as I was when I was not yet.

3. I say besides: for man to be a virgin does not take away any of the works he has ever done; of all this he keeps himself virginal and free, without any impediment to the supreme truth, just as Jesus was free and void and virginal in himself. Since the masters say that only the likeness of the like establishes union, he who is to receive the virginal Jesus must himself be virginal and free.

4. Now pay attention and look! If a human were to remain a virgin forever, he would never bear fruit. If he is to become fruitful, he must necessarily be a wife. “Wife,” here, is the noblest name that can be given to the mind , and it is indeed more noble than “virgin.” That man should receive God in himself is good, and by this reception he is a virgin. But that God should become fruitful in him is better; for the fruitfulness of a gift is the only gratitude for the gift. The spirit is wife when in gratitude it gives birth in return and bears Jesus back into God’s fatherly heart.

5. Many excellent gifts are received in virginity but are not born back into God with wifely fruitfulness and thankful praise. These gifts spoil and perish, so that man becomes neither happier nor better through them. His virginity does not avail him anything, for he is only a virgin, but not also a wife with total fruitfulness.

Schurmann, Reiner (2001-04-01). Wandering Joy (Kindle Locations 320-327). Lindisfarne Books. Kindle Edition.

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