Chris Little's Reviews > Metaphor and Religious Language

Metaphor and Religious Language by Janet Martin Soskice
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it was amazing

This work argues that metaphor is not a simple 'pretty' way of saying something that could be communicated with straightforward words, but it its own legitimate and necessary way of explanation. Metaphoric statements, at their best, say things that cannot be said in other ways. They also create opportunities for new learning, reflection, and avenues of enquiry.

Extending this, Soskice argues that both science and theology are - fittingly and necessarily - fields in which metaphor plays a major part. Her argument concludes that a realist position is entirely consistent with use of metaphor, in both science and theology. It's fine, and actually productive, to speak of electrical 'current' or of the divine gift of 'living water.' This is not a naive realism, but critical realism (I don't think Soskice used this actual term, but I believe its current use agrees with her argument). In this, the users of metaphor - and use is always of within a community - are able to 'really refer' to something, even without knowing all there is about that topic. Even transcendent realities can be, in part and approximately, apprehended (be they electrons, or God).

One matter not possible to be raised in this work, but I think related, is the possibility of historical knowledge. Looking at the science-theology parallels is wonderfully important. Soskice frequently mentions matters of religious experience as a part-parallel to scientific experiment. In this line of thought, metaphor and theory is always open to revision, at least in theory. That's fair, to an extent, but opens up theology to too simple a comparison with science, and suggests to me that theological doctrines are as likely to change as scientific ones. Think, for example, of the disposal of the idea of phlogiston after Priestly's discovery of oxygen: the old theory was dumped.

I think a difference between science and (Christian) theology is the historical givenness of events, especially the ministry of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of this history has everything to add to the knowledge claims of Christianity.

This is not to say Soskise should have covered this topic! She has done an amazing job in her survey of metaphor theory, as well as philosophies of metaphor use in science and theology. And all in fewer than 200 pages! What I do mean to say is that philosophies of historical knowledge will affect some of Soskice's conclusions about the tentativeness and modifiability of religious statements. If Jesus is alive, then some religious models and metaphors are more solid and unchangeable than any scientific model.
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April 26, 2020 – Shelved
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