Monday, September 26, 2005

One True God Blog

There's a new blog on the blogroll, OneTrueGodBlog (hat tip: All Things Beautiful). Its founder is Hugh Hewitt, who complains here that he's still trying to find a liberal contributor, and prints an e-mail from somebody who's concerned that the title will scare liberals away.

The concern is valid, but I don't think the author of the letter understands the true root of the problem. The divide between theological liberalism and conservatism is not a disagreement about fact, and it's not really an argument about government-sponsored religious persecution. It is a clash of fundamental metaphor, made much worse by the fact that almost nobody who writes about religion is aware of the degree to which his thoughts and feelings about religion -- and those of others -- are shaped by the metaphorical substratum.

Hugh and the contributors who have posted so far, are clearly from the Fact camp; while liberals come at religion from a Therapy perspective. What the liberal objects to is fundamentally the idea that religious truth is objective rather than subjective -- that is, that one should adopt religious beliefs because they are true or false rather than because they "work for me." Hugh and his contributors are going to approach questions of religion as if they were addressing a question of science: what are the facts? What is the truth? But liberals come at questions of religion as if they were in a therapy session: what approach works for me? How do I get the results I'm looking for? And they feel passionately that it is downright immoral to talk as though religion had "truth," in the sense that Fact-oriented thinkers mean the word.

What I want to emphasize is that your typical liberal or conservative has not looked at the various available metaphors and decided that the Therapy perspective or the Fact perspective or the Family perspective is the most appropriate. Each of us has typically been raised within a particular religious metaphor, and while we may switch from one religion to another, we very rarely indeed switch from one metaphor to another. The metaphorical choice is, in short, usually not a choice that has been made well, because it usually isn't our choice at all -- it's the result of our cultural programming. But the metaphorical choice is the most fundamental choice we make -- Family-oriented Kazakh Muslims and Family-oriented Kazakhstani Russian Orthodox are fundamentally closer to each other than either is to Fact-oriented evangelical Christians or Wahabbi Muslims; and much closer to each other than are Fact-oriented Episcopalians and the Therapy-oriented bishops of the Episcopal Church of the USA. Fact-oriented Christianity and Therapy-oriented Christianity are two different religions; insofar as they use similar words, they use them with radically different meanings (both denotation and connotation). It is precisely this fact that causes Therapy-oriented politicians like Al Gore to consider that Fact-oriented Christians like Dubya are "the same thing" as fundamentalist Muslim terrorists -- the word "fundamentalist" in the mouth of a Therapist means Fact-oriented. And the one thing a Therapy-oriented American is absolutely convinced is evil, is a Fact orientation in religion. Muslem terrorists can be thought of as freedom-fighters, but a "fundamentalist" is (shudder) intolerant. And "intolerant" here doesn't mean, "When you disagree with him, he burns you alive." It means, "When you disagree with him, he thinks you're actually wrong."

I've gone over this ground in detail earlier and won't revisit it. The basic concept of the religious metaphor is set out in "The metaphor wars," and I explore the various metaphors, and the way people from different metaphorical camps interact with each other, in "Defusing religious conflict." For, as you can see from the very title, "Defusing religious conflict," I'm most interested in finding ways across the communication barrier that, I firmly believe, is responsible for a high percentage of the hard feelings (and worse!) that arise from religious disagreement.

But before I stop, let's look at the actual words of the person who is uncomfortable with the title of Hugh's blog:

It ["One True God"] is in mainstream church conversation a bit of a "shock" phrase and for many of us -- and truly, many of my liberal friends would not consider me all that much of a liberal--- that phrase "One True God" is a code word for judgemental, exclusive, religion.

You see that "mainstream" is, for this person, essentially defined as Therapy-oriented (the writer, bless his/her heart, doesn't realize that mainstream Christianity, meaning the Christianity of the last two thousand years and the Christianity held by the overwhelming majority of present-day Christians worldwide, is unquenchably Fact-oriented, which shows a touchingly naive theological provincialism on the writer's part). The writer honestly doesn't consider himself/herself "all that much of a liberal," -- but then can't even finish the sentence without the giveaway terminology "code word," "judgemental," and "exclusive." It would be trivial to point out that all of these words have strongly negative connotations, and that their use represents the passing of judgment and the condemnation of the religious tradition thereby judged. What's more important is the fact that whenever you see such language, you are always dealing with a Therapy- or Family-oriented person who is condemning the Fact perspective.

But the writer absolutely captures the fundamental truth: no decent Therapy- or Family-oriented religious person would ever use the phrase "One True God," because the very phrase is to the Therapy- and Family-oriented an evil phrase -- a "shock phrase," a phrase that generates an instant, non-rational, visceral antagonism. By naming his blog what he has named it, Hugh has declared his allegiance to the Fact orientation. And that's going to make it rather difficult for him to get the Therapy-oriented to join in, except in tones of condemnation.

UPDATE (27 September 2005): When I first worked out this theory of underlying religious metaphor, I used the term "Truth orientation" rather than "Fact orientation." I have been uncomfortable for a long time with the term "Truth orientation," because the word truth is one of the words that means either of two radically different things, depending upon whether the person using it comes from a Therapy perspective or a Fact perspective. Driving to the coffee shop this morning it suddenly occurred to me that "Fact" would be a more accurate, and much less ambiguous, designation than is "Truth." Mr. Data, make it so! (That's not a Star Trek reference; it's a TMQ reference.)


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