The Poetry That Drives and Divides Faith: How Metaphoric Thinking Shapes Belief and Creates Religious Conflict

By Phillip T. Stephens.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic Free Download

More than simple poetic devices, metaphors help us understand complex concepts and often shape beliefs. Many powerful metaphors become so embedded in thinking that we begin to think of them as literal statements. Nowhere is this more apparent than in religious thought, where believers may often react to the power of metaphor rather than to a question of faith. Recent publications declaring a “culture war” against the American religious right provides a compelling example. American Christians aren’t armed combatants, nor are they under attack or in jeopardy of losing their lives or even relative freedoms.

Rather than stubbornly embracing or rejecting these metaphors, we need to explore them in their current context to see if any elements remain that can still be appreciated, and endeavour to refresh the language of spirituality with new metaphors that can lead to a mutual appreciation of otherwise divisive questions of faith. This paper will examine metaphors in the Christian scriptures such as “journey/path,” “spiritual warfare,” “nurturance” and “cultivation” to demonstrate how metaphors can shape and change religious thought.

Keywords: Metaphor, Concept Formation, Cultural Conflict, Religious Conflict, Culture Wars, Nurturant Parent, Cultivation

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.27-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 723.494KB).

Phillip T. Stephens

Retired, Austin, TX, USA

Phillip T. Stephens has degrees in writing, design and philosophy and taught writing, creative writing and visual design for thirty years. His book Poems, Parables and Prayers for the 3rd Millennium (Plain View Press) was written to address the cultural and religious conflicts that led to the attacks of 9/11 and the bitter divisions that followed.