Metaphor and Religious Language

Metaphor and Religious Language

Metaphor and Religious Language

Metaphor and Religious Language


Christian theology has suffered in modern times from an inability to explain its traditional reliance on metaphor to an audience intellectually formed by empiricism. The author argues that what is needed is not a more "literal" theology, but a better understanding of metaphor. Soskice offers here an account of metaphor and religious language that not only illuminates the way in which theists speak of God, but also contributes to our understanding of the workings of metaphor in scientific theory and other disciplines.


The title of this book, Metaphor and Religious Language, marks two interests of its writer. The first five chapters deal with metaphor and how metaphor works, the last three turn to problems of 'reality depiction' and attempt to show, on the basis of arguments from the philosophy of language and philosophy of science, what a theological realism vis-à-vis metaphorical terms would look like.

Some readers may be more interested in one of the book's foci than in the other. Those most interested in religious language, and especially in the question of how we can claim to speak of God at all, may wonder if we need to consider what seem like niceties in arguments native to the philosophy of language. I would say we do, not only because these arguments, or ones based loosely and sometimes carelessly upon them, will be introduced in theological discussion, but also because of the intimacy between what we can say and what we can know.

Those whose primary interest is in metaphor itself, whether literary or from the perspective of philosophy of language, semantics, philosophy of science or other--for indeed the followers of metaphor are legion--will not, I hope, find the philosophy of religion too obtrusive. Indeed the line that the theologians, or at least those of a more orthodox variety, want to walk is a most difficult and compelling one for, on the one hand, they must acknowledge, with the literary critic, that the metaphors which concern them are allusive and embedded in particular traditions of interpretation and belief, and, on the other hand, they must argue that this affective element is not the whole, that somehow this language can claim to be descriptive of a God who cannot be named, except in tropes and figures.

Metaphor, recognized since antiquity as chief amongst the tropes, has a long and noble involvement with Christianity, yet in the past three hundred years Christianity's reliance on metaphor has increasingly come to be regarded as a liability, particularly by those sceptical of Christian claims. For the most part critics have no objection to the occasional metaphor, what disturbs them is that, when speaking of God, Christians move from one metaphor to the next, always indicating that their comments must be qualified, yet never . . .

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