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Parables, Analogues and Symbols

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Peter Slater
Assistant Professor of Religion, Haverford College, Pennsylvania


One of the issues in the current controversy concerning demythologising is whether or not our concept of God is itself mythological. Before this can be resolved, however, we have to sort out what we mean by ‘myth’ and compare this with other possible ways of describing divine activity. Likewise, if we are to decide whether or not all religious uses of language are ‘symbolical’ we have to clarify our conception of symbols. Such clarification is hampered by the almost indiscriminate mention of parables, models, myths, symbols, analogues and allegories which we find in philosophy today. In this paper, I shall list some distinctions of meaning amongst these terms which seem worth keeping in mind. My concern in doing so is not to provide an exhaustive list but to suggest how the distinctions affect our justification of linguistic usage in religion.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1968

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1 See Braithwaite, R. B., ‘An Empiricist's View of the Nature of Religious Belief’, reprinted in The Existence of God, ed. Hick, J. (New York. Macmillan, 1964), p. 246,Google Scholar and Crombie, I. M., ‘Theology and Falsification’, reprinted in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Flew, A. G. N. and MacIntyre, A. C. (London. Student Christian Movement Press, 1955), p. 118,Google Scholar also ‘The Possibility of Theological Statements’, reprinted in Faith and Logic, ed. Basil Mitchell (London. George Allen & Unwin, 1957), p. 70.Google Scholar In general, Braithwaite prefers to speak of ‘stories’ and, in his later paper, Crombie speaks rather of ‘declaratory images’. But these and other terms mentioned above are not clearly differentiated in use.

1 On Mark 4:1–20 see Dodd, C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London. Nisbet, 1936), pp. 1315.Google Scholar

2 These are reprinted in The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, ed. Burtt, E. A. (New York. Mentor, 1955), p. 43 and pp. 142–7.Google Scholar

1 On which sec Mondin, B., The Principle of Analogy in Protestant and Catholic Theology (The Hague. Martinus Nijhoff, 1963).Google Scholar

1 ‘Christian Talk of God’, to be published in a volume edited by Fr. George McLean for Meredith Press, N.Y.

2 See the Maha-Vagga i.23 reprinted in Buddhism in Translations ed. Warren, H. C. (Cambridge, Mass.—Harvard University Press, 1953), pp. 8792,Google Scholar where the perception is tied to hearing the Dharma.

1 See Fear and Trembling, trans. Lowrie, W. (New York. Doubleday Anchorbook, 1954).Google Scholar

1 To insist at this point that any explanation must be general if it is to count as an explanation would be to beg the question and rule one side out of court quite arbitrarily.

1 Cf. Ramsey, I. T., Models and Mystery (London. Oxford University Press, 1964)Google Scholar and more generally Black, Max, Models and Metaphors (Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell University Press, 1962),Google Scholar Chs. 3 and 13.

1 See the selections in Long, Charles H., Alpha: The Myths of Creation (New York. Braziller, 1963).Google Scholar

2 See Zimmer, H., Philosophies of India, ed. Campbell, J. (New York. Meridian Book, 1961), Ch. 1.Google Scholar

1 See Passmore, J. A., ‘Christianity and Positivism,’ Review Article, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 35.2, 08 1957, p. 125–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 A similar point was argued by Hoitenga, D., ‘The Symbolic Theory of Religious Language’, Harvard University Ph.D. Thesis, 1959.Google Scholar

3 Cf. Evans, Donald, The Logic of Self-Involvement (London. Student Christian Movement Press, 1963) introduction and pp. 160–5Google Scholarre ‘the biblical context’ and Dasgupta, S., A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 1 (Cambridge University Press, 1932), p. 29Google Scholar concerning Vedic teaching.

4 I owe a general debt for ideas concerning symbols to the views expressed by V. C. Aldrich in a number of papers, e.g. ‘The Outsider’, in Religious Experience and Truth, ed. Sidney, Hook (New York. New York University Press, 1961),Google Scholar Ch. 3 and to the exchange between Tillich and W. P. Alston, reprinted in the same volume, Chs. 1, 2 and Appendix. For more on the relations between ‘analogy’ and ‘symbol’ I refer readers to John Macquarrie, God-Talk (New York. Harper & Row, 1967), Ch. 10.Google Scholar

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