Religions as Metaphors

From time to time I find it salutary to make confessions, even if the acknowledgment brands me as a philistine. One such confession is that I love Ray Bradbury. I was reminded of this while reading an interview he gave to The Paris Review.

After dismissing James Joyce as a writer who lacked ideas and could not carry a story (an appraisal many would-be readers of the insufferable Ulysses will appreciate), Bradbury commented on his approach:

Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel.

People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them and that’s what kids like in school. They read about rocket ships and encounters in space, tales of dinosaurs. All my life I’ve been running through the fields and picking up bright objects. I turn one over and say, Yeah, there’s a story.

Although there is much more to modern world religions than metaphor, Bradbury’s comment is well taken. These religions were built on earlier storytelling traditions that attempted to make sense of the world — or construct a cosmology — through metaphor. There is a sense in which the sound of thunder is at the heart of all religions.

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