Religious Language - Symbol and Myth

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Religious language as symbolic

  • The poppy functions as a powerful symbol.
  • The poppy is not just something to remind us of the horrors of past conflicrs, in the way that a road sign reminds us which town is ahead.
  • The poppy has become part of Rememberance Day.
  • It has come to represent it in a deep way.
  • Tillich - religious language ought to be understood in a similar way.
  • Religious statements are symbolic but nevertheless cognitive statements.
  • A symbol 'participates in that to which it points'.
  • For example a flag is symbolic of the nation it represents and in a way it participates in the power and dignity of the nation it represents.
  • So we are able to learn something of God, but out words become symbolic rather than literal.
  • We are familiar with religious symbols such as the cross or the bread and wine of communion.
  • What Tillich is suggesting is that even statements such as 'God is good' are symbolic rather than literal.
  • Tillich suggests that symbols in religion function a little like our appreciation of the arts.
  • A good peice of music or a painting may in Tillich's words 'create symbols for a reality which cannot be reached in any other way.
  • Symbols like the arts work on a deep and powerful level.
  • A symbol unlocks something within out ground of being', and suggests that this is the only non-symbolic statement that can be made about God.
  • Tillich views symvbols as having both positive and negative aspects.
  • Because words cannot adequatley describe God, their meaning is always 'partially negated by that to which they point'.
  • However there is a positive aspect of the symbol participating in that to which it point which makes Tillich's view a credible alternative to analogy.
  • There have been a number of criticisms of Tillich's views:
  • Tillich's ideas can be seen as a little vague prompting some thinkers such as J.H.Randell to agree…


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