One of the major consequences of taking claims about God literally is that doing so exposes a number of contradictions about God: the contradiction between God’s goodness and the existence of evil (If God is good, why is there evil?); God’s personality and God’s infinity (How can God be infinite and transcendent and still be intimate and close?), and God’s unchangeableness and God’s activity (How can God be unchanging and still interact with the world?).1 These contradictions are not lost on two groups in particular: religious fundamentalists and militant atheists.
Indeed, the two groups that spend the most time dealing with these tensions and contradictions are the fundamentalists—who have explanations, usually unconvincing ones, for why these are only apparent contradictions—and atheists, who point to these contradictions as evidence that God cannot exist. In this way, both fundamentalists and atheists share the assumption that claims about God are straightforward descriptive claims meant to be taken literally. Curiously, these two groups seen as polar opposites actually have the same understanding of religion. This was an observation not lost on Joseph Campbell, who noted:
As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.Campell and Kennedy, Thou art that, ch. 1
In neither case does anyone accept the metaphors as metaphors. To see how this works out, we’ll take some examples from social media and other sites.