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Metaphor or figure-of-speech is a sign of possible complexity of thought. Its use does not guarantee so much as a smidge of critical intelligence, but the odds favor a broadened scope of understanding (and incidentally some amount of beauty) when metaphor is found in use. The odds of richness of understanding take a bigger leap yet when metaphor is appreciated and cultivated. I believe that is because metaphor forms intellectual bridges between reason and emotion. An educated mind, after all, is more than carrying an external wrap of civilization enough to know to pull the trigger on an AK 47 or use a cell phone in a remote bomb. Human kind can be proud, however, because those skills are a bit above what a typical monkey could accomplish. This reminds me of Mark Twain’s quip that God created his noblest work after being disappointed by the monkey’s ability to amuse. Brief observation of a legislative body at work will illustrate a point we can consider proven if we add observing the workings of many congregations devoutly intent on a hereafter that makes for so many (especially if they be unlike the devout) a living hell of here-and-now.
Whenever I remember Mr. Clemens I’ll end up recalling ways in which his wit demonstrated the application of figure and metaphor in bits of dialog that like as not disquieted the pious. Well, if the devout wished never to be disturbed until flitted off to a virgin filled paradise they have come to the wrong planet with many a civilization unwilling to accept a Middle Eastern concoction as ideal for them. Oh, they can be forced into it and many have been, but in keeping with the spirit of the monkey mentioned earlier when revolt is fomented against one form of Middle East piety it is often replaced by one as bad or worse. This is how talented monkeys wearing a varnish of civilization that holds nuclear ambitions will conduct themselves, not as reasoning but as holy thugs brandishing the name and authority of some deity they’d not recognize if she, he, or it took them by the paw saying “This way to the sausage factory.” You see, one thing that makes the human ape so especially entertaining is its frequent inability to distinguish metaphor from reality. A religious passage saying the saved can live unharmed among serpents does not mean you need fill your house with vipers. You can if you want to. Indeed, if you’re the sort that needs to be wholly literal I’d recommend you give the adders a try. This will possibly save the rest of us a lot of trouble other than a funeral.
Religion, potentially dangerous ad plutonium, has to its credit a fine set of metaphors. Around Easter time you’ll hear about the Lamb of God and not (thanks to your educated imagination) for an instant think this means God is a sheep off in a pasture somewhere. If you pick at it some and begin to pull threads from the metaphorical image you’ll loosen an interweaving of sheep, flocks, and shepherds along with a sacrificial element. The metaphor image is simple enough but the “stuff” behind it runs deeper and wider than a woolly lamb. Perhaps the biggest metaphor in a world with Christian content is communion. For those of you who get all creepy about religious comment you can relax on this one because the whole body and blood thing has nothing whatever to do with cannibalism. When a thing begins as a metaphoric image of bread as body and wine as blood you’d have to apply every human skill of imbecility and dogmatic literalism to wrench that around to an advocacy of human sacrifice or cannibal rite. To my knowledge this has never been done, and if you consider the near unlimited idiot capacity of the human race it seems clear that if we have not done so by now then it cannot be done. Earlier in my life I did worry about the grizzly side of communion involving body and blood, but puberty proved a sufficient distraction to rid me of that concern.
Did you know that Mark Twain made quite a point of defending the small personal lie as of little worry or consequence compared to the silent lie. In his ear the major silent lie was slavery, the topic of so much avoidance and even more justification. Oh yes, slavery was justified as a “freedom” and as a “right.” Being a freedom and independence loving nation it was very difficult for us to stand up against the lie of silence to say it is not freedom if it diminishes freedom and it is not a valid right if a thing limits rights according to property ownership. It took near 100 years to see that liberty and justice for all meant all. The challenge to that and to pluralism today is the imposition of creed distinctions that divide and separate as segregation once did and do so affirming the right and freedom to limit rights and freedoms according to creed. What’s missing where there could be dialog is absent because there is no metaphor for submission or death. There is no complexity of image in a system where everyone has the status of slave and to question that is sacrilege worthy of death. Authoritarian beliefs that promote conformity of dress, speech, act, and relationship succeed by virtue of implied threat. It’s not metaphor when the secret police arrived at night or a believer guns down a dozen cartoonists. Those are acts sponsored by beliefs aimed at assassinating freedom on any form. Not only do the secret police or gunman enforce the creed by terrorizing dissent an equal and as damaging degree of terror is put upon followers to obey, obey, obey or face the consequence. The price of pussyfooting with evil doctrines willing to use force results in transfer of the laurel of victory to the body of terror. There is no metaphor in the freedom to kill and terrorize. There is only brute Neanderthal force.