Sunday, August 21, 2011

Metaphors And Allegory In Church

"But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author." - J.R.R. Tolkien

It seems to me that if you are going to use a story as a metaphor, or create one to be allegorical (by the way, I agree with Tolkien about allegory), you must make your story comply with the given facts you are trying to mirror and have it based in reality. You cannot create a new set of only vaguely related facts and force a comparison. The reason I even bring this up is because we had a talk in church where the speaker shared a story that I, personally, feel was rather inappropriate.

In summary, the story tells of a world-wide plague that grows quickly from one isolated area until it begins to circle the globe (the fact that the last place it arrives is the US is rather contrived in my opinion, but then so is the whole story). The plague is 100 percent lethal. Doctors in the US discover a way to cure the plague, but it requires the blood of someone who is free of infection. People are all tested and a young boy ends up having the correct type. The doctors tell his parents that they must sign a release for the doctors to take the child's blood....all of it. For the good of all, the parents do so and try to explain to the boy why he must be sacrificed for the good of everyone. After the cure is made and the plague is conquered, the parents are dismayed when the world forgets the sacrifice their child made.

The speaker has shared this story...and it is much more detailed and longer that what I have talks during church twice. His stated reason is that it illustrates that we should think of Christ always. My objection lies in the way the story is not based in reality, it manipulates emotions, and it does not really apply to the sacrifice Christ made for us. For one, he knew who he was and he knew what he was here to do. He made the decision fully aware of what the Father required of him. The story uses a boy who has no idea what is going on until his parents explain it to him. They make the choice, not the son. The doctors would never have taken all the child's blood, so it is deceiving in its message. Yes, a sacrifice is made for the good of all, but the circumstances are so vastly different that the story serves no purpose in my mind. It is simply designed to elicit an emotional response, and I find that inappropriate. I could not sit through it a second time, but had to get up and leave. Make the person an adult, who is allowed to make the decision of his own free will, and the story makes sense, but it loses its emotionality because the victim (and I cannot think of another way to describe a child consigned to death by his parents) is no longer someone we see as inherently innocent. I don't mind stories with talks are often filled with them...but stories designed to manipulate me emotionally are valueless to me. Besides, isn't coercion Satan's way?

I know that there are those who may vehemently disagree with me. I know that many people may find the story moving, but to me it clearly falls into Tolkien's definition of allegory. The author's will is imposed on the listener and conclusions are drawn for the listener, not by the listener. There is a big difference to me between being emotionally assaulted and feeling the Spirit. This story was the first, not the latter. Personally, I hope to never hear it again. I am incredibly thankful for the Savior's sacrifice for me, but this story is so far from what He did for us that it does not apply, but rather detracts from the speaker's message.

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