This, like yesterday’s quote, is from Walter Kaufmann’s wonderful book,The Faith of a Heretic (Doubleday & Co., New York, 1961; quote from page 139):
Let those who like inspiring interpretations be no less forthright in telling us precisely where they stand on immortality, the sacraments, and hell; on the virgin birth and resurrection; on the incarnation and the miracles; on John’s theology, and Paul’s and James’; on Augustine and Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and the various creeds. And on: “Resist not evil.” And “Let him who would sue you in court for your coat have your cloak, too.” And: “No one comes to the Father through Me.”
That would clearly be the end of theology. The theologians pay a price for perpetuating a mass movement; they are not content, as the prophets were, with a small remnant. If each spoke out boldly and unequivocally, no mass movement would be left. It would become apparent that there are almost as many different views as preachers, that such phrases as “the message of the New Testament” and “the Biblical view” and “the Christian answer” are hollow, and that the temporal and spatial continuity of Christendom depends on ambiguity.
The preacher who insists on being forthright loses at least half his audience: at best, he has the choice which portion he would like to keep. If he wants to have a congregation that does not consist solely of intellectuals, he has to speak in a manner that makes sense at which Tillich calls “the natural stage of literalism. . . in which the mythical and the literal are indistinguishable”; and he must also keep the confidence of those who have reached “the second stage of literalism, the conscious one, which is aware of the questions but represses them”; nor must he antagonize those who despise literalism.
And so theologians walk a fine line between metaphor and literalism. I see this as a form of hypocrisy, and it reminds me of something Sam Harris said in The End of Faith about the dangers of “moderate” religionists (p. 21):
By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.
It can’t get more concise—or elegant—than that!