It's sad to see such a farrago of nonsense coming from Borg, who has written on New Testament matters with insight and sensitivity. It seems that when believers discuss atheism, they must revert to tiresome caricatures. Consider this senseless comment:
I am a deeply committed Christian, even though I don't think the gospels are "completely factual." For me, metaphorical narratives (such as the stories of Jesus' birth, walking on water, multiplying loaves, the wedding at Cana and changing water into wine) can be powerfully true, even though I don't think they are historically factual.
The identification of truth with factuality is a product of the modern period of Western history, and this is unfortunate. To use a phrase from the religion scholar Huston Smith, we have become "fact fundamentalists." People tend to think that if something isn't factual, it isn't true.
I think both biblical literalists and most modern atheists are "fact fundamentalists." The former insist that everything in the Bible must be factual if it it is to be true at all; the latter say that because some things in the Bible clearly aren't factual, then the Bible isn't worth much. I reject both options. I take the Bible very seriously as ancient Israel's and the early Christian movement's stories of their relationship with God.
The former insist that everything in the Bible must be factual if it it is to be true at all; the latter say that because some things in the Bible clearly aren't factual, then the Bible isn't worth much.Borg's response is thoughtless in two important ways. First, it is factually incorrect. All over the world, countless atheists involve themselves with the Bible in countless ways. Many atheists are bible scholars, many more of us discuss it passionately and with great interest. Atheist writers like Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut make use of its metaphors, stories, and ideas, experiencing the same kind of powerful truths that Borg does when he considers the metaphorical stories.
But secondly, it's wildly illogical. To think that something is factually incorrect does not make it worthless. Nobody thinks The Lord of the Rings is factually correct, but I doubt many would consider it worthless on those grounds.
Another troubling aspect of this is that if one actually went around asking people, no matter how slow or uneducated, whether something could be true in some sense if not entirely factual, dollars to donuts, most people would answer "yes." People are not 'fact fundamentalists.' That is the invention of a liberal Christian scholar attempting to grope for rationalizations for maintaining belief in the face of what modern science and modern critical scholarship has come to understand about the texts. Borg, like so many liberally-believing New Testament scholars, is navigating in the murky waters between modern critical methodology and the Nicene Creed. It is not surprising that he is spouting fatuous nonsense. Thus this comment:
So I don't want to choose between faith and fact. For me, faith is about our relationship to God, not about believing a particular set of claims to be true.But of course, Borg's faith is precisely about believing particular sets of claims are factually true. For example, Borg believes that there are such things as gods, that there is actually only of these entities, that this entity is not only personal but personally interested in him, that the collection of scriptures known as the Bible is meaningful in apprehending the nature of this entity, and so forth. In fact, the list of factual claims Borg subscribes to is quite long. In the face of a potent atheist argument, one wonders how quickly Borg would become a 'fact fundamentalist.'