The story of Jesus and the man born blind ends with a throwaway line of Jesus’s about people who are blind, but now see, and people who have eyes but refuse to see. Somehow that seems appropriate (no offense intended to Alessan!)
I have two problems with the straw-man “Biblical literalist” (and most conservative Christians I know, including those who call themselves literalists, don’t fit the description):
> Nobody is a literalist. Everyone reads the Bible with an eye to what’s poetic/symbolic/fictional and what’s literally true; we just all differ on how much is which. There is not a fundamentalist in a carload who expects the literal appearance of a seven-headed ten-horned flying purple Christian-eater, despite his description in the Book of Revelations. He’s clearly symbolical of (a) the Roman Empire, (b) the Church of Rome, © the Common Market, (d) the Protestants, (e) the Trilateral Commission, or (f) the Chicago Reader, depending on your interpretation (some Internet fundies. subscribe to option (f), so I included it ;).)
> They don’t know how to read ancient literature. Fer example, for Matthew to gather a “Best of Jesus’s Sermons Condensed” and set it at one place where he taught (on a mountainside) was well within the literary traditions of the time – everybody would understand that this was not a verbatim transcription of one of Jesus’s teachings but a collection of the most important things he had to say put together in one place. Then there’s midrash, which I hope CKDex or others will have more to say about it. Typically any rabbi or reporter of rabbinic literature will tell a story. Even atheists do this; Gaudere passed on a cute story about a rabbi who sinned and was told by God he was going to hell that made a very valid point, and which I quoted, misattributing to Phil D., a few weeks ago. The story is not to be taken as literal but to illustrate a point. That’s the whole purpose of the parables (which fundies understand as well as anyone else are fictional) but also the sort of thing that rankles people about the supposed miracle stories. Take the “walking on the water” thing that Ptahlis and I were bandying about a while ago. It’s a classic, and I’m sorry I didn’t realize what it was at the time: Consider that you’re an Evangelist (sense of Gospel writer, not preacher) and trying to show that Jesus is bigger, better, and has shinier toys than Moses, Elijah, and their friends and relations. Well, Moses comes to the Dead Sea, lifts his staff, and the waters part; Joshua comes to the Jordan, lifts his arms, and the waters part; Elijah goes to cross the Jordan, waves his mantle over the waters, and they part; Elisha, coming back after seeing Elijah off to Heaven, duplicates the feat to cross back. God appears to have been running a water-parting service for Jewish prophets, from the looks of things. Symbolically all these show that the God of Moses, Joshua, etc., has power over water, seen as the primeval Deep of the Hebrew mythos. So let’s prove that Jesus is more whoopie-doo than Moses et al. – he doesn’t just part the waters to walk across dry-shod – he walks on them and they calm at his voice.
Likewise, all the babies that grew up to be leaders and their ties to shepherds. It was a staple in the ancient world, from Sargon to Paris to Attis to Hercules, to have a birth story involving shepherds. You begin thinking that the second year course at shepherds school included a unit on what to do with baby heroes/saviors when you find one. And you find Moses in the bulrushes (an exact duplicate of the Sargon story, by the way) and shepherds coming to the manger to see the baby Jesus. There’s a point behind all this confabulation, involving pastoring – the leader guiding the people as a shepherd does his flocks.