Through a Glass Darkly

We are meaning seeking creatures. Since the dawn of time, human beings have woken up from vivid dreams and wondered to themselves, “what does it all mean?”

We would sit around camp fires and tell stories. The best ones were the ones that had some deeper meaning, the ones that made us think and feel.

The elders would tell stories round the camp fire because they were trying to tell us something, trying to teach us something. Our unconscious would tell us stories in our dreams because it was trying to tell us something.

We listen because we are eager to learn. This is how we roll. This is how we evolve.

If you listen to a lot of stories, you will recognise that there are often several levels of interpretation. This is as true of the interpretation of dreams as it is of the interpretation of Shakespeare.

When it comes to the interpretation of scripture, the biblical scholars have helpfully identified four levels: the literal, the moral, the allegorical and the anagogical. The first three are familiar features of all stories. The last is reserved for spiritual teachings as it concerns spiritual truths.

How do we typically understand any event or narrative? What is our hermeneutical strategy? Think about a drama series such as Stranger Things. If you are engaged in the story, you will be watching and listening on at least three levels.

You will be processing the literal, and in this case historical details. Are all the 80’s references accurate? Would people have dressed and spoken like that? You will be tracking the moral behaviour of the characters. Was that a good thing to do or say? Are they behaving badly but good deep down, or conversely, are they a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

On a deeper level, you will be wondering about the allegorical meaning of the story. What does it tell us about our lives more generally? Is there a hidden message we can decipher, like the hidden messages contained in dreams?

Different people interpret the world differently. Not only that, they have different interpretative styles. Muggles veer towards the literal. Muppets cleave to the allegorical.

Muggles are more interested in brute facts. They get very upset if you get the facts wrong. They are less interested in hidden meanings. Muppets often overlook or disregard facts entirely. The deeper meaning of things trumps the historical facts.

Both muggles and muppets are sensitive to the moral implications of behaviour, although their moral outlooks will inevitably differ. But in both cases, judgments will be made on the basis of one or more of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity or liberty.

They have no idea about the anagogical. Their experience of reality is based on the literal in the case of muggles and the allegorical in the case of muppets. Only mystics understand the anagogical.

When the anagogical is the basis of your experience of reality, literal, historical facts, moral judgments and allegorical meanings are understood in a completely different light. Everything points to the spiritual. Everything points to God. There is a sense of coherence, because everything points in the same direction.

Without it, there is chaos and confusion. We live as though in a dream. We see as through a glass darkly.