Opinion: In religion, something can be true without being factual

A traditional Passover seder plate.
(Scott M. Lieberman / AP)

To the editor: I was disappointed in Eric Schwitzgebel’s reasoning in his discussion on the truth of the Jewish Passover story. (“Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true?” Opinion, April 9)

As a professor of philosophy he probably knows the difference between “facts” and “truth,” as well as how much the meaning of stories matters, regardless of their empirical factuality. His “alternative” interpretations of the Torah manifest precisely this difference, in their appeal to the “moral” character of God.

He is correct to say that the meanings of the stories contain their moral lessons. Therein also lies their truth value.

No matter one’s inclination for literal as opposed to figurative interpretation, the stories of the Torah aim at truth, as do all religious narratives. More than their factuality, the truth of these narratives is what both comforts and discomforts us. Interpreting these stories and communicating their truth is what holds in tension our contemporary values with the timelessness of truth.


Brad DeFord, Huntington Beach


To the editor: Schwitzgebel points out a few disturbing things about the story of Moses and Passover, such as a god who kills innocent children. Even Moses killed someone, according to the biblical account.

I think the burning bush and split sea blind us to the real heroes of Moses’ story: the women. The only truly decent people in the story are Moses’ mother, who loved him so much that she sent him away so he wouldn’t be killed; his sister, who watched over him in the bulrushes; and the Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him.


If more people showed such care and compassion, we wouldn’t need to worry about slain children, burned bushes, ravaged seas and desperate refugees.

Karen Lindell, Pasadena


To the editor: Truth matters. The world has suffered from false stories. Absent a disclaimer, most people will assume an author wants what he or she writes to be taken as true, especially if it’s a religious text.

As Schwitzgebel’s son pointed out, many people take the stories of the Torah literally. Writings, especially those intended to guide people, should be unambiguous and as true as facts and logic can make them.

Richard Rigney, Long Beach

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