Spiritual Assonance

Wheat and Chaff

When there is assonance in poetry, it means there is a resemblance in the sounds of two words, but only a partial rhyme; usually the vowels rhyme but not the final syllables. Examples are penitent and reticence, or time and light. When I tried to explain assonance to my children when they were young, one of them saved me from my laboured efforts and simplified it for me.  “It means you are getting the rhyme wrong,” he said. Right! Why didn’t I think of that?

This is a lot like my, somewhat simplistic, understanding of religious fundamentalists. They have a sense of what their reference book says—whether it is the Bible, or the Quran, or some other text—but they are getting the essence of it wrong. There is only a partial similarity between the details they draw attention to and the general premise of the whole book.

Bake a Cake MemeI was reminded of this today when I saw this meme on Facebook: “Jesus regularly ate dinner with thieves and prostitutes, but you’re telling me it’s against your religion to bake a cake for a gay person?” It is a reference to the new anti-LGBTQ law in North Carolina which allows businesses to discriminate, and that derives in part from a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

The meme points out that the whole thrust of the New Testament is that we should love one another unconditionally. Picking out controversial verses, mostly from the Old Testament, to justify hate and discrimination is not what Jesus was espousing. That baker was getting the letter of the old laws right but, in the end, not living in the spirit of the new.

A poem can get the rhyme “wrong” and still be considered poetry. In fact, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme at all. By making a special category of rhyme and calling it assonance, we bring non-rhymes into the fold, and that is just fine. Perhaps, though, we are also doing something like that with religious fundamentalism, the assonance of spirituality. By referring to certain people as both “religious” and “fundamentalists” we bring them into the fold of their faith. But, I don’t think we should.

We should stop calling them religious fundamentalists and instead call them something else. How about “tenet players” or “dogma twits”? Anything that would separate them from people of faith who try hard to understand, accept, and love everyone. Those principles are the true fundamentals of the faiths, whereas selective controversial verses from specific translations of ancient texts are not fundamental at all.

Let’s put the pedants outside the tent of believers and bring the lovers in.


Image sources: Redeeming God, and Occupy Democrats.


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