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Unhelpful Analogy...

Or at least it is for me.  I am reading a little book called 'The Art of Pastoring' by David Hansen, and on the whole, so far, so good.  I like the style and find the content thoughtful and thought provoking.  But then came an analogy I found unhelpful... a comparison of sin to cancer.

In the few days since I read that, and winced, and railed against it, I have tried quite hard to work with it - but ultimately it does not work, not least since the author asserts that 'we cherish our sin'.  I know of no-one who cherished his or her cancer.  I chose to love my tumour, to embrace the physical and emotional changes my treatment brought, but cherish cancer, delight it in, want to indulge it...?  I think not.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot make this analogy OK.  I get what he's saying, understand what he's trying to do.  Cancer is pernicious and parasitic, I get that, I even get that cancer is about our own cells going awry in a way we are powerless to stop... but that doesn't make it a helpful analogy.  I mean, cancer cells achieve some kind of immortality, so we could take that in a whole other direction - but no-one would because it's plain nuts.

The theologian John Hull, once his sight began to fail, devoted a lot of energy to revisiting Biblical use of blindness/sight as metaphors for unbelief/belief and reflected on how this impacts people with visual impairment.  Hansen's cancer analogy functions in a similar way for me.  I don't think I'm being overly sensitive, I can distinguish between analogy and attribution (is that the right word?), but I am really affronted by it. 

Why is this? I think it is at least partially because everyone I know who has had a cancer diagnosis experiences at least some sense of guilt - that they did or did not do this or that, that they ate or did not eat such and such, that they made this or that choice.  To use cancer as an analogy for sin seems to me to compound that guilt and potentially further damage people who are already vulnerable.

I'm not sure what might be a more helpful analogy - but I suspect not one that relates to any aspect of physical/mental health or wellbeing.  What do others think?


  • My feelings exactly, Catriona. A horrible analogy, but unfortunately your blog software won't let me comment at any length.

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