Monday, 11 August 2014

Paul Tillich

When a symbol becomes identified with the deeper reality to which it refers, it becomes idolatrous as the "symbol is taken for reality." The symbol itself is substituted for the deeper meaning it intends to convey. The distinctive nature of a symbol is that it gives access to deeper layers of reality which are otherwise inaccessible.

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Paul Tillich argued that, while signs are invented & forgotten, symbols are born & die. There's, therefore, dead & living symbols. A living symbol can reveal to an individual hidden levels of meaning & transcendent or religious realities. For Tillich a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable & mysterious: the symbol's "depth dimension". Symbols are complex, & their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves. When a symbol loses its meaning & power for an individual or culture, it becomes a dead symbol. The Greek Gods might be an example of symbols that were one time living for the ancient Greeks but whose meaning & power are now gone.

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