Religious people are fond of metaphors. Which isn't surprising. A metaphor compares or describes one thing in terms of something else.
"God's love is like that of a mother for her child."
OK, nice sentiment. But this is a different type of logical statement from the example Wikipedia cites for a metaphor, Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage..."
We know the world exists. We also know what a stage is. We also know about mothers and children. "God's love," though, where the heck is it?
Non-existent, at least in terms of any sort of objective reality supported by demonstrable evidence. So something unreal is being described in terms of something real.
Religion can't be blamed for this. What else can it do? If true believers couldn't use metaphors, they'd be severely limited in what they could say about their beliefs.
"Her lips are as red as cherries, and twice as sweet."
If a man was accused of wild hyperbole, he could take a color photo of his lover's lips. Or invite skeptics to meet the woman. Even kiss her for themselves. All this would connect the two parts of the metaphor.
With metaphysical matters, obviously this isn't possible. Religious metaphors pertaining to an unseen divinity straddle the known and unknown.
So while they may be wonderfully poetic -- "Jesus is the lamb of God" -- we've got to remember that poetry isn't reality. (In this case, only lamb is clearly existent; Jesus and God are hypotheticals.)
Religiosity specializes in "irreducible metaphors." I'm not crystal clear about what an irreducible metaphor is, but it seems to refer to the fact that religious metaphors can't be reduced to literal statements.
A woman's lips may be called "as red as cherries." Or, just red lips. You can wend your way from the symbolism of the metaphor to something really existent.
If the wending comes to a halt at the metaphor, this is a sign that flowery language is being used to disguise the non-reality of what's being metaphorized.
In a recent post I referred to a related sort of dubious concept comparison use by true believers.
Likewise, this blog often gets comments from devotees of a guru who argue that a teacher is needed in the "science" of spirituality, just as one is needed to learn physics or chemistry. This is another abuse of analogy.
Worldly science has a vast amount of demonstrable evidence backing it up. Spirituality and religion don't. The precepts of worldly science can be tested for truth or falsity. Almost always, spiritual or religious dogmas can't. Worldly science is founded on open debate and discussion, plus a healthy dose of skepticism. Spiritual "science" isn't.
Analogies and metaphors are the refuge of those who don't have a firm footing in reality.
When a god or guru has to be likened to something known to be true, that "liken" testifies to how flimsy the evidence is for a purported metaphysical truth. A rose is a rose is a rose. But almost always religion is about something that isn't an obvious "is."
Another take on the inappropriate use of metaphors can be found in "Metaphors on Trial." This article discusses how creationists and intelligent design advocates misuse metaphors in attempts to discredit the theory of evolution.
Arguments by analogy or metaphor, when used correctly, are both valid and illuminating. For example, a crucial argument made by Charles Darwin in support of evolution was the analogy between 'artificial selection' by breeders and 'natural selection' by the environment. But such arguments must be internally valid and consistent, as well as carefully crafted so that the analogy truly corresponds to the points purportedly being made.
Bottom line: religious metaphors can be admired as creative uses of language. But as pointers toward reality, they are decidedly lacking.