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Monday, April 28, 2014

Smith on Myth

Smith on Myth   (Just couldn't resist the title)

Myth is usually contrasted with truth or reality in common sense language. And so does calling the story of The Resurrection of the Christ a "myth" label it an untruth or fantasy? What about the stories of Krishna or the Buddha? Then I am also delighting in the writing of Terry Pratchett and his stories of Discworld resting on four elephants standing on a giant turtle. Myth is associated with religions. Are any of them true? Is there a universal religion true for all humankind?

There are many good scientific thinkers who have studied the role of myth in human society and find myth an alternate way of perceiving reality and even a foundation for other ways of perceiving reality, including science. Among those thinkers I count Ernst Cassirer, Paul Tillich, Mircea Eliade, John Campbell, Karl Rahner, and numerous contemporaries in communication with evolutionary psychology and neuroscience.

Myth is an imaginative narrative that gives meaning to a clan or society by expressing its sacred origins, destiny, place in the world, relationship to others, reason to be, and rules to survive. It is an expression in story form of the human reach for life beyond death and our pursuit of infinity. Myth requires an understanding of the self or consciousness acting in a particular environment through the use of symbolic artifacts that can permit both planning for the future and memory of the past for guidance. I consider it an expression of human transcendence.

Culture is a basic element of being human, being associational, preserving life, using language and other forms of symbolic expression to pursue and make meaning of our life and action in the world. The story telling of myth founds that pursuit and making of meaning in all it's forms including art, religion, common sense, and science. Even the "Big Bang" is a highly metaphorical way to describe a model for the origins of the universe--or at least one of them, ours.

So is there a universal story to which all can agree for all time? I think not. I think that would actually stultify our search for meaning and our transcendence. Art, religion, common sense, and science are progressive--and sometimes regressive, depending on your own story and the ethical principles that arise from that story. Nevertheless for the compassion and unity of humanity, we must try to share our stories, interpret them to one another, learn from each other's stories, critique our own stories or others' when they are used to dominate and disrespect, and include everyone in the unfolding story of the universe.

Does that relegate the belief that Jesus rose from the dead to be assumed into Heaven as the Christ and source of eternal life as a mere myth? A myth, yes, but not a "mere" myth. It is an expression of the human relationship to infinity, for our transcending spirit, for our faith in our Future, and for our ongoing pursuit of truth through science that both shapes and is shaped by our images and myths.

Is there or can there be a universal religion? The answer is yes if it is an inclusive dynamic sharing of narratives that give meaning to diverse groups with diverse languages and cultures. The answer is no if you try to take one story and freeze it in time, elevating it above all the other stories that give people meaning. The universality is not in the expression, but in the drive for meaning that we all experience as we encounter each other, our world, and our universe.

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