Living Without Myth Today
Crusaders such as Thomas H. Huxley believed... people must choose between mythology and rational science, and there could be no compromise. Reason alone was truthful and the myths of religion truthless. But truth had been narrowed down to what was 'demonstrated and demonstrable', which, religion aside, would exclude the truths told by art or music. By treating myth as though it were rational, modern scientists, critics and philosophers made it incredible....So much for the quotes. I have a thought and then a pile of queries.
Mythical thinking and practice had helped people to face the prospect of extinction and nothingness, and to come through it with a degree of acceptance. Without this discipline, it has been difficult for many to avoid despair....
Logos [eg logic, not the Logos of the Fourth Gospel!] has in many ways transformed our lives for the better, but this has not been an unmitigated triumph. Our demythologised world is very comfortable for many of us who are fortunate enough to live in first-world countries, but it is not the earthly paradise predicted by Bacon and Locke.... Other societies saw death as a transition to other modes of being.... In no other culture would anybody settle down in the middle of a rite of passage or an initiation, with the horror unresolved. But this is what we have to do in the absence of a viable mythology....
We still long to 'get beyond' our immediate circumstances, and to enter a 'full time', a more intense, fulfilling existence. We try to enter this dimension by means of art, rock music, drugs, or by entering the larger-than-life perspective of film. We still seek heroes [eg Elvis, Diana]. The myth of the hero was not intended to provide us with icons to admire, but was designed to tap into the vein of heroism within ourselves.
We must disabuse ourselves of the nineteenth-century fallacy that myth is false or that it represents an inferior mode of thought. We cannot completely recreate ourselves, cancel out the rational bias of our education, and return to a pre-modern sensibility. But we can acquire a more educated attitude to myth....
Thought: It would be a useful and helpful project to elucidate the myths we are wrapped up in ourselves today. Perhaps we can frame it as an analysis of the "powers and principalities" of U.S. sociopoliticocultural life today. I can think of a few concepts to start with, but it would be interesting to know what "idols" are all around us and we don't even notice them:
- Celebrity and sports star worship
- Money and consumerism
- Technology worship
- Four American Archetypal Stories: "Up by the bootstraps," "Mob at the gates," "Barnraising," and "Rot at the top" (as identified by Robert Reich)
- Democratic republicanism/Capitalism/[fill in blank] as the best of all possible systems
- etc. etc.
What does it mean to live without the myths of the past to fall back on? Whether we are theists or not, we are embedded in the social, economic, spiritual, and political culture of our times, whether we are consciously aware and resistant of those powers and principalities or not.
What does it mean to take up the cross of faith even in a faithless world? Or, what does it mean to hold fast to the truths of love and solidarity even absent a sense of a larger power binding you together?
Are you fervently, religiously devout but oblivious to suffering around you? Are you intellectual, rational, and utterly selfish?
Are you a determined atheist who wins friends and influences people through the openness and many kind gestures you offer to the rich and poor alike? Did you sell all you have to follow Jesus and move to the Kibera slum in Nigeria and offer counsel to the orphans and street children there?
How do you "tap into the vein of heroism" within yourself?
Has your practice made you more loving and kind toward yourself, toward other people, toward the natural world?
In the end, it's the "fruit" that is the measure of the harvest.
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So that's all for now. Pick one question above and write about it if you can...