Karen Armstrong, a scholar and author, speaks about the need of myth in peoples lives. We have religious myths, nationalistic myths and personal myths. I tend to think that myth does serve imagination and motivates for better or worse people’s vision for the future. I think myth belongs in the artistic realm, although life is stranger than fiction, and I don’t rule out connections on the unknown highway.
Arildno—I am in nomad’s camp as far as the need for myth. I think religious myths, fairy tales, metaphorical stories of heroes and villains serve to teach and enlighten. They do not teach and enlighten in the same way that mathematics or chemistry or physics do—but nonetheless I think they have a place. The important thing to note for me is that religious myth is MYTH—not literal truth. I don’t think the world can survive too long with opposing literal interpretations of religion and those willing to kill to defend them, or impose them. I need religious myth in the same way that I need music and dreams and stories and fantasy and imagination. I think these things can broaden your mind. I just don’t think we need to kill eachother over them.
[quote author=“burt”][quote author=“arildno”]Sure we need myths. But we do not need specifically RELIGIOUS myths.
If you replaced the “we” by “I” it would be a legitimate statement, you have no knowledge of what other people may or may not need.
But you have to admit, arild and burt, that someone’s claiming to “need” a myth is not the same as his need for Vitamin C. This is a perversion of the meaning of the word “need”. It is woofy and nomad that started this. I don’t care what you think you need, you whiners. Myth is not Vitamin C.
I agree with you that the need for myth is nothing like the need for vitamin C. I make no claim that myth will prevent scurvy, or give you strong teeth and bones, or good night vision. I said I need myth the way I need music and art and imagination and fantasy. Would you feel better if I put the word “need” in quotes? I find that my life is enriched by studying myths and stories. I do not for one second believe that myth is more important than any of the sciences. I think mathematics and physical and biological sciences are what make improvements in human life possible. They are the foundation of what we know about the world. Myth is a part of the realm of imagination. But myth can and does inform human behavior, for good and for bad. Just as science sometimes enhances and sometimes detracts from human life. Salt Creek—could you imagine a world where science rules and myth played no part? What about that neon green Ducati motorcycle you like to tool around on? Is that a “need”? Mere practical transportation? Or is it something more like art? Have you heard the myth of the man on the motorcycle?
[quote author=“woofy”]Salt Creek—could you imagine a world where science rules and myth played no part? What about that neon green Ducati motorcycle you like to tool around on? Is that a “need”? Mere practical transportation? Or is it something more like art? Have you heard the myth of the man on the motorcycle?
It’s not “practical’ transportation at all. It’s “mythical” transportation. But I don’t in any sense “need” it.
Myth is only playtime. We need it in the sense we need playtime. Is that the point you wanted to make? If so, why did you talk about “myth” instead of about “play”? Is it because “myth” can, in some sense, actually be taken seriously? By anybody? Who should take it seriously?
Did you ever watch the movie “Unforgiven” by Clint Eastwood? Now that’s mythology.
Thus speaks Webster: 1 (a): a usually traditional story of ostensiblly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon (b): PARABLE, ALLEGORY 2 (a): a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; esp: one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society (b): an unfounded or false notion 3: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence 4: the whole body of myths.
It’s one thing to take your myths seriously, saying, “I like my myths. I get something pleasant or useful or enjoyable out of my myths; my myths are colorful allegories,” and another thing to mistake one’s myths for facts, not calling them myths but facts - wanting to teach them in school instead of the ‘real facts’ or the scientific facts. Religious people don’t think of their myths as myths at all, but as historical facts, sacred truths, and there has been a long-standing taboo against challenging their myths. In polite society we don’t call someone stupid, is that it? Or is like not telling a four-year-old that there is no Santa Claus? No Easter Bunny? Mean spirited SOB! Now you’ve made Johnny cry! No, worse! You’ve blasphemied!
Thoreau wrote, “There are plenty of journals (magazines) brave enough to say what they think about government, this being a free one; but I know of none, widely circulated or well conducted, that dares say what it thinks about the Sunday or the Bible. They have been bribed to keep dark. They are in the service of hypocrisy.” (1858)
Salt is calling Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ a myth, even though something like that could have happened, and probably did. What about Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’? (circa 1840?) A parable, an allegory about man and his technology? Now, 165 years after she wrote it, is there a mob, a posse of angry villagers, bent on destroying the doctor’s unholy monster? A Jihad?
Salt Creek and Unsmoked—I get my notion of the importance of myth largely from the works of Joseph Campbell. One of the messages he emphasized in his analyses of myth was that myth is NOT literal truth, and if it is interpreted as literal truth, it not only loses its usefulness—it becomes dangerous. I am comfortable considering myth “playtime” in a way, if you want to call it that. I’m a big fan of playtime. I think play is important. It may not be a “need” on the level of something that is required for basic physical survival—but I do consider it a positive part of my life. And again, I repeat—these are stories to me. NOT literal truth. Stories about going on journeys, about bliss and sacrifice, about fear, about love, about birth and death, about cycles… about what every human being has to go through. And all the ogres and demons and fairy godmothers and magic beans are out there….in the real world… only they’re not ogres and demons and fairy godmothers…. they’re just people. Spiteful people, hurtful people, helpful people, wise people…. Yeah… it’s all play time. But there are messages in it that can help you make your way on the journey. Here’s an example from a book we read in my book club called “Iron John” by Robert Bly. (it was based on an older fairy tale of the same name…) It’s supposedly a men’s book to teach the emasculated and demoralized males of today how to reclaim their right to be manly men, very paragons of manliness. Our book club is all women, but we read it anyhow…
There is an episode in the story where the person who is on his quest must take a bucket and empty a pond. Bucketful by bucketful. At the bottom of the pond is some kind of green man character, who imparts wisdom to the one who perseveres.
Now, first of all, you can’t empty a whole pond with one bucket in a single lifetime. Secondly, there isn’t a magical green man at the bottom of ponds who will impart wisdom to those who persevere.
So what is the use of this story? This is where metaphor, and not literal truth, enters the picture. This is not merely a story about a man emptying a pond. It is a story about a man on a quest… for whatever it is he is searching for… wisdom, glory, courage, love, a BMW 7 series…. and in order to successfully arrive at his goal he must pick up his bucket and bail. It is hard work. It is slow work. It is monotonous and grueling. But if you pick up your bucket and start in, and you persevere, you earn something. You may even achieve your goal. I find the stories of myth to be fascinating and useful. But I do not hold myth to be sacred truth. The only sacred truth I know is that there is a universe here, I am a part of it, and it is my desire to live in harmony with its laws and with my fellow creatures.
Woofy, I agree. Play is good. I wonder if Jesus liked to play? I think the Bible says that little children liked him. Is there much play and laughing in the Bible? As a child, I thought God’s name was Whartnhevn, and I thought anyone with a name like that must be fun to be around. I liked the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. I pictured him walking around in this big patchwork quilt kind of coat. My coat was black. It was a kind of black and gray society. I thought of the nerve of someone who could wear a big, colored, patchwork coat, maybe riding a camel. It all went along with Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem for children:
‘The world is so full of wonderful things,
I think we should all be as happy as kings!’ . . . wearing coats of many colors, riding camels, across the desert in the land of Galilee to see our Father, Whartnhevn.
I suppose you can assume or believe there is a creator without adhering to a particular religion. To me those people are “atheists” in disguise. In the sense that their idea of God will be way too vague to influence their thinking and actions in a significant way. I mean, why would you blow up a building in a name of a God you have very little knowledge about, except your limited idea of what God is?