Tag Archives: myth

Lies and Myths

Aren’t kids in elementary school, or before, taught lying is wrong? Is that social convention or morality? Is lying always wrong? If you’re lying to protect the Underground Railroad, for example, then I’m going to go with not wrong. And perhaps to that classic question: Do I look fat? – it might be wise to say no, regardless of one’s honest opinion. Socially, we rarely say, ‘No, I’m not busy, but I don’t want to meet you;’ we create a socially acceptable alibi. And what about lying to our parents? I know several of the world’s religions have something to say both about how we treat our parents and about lying.

I have a friend whose 20-something offspring lies to him on a regular basis. It seems like this happens even when it just doesn’t matter, over the simplest questions. Perhaps the lies started when the kid wasLiarLiar younger and trying to craft a conflict-free space between divorced parents. Perhaps lying was easier than working things out honestly. A short-cut. What I have noticed from the outside-looking-in, is it seems that these routine lies present no apparent moral dilemma for my friend’s progeny.  Nonetheless the pattern of willful deceit is as hurtful to my friend as it is habitual for the kid. So maybe, the moral measure of the lie is the impact it has on others. In this case, I believe these lies are wrong because of how they hurt the parent and damage the relationship.

In everyday vernacular, the word myth has come to be interpreted as something that’s not true. I have the 1997 publication of the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (John Bowker, ed.) and in spite of offering numerous thorough and worthy definitions in over two pages, the Oxford also says that the word myth has “become synonymous with falsehood” (p.671). That is an unfortunate use of the word. Myths, some related to religion and some not, are more like fairy tales, by best definition, as I wrote about previously.

“Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales and Religion”

Not too many people read “The Three Pigs” and debate whether the story ever happened. Fairy tales entertain us with a story and offer some moral guidance. No one wants a house that the Big Bad Wolf can blow down in one exhale, so perhaps this story suggests we might prepare for the worst and take more time to build a safer house, literally or metaphorically. Myths can offer social and moral guidance, when the word myth is used in the most accurate sense, and perhaps we shouldn’t use cable TV as an example. I just tried to watch two different shows with myth in the title: “Myth Busters,” and “Myth Hunters.” The first program was just an excuse to crash cars and de-bunk or recreate movie stunts. I couldn’t stand watching more than two minutes.

I watched two episodes of “Myth Hunters” on Netflix with two different men trying to prove two different Biblical myths. One guy tried to locate Noah’s Ark and the other claimed he located the Ark of the Covenant (both of Jewish and Christian legend). What I could not understand is why. They thought that by “proving” these two things existed, they would prove god exists. The thing is that even if someone locates what seems to be Noah’s Ark, there there is no way to actually prove that’s what it is. The other thing is that faith should not come out of proof, but rather inspiration, study, meditation, or life experience, to name a few different paths. Faith is all about believing what can’t be proven. If you need a series of facts to support your religion, then maybe religion is not for you. Stick with science – which is not to say science and religion are mutually exclusive. The complexity and grandeur of the universe is inspiring to me. Mystical in fact. But my inspiration not destroyed by basic scientific principles like gravity, climate change, or evolution.

Our culture needs more myths. I can imagine a modern myth about a greedy stock broker who nearly caused the collapse of the economy while amassing so much personal wealth that he literally exploded and all his wealth was turned into gold coins that rained down on public housing. I can also imagine a kid who lies to a parent so much that every lie sucks her into a hole from which only her parent can provide rescue if there is just one honest request, but the kid no longer remembers how to tell the truth.

Myths offer us the possibility of social subtlety, which I would think would be welcome in our screaming mass media world. An entertaining story with a variety of interpretations and moral lessons can be appreciated or politely ignored. You get to choose. By contrast, there is no need for the arrogance of shallow, accusatory television evangelists spewing simplistic answers to complex issues. That is the dumbing-down of moral lessons, and again, arrogance.

I would cite the popularity of Harry Potter as evidence on how myth serves humanity, especially the young. The book series had a clear value system, primarily social justice and defeating oppressors. Who doesn’t want to hear that story? There was personal sacrifice for the greater good and compassion toward outcasts. These are welcome messages, with the potential for positive social impact. And apparently, I’m not the only one who likes the Potter myth or J.K. Rowling would not have gone from welfare mother to billionaire.

While suffering the fools pursuing a real Noah’s Ark on Netflix, I found myself pondering it as a myth. It is not so hard to imagine a god disgusted with humanity and ready for a do-over. Then I think about Noah and what I take-away from that myth is that maybe, just maybe, one good person can make a difference. You may be mocked, it may mean tremendous sacrifice, but the flooding will come to an end and there will be rebirth, somewhere, somehow. And all that rebirth was made possible because God found one good person. One good person prevented the complete destruction of the world as he knew it; and, also noteworthy, lots of animals were saved.  Finding Noah’s Ark doesn’t prove Noah or God exist, but not finding his boat doesn’t mean the story is a lie, or without value. It doesn’t matter if it happened, it is a myth. It is a story that engages our imagination and gives us something to think about. One good person made a difference in spite of personal sacrifice and that is a myth to live by. – J.B.

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Have a Yourself a Very Druid Christmas

The holiday season always brings with it the whining of Christian traditionalists to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’ and wanting to take all of us back to that ‘old time religion.’  I suppose most of these folks are not reading this blog, but if you get a chance, please remind them that the Christians stole December 25th from the pagans and no one really knows when Jesus was born.

The Winter Solstice was a popular December festival celebrating the coming light of spring as the days started to get longer, not shorter, following the first day of winter.  It was such a darn good celebration that Christian converts didn’t want to give it up.  Who can blame them?  They even took the now popular Christmas tree and transitioned that ancient fertility symbol into something for their own religion.  So if we reflect on Christmas and the Old Time Religion, we may need to study the Druids, who I’m told, really knew how to party.

When it comes to clashing traditions and complementary myths, there is no one better to turn to than gifted storyteller and mythology expert, the late Joseph Campbell.  He and Bill Moyers (journalist and Christian theologian) produced that series for public television in the 1980s.  In Program Two, “The Message of The Myth,” he said, “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.”  Campbell showed us that today’s common perception of the word myth as an untrue story, like an urban legend, is a mistaken understanding.  As Karen Armstrong also said, “In popular parlance, a ‘myth’ is something that is not true.  But in the past, myth was not self-indulgent fantasy; rather…it helped people to live effectively in our confusing world…” (The Case for God, p.xi).

The following excerpt is one way Campbell and Moyers said it, again from Program Two (which I transcribed, so the sentence structure is mine).

MOYERS:  Far from undermining my faith, your work in mythology has liberated it from the cultural prisons to which it had been sentenced.

CAMPBELL:  Every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense, it is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.

The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions said, “But while myths may be both intended and understood as factual, it is clear that more often they are stories which point to truths of a kind that cannot be told in other ways, and which are not disturbed if the apparent ‘facts’ of the supposed case are shown to be otherwise…” (p.672).  So just in case any fundamentalists are reading this blog, myths are your friends, just as they are mine.  You may choose a literal interpretation of your myths, but by preserving the underlying metaphor, you are assuring the longevity of those stories.  It’s as simple as the story of the boy who cried wolf.  Does it matter if some kid really did this?  Of course not.  However, the underlying wisdom of that story can be applied to a medieval village or an Internet web site.  When fundamental religions cling to the details of the myth, they limit the possibilities offered by the lessons of the metaphor.

Whether we are talking about Jesus, Mohammed, Abraham, or the Buddha, all traditions offer us myths to live by.  Describing these stories as myths does not demote them to the realm of fiction but strengthens their identity as timeless metaphors.  “Star Wars” is an example of contemporary fiction with common human metaphors that express timeless values.  Watch any of the movies again and identify themes like heroism, justice and oppression, good and evil, the vision quest, and love, just to name a few.

Joseph Campbell said: “It’s ridiculous to go back to the old time religion.  A friend of mine composed a song based on ‘The Old Time Religion.’

‘Give me the Old Time Religion

Let us worship Zarathustra

Just the way we usta’

Zara-thustra-busta

He’s good enough for me.

All religions are true for their time if you can find what the truth is and separate it from the temporal inflection.  Just bring your same old religion into a new set of metaphors and you’ve got it.”  (In case your ancient religious history is rusty, Zarathustra was an Iranian prophet from c.6,000 BCE.)

No matter what holiday you celebrate, even if it’s just a day off work because of someone else’s religion, I hope your holidays are pleasant.  I plan on spending a perfectly Druid Holiday in the best city in the world: The Big Easy, New Orleans, NOLA.  I hope to make the Druids proud – and I’m ready, though I’m not entirely sure NOLA is ready for me.