Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Power of our Myths

Myths get a bad rap, I think. We think of them as "fictions", when in reality they are powerful life-framing stories. I'd like to put in a good word for the power of myth and a vote for us to embrace deeper meanings in what we do.

My friend Ray Degraw said:
I think you still are equating "mythology" with "fiction" - but it has multiple meanings. One is something that is made up and incorrect (the THIRD dictionary definition, interestingly), but the very first meaning simply is a story about something of seminal importance - regardless of whether or not it is grounded in a factual base.

Let me try to say it a different way:

Mythology is the narrative embodient of faith in the purest, non-religious definition of "faith". It is the creation of stories that explain the unexplainable and (yet) knowable. It is the way humans make dreams tangible in word. It is the way we encapsulate extremes (both "ultimate good" and "pure evil") into images to which we can relate and, in doing so, make those extremes "useful". That is one of the wonders of Mormon theology / mythology, in my opinion - that it takes the transcendent and often useless images of GOD and Christ (within much of Christianity, especially) and frames those images / concepts in "useful" terms.
But somebody might say:
Did mythology put a man on the moon? Did it cure polio? Did it give us any real advances that made life better in a real physical way?
My friend Brian Johnston answers:
Mythology did indeed put a man on the moon and cure polio. I agree that highly skilled and knowledgeable people used tools to construct these things and create the events, but it was mythology that inspired them all to make it happen.

We operated under a mythology in the U.S. that we are the defenders and promoters of peace, prosperity and the best form of social order. That isn't factually or historically true: we create more war, misery and disorder in the world -- we just make all that happen generally elsewhere, and for our gain. This is the mythology that sent a man to the moon. Why did we do such a useless thing? Because we had to prove to the world that our form of social order was better than the Soviet form of social order -- to prove that our economic religion was the one-true path to "the good."

I could deconstruct the Salk Polio Vaccine the same way as the moon launch.
Does this mean the Polio Vaccine and the moon launch are sullied or worthless? No. Does this mean the U.S. is evil? No. What does it mean? That, I think, is a question to guide our lives.

If things are not as they seem, what are they?


Anonymous said...

I'm answering a comment you left on yahoo answers asking about muslim NDE

Thomas Gail Haws said...

I'd like to see the original account. It's unfortunate to see people use an experience like this to serve the collective ego in drawing a line between Self (their religion) and the Other (another religion). All near death accounts I have read, and I have read many dozens, emphasize shedding of self and unity with others. These, I think, are the things Jesus taught.