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The Liberating Potential of Myth

charleslb
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11/10/2010 7:09:00 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
Part One

The conventional understanding of myth nowadays is that myths were merely primitive man's made-up and make-believe explanations for his world. According to this line of rationalistic supposition our superstitious ancient ancestors concocted their myths out of their fanciful imaginations to explain the various confusing and distressing facts of life. This modern way of viewing myth reduces myth to little more than cultic cock-and-bull tales that reassured pre-scientific people about the bewildering and scary conditions of their existence.

No doubt myths are, to some extent, the creative stabs taken by pre-scientific minds at explaining aspects of the world. But to think that this is all that myths are is both simplistically reductive and arrogantly dismissive. The need to explain our environment is only one part of the story of human myth making, the rest of that cosmically epic story is that our myths are less inventions of our imagination than they are expressions of our intuition.

That is, myths are our attempt to articulate and share wisdom hardwired into our brains and guts, wisdom about the nature of our lives, our contribution to the big picture, and about the ultimate nature of being. Myth is nothing less than an inner revelation that we try to embody in tales of gods and goddesses, heroes and tricksters. A revelation of the laws, forces, values, and truths of existence. Myths are the eternal drives and realities of Creation, manifesting themselves in our minds, religious practices, and stories.

Is this really such a far-out and far-fetched concept of myth? Of course that depends on one's ideology. If you're a materialist who believes that we're all just atomized bits of fleshly flotsam and jetsam in the aimless sea of time, well, then all of the above is just a lot of high-sounding rubbish. But if you consider that our psyches are themselves part and parcel of the fundamental nature of reality, that our bodies are literally incarnations of the creative process that is being, then the idea that cosmic truth and transcendence is communicating itself through us, through our penchant for devising myths and rituals is not quite so inconceivable.

So what then is it that myth seems to be trying to communicate to us? What's the innermost kernel of ultimate and ethical, spiritual and natural meaning that the religious fantasies of our early forbears contain? Pierce through the literal, concrete interpretations of myth, see deeply into the eternal epiphany too often obscured by the shell of myth, and the mystical message of all myth boils down to this, that being is just the temporary hardening of the sublime mystery of becoming into specific forms. That Creation is not a done-in-7-days deed but an everlasting, exhaustless process that everyone and thing collaborates in. That we are all here to actualize the potential, beauty, and goodness of cosmic creativity. And that the real meaning and truth of life is simply experiencing its intrinsic creativity and majesty.

Of course the great tragedy and crime against enlightenment of "fundamentalists" has been their prosaic proclivity to take the central myth of their religion at face value, to dully interpret it in a most literal fashion. When people make this infamous intellectual error they lose the ability to garner any real spiritual value and truth from their myths, to use them to reach an insight into reality's own interior transcendency.

And more's the pity, for evangelicals who take their Bible verbatim myth becomes a serious hindrance to their spiritual growth and their ability to revel in man's innate sense of the numinous. When you turn a myth into a black and white fact you can all-too easily get bogged down in your facts and never climb to a liberating level of spiritual authenticity, understanding, and truth.

Even more insidiously, since a literally interpreted myth is no longer a vessel for a universal truth and the common property of all spiritual seekers, since it becomes, rather, the special property of its "true believers" it logically leads them into the folly of sectarianism and intolerance, of thinking that they have a monopoly on religious truth and a divine right to force their gospel on everyone else.

Such scripturalism and exclusivism is the sin that the televangelists who preach the damnation of all non-Christians are guilty of. It's the sin that conservative pastors and politicians who denounce gays for not conforming to the letter of Biblical law commit. And it's at the core of the evil mentality of Islamists such as Osama bin Laden who literally interpret jihad so as to justify mass murder in their cause.

When religious folk lock their minds into a narrow reading of "the word" and a mythological strict constructionism, well, dogmatism, bigotry, and violence are the predictable results. Fundamentalist literalism has become the scourge of the modern religious community. And ironically this is in large part because ours is an age of science! Say what? Well, the scientific method is the tip of a thoroughly unmetaphorical, unfanciful, matter-of-fact mind-set that puts a very straightforward interpretation on data, a mental modus operandi that's deeply disinclined to look at things from an allegorical point of view. This staid spirit and mundane mentality of science has of course reached outside of its proper fields of endeavor and into the bailiwick of religion, where it takes on the form of and promotes the unimaginative literal-mindedness of holly rollers and hatemongers.

The objective method of science is all well and good when applied to analyzing scientific data, but when religious teachers, preachers, and believers begin to take the naked letter of scripture to be objective fact rather than metaphor and symbolism enshrouding deeper values, that's when religion can turn ugly. Disgustingly, terrifyingly, lethally ugly.

And this is what's happened hither and yon, from the pulpits of Southern Baptist churches to Islamist madrasas fundamentalist literalism is causing devoutly religious men and women to distort spirituality into something cruel and completely unconducive to spiritual perceptiveness. The mythology of religion is becoming a deadly obstacle to the inner truth and sanctity of our lives, when it's supposed to be a gate of access to enlightenment.

See the conclusion directly below
Yo, all of my subliterate conservative criticasters who find perusing and processing the sesquipedalian verbiage of my posts to be such a bothersome brain-taxing chore, I have a new nickname for you. Henceforth you shall be known as Pooh Bears. No, not for the obvious apt reasons, i.e., not because you're full of pooh, and not because of your ursine irritability. Rather, you put me in mind of an A.A. Milne quote, "I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me". Love ya, Pooh Bears.
charleslb
Posts: 4,740
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11/10/2010 7:11:09 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
Part Two (Conclusion)

Religion today desperately needs to be saved from itself, from literalism, fundamentalism, and narrowness. Spirituality should expand our minds, enabling them to take in more of the wonder and holiness of the universe, instead for many it shrinks their outlook down to a cramped mental box that they never venture to think outside of and that has no room for anything but a few ignorant dogmas. No, this isn't at all what spirituality is meant to be, nor is a rigid and mean-spirited creed what mythology is meant to be.

Human beings are always, either consciously or unconsciously, groping to tune into and bring forth their natural endowment of spiritual intelligence. The real function of myth is to help us in this perennial quest, to help us successfully pursue a sacred path without each of us having to reinvent the wheel to get our journey rolling.

Yes, in a word, what were all seeking is shalom. Well, most people think that the Hebrew word shalom merely means peace, but it actually means peace, well-being, wholeness, and deliverance. And all of this is what our inward nature craves and searches for, often in the wrongest of places, such as material possessions and wealth, or sex, drugs, and other escapes. Authentic spirituality, as opposed to the kind of religion that's warped by the barren bibliolatry of the fundamentalists, is all about cultivating and sharing shalom. The only real hope for human beings to ever enjoy peace on Earth, and within their own minds, to ever know the full potential of life and deliverance from their own darkness is to reclaim religion & myth from the zealots of literalism and reinfuse it with the spirit of authentic spirituality.

Then again, we can also continue to kick religion to the curb of our culture, but that means throwing all the precious guidance and light that spirituality has to offer out with the yucky bathwater of dogmatic scripturalism and bigoted born-againism. Taking that secular option could very likely prove to be the final undoing of our already shaky civilization.
Yo, all of my subliterate conservative criticasters who find perusing and processing the sesquipedalian verbiage of my posts to be such a bothersome brain-taxing chore, I have a new nickname for you. Henceforth you shall be known as Pooh Bears. No, not for the obvious apt reasons, i.e., not because you're full of pooh, and not because of your ursine irritability. Rather, you put me in mind of an A.A. Milne quote, "I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me". Love ya, Pooh Bears.
Zetsubou
Posts: 4,933
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11/11/2010 12:19:06 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
The fundamentalists/extremists/literalists got it right.

If you don;'t like it, don't follow it. It's that easy.
'sup DDO -- july 2013
FREEDO
Posts: 21,057
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11/11/2010 3:20:44 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 11/10/2010 8:23:41 PM, InsertNameHere wrote:
It has probably been mentioned before, but nobody here will read something that long in these forums. I certainly won't.

I sure do. Don't you people read books?
GRAND POOBAH OF DDO

fnord
charleslb
Posts: 4,740
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11/11/2010 9:09:50 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 11/11/2010 3:22:04 PM, FREEDO wrote:
I find your articles interesting.

You may be interested in these:

http://www.psychologytoday.com...

http://www.psychologytoday.com...

It's related to this.

Thank you, I'll check out those links when I have the time.
Yo, all of my subliterate conservative criticasters who find perusing and processing the sesquipedalian verbiage of my posts to be such a bothersome brain-taxing chore, I have a new nickname for you. Henceforth you shall be known as Pooh Bears. No, not for the obvious apt reasons, i.e., not because you're full of pooh, and not because of your ursine irritability. Rather, you put me in mind of an A.A. Milne quote, "I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me". Love ya, Pooh Bears.
charleslb
Posts: 4,740
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11/21/2010 8:26:18 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 11/11/2010 12:19:06 PM, Zetsubou wrote:
The fundamentalists/extremists/literalists got it right.

If you don;'t like it, don't follow it. It's that easy.

Do you honestly think that literal-minded types understand their myths and scriptures better and more deeply than anyone else? That the fundamentalists represent authentic religion and spirituality? That those of us with a spiritual weltanschauung who aren't religious-rightists should concede the field of religion to the Bible-thumping hatemongers? Wow, that's cynical and betrays an anti-religious bent. You identify yourself as a socialist in your profile, I sometimes use the label socialist for myself as well, I've never found it necessary to be anti-religious to feel like a consistent socialist. Do you think that being a down-on-religion secularist is part and parcel of being a leftist? One can be far out on the left and have a spiritual worldview, I'm living proof of that! There've been many religious socialists, don't simplistically think that religionists and socialists are natural enemies.
Yo, all of my subliterate conservative criticasters who find perusing and processing the sesquipedalian verbiage of my posts to be such a bothersome brain-taxing chore, I have a new nickname for you. Henceforth you shall be known as Pooh Bears. No, not for the obvious apt reasons, i.e., not because you're full of pooh, and not because of your ursine irritability. Rather, you put me in mind of an A.A. Milne quote, "I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me". Love ya, Pooh Bears.
Ogan
Posts: 407
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11/24/2010 4:18:12 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
76.
What we gain from the Myths is not what they mean,
But only a fraction of the part that we've seen,
The truth of it is, intellect... false teacher,
Not satisfied with seeking becomes a preacher!

(Matthew Sutherland)