Myths are stories and symbols we use in an attempt to connect us to a deeper understanding of life in an attempt to find meaning to it. They are poetic ways to express something we find difficult to say literally.
The older a myth is, the more power and mystery it seems to hold for us. Yet mistaking the myth for the reality, taking it literally, masks the journey it was supposed to help us embark on: the myth can become an end in itself. Some have a great fear that demythologising a story will make it lose its power so they cling to misrepresentations of reality and calls to authority. On the contrary, it is only by breaking these myths that their relevance in the 21st century can be maintained.
Our myths come from our experience of the world and, as Tillich says, need to be constantly transcended. Many Christian myths came from the Stone Age and expressed a view of the world which was in keeping with those times. Because of their age and a particular view of authority, some have mistaken these myths for reality. When the New Atheists criticise Christianity it is often this mistaken view of the world that they are attacking. It is a view of the world that is so hopelessly out of sync with our current understanding of reality that only a misuse of the concept of faith allows people to continue to believe it.
When the myth becomes more important that what it was supposed to represent it becomes a form of idolatry. The Hebrews were very aware of this problem and were afraid to use the word god. Yet the people wanted to represent god as an object in order to be able to comprehend it and Aaron kindly obliged by making a golden calf. Yet without idolatry many people cannot find a way of getting to grips with the concept of god. Meister Eckhart said ‘I pray to God to rid me of God’. It expresses the problem of idolising a concept by turning it into a object yet many of us cannot give it up.
We still create idols by conceiving of god as an object. We refer to it as a He, then locate Him within our current time and space and thereby limit Him. Perhaps the popularity of Jesus is because we can have our cake and eat it; we have a human being who was also God. Jesus provides a real symbol we can visualise (even though we still create false images of him) to help us find our way to god.
Myths – the poetic expression of the inexpressible – are powerful stories that enrich our lives and help us on our path to find meaning. Idolatry is not needed yet seems to be the thing we crave most and fear to lose. We now need the courage to take the difficult next step.
- Comment: New Atheists and Myths as Liberal Theologian Tricks (alexblog.com)