Thursday, November 2, 2017

Profound Truths

I love myths.   We all went through school – elementary and otherwise – learning about the gods and goddesses and the trials and tribulations of those who offended them.    Most of us read Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad.   We know of Zeus and all the rest.  One of my favorites is Hercules.

Our Bible has many myths – a fact that confounds and angers those who believe it’s all factual and historical.  Our problem is the definition of myth and our associating myths with the gods of Homer and the myths of Greek and Roman religions.  

According to Harvey Cox, author of “How to Read the Bible” (2015) and Harvard Divinity Professor, “…myth is a narrative that, although not necessarily factually accurate, is nonetheless true in a deeper and more significant sense.   A myth is essentially true because it is a symbol, and a symbol is something that points beyond itself to a truth that might be difficult or impossible to express in ordinary language.  In this sense a myth is a narrated symbol just as a ritual is an enacted symbol.  

For example, when we say the Adam and Eve story is a myth, we suggest it is a story that is not empirically factual, but one that nonetheless illuminates a profound truth about the human condition.  Much of the difficulty we have in reading the Bible today results from literalism – when we mistakenly look for facts instead of recognizing and appreciating the profound truth of myth.” 

Unfortunately, we have inherited the view of St. Augustine who, according to Stephen Greenblatt in his 2017 book “The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve,” “succeeded in establishing as a key principle the literal reality of the events in the Garden.  The insistence on the reality of Eve’s conversation with the serpent gave witch-hunters [like Dominican friars Kramer and Sprenger in their 1486 book “The Hammer of Witches”] the opening they needed, and their claims [witchcraft accusations] were reinforced by the mass-produced and increasingly powerful images of the fateful scene in the Garden of Eden.”

Let’s try to be more comfortable with the myths of the Bible.  They give us profound truths we all can appreciate and our children can understand.  

I’ll still read about Apollo, Hera, Athena and all the rest of the gods and goddesses for enjoyment.  But the Bible is another story(ies).  That we all should read for many truth-giving myths – truths that testify to the human condition and the never-ending struggle we have between good and evil.

Deacon David Pierce     

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