On myth

“Myth” is a complex term. Not every false story is a myth. 

What I know about myths I learned from Bob’s book on the bible. You should get a copy! Here is what he says: 

Myth is one of these constituents, and an important one. “Myth” is not used here to mean merely “fictional,” or “not real,” but in its full sense. As the German theologian, Bartsch, has said, “Myth is the expression of unobservable realities in terms of observable phenomena.” Myth then is always used to interpret reality, to read the physical and psychological world. Myth is metaphor. It is story. It explains the complex in terms of the simple. It may be non-rational, but it is not false. Myth is true to not true of the world. The non-rationality of myth is its very essence, for religion requires a demonstration of faith by the suspension of critical doubt. “In this sense,” as Edmund Leach puts it, “all stories which occur in The Bible are myths for the devout Christian whether they correspond to historical fact or not.” 

Another characteristic of myth is its binary aspect: seeming opposites as heaven and earth, male and female, living and dead, good and evil, first and last, gods and people. In an attempt to bridge these binaries, a new element, “mediation,” is introduced into the story. “Mediation” is achieved by introducing a third category which is “abnormal” or “anomalous.” Thus myths are full of fabulous monsters, incarnate gods, virgin mothers, and the like. This middle ground of half-gods and super-humans is abnormal, non-natural, holy. It is typically the focus of all taboo and ritual observance. Leach, com- menting on the tales of the patriarchs, says, “this long series of repetitive and inverted tales asserts: (a) the overriding virtue of close kin endogamy, (b) that…Abraham can carry this so far that he marries his paternal half-sister…, (c) that a rank order is established which places the tribal neighbours of the Israelites in varying degrees of inferior status…the myth requires that the Israelites be descended unambiguously from Terah, the father of Abraham.” 

“Mythology,” he writes, “is not a datum but a factum of human existence: it belongs to the world of culture and civilization that man has made and still inhabits.” (p. 37) In this second sense myth is not merely a mistaken explanation of natural phenomena but is rather a form of imaginative and creative thinking that helps to produce the world we occupy. And that world includes our stories just as it includes the objects of the physical world. Again Frye: “…the real interest of myth is to draw a circumference around a human community and look inward toward that community, not to inquire into the operations of nature.” (p. 37) 

Myth has these characteristics: 

1. form: primarily narrative (but may be pictorial) 

2. time: set in the past or the universal present – the same thing said in a different way at the same time – or, more simply, the past is universally present. 

3. subject-matter: themes are drawn from the realm of the non-verifiable, or at least from that which was incapable of demonstration at the time of the creation of the myth. 

There are these kinds of myth: 

myths of the gods 

nature myths 

myths of origins 

philosophical myths 

myths of the “hereafter” or the other world 

they function as: 

allegories 

explanations of the beginnings of something 

para-scientific explanations 

expressions of the collective story of an age. 

A myth is living or dead not true or false. We cannot refute a myth because as soon as we treat it as refutable it is no longer a myth but has become hypothesis or history. We need not believe everything we read in the Bible as literally true (because it is not), but it can be read as pointing toward a truth, or truths, about the human story. Sometimes we may smile at the naivete of the stories but we should never sneer at them. Often the seeming naivete is indeed just that, seeming. Myths are like parables – to be meaningful they must create their own lens for viewing the world. We see the world through these lenses.

Sunday’s Sermon: on Faith/faith

Screenshot_2018-10-13 Media Library ‹ Episyllogism — WordPress

Please excuse me if I use the “F” word often. I realize that many people are afraid of that word and are disgusted by its frequent use in contemporary letters. Even tough-minded scientists like Jerry Coyne are quick to correct themselves if the “F” word sneaks out. In a recent Point of Inquiry podcast, Coyne, in talking about his book Why Evolution is True, says “most evolutionists take it [the evidence for evolution] on faith … well, not faith…”. He immediately corrects himself and restructures the sentence. It was as if he had used the other “f” word in a church or mosque.

Faith is the “F” word that people either love or hate.

Much of the problem with the “f” word comes about because of a built in ambiguity between capital F and small case faith. Faith/faith: Faith = belief without compelling evidence; while faith = trust, or beliefs that are knowable in principle. For example when my Catholic acquaintance eats the wafer he has Faith that it will transubstantiate; when I go to start my car in the morning I have faith that it will start. If my car does not start it is possible in principle for me or a mechanic to determine what’s wrong. If the wafer does not change to the flesh of Christ conversion is the only solution.

In science, William James notes, we can afford to await the outcome of investigation before coming to a belief, but in other cases we are “forced,” in that we must come to some belief even if all the relevant evidence is not in. If I am on a isolated mountain trail, faced with an icy ledge to cross, and do not know whether I can make it, I may be forced to consider the question whether I can or should believe that I can cross the ledge. This question is not only forced, it is “momentous”: if I am wrong I may fall to my death, and if I believe rightly that I can cross the ledge, my holding of the belief may itself contribute to my success. In such a case, James asserts, I have the “right to believe” — precisely because such a belief may help bring about the fact believed in. This is a case “where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming”.

Faith is required for religious belief. Faith is the way of knowing for the religious believer. Faith is, in this religious sense, more like hope.

Remember 9/11 was a Faith based enterprise.

For the scientific minded Faith is merely an emotion, a state of mind. It is to believe without any evidence. Tertullian’s “I believe because it is absurd” catches this sense. I’ll let Nietzsche have the last word:

“’Faith’ means not wanting to know what is true.”

Recently we talked about truth using the same notion of capital T/ small t to unpack the ambiguity that abounds in the use of the term. As you can see faith works in much the same way. Just think for a minute of all the Catholic parents who had FAITH that their children were safe with the friendly parish priest. Those parents would never do anything to put their children in danger. They were certain that all was well in the safety of the church.

But as we learned here certainty is demonic. Link takes you to a great real sermon by Dr. Crane.

70 | VIU – ANNUAL RESEARCH REPORT 2

From the current VIU research report:

Blogging and reviewing: the academic life of a retired professor.

Professor Emeritus, Philosophy and Religious Studies

Since retiring in 2000, Bob Lane has continued his academic interests by writing reviews for “metapsychology” (about 125 book reviews) and blogging about philosophy, literature, and current events. Reviews here:
https://boblane.com/books/

He is most proud of the fact that he has included several former and current students as authors of a series of letters on various topics including sexual harassment, letters from South America, and letters from Japan. The letters are collected here: https://boblane.com/series/.

Bob has also presented for the Institute of Practical Philosophy which he founded several years ago as a way of bringing contemporary social issues into the community. His blog has over 450 members and about 5,000 posts which are also shared on the Facebook page, Episyllogism (https://www.facebook.com/ippepi).

Two VIU philosophy graduates are contributing to the Blog. Also contributing are community members who are lawyers, nurses, retired teachers and current students at VIU.

Robert D. Lane was interviewed by Laureano Ralón on April 1st, 2016 for Figure/Ground:

“Robert D. Lane is an emeritus professor of philosophy from Vancouver Island University in Canada, where he taught literature and philosophy for 31 years. Lane was the founder of the Philosophy department at VIU (then Malaspina College). As the institution grew, he became the founding director of VIU’s Institute of Practical Philosophy, which is still an active player today in community issues and contemporary moral issues. Since retiring in 2000, Lane has served on the Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and Culture Board.

He also authored a book entitled Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation, a book of short stories, REDNECK, and founded the philosophy blog Episyllogism.”

  • Source: Ralón, L. (2016). “Interview with Bob Lane,” Figure/Ground. April 1st.

Read the complete interview here: http://figureground.org/interview-with-robert-d-lane/

3 Quick Reads

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some items I found worth reading:

Homework!

Go here.

Every generation of schoolchildren no doubt first assumes homework to be a historically distinct form of punishment, developed expressly to be inflicted on them. But the parents of today’s miserable homework-doers also, of course, had to do homework themselves, as did their parents’ parents. It turns out that you can go back surprisingly far in history and still find examples of the menace of homework, as far back as ancient Egypt, a civilization from which one example of an out-of-classroom assignment will go on display at the British Library’s exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark, which opens this spring.