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.

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/

On reading . . .

From Reading the Bible – Chapter 1

One way of approaching these early stories is to think of them as maps. They were constructed after the fact as ways of explaining and charting the unknown past of how and why. In that respect they are backwards looking. But they also contain a perspective from the present projecting into the future. They contain within them a story about how we ought to be. And the language of these stories is often the language of dream – symbolic language – a language that means more than it says, a language that is found in poetry and in children. When our immediate family experienced the first death in the family which our kids experienced it happened like this: the phone call came saying that Grandpa Jim had died and that his funeral would be in a military cemetery in a few days. Margaret, our daughter, was about three years old. She heard her mother on the phone and guessed that something was wrong. She asked her older brothers (seven and eight) what was going on. “Grandpa Jim is dead.”

“What does that mean?”

“They will put him in a hole in the ground.”

“And put dirt over top of him.”

“And you will never see him again.”

She was puzzled. Later she went off to bed without saying much of anything. In the middle of the night I heard her weeping quietly in her crib. I went to pick her up and held her against my chest. She was in that state between sleeping and waking and was sobbing over and over again: “I don’t want to go down in that hole; I don’t want to go down in that hole.” That is symbolic language. What heart knew head guessed. The stories of the Bible are written in that kind of language. At the level where the human cry of mortality and mystery emerges is to be found the story line of the best of the stories from the Bible collection. At another level, of course, is the official line, which offers an explanation, a reading of the stories, proclaims an interpretation, an ordering conceptual map.

From Oxford

A very OED Christmas

OED Consultant Editor Henry Hitchings unwraps the lexical history of Christmas with a little help from the Oxford English Dictionary. Read the full article here.

The noun Christmas, deriving from the Old English Cristes mæsse (the mass or festival of Christ), took hold only in the early twelfth century. In his book The Seasons, Nick Groom cites as the earliest description of an English Christmas a section of the fourteenth-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which pictures the seasonal revelry at King Arthur’s court in Camelot. Before the word established itself, the festival was known as midwinter or yule. Both were names for not only Christmas Day itself, but also the period surrounding it.

Story

TELL ME A STORY

By Bob Lane

In monasteries, seminaries,

retreats and synagogues,

 they fear hell

and seek paradise.

Those who know

the mysteries of  Life 

never let that seed

be planted in their souls.

 

Over the years I have talked with your congregation on several occasions. I have talked about the Bible, about contemporary literature, and about absurdist philosophy, and had fun doing that. Today I want to tell you a story. Today’s story will be about story. I have come to believe that story is of basic importance.

Long ago and in a romantic faraway place my life was changed forever. Outside a Lutheran Church I met the woman who, some 62 years later, is still helping me to tell our story as a family. A second story was found in the works of Albert Camus – specifically the first two books he wrote: The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger. The ideas that had such an effect on me? The Absurd. And the absurd hero.

The ideas behind the development of the absurd hero are present in the first three essays of The Myth of Sisyphus. In these essays Camus faces the problem of suicide. In his typically shocking, unnerving manner he opens with the bold assertion that:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. (p. 3).

He goes on to consider if suicide is a legitimate answer to the human predicament. Or to put it another way: Is life worth living now that god is dead? The discussion begins and continues not as a metaphysical cobweb but as a well-reasoned statement based on a way of knowing which Camus holds is the only epistemology we have at our command. We know only two things:

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. (p. 14)

And the rest is construction” – Camus argues that there is no meaning to life. He disapproves of the many philosophers who “have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living.” (p.7) Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of the human’s irrational “nostalgia” for unity, for absolutes, for a definite order and meaning to the “not me” of the universe, no such meaning exists in the silent, indifferent universe. Between this yearning for meaning and eternal verities and the actual condition of the universe there is a gap that can never be filled. The confrontation of the irrational, longing human heart and the indifferent universe brings about the notion of the absurd.

The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. (p.21)  and further:

The absurd is not in man nor in the world, but in their presence together…it is the only bond uniting them. (p. 21)

People must realize that the feeling of the absurd exists and can happen to them at any time. The absurd person must demand to live solely with what is known and to bring in nothing that is not certain. This means that all I know is that I exist, that the world exists, and that I am mortal. Doesn’t this make a futile pessimistic chaos of life? Wouldn’t suicide be a legitimate way out of a meaningless life? “No.”

“No.” answers Camus. Although the absurd cancels all chances of eternal freedom it magnifies freedom of action. Suicide is “acceptance at its extreme”, it is a way of confessing that life is too much for one. This is the only life we have; and even though we are aware, in fact, because we are aware of the absurd, we can find value in this life. The value is in our freedom, our passion, and our revolt. The first change we must make to live in the absurd situation is to realize that thinking, or reason, is not tied to any eternal mind which can unify and “make appearances familiar under the guise of a great principle,” but it is:

…learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment. (p. 20)

My experiences, my passions, my ideas, my images and memories are all that I know of this world – and they are enough. The absurd person can finally say “all is well”.

I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own life, and yet I must carry it alone. (p. 41)

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