Saturday, May 18, 2013

The end of myth


From the creation of the world to the birthing of a child, from the work of fire transforming wood into ash to the alternation of day and night, from considering all appearances and all disappearances, the mind of man from unwritten times till now has evolved explanations of how and often why everything happens in the world around him.

Modern man puts on an air of superiority and treats with patronizing indulgence, and often overt contempt, the cosmologies and the pseudo-sciences of ancient and primitive men. The world tree, the cosmic egg, mythic images for the unenlightened to help them feel less afraid in a universe which, when they confront it without them, is too terrifying.

So the mind of man thinks, and his thought fits everything he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches into a complex, ever-increasing pattern of perceived relationships that gives meaning to the universe. The more primitive the tools of analysis at his disposal, the more primitive (we think) his body of explanations, and we call them ‘myths’.

But as I see it, having better analytical devices, having what we call a scientific basis for interpreting and understanding the world around us does not deliver our thought from one intrinsic and inevitable characteristic: Everything we analyse, and our very conclusions and body of knowledge, we are still cutting down to fit into a very limited frame, our mind.

Our thought, with all our sophistications, even now still has the nature of myth, no less than what we consider the childish fancies of the ancients and the primitives. We all still deal in myths, man’s explanation—from miniscule observations—of the meaning, purpose and nature of the universe. We simply replace the older anthropomorphics with new, ‘new lamps for old.’

So then, human thought itself is a myth, that is, in the sense that it is a generator of explanations of what is inexplicable. Religion, then, becomes no less rational than science, and science is no more than a religion. Experimental evidence is still siphoned through a conduit too narrow for it, and so experiments, whether scientific or magical, lead to the same conclusion: the universe as a subset of man’s mind.

But along comes a Man, from all appearances at first, an ordinary man, not prominent, not wealthy, not intellectually trained, from a primitive people, living in an ancient and tradition encrusted culture, one of those less attractive to most moderns and even to most of His contemporaries, the road-building Romans and the philosophical Greeks.

He is trained in the family profession, woodworking, and in the national religion, synagogue Judaism. He has very little to make anyone think Him special, except an incident in His adolescence, when He was found engrossed with some members of the educated elite in prodigious discussions (and then whisked quietly away by his embarrassed parents).

Surprising them all, and us as well, this boy in the fullness of His manhood becomes an itinerant preacher (though not of His ancestral religion) and even a miracle-worker. Oddly enough, though He seems quite capable of it, He does not waste a thought to giving answers to most of the questions that His contemporaries, and us, have about the universe.

He passes them over in silence. He does not contribute to the growing body of myth that we now hold up as our claim to be rational beings. Instead, when He teaches at all, it is on practical matters, and even His miracle-working, from supplying a shortage of wine at a wedding party, to healing the sick and (gulp!) raising the dead, is all very practical. Myth has no place in Him.

If this man lived, taught, worked wonders, and passed into history, we might have thought Him a great teacher, perhaps, or at least someone worth studying, analyzing, writing books about, and adding to our ever-increasing matrix of myths, but not only did He not contribute to the myth, He shattered it. He is an embarrassment now, as He was then, to the myth-makers.

He gives us plenty to think about, but that is not His intention. He did not come to increase our thought but to coax us over the imaginary lines that our thought produces in us. He comes now not to refine our thought, which is no more than myth, but to call forth our faith, which paradoxically carries us over imaginary lines and delivers us from myth.

If we could show the location of His tomb, or better yet, find His bones, then the universe would still be safe inside the reliquary of our science and religion. We could still say with confidence that we know the universe to be rational, and this is how it works, from greatest to smallest detail. Yes, and there are the bones of the great Teacher. We have an explanation even of Him.

But no, He has not left us that option, He has not spared our thought or our myths, He has not deposited His soul in She’ol or His bones in a grave, He has not experienced corruption, but instead He has emptied Hades of its inhabitants, dissolved the imbecility of dark, partial human reason in the bright lightning flash of His divinity.
He has made the end of myth.

1 comment:

Taruna Rettinger said...

Very nice words!