Friday, November 28, 2014

We all have myths

We believe myths about the origin of the world, about what's wrong with the world, about what can fix that, about where the world is going.

Literary scholar CS Lewis noted that we all have stories to explain how we see the world. We all have myths. The questions that matter are whether your myth gives a good account of life, and whether your myth is a true account of life.

Lewis and his friend Tolkein considered the possibility of a True Myth, the Christ story.

For me, coming to the opening chapters of Genesis is a great opportunity for mythunderstanding. To think in terms of story. I want to avoid getting into a faith vs. science debate especially when that leaves both a cheapened view of science and of the world... derived in the context of chapters of literature that promote science and give the richest possible understanding of this world.

Take an example.

The story of the fall in Genesis 3 is a story that makes emotional sense of our sense of broken intimacy, of our desire to be known and our disposition towards hiding from one another. This is how we experience life and we sense it's not meant to be that way. This myth says that this same brokenness impacts every one in every generation, in every culture, a fracture running through us at the very deepest level. It doesn't make relationship impossible but it does to some level interupt the yearning to be safe with someone else.

We might object to this myth. We might note the presence of an elephant in the room: a talking serpent! Surely that breaks the myth and renders it  nothing more than a fanciful Tinga Tinga Tale. Blaming the serpent isn't a new issue for this story.

Perhaps, however, the real elephant is that this story makes us culpable. It puts the heart of the human problem in the heart of the human being. It says our betrayal of the Lord Christ is what fractured relationship and bred alienation. That's not an easy story for any of us to bear.

It's ok to be honest that the issue is at least as much that we don't want to believe the story as that we find some aspect implausible. That kind of honesty would be refreshing and promotes open discussion. Many of the stories we believe have plausibility challenges in different ways. I'm yet to see a fish grow legs. Plausibility rather depends on your overarching myth. What is allowed to make sense - the big story and the smaller stories cycle back and forth to create plausibility structures.

Those telling stories to others need to know that we have a tendency to prefer stories that scratch our itches and that changing our story has consequences and costs, losses as well as gains. Those telling stories should tread carefully. Stories capture the heart, the imagination... and so shape lifes. Stories are powerful, and perhaps, amongst other things, this is a world made for stories.

Image: Silvia Sala

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