Sunday, September 30, 2007

Belief and Being: Myth Informing Life

Yep, yep here we go again. Part three to the topic of Belief and Being."

Postmodern spirituality, whatever that really is, must have a Joseph Campbell mythic touch. As Campbell might have told us myth is more important than truth. Personally I do not buy that line, but on the other hand I do not fully reject the importance of myth.

Tolkien has changed my life with myth for the better. To a lesser degree Lewis - strangely even Adams, and Herbert. Almost as powerfully as Tolkien, ancient tales whose original tellers have long been forgotten have moved me through the Mabinogion - myths on one hand thought to be Pagan, and on the other hand thought to be Christian in origin.

The power of these fables is not in true stories told, but in truths being delivered through tales of heros and villians, and of monsters and faeries. Something in the myth stirs the human heart to deeds beyond itself, and moves us to issues of greater value than the span of our life. Average people take on mythic heroism in the shadow of the stories which captivate their hearts.

Myth speaks to our existence, and calls us to be something greater. It awakens us into a fullness of life by causing us to believe that romance has not died.

This is the power of myth found in our childhood stories, and it is the power of myth in ancient Pagan spirituality. Gods and goddesses whose stories are now only partially remembered become hunters and huntresses, virgins and mothers, protectors and healers for the struggles experienced in everyday life. Their stories become a sourcebook of guidance for today's Neo-Pagan.

Comparatively, as Christians we read our Book as a book of true stories, and we often invest our energy in defending its historical veracity. I will never set aside this foundational element of my faith in God - I believe that he interacted with humanity in real events through human history, and many of those events are retold in the pages of my Bible. Yet I have to ask myself "who has the more living faith?": The person who allows a myth to direct their life as a child is enamored and captivated by the fables told at bedtime, and goes on to try and recreate them at playtime, or the intellectual historian who defends the stories of scripture like the accountant who keeps someone else's books?

Somewhere in between these things - or maybe better yet - somehow holding radically to both these positions, I can discover a Belief of Being. In defending my historic faith, and in discovering the power of its tales (like myth) to inform my daily life I find a present reality, and a living faith.

Is this where I discover the meeting place of belief and being?


zaque said...

Right now, I'm doing a series called "Once Superheroes," based on the ideas of C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain.

He said in his book and I'm paraphrasing here, that he has the most profound respect for pagan myth and for Biblical myth, even more. He went on to explain why the story of eden can still be a myth and yet encompass the entire truth of the matter.

Which leads me to think that as the human race, being fallen, after having suffered a spiritual break from God, would be unable to remember what the actual events were, things being that we would be literally unable to handle it like we are unable to see God himself.

The actual story would kill us.

Just my usual blather.

Webb Kline said...

Phil, I'm not sure I am grasping your use of the word myth. Isn't there a difference between believing a myth and discovering the power of true tales and effectually living our lives inspired by them?

If that's what you mean, I couldn't agree more. Long ago I parted ways with trying to defend the Scriptures. I found that the best way to validate their authority and relevance is by allowing them to, ans you put it, "inform my life" making their words a "present reality," thus giving me a "living faith."

And if I can see correctly where you are headed with this discussion, is not the difference between defending the faith and living by faith one of the more distinct foundational differences between traditional and missional Christianity? ;)

Good thought food.

Bruce said...

Two of the most influential stories in my young life were three little
pigs and the whole saga of Superman. When I came to adult faith, it
was a very short step from my ideal of Superman to the real Man of
Tomorrow, the Son of Man.

About our faith life as becoming and as being: This whole question is
wonderful, terrifyingly "awesome." I shared that God in His
transcendence is the very essence of Being-not-becoming, and our being
joined to God in Christ is our own participation in that Being. At
the same time, so to speak, Christ in His incarnation is the very
model of Becoming, He who existed before all worlds, who indeed
created all worlds, had to "learn obedience through the things that
He suffered" !!! And God the Father gave us, imagine that, US, to
Him, to be joined with Him in the Holy Unity of Faith, as a bride to
the bridegroom.

So we are already at One with the Holy, Unchangeable God in Whom there
is no shadow of turning, and we are One with the Son of God, who
started as a little boy under the Law and learned obedience through
the things that He suffered. So we are there already and not yet,
perfect and yet being perfected through the things that we suffer.

These things continually give me encouragement when I have no courage, and
sometimes make me shout like a pentecostal preacher, which I'm not.

Redge said...

(webb kline said): And if I can see correctly where you are headed with this discussion...

Don't spoil the ending! ;)

I was pleasantly surprised by the insightfulness of the question of being/becoming, but I'm even more surprised by this answer to the question: reading it feels like the eurika moment - you spot the answer to a difficult problem and think "Ah, of course. It's easy!"

The only thing I have a little trouble with is the whole issue of historical accuracy, which to me is more a non-issue. I've been around acurate information, science, most of my life, but I cannot say it has much changed me in any way, nor inspired. In fact, the only thing in science that really inspires are the theories and extrapolations of theories that are merely a speculative interpretation of data. So what value is there in accuracy? In this postmodern age, need a thing be (accurately, defendably) true to inspire faith or belief?

On the other hand, completely abandoning the value of truth isn't the answer either, as the answers that you find for yourself become so loose and non-commital, since they are no more valuable than any other. Merely selecting your personal answers on aesthetics isn't the complete story either. As always, the answer probably lies in the middle.

Which is what you said, pastor Phil. Starting out with doubt and then examining those doubts I return to your statements: surely that means there is value to them.


P.S.: After Tolkien and Lewis (and Adams and Herbert) I would also highly recommend Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: the mythology is second only to Tolkien himself, and even more than the others Donaldson presents some interesting theological themes in what was to be a triple trilogy, but has now entered book 7 of 10.

Pastor Phil said...

Big Zac!

Lewis did understand the power of myth, and its place in the human heart. If only we could capture romance (in the classical sense) as he did. Of course, now I find Chesterton doing that for me even more powerfully.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Webb,

I am not saying that the Bible is myth in the sense that it is not true stories - although parables are truth without being true stories. Rather I am saying that myth inspires life sometimes more powerfully than history. Biblical history ought to inspire us with the same power that beautiful myth does. I believe that combining the power of life-chaning myth with actual history brings us to understanding the dynamic of promise - but then that's another thought.

Pastor Phil said...


I think thee be Pentecostal preacher. Preach on Preacher!

Pastor Phil said...


That scientific place you describe, which offers no inspiration must be the place the Pharisees inhabited, and that give clues to Jesus' anger toward their ways.

I am definitely with you - wanting to capture the power of the lore - the tale - the story - the myth, and not wanting to abandon truth, and true events as potentially carrying that power to transform.

Steve Hayes said...

I thought you might like this, from Nicolas Berdyaev:

"Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention, with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything, in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality... The creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life, more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better
than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and creative energy of the people... it brings two worlds together symbolically."

Just don't, please don't, call it "allegory"!

Pastor Phil said...


Yes, I like.

You are definitely a Tolkein kinda guy --> "don't, call it allegory."!? ;-)

I agree when it comes to myth.

But, I do love Bunyan, and Lewis' variation on the theme with, "A Pilgrim's Regress."

IZenBet said...

i too find it fascinating that 2 people can claim a belief system and find different portions of it to place faith in. just observing personalities and learning styles of people, it brings me acknowledge that even when people confess Jesus, their faith can be placed possibly in something that their heart doesn't yearn for. i loved stories and fables as a child, yet the maturing of faith in things unseen required me to look at different books.


Steve Hayes said...


Yes, progress and regress are allegories, but myth is not allegory!