Men, Myth, and the Modern Era

The past had myth and magical stories in abundance. What do we hold in that place today?

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17)

and/or

Hand in hand the two friends walked
to Ninsun’s temple, Gilgamesh bowed
to his mother, the goddess Ninsun, and said,
“I must travel now to the Cedar Forest,
I must journey to meet the fierce monster Humbaba,,
I must walk a road that no man has traveled,
I must face a combat that no man has known.
Dear mother, great goddess, help me in this,
give me your blessing before I leave,
so that I may come back from the Cedar Forest
victorious, and see your face again.” (Book III of Gilgamesh)

and

I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. Each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. (Ezekiel 1)

The past ages were filled with mythic song, story, and energy. The hurricane Katrinas which would smash their world would arrive with less warning but afterwords there would be fewer questions and less doubt. People speak reverently and carefully about the separation of Church and State. But today there is more than a division of church and state in many (if not most) corners of our society. Today Church, State, Science, and Myth are all held separate. Myth writing is held mostly to small corners of the fiction world (like Mr Wolf’s masterful Knight and Wizard), or to the mass appeal of works like Spiderman, Superman, The Terminator and other such offerings from our popular media. But our myth-making is held at arms length. Most walk out of the theatre into the light of day setting aside the mythic for the harsh reality of an uncaring universe ruled by the cruel goddess Fortuna.

Hurricanes, genocide, evolution, and the luck of the draw all are ruled by the one goddess left … O Fortuna. Fortune is a fickle, flat, and shallow goddess. She gives no reason, cause, or purpose to her actions. For the modern mind has set aside all that is mythic from its explanation of cause and purpose. Nothing remains but chance. A man far smarter than I (and perhaps my gentle readers) once claimed, “God does not dice with the Universe.” In the smaller context of his particular argument on the foundations of Quantum Mechanics that man was wrong … but in the bigger picture he may he have ultimately hit on a deeper truth. People who don’t set aside the mythic in the stories they use to describe the world are looked down on by the educated of our society. Science is a powerful tool. It has given us much mastery of our material world. However the methodologies of science ascribe no meaning to the observations they give. They yield a mechanistic view of the universe which has developed into a more complicated and wondrous a puzzle than anyone could conceive or desire. However in our insular separate view of the things, we set science aside when considering State, Myth or Church. We might ask what that strategy buys us and at what cost.

It would seem a healthier practice to not keep these internal and unnecessary barriers between the facets of our life. Using Myth and Church to give meaning to the world can help. At the very least it can render more satisfying explanations for the exigencies of life. The practice of Science and unfolding the beauty hidden in the wondrous Creation our Creator has given is very much an act of worship and devotion. That motive for doing science is at the very least “better” than a competitive drive for personal recognition or avoiding the down-side to “publish or perish”. That leaves the State. Much has been written on the separation of Church and State. Heck, I’ve written on it a fair amount. And while it is good to keep the Church out of the Laws we pen, it is not so good (IMHO) to keep the Church out of the Legislator.

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6 comments

  1. Mark says:

    Jim,

    You make it difficult to answer your question if you require one to set aside theological speculation. Setting them aside, I recalled an essay from early on after the storm struck.

    David Wayne (JollyBlogger) wrote this immediately afterwards.

  2. […] Yesterday I wrote about Myth missing from our lives. What is a Myth? or what do I mean by Myth? In that post I referred two Biblical and a fragment from the Epic of Gilgamesh. While I hope nobody does take offense, these stories are Mythic. That in no means has any reference to their historical accuracy. One could very easily write a story of Washington’s nighttime assault on Trenton across the Delaware in the dark of night and frame it as a Mythic story of American origins and the start of the Manifest Destiny of our Great Nation. What do I mean by Myth? What I don’t mean to imply is any implications or concerns about whether the story is “believed” as true or not. Or whether it is plausible, allegory, or fancy. What I do mean is that the story is not just a fun tale told for entertainment but that it is more important. It is a story which is used to attach meaning to our world. It frames for us our relationship with things much larger than ourselves. To perhaps abuse Plato and Jung, but at a fundamental level it is a story in which the players and stage are Archetype and Ideal. […]

  3. Jim Anderson says:

    Mark,

    My point isn’t that we can’t or shouldn’t speculate, but that, even biblically speaking, our questions are consistently rebuffed. That God would treat Job so miserably–allowing him to suffer seemingly on a divine whim, and proffering no explanation other than “who are you to question my logic?”–strikes the impartial observer as every bit as capricious as Fortuna.
    Only the faithful carry the difficult burden of theodicy.

    (By the way, a preview function would be sweet, as would a “save your information” function. Word verification is great.)

  4. Dadmanly says:

    The Christian Carnival #87 is Up!

    Having had the time to visit the Carnival, I’d like to recommend the following posts.

  5. […] So we have a number of thoughts from the author of the David story (and Homer) that are not in vogue today, besides the idea of Dueling. David (and the Achaean’s) are not motivated by anything resembling altruism or “higher” principles. They are in fact (all) fighting for their own and their families honor and fame. It would be hard to imagine men in our world dueling. To willingly put at risk their life and their ability to support their family for if they didn’t the consequences would be far worse. I once wrote (two parts) that modern men have lost sight of myth and wonder in this age. We have set aside far more, in favor of hard currency and practicality. I sometimes wonder if we have gained by it? […]