I completed an interesting book by Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth. Ms Armstrong did not come to bury myth but to praise myth. Mythology actually helped our Paleolithic and Neolithic ancestors get a grip on life- odd as that sounds to us today. “The sky towered above Neolithic people, inconceivably immense, inaccessible and eternal. It was the very essence of transcendence and otherness,” she writes. During that awakening time, the first idea of a sky god arose- a powerful but distant first cause. Reality and myth blended in their imagination and this blending helped people move forward, unparalyzed by that immense dark, endless dome overhead.
One of the first myths that these people developed was the creation myth- how did people, animals and the earth originate? The Hmong people of Laos are Animists and like Animists throughout the globe, believe in Spirits which emanate from living and non-living things. Its essence is Pantheism. One Animist creation story [myth] begins:
The Sun and the Earth existed first. The Sun is the father of all and the Earth is the mother of all. Between the two of them, they gave birth to the creatures that roam the earth. Every thing was descended from the divine, not just created. They also had a son and daughter.
This myth posits the Sun and Earth as parents, not creators. This idea allows for other people and origins to exist beyond the parochiality of their tribe as the ‘son and daughter’ procreate others who may go off in many directions, beyond the boundaries of their tribe and do the same. Thus other people, other cultures are to be tolerated.
Sadly, much of the modern world holds an insular, sectarian myth at its foundation- Genesis. This tribal creation myth is exclusive to the tribe of Israel. The recognition of differing cultures is dismissed or disdained as illegitimate, corrupt and sinful. Their progeny are not perfectly created from Yahweh as was Adam.
Armstrong writes, “Creation stories had never been regarded as historically accurate; their purpose was therapeutic. But once you start reading Genesis as scientifically valid, you have bad science and bad religion.” The author noted this in her discussion of the man’s movement out of the pre-scientific world and into the scientific. The rub, she notes, between science and religion often rests with the fundamentalists who cannot conceive of Genesis as myth and insist that it is historic.
Here’s a quote from her book that I find most poignant: “A myth that ceases to be useful ceases to exist.” Indeed, when the fundamentalist historicizes the creation myth of Genesis, those who understand science will dismiss the entire myth as absurd. Thus, the myth is no longer useful in telling the tale of creation.
However, and this is an important point, that myth is not completely dead. The Adam and Eve section is alive and well within the Christian church. The cosmology may be wrong in the minds of many Christians, but the idea of sin is not! Original Sin continues on and on through the centuries. In fact, to many Christians it HAS to be true otherwise Jesus’s death on the cross was meaningless. Yes, meaningless. Jesus’s substitutionary sacrifice saved Christians from everlasting damnation- the damnation of the sin of Adam and Eve. Thus, if one dismisses the entire Creation myth, there would be no need for Jesus and his death would have been useless.
Get it? The myth must live on. The myth that ceases to be useful ceases to exist. Its usefulness continues on so that Christians are assured of everlasting life in Heaven.
Pathetic? Of course, but this is religion, bad religion as Ms Armstrong points out.