Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Short History of Myth

Our Theology Reading Group recently tackled Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth. As the title suggests, it's a brief overview of the role mythology has played across human history. Our discussion, led by a local arts writer, focused primarily on the final -- and most interesting -- chapter, the way myth has essentially vanished over the past few hundred years and the idea that art, in the form of novels and film in particular, have taken over the role in our modern society. Armstrong sees a need for myths as a way to grapple with universal truths. Myths aren't meant to be taken literally, but as extended metaphors to point us toward truth. These days we tend to seek rational explanations over mythic adventures to help us make sense of our world, and many times that's just not enough. The problem as she sees it now is that we tend to look for heroes as we've always done, but now we just want to revere these heroes -- think Elvis and Princess Diana and such. "The myth of the hero was not intended to provide us with icons to admire," Armstrong writes, "but was designed to tap into the vein of heroism within ourselves. Myth must lead to imitation or participation, not passive contemplation."

So does this mean that those folks out there who start Star Wars based churches and Star Trek based dental offices are just tapping into a deeply rooted human need to live out our myths?

The artist who did the image above has way too much times on his hands.

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