E’ verdade! Ele fiz ao sol soubir!         It’s true, he made the sun come up!
Agora, voçê e’ o Orfeu!  Toque uma canção p’ra mim!
Now, You’re Orpheus!  Play me a song!

From Steve Hayes’ Yahoo Group “eldil”

So here’s what I posted (or would have had Eldil Yahoo Group been accessed):

You may have seen reported on the news that an atheist organization has put up a large billboard at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC that reads:  You know it’s a myth.  This season celebrate REASON.

A Catholic organization has recently retaliated with a billboard opposite which reads: You know it’s read.  This season celebrate Jesus.

When I first saw the original sign I said to myself, Of COURSE it’s a myth.

The word myth has morphed of course from the Greek ‘mythos’. In Webster’s that is  “a pattern of beliefs expressing often symbolically the characteristic or prevalent attitudes in a group or culture.”

I’m sure Steve could provide a better definition or meaning of the Greek word.  The word myth today most often in the secular world is used to mean an unfounded or false notion, a thing having only an imaginary existence.

A second comment by the same commenter [AnnA]

The atheist sign is of course wrong about myth. Myth is real. Myth and reason
are not opposites, or enemies, iyw. Every human holds to both, sometimes at the
same time. Even the atheist holds the myth of physics- indeed much of he/she
calls science, the myths of history, etc. If one hasn’t seen it, or is unable
to fully intellectualize it (such as pain, evil in the world, the meaning of
life- whatever) then one has a myth. Privately or publically everyone holds
their myths.

Steve replies:

I am reminded of what Nicolas Berdyaev said about myth:

“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.”

and then I reply:

If there is one thing I have taken away from the epistemological wars I have been involved in on the internet, it is that TRVTH is something of a fluid concept.

The atheists who put up their billboard in the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel are really saying something like this: “You don’t believe the Christmas story based on any of the mechanisms you use to justify belief in your daily life, so
why believe it at all? Using the mechanisms you would use to troubleshoot a engine problem or invest $15,000, you cannot determine whether or not there ever even was a Jesus of Nazareth, much less whether he did all those things you heard he did. So, why celebrate?”

Leaving aside the fact that most people aren’t as epistemologically fastidious as a trained scientist, I realize that the atheist is making a claim that “Reason” is the primary means by which truth is distinguished from falsehood.   The problem is that reason is not a particularly good means of establishing veracity in historical matters, where usually you have to weigh the reliabilty of documentary evidence or material testimony such as pottery and other remains.

When the atheist refers to the Nativity of our Lord as “myth”, he is making two powerful claims; first, that if there was a videocamera in the stable in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, it would have discovered nothing more than an ordinary family in difficult straits, if that. Also, if this camera followed the baby throughout his life, it would reveal nothing more than an ordinary man leading an ordinary life. Maybe at the end he went a little crazy, abandoning his profession and taking up the life of an itinerant preacher before running afoul of the ecclesiastical and governmental authorities. He was tried, executed and buried. End of story. The rest is “myth”.

But the second claim is the more powerful. It is the claim that what the videocamera reveals is TRVE, i.e., that nothing can be trusted apart from the testimony of our senses, however enhanced by technology.

Now, on to myth.

My mind appears to work in two complementary ways. I learn by distinguishing differences between phenomena and by discerning likenesses between phenomena.   The discriminatory faculty I would call the digital impulse and would assert that it is what the atheist calls “reason” and it is a very powerful faculty.

The generalizing faculty I would call the analogous impulse, and it operates somewhat like two people lying on their backs and staring at clouds. One says, that cloud looks like John F Kennedy, and the other says, no it looks like an
airplane about to fly into a mountain. This is also a very powerful faculty.   The best writers I have ever read who have commented on this same polarization of the human intellect are Douglas Hofstadter and Robert Pirsig, although I
think I have seen it commented on by a host of modern thinkers from Michael Polanyi to Michel Foucalt. Just don’t ask me for my notes. 🙂

Language, that most human of faculties, appears to me use these opposing yet complementary devices simultaneously.

Now, the discriminatory faculty is amenable to discussion. We can see that light comes in different frequencies, and that the large majority of people whose retinal cones are irritated by electromagnetic impulses with a wavelength of 520nm report seeing a green object. If someone doesn’t see a green object, we don’t assume that she is merely expressing a private opinion. We assume that her visual appratus is defective in some way.

The generalizing, or analogous faculty is far less amenable to such agreement.  There is no way to establish who is “right” between the two men looking at clouds, although most onlookers with any sympathy for the two men would be able to see what they see. Culture and experience play a large role as well. It is unlikely that a Tibetan would see John F. Kennedy in the clouds, for example.  However, this doesn’t mean that the ability to see connections between seemingly  unrelated events, pattern recognition, is useless. Indeed, it is a highly sought after ability in intelligence workers, security agents, and investment bankers.

It is obvious from the Gospels themselves that not everybody experienced the same phenomenon when they encountered Jesus of Nazareth.  One of my favorite passages in the one in the Gospel of St. John where Jesus asked His Father to glorify Him with the glory that they shared before the world began. His Father responded, according the apostle, audibly, that He had glorified it and would glorify it in the future. However the apostle also recorded that the listeners were divided between those who heard an angel talking and those who heard a thunderclap.

One can only wonder what a good tape recorder, a created device, would have picked up had it tried to record the uncreated Voice. Perhaps people would have had differing responses to the recording; an apostle or someone equally pure of heart would hear the Voice of Sinai, good men would hear an angel, bad men a thunderclap.

There is an echo of this in the Tao Teh Ching:

“When the good man hears of the Tao, he practices it assiduously

When a mediocre man hears of the Tao, he neither believes nor disbelieves

When a contemptible man hears of the Tao, he laughs it to scorn

But the Tao that could not be thus ridiculed is not the Eternal Tao.”

It appears that the interpretation of this event falls within the purview of the second mental impulse, and that this impulse is what gives rise to what men call “myth”. The exercise of the discriminating impulse attempts to remove this
“mythical” element from explanations of phenomena, resulting in that which is universal for all subjects (I dislike the word ‘objective’).

The exercise of “reason” does not result in “truth” as much as it results in that which can be agreed upon by all subjects. That is why it works best on inert matter, or even more accurately, best in the abstract realm of mathematics and logic.  Reason loses traction as you ascend the ladder of the sciences, moving from Physics to Chemistry to Biology to Anthropology to Psychology to Poetics to Theology.

As you ascend this ladder, accretions of “myth” accrue. Chemical reactions are more than mere physical phenomena. Biological processes are more than can be described by mere chemical reactions. Purity of heart becomes more important as you move from quantum mechanics into medicine.

Once again, I find myself at soemthing of an impasse. As Coleridge put it, in order to be able to say anything correctly, it is necessary to say everything, and I am incapable of saying everything. I am sure that if this gets out to the right places, I will be well-corrected, maybe not gently, but it appears to me that the force of Reason is the systolic force that pushes from that realm behind or above the minds of men out into the “shining buzzing confusion” that is perceived by very young children, mystics, and the abusers of certain alkaloids.

The force of myth, far from establishing what is “right” or “true” or “so” in the realm of the phenomena, is a diastolic force that pushes back from the inert physical world, the “intersubjective” world, the world that all subjects share, back into the mind and soul of man and hopefully, links him to that which is behind and above him.  The proper use of myth is not for us to discern truth in that which is not-us, but for that which is not-us to establish truth in us.

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