Posts tagged ‘myth’

November 4, 2015

the people who ultimately overcome the contagion of victimization

The Gospels dramatize the human impossibility by insisting on the disciples’ inability to resist the crowd during the Passion (especially Peter, who denies Jesus three times in the High Priest’s courtyard). And yet, after the Crucifixion—which should have made matters worse than ever—this pathetic handful of weaklings suddenly succeeds in doing what they had been unable to do when Jesus was still there to help them: boldly proclaim the innocence of the victim in open defiance of the victimizers, become the fearless apostles and missionaries of the early Church.

The Resurrection is responsible for this change, of course, but even this most amazing miracle would not have sufficed to transform these men so completely if it had been an isolated wonder rather than the first manifestation of the redemptive power of the Cross. An anthropological analysis enables us to say that, just as the revelation of the Christian victim differs from mythical revelations because it is not rooted in the illusion of the guilty scapegoat, so the Christian Resurrection differs from mythical ones because its witnesses are the people who ultimately overcome the contagion of victimization (such as Peter and Paul), and not the people who surrender to it (such as Herod and Pilate). The Christian Resurrection is indispensable to the purely anthropological revelation of unanimous victimization and to the demythologizing of mythical resurrections.

Jesus’ death is a source of grace not because the Father is “avenged” by it, but because Jesus lived and died in the manner that, if adopted by all, would do away with scandals and the victimization that follows from scandals. Jesus lived as all men should live in order to be united with a God whose true nature he reveals.

From “Are The Gospels Myth?” by Rene Girard in First Things (April 1996).

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September 9, 2013

so that snow itself seems to be warm

Myths are not allegories. Natural powers are not in this case abstractions. It is not as if there were a God of Gravitation. There may be a genius of the waterfall; but not of mere falling, even less than of mere water. The impersonation is not of something impersonal. The point is that the personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens; so that snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold. The test therefore is purely imaginative. But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil.

…Sometimes it would seem that the Greeks believed above all things in reverence, only they had nobody to revere.

…He who has no sympathy with myths has no sympathy with men. But he who has most sympathy with myths will most fully realise that they are not and never were a religion, in the sense that Christianity or even Islam is a religion. They satisfy some of the needs satisfied by a religion; and notably the need for doing certain things at certain dates; the need of the twin ideas of festivity and formality. But though they provide a man with a calendar they do not provide him with a creed. A man did not stand up and say ‘I believe in Jupiter and Juno and Neptune,’ etc., as he stands up and says ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty,’ and the rest of the Apostles Creed. Many believed in some and not in others, or more in some and less in others, or only in a very vague poetical sense in any. There was no moment when they were all collected into an orthodox order which men would fight and be tortured to keep intact. Still less did anybody ever say in that fashion: ‘I believe in Odin and Thor and Freya,’ for outside Olympus even the Olympian order grows cloudy and chaotic.

…It seems clear to me that Thor was not a god at all but a hero. Nothing resembling a religion would picture anybody resembling a god as groping like a pigmy in a great cavern, that turned out to be the glove of a giant. That is the glorious ignorance called adventure. Thor may have been a great adventurer; but to call him a god is like trying to compare Jehovah with Jack and the Beanstalk. Odin seems to have been a real barbarian chief, possibly of the Dark Ages after Christianity. Polytheism fades away at its fringes into fairy-tales or barbaric memories; it is not a thing like monotheism as held by serious monotheists. Again it does satisfy the need to cry out on some uplifted name or some noble memory in moments that are themselves noble and uplifted; such as the birth of a child or the saving of a city. But the name was so used by many to whom it was only a name. Finally it did satisfy, or rather it partially satisfied, a thing very deep in humanity indeed; the idea of surrendering something as the portion of the unknown powers; of pouring out wine upon the ground, of throwing a ring into the sea; in a word, of sacrifice. It is the wise and worthy idea of not taking our advantage to the full; of putting something in the other balance to ballast our dubious pride, of paying tithes to nature for our land. This deep truth of the danger of insolence, or being too big for our boots, runs through all the great Greek tragedies and makes them great. But it runs side by side with an almost cryptic agnosticism about the real nature of the gods to be propitiated. Where that gesture of surrender is most magnificent, as among the great Greeks, there is really much more idea that the man will be the better for losing the ox than that the god will be the better for getting it.

From The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

February 23, 2012

both hands are stopped at noon

How have we invaded the moon? Is the moon’s light not as potent now that we have stepped upon its face? I love space exploration, but this poem is still profoundly true. Our imaginations wax dangerously rootless, shiny, sterilized and inhumane. Thanks to the student who taught me this poem today.

The End of Science Fiction
by Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.

February 22, 2012

fills the young person’s head with the sound of voices

The poet, Plato writes in Phaedra, “clothes all the great deeds accomplished by the men of old with glory, and thus educates those who come after.” The poet’s myth teaches the Ideal Type by example, not by precept, and allows the student through his imagination to participate in the past, partaking of the Ideal. Often the student is asked—paraphrasing Shelly—to go out of his own nature: to imagine himself in the sandals of some mythical or historical figure. How would you have advised the Senate, his teacher might ask him, had you been Regulus returned from Carthage with the ultimatum? (45)

Likewise in classical schools, students are often asked to play the “devil’s advocate”…. This … negates certain parts of the Ideal in such a way that the negation demonstrates the nonessential nature of these parts. …In any case, classical education eventually fills the young person’s head with the sound of voices: the impassioned debate of many great figures of myth and history concerning what is good, beautiful, and excellent in man. Through his imagination, the student participates in this dialectical confabulation, and his thoughts and actions become literally involved with the Ideal Type. The Ideal is refined, and action and thought join inextricably in the life of virtue. (47)

From Norms and Nobility by David Hicks.

September 2, 2011

tools the gods used

Ontology in the ancient world was more connected to function than to substance. In other words, something exists when it has a function, not when it takes up space or is a substance characterized by material properties. This applies to everything in the cosmos, where various elements come into being when they are given a role and function within the cosmos. The neglect of curiosity about the physical structure of the cosmos is therefore not simply a consequence of their inability to investigate their physical world. The physical aspects of the cosmos did not define its existence or its importance; they were merely tools the gods used for carrying out their purposes. The purposes of the gods were of prime interest to them.

Not to denigrate the physicality of our existence, but this is all so true within a biblical understanding of creation (including our own bodies). Several profound implications exist. I question Walton’s use of “merely” in the second-to-last sentence. From Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible by John H. Walton (167).

August 23, 2011

the whole earth was glad

Finally Isis wrapped Osiris’s body in linen, so that he became the first mummy. But as soon as she wrapped him in linen, he came back to life again. The whole earth was glad to see Osiris alive again! The Nile filled back up and overflowed its banks, so that all Egyptians had water to drink, and their crops began to grow again. And that’s why the Nile overflows every year–because it remembers that Osiris came back to life.

From The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child (Volume 1: Ancient Times) by Susan Wise Bauer (pages 32-33). With that kind of understanding of the world, it’s no wonder that so many pagans understood the gospel. Ears that can hear nothing from the preaching of flooded rivers, are unlikely to hear the true gospel preached by Christ’s apostles.

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