Of Gods and Myths

The discussion of deities addresses matters which are seemingly beyond human comprehension. Such discussions are communicated and related in terms of concepts and symbols as narrated in that which is known as the myth.

The myth itself has typically been culture based, hence there are a variety of concepts and symbols systematically depicted in such cultural narrative. The gods then have naturally been relative to any given specific culture, and the symbols so utilized would consequently reflect the values and everyday concerns of the people of each such society.

And so mythical tales have historically given people connection to matters seemingly beyond the grasp of comprehension, and have furthermore given people a sense of control where they otherwise feel somewhat helpless and hopeless.  The daily struggle to survive, ongoing battles between good and evil, the dread of bodily decay and death are among the primary concerns which relate to all peoples of all time.  Yet, the details are unique to each individual, and more specifically those details are case specific to one’s place and time of existence.

Though a common utility of antiquity, the myth is nonetheless an ongoing form of such communication.  The narratives evolve relative to each given culture and their respective time in history, yet the general struggles of humanity remain the same.  Hence, each culture seems to continue the exercise of the myth as individuals continue to attempt to connect with that which is incomprehensible and transcendent to real life. Furthermore, most everyone desperately aims to maintain a sense of control in the state of chaos known as human existence.

Though the yearning to connect with the incomprehensible continues even to this day, the discoveries of the natural sciences have somewhat altered the scope of inquiry.  Humanity is simply no longer in the same state of ignorance relative to the cosmos and our earth as were our social ancestors of two millenniums ago.  That said, even the most learned scientists readily admit limits to our knowledge on scales immeasurable. Even so, the discoveries of humanity as to the natural operation of our universe have rendered any concept of a creation god as lacking in historical value, hence all such creation accounts are most assuredly mythical in nature.

Nonetheless, there are those who continue to seek connection with the incomprehensible in terms of faith in a higher level of existence.  The nature of such is of course subjective to the perception of each individual believer.  Deities in this regard then are as various as is the volume of such respective subjective perspectives, and are only of value to those who are inclined to connect on the level of faith to a being who symbolically transcends the natural.

Mythical narratives have of course evolved from the days of the tales of supernatural gods to a more modernized form of the same. The heros of theatrical plays, dime novels, radio and television programs, movies, and most recently video games are all mythical displays of the ever present struggle between good and evil.  Be it the old West gunslinger in a Zane Grey novel, the hard boiled detective in a Raymond Chandler book, or a superhero in a modern day video game; each such literary figure continues the legacy of the symbolic hero entangled in a seemingly endless struggle with the forces of evil.  These figures, though fictional as to their nature, serve a practical purpose in depicting a sense of control on behalf of those who endure the conflicts of the struggles of everyday life in the context of the real world of the human predicament.

The substance of the myth then is its symbolic nature.  The characters themselves may be either historical or fictional, but in either case their role in the myth transcends reality.  The key question then relative to the myth is not “did this actually happen”, but rather “what concept does this narrative represent”.  The myth permits the characters, whether historical or fictional, to operate outside of or even beyond the laws of nature, for realism is not necessarily the point of any given such narrative.

Thus, the reader of the Zane Grey novel is by no means concerned with whether the gunslingers and outlaws of the old west reference therein actually lived. Nor are the readers of a Raymond Chandler thriller concerned with whether the hard boiled detective Philip Marlowe actually worked the dark and sinister streets of the inner city in search of villains and criminals. Rather, the characters illustrated within the western “shoot ‘em up” and the “who dun it” murder mystery symbolize concepts relative to the reader.

Granted, the middle aged man sitting in his easy chair on a Sunday afternoon reading a few pages of a novel between rounds of snoozing and snoring will never walk the streets of Tombstone or occupy a dirty, dingy Private Investigators office down on the waterfront or on the 4th floor of a poorly maintained office building.  Nor will he likely ever engage in a good old fashioned shoot out, or turn his latest love interest over to the cops for killing his partner.  Yet most everyone lives in a world with constant struggles between forces of good and evil, and thus when the hero saves the damsel in distress, or when the crime boss is brought to justice, then every person engaged in such a story experiences the thrill of the experience of right prevailing over wrong, even if such only be in a story.

Such is the power of the myth.

The substance of the myth then is by no means its historicity, but rather its symbolism.  The credibility of any given myth is not the point, but rather core concepts of the human experience as represented by the characters so depicted within the context of the plot itself.  Those concepts are thus the area of connection between the reader in the real world and the context of the characters who have been systematically mythologized to that very end.

And so it is with biblical interpretation.  For example, the question is not whether Adam and Eve were historical figures who lived in an actual Garden of Eden.  Nor is the question whether Jesus Christ was an actual person who lived and died in Palestine.  As with any other myth, the key to biblical interpretation is to ascertain the concepts which are symbolized in narratives involving these and other well known literary figures.

Without a doubt, the challenges faced by Adam and Eve, both from without and likewise from within, represent true to life struggles of everyday people. For most everyone works by the sweat of the brow in order to survive, suffers physical hardships throughout the natural course of the human experience, and is even tempted from time to time to test the potential consequences of sampling forbidden fruit.  Granted, everyday life is no Garden of Eden, but that is the very point being driven home by the myth of Adam and Eve.

The story of Adam and Eve is a myth which represents the struggles of everyday existence.  Once understood on the level of symbolism and representative narrative, the story of Adam and Eve is so true to life as to be accurately representative of the everyday lives of ordinary people. The concept so symbolized by their story is in fact much like Albert Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, in which the main character spends his entire life pushing a large stone to the top of a hill, only to have it roll to the bottom again so that Sisyphus can repeat the process. If ever there were a biblical story to which we can all relate, it is the tale of Adam and Eve, for such is a myth of the struggles of everyday existence in the real world.

A biblical myth of another sort is that of Jesus Christ.  Now, I say of another sort, for unlike the tale of Adam and Eve; which symbolized concepts common to most every person in the real world, Jesus Christ symbolized concepts which are above and beyond even the best and most powerful of all living beings.  None of us quite frankly can relate to a virgin birth, or to the ability to walk on water, or to being raised from the dead before our corpse began to decay and decompose.  Yet such claims attributed to Jesus Christ represent concepts most every one of us wishes were ours.

For deep down inside, most everyone wished they could be perfect and immortal; each qualities attributed to Jesus Christ in the gospels.  And such concepts are enveloped within the Christian doctrine; that the believer can be both perfect and immortal in Christ Jesus.  For the doctrine of personal sanctification and the general resurrection of the dead in the last day symbolizes concepts so very highly coveted by believers in Christ.

Now, the point is neither the historicity nor the divinity of Jesus Christ, for neither matter is relevant to the intent of the story of his life and deeds. It does not matter whether Jesus actually walked on water or arose from the dead, for these accounts merely symbolize concepts which are most significant to every person who has ever lived.  Jesus as a literary figure transcends natural laws which restrict even the most routine human activity, and furthermore goes beyond the border which restrict all human existence; that being life ending death.

Whether Jesus the literary figure actually did such, or actually was such, or even actually was, or even actually did anything at all is not the point.  The point of the myth of Jesus is that he symbolizes the concept of a perfect nature and eternal being, which are concepts which all people would willingly aspire to were it not for our frail and finite nature. Literary Jesus lived as no one had lived before, both in terms of his earthly experience and his post life presence.

And so unlike the biblical myth of Adam and Eve, which represents everyday struggles to which most everyone can relate, the biblical myth of Jesus Christ represents personhood and a state of being which most everyone would want, yet which no one can relate with due to our own shortcomings and finite state of existence.  In this regard, literary Jesus Christ represents a concept of human nature and being which most everyone wishes for, but can only be experienced through his symbolic being.

And so we return to the original topic:  The discussion of deities.

As mentioned from the outset, any discussion of deities is one which communicates through symbols and concepts, as narrated in the myth.  And as further discussed, the myths which narrate of gods and god like figures are for the most part culturally based. Thus, history is aplenty with gods, super heroes, and seemingly ordinary people who live larger than life within the annals of antiquity.  Consequently, the deities of the major monotheistic religions of the 21st Century have evolved from the spiritual and social superheroes of ancient cultures.  It might be said then, that today’s gods are yesteryears’ super heroes.

And so the lifeline of the gods is maintained through the medium of the myth, hence, such concepts are sustained through the symbolic actions and traditions so related. Therefore; the basic aspects associated with most religions; the rituals, the traditions, the ceremonial practices, and such like, for all practical purposes serve as the life support system of the literary figures known as the gods.

Thus the deities of antiquity; Beelzebub of the Canaanites, Yahweh of both the Canaanites and the Hebrews, Zeus of the Greeks, Orisis of the Egyptians, Mithra of the Persians, and even others, are the literary symbols of the concept of the divine as depicted by each of their respective cultures.  Quite frankly, these gods survival is dependent upon the faith of each individual believer who believes in the cultural myth so depicting each respective god.

For such is the way of gods and myths.

Dave Henderson

Denison, Texas

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