The Power of Narrative

Books / Religion Books | Why myths still matter:

“A Briton, a former nun and a self-described ‘freelance monotheist,’ Armstrong lives in a mostly secular society set in a larger world roiled by religious fundamentalism. The mythos/logos formulation serves her well in the task of criticizing both. As a liberal person of faith, she can argue that a logos-ruled culture like Britain’s fails to speak to the persistent desire for meaning. And then she can point out that literal-minded fundamentalists — who insist that biblical stories describe actual historical events and divine directives — mistakenly treat the metaphorical mythos of the Bible as if it were the logos of, say, Newton’s law of gravitation.

But, at heart, Armstrong writes about religion, not literature, and her ‘A Short History of Myth’ isn’t a very satisfying lead-in to a collection of fictional works. For Armstrong, the high point in the history of religion came with what the German philosopher Karl Jasper called ‘the Axial Age,’ when ‘new religious and philosophical systems emerged: Confucianism and Taoism in China; Buddhism and Hinduism in India; monotheism in the Middle East and Greek rationalism in Europe.’ These aren’t, however, traditions known for their great myths (except for the legends in the Old Testament, which seem to be a holdover from earlier times anyway).”

This article goes into depth about an idea I’ve been thinking about again of late. I had a meeting with a young family who were thinking about having their child baptized. The reason to do it they decided was that they wanted to raise their child in the church so the child would have a sense of right and wrong. I told them that I sort of disagreed with them. The real reason to raise a child in the church is so that the child will be given a narrative (a story) that will let him or her make sense of the world around them.

The Gospel is the story that Jesus told to us that has totally transformed the world. The Church’s real mission is to tell that story so powerfully that the world can hear it anew again and again. And by hearing that story afresh, the world is continually transformed and renewed.

Armstrong is making the point about the power of Myth. She’s really pointing out that we as humans need to have stories. What greater story could we possibly tell to people than the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection though the power of the Love of God.

(Via Salon.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...