Myths are always true
Can you be grateful for things you're not sure happened?
Watching Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt over the weekend (yet again!), I was moved (yet again!) by the opening sequence where Moses' mother saves him from the swords of Pharaoh's soldiers. Later, when Moses finds the burning bush, when the Hebrews begin their exodus, when the sea parts before them and they reach the other shore, the emotion I felt can be described in no other way than gratitude. I actually stopped for a moment to thank God for the salvation of the Hebrews through these events.
Is it important whether or not they actually happened? I'm in the middle of a fascinating book, No god but God by Reza Aslan, about the early Muslim years. (I'll write more about it when I'm finished.) Here's a passage from the prologue (which asserts that stories about early Islam are grounded in mythology):
It is a shame that this word, myth, which originally signified nothing more than stories of the supernatural, has come to be regarded as synonymous with falsehood, when in fact myths are always true. [Emphasis added.] By their very nature, myths inhere both legitimacy and credibility. Whatever truths they convey have little to do with historical fact. To ask whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or whether Jesus truly raised Lazarus from the dead, or whether the word of God indeed poured through the lips of Muhammad, is to ask totally irrelevant questions. The only question that matters with regard to a religion and its mythology is "What do these stories mean?"
The fact is that no evangelist in any of the world's great religions would have been at all concerned with recording his or her objective observations of historical events. They would not have been recording observations at all! Rather they were interpreting those events in order to give structure and meaning to the myths and rituals of their community, providing future generations with a common identity, a common aspiration, a common story. After all, religion is, by definition, interpretation; and by definition, all interpretations are valid.
Aslan's words (funny that this Muslim's scholar's name is the same as the Christ figure in the Narnia books) is clarifying for me something that I've always wondered about—why Mary Baker Eddy's autobiography is not more detailed about the events in her life. But now I can see better that she was writing to share the meaning of the events. You can see this especially in the section "Emergence into Light."
The fact that a common story is shared by so many people has a power to it. We unite in exploring the same story, and in this way find common ground to build a sense of oneness. The meaning of the story is always true, even if the facts of the story are not. Truth exists separate from human events.
Myths are always true. Does that mean facts are always false? This is a bit mind-bending for me this Monday morning—what do you think?
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