The Function of Myth

Brian Worley


I challenge skeptics to get deeper than mere debunking activities. People of faith are all around us and we should adapt to our environment and embrace humanity for what it is. Many folk turn to an irrational belief to derive a benefit to fill an unmet need. We should love, understand and try to help them if we feel nurturing tendencies.

I wish that we could conceivably get all parties involved to sit down together in a roundtable discussion about the functions of myth, literature and religion. Especially skeptics! Why? Because skeptical society doesn’t really understand or esteem non-evidential capital the way it should.

As a student at Tennessee Temple University, I had an aversion to literature and mythology while preparing for the ministry. My thinking back then was, “Why should a minister of the life changing gospel of Christ be bothered with myth, fiction and other worldly entertainment?" I thought two semesters of literature classes were irrelevant to a minister. Jane Austen and mythology never saved anyone -- but Jesus could! I was so wrong and yes -- ignorant about the matter.

Turns out that those classes eventually expanded my thinking. But it took a departure from faith and my being immersed into a post-communist and largely non-religious society to recognize the importance of the lesson that the religious myth provided.

Question, “Was Robin Hood was a good or bad guy?” Ask a poor Latvian kid with little religious exposure and they will usually respond with the evolutionary survival mindset that he was a hero. Who teaches the difference between right and wrong in an atheistic or non-religious society and how effective are their results? I clearly witnessed the absence of religion and associate it with a lesser desirable society that lacks moral organization.

Specifically in regards to myth, myths serve to help organize society. Mircea Eliade argued that one of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior.

Eleven years after leaving Christianity and the ministry, I still believe that mankind's greatest problems are of a spiritual nature. Deep within man are factors that influence a man towards actions that others can judge to be either good or bad. Don’t get spooked by my usage of spiritual (the emotional state or mood in which the interpreter and manager of sensory information processes and acts upon the input in time) -- I just can’t find a better word to describe the direction of thoughts and perception that influence behavior.

Take the case of Tiger Woods. The man had most everything going for him: elite skills in a popular sport, a loving family, a beautiful wife, fame and influence with more than enough money for a lifetime. The common man has a hard time understanding why he couldn’t keep it “between the lines” in what many would picture as a blessed life.

Evidentially Tiger lacked contentment and appreciation for what he had and got greedy wanting something more than the original agreement he had with his wife. The “other women” had spiritual problems as well. Tiger’s problem wasn’t religious but it was spiritual because he broke that agreement with his wife which in turn wrecked his family.

Religion employs mythological creations to teach values and encourage mankind to do what is right and proper. It teaches mythological lessons that should inspire us to avoid learning the lessons of life through experience and the school of hard knocks! We should understand the myth that religion employs and allow it to fulfill it’s intended teaching and inspiring function that serves to better mankind. So what if many religious followers fail to comprehend the myth as long as they are influenced to do what is right and proper? Skeptics should wink and nod in approval while saving their wrath for fundamentalism.

The literalism of fundamentalism misses the point of the religious schoolmaster which is to nurture the decision making process in a positive non-punitive manner. The goal shouldn’t be to avoid a mythological hell or get into a fictitious heaven. Religion and myth are tools that shape society in order to keep it from becoming too disorderly and to curb lawlessness. Fundamentalists (religious and atheist) don’t understand the nuances of life!

PS:This is a re-post from a portion of "The Atheist Billboard" article upon the Ex-minister website. This is a challenge to freethinkers that war against myth. For this reason (challenge to freethinkers) I thought it best to extract the thought and post it upon the blog to reach a greater number of readers.

Brian Worley     May 10, 2011     All rights reserved!


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