Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Christianity a Myth?

Is Christianity a myth? First we must ask, what is a myth? This is a word that means many different things to different people. It can mean that something is false. Now as a statement of opinion this is legitimate, but it requires proof. If assumed without proof, it is circular reasoning. Now traditionally the word myth has been used for theological viewpoints that were no longer considered a serious option, at least by civilized people. With the coming of New Age beliefs, it is questionable whether this can still be taken for granted. But Christianity was never in that category. Now one could assert that the old attitude toward these myths is correct and Christianity is basically the same thing. But this, again, without proof is circular reasoning.

Or myths can be see it as a depiction of a mythical experience rooted in existential philosophy. This is a close relative to the approach of allegorism, which sees such stories as, not to be taken literally, but pictures of some underlying truth. Now to the extent allegorism involves reading in a foreign belief, without justification in its original  theological context, it should be rejected out of hand. For me to read my beliefs back into someone else's belief system without a basis within that system is, again, circular reasoning.

Or a myth can simply be defined as an overall view of reality that captures the imagination. In this context I have no  problem with calling Christianity a myth, so long as we allow for the possibility of a true myth. I see no basis for excluding this unless it can be proven beforehand that reality must be pedantic and boring. But there is a danger here that we might believe something, not because it is true, but because it is a good story. Certainly, we should be on guard against this. But used as an argument in favor of a secular view of reality, this has a basic problem. I used to be an agnostic and was a firm believer in the great secular myth, which C. S. Lewis called the myth of evolution (see The Funeral of a Great Myth in Christian Reflections). While it goes back to Shelley and Keats, it can be found more recently in Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) and Arthur C. Clarke (the 2001: A Space Odyssey series, Childhood's End). This view, which sees mankind as, not at home in paradise, but fighting and clawing their way up to become beings of disembodied power is nothing if not dramatic. If this does not capture the imagination, I do not know what will. If you really want a view of the world that is boring and pedantic, I do not know where you would find one. But if we are not willing to exclude a view because it captures the imagination, we must at least consider the possibility of a true myth.

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