Tuesday, May 6

Myth defined

Sometimes I write a long email and feel bad that I've put so much energy into writing something for one person. So I thought I'd paste it here for a couple others to profit:
The semantics of "myth" greatly depend on whom you ask. And depending on how it's define, I'm either greatly interested or totally apathetic. The layman meaning of course is something like "a widely believed but false idea." Your assumed meaning is less common, but well still widely accepted. When Bultmann talks about myth, he's referring to something like what you described. Now my view of language is that a word doesn't have some absolute meaning that is objective. What's important is to be aware of the ascribed definition and the definition you ascribe yourself. All that to say I don't think my own definition is more correct than Bultmann's or Jane Doe's, but I recognize it's different and there's simply no other word for this meaning.

I've tried to keep my definition of myth close to that of authors, especially Joseph Campbell, if only so we can talk about the same concept. Namely, "a story seeking to communicate profound truth." However, the definition, like any particular myth, is better communicated as a story rather than plain discussion. In all my reading, I have yet to find any respectable author give a definition of myth. So I guess that means I'm not respectable! Historicity is definitely irrelevant. Myths typically succeed in communicating truth, but not always; racism, for instance, utilizes myth. This idea is consistent with the definition of such Christian writers who value myth like Mircea Eliade, Tolkien, Andrew Greely, and CS Lewis.

Historicity has no offect on myths. Historicity does not increase or decrease either the effectiveness or truth of a myth. Eg, The Prodigal Son is a myth and would be exactly the same whether or not an actual a son was eating from a pig's trough.

Because the definition of myth is both controversial and nuanced, it's hard for me to gauge Smith's idea without context. I will say that in my definition of myth, myth is not grounded on reason and has nothing to do with science whatsoever. Myth is thoroughly subjective. Eg, one myth (which spans all three definitions) is that in evolution, man evolved from monkeys. No evolutionary scientist would say that - they'd say we evolved from a predecessor of apes but the myth persists strongly because of its subjective strengths.

So that's what happens when you bring up myth with me. : )

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