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Myth Is True When Effective?





A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

copyright 2005


page 10:


"A myth, therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed. It is works, that is, if it forces us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth."



A great point about how myths and religions are not about factual information. However, when the author says "a myth is true because it is effective" I get what she means but can't help wanting to replace or fine-tune the word "true". Some possibilities: a myth is "perceived as true" or "true in a sense" or ?



page 106-108:


"But unless a historical event is mythologized, it cannot become a source of religious inspiration. A myth, it will be recalled, is an event that - in some sense - happened once, but which also happens all the time. An occurrence needs to be liberated, as it were, from the confines of a specific period and brought into the lives of contemporary worshipers, or it will remain a unique, unrepeatable incident, or even a historical freak that cannot really touch the lives of others."



"By ritual practice and ethical response, the story [the Exodus] has ceased to be an event in the distant past, and has become a living reality. St. Paul did the same with Jesus. He was not much interested in Jesus's teachings, which he rarely quotes, or in the events of his earthly life. ... What was important was the 'mystery'... of his death and resurrection. Paul had transformed Jesus into the timeless, mythical hero who dies and is raised to new life."



"Jesus was no longer a mere historical figure but a spiritual reality in the lives of Christians by means of ritual and the ethical discipline of living the same selfless life as Jesus himself. ... They knew that this myth was true, not because of the historical evidence, but because they had experienced transformation."



I like the idea that "an occurrence needs to be liberated from a specific period" in order to be a source of religious inspiration. This emphasizes to me that religions should not be taught literally as historical fact.


If the Jesus myth is true or valid for a Christian because it is effective, because they have experienced transformation, then by the same token I can say: this myth is not true or valid because it did not "work" for me. It was not inspirational, it did not transform me or infuse me with hope.






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