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The Power Of Myth In World Religion And Modern Society


Johnny Smith
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June 18th, 2006

 

The past several years I have studied Islam. I have attended Mosques, broken fast with Muslims at Ramadan, and considered taking the Shahadah (Muslim declaration of faith). This may come as a surprise to some of you who have read my posts in the past. Nevertheless, my fascination with Islam stems from the same fascination I have had with many world religions (and cults). My fascination with religion started around the age of ten years old. Incidentally, I was ten years old when I received my first copy of the Book of Mormon from a classmate. I was not raised in the Mormon Church, but converted as a teenager.

 

Several nights ago I had a dream. In this dream, I was on the Hajj. The Hajj is one of the obligatory five pillars of the Islamic faith, which states that an able-bodied Muslim should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. The Kabah (known by some non-Muslims as the “black box”) circled by throngs of Muslim devotees is believed to be the first altar that Abraham (in Arabic, Ibrahim) erected to honor Allah. Muslims come to this holy place to honor their blessed Prophet Muhammed, who like Jesus in the temple, had cleansed this place from the idolatry that had filled it for centuries prior. It is believed by the faithful Muslim that when one dies on Hajj, they will immediately enter paradise. It is also believed repentance on Hajj gives someone a “clean slate.”

 

In this dream, I was killed after making wudu. Wudu is the ritual cleansing a Muslim participates in before engaging in prayer. A religious authority mistook me for someone else who had participated and boasted about a grave “moral sin.” I was not given the opportunity to defend myself. My life was simply ended, and then I woke up. I awoke with intense feelings of fear and anxiety. It was a very personal dream, and it addressed some very personal issues that I am coming to terms with in my life. Many of these issues revolved around my propensity toward immersing myself in fantasy (religion) in order to medicate the stress of reality.

 

As I awoke, I contemplated how interesting it is that a dream can either snap a person out of an ideal or intensify the ideal. Recently my study of Islam had brought me solace. I had conceived an idea that embracing yet another theology would be the answer to my restlessness. I had rationalized that Islam’s pure monotheism was a step in the right direction. It removed God from the “warm and fuzzy” of a Christian’s “relationship with Jesus.” The belief in the God promoted by Islam is not based upon a “burning in the bosom.” Feeling is removed. Obedience is required. It esteemed deity to a place of All-Power (Arabic Al-Qadeer), thus removing the anthropomorphic quality that is prevalent in Christendom.

 

As I awoke from the dream, I began to think about myth. I had thought Islam was so different than Christianity. However, maybe I have been thinking about this all wrong. Perhaps Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Animism, and Christianity have something in common. Perhaps none of them were formed as a result of any real supernatural experience. Were the meditations of the Siddhartha Buddha nothing more than the tranquility that an atheist might feel when discovering a particularly beautiful field during a long, satisfying hike? Were the works of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts written down and believed by the early Christians as a means to stay attached to their dead leader, Jesus? Was the myth of his resurrection created to medicate their grief? Surely his death must have been traumatic for those who believed in him as the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people.

 

What is the answer to resolving the conflicting ideologies of religion that throughout the course of history, and even in our time, have promoted violence and instilled fear in the heart of man? Is the answer for humanity to come to a realization of religion’s promotion of myth and fantasy? If all religions have been formed based upon myth and the need for death to bring new life, what myths are being created in our society today? In one thousand years, what myths will human beings look back to as originating in the first decade of the second millennium? Are we participants in creating myth?

 

I have more questions than answers. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

 

Regards,

 

Johnny Smith

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Perhaps Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Animism, and Christianity have something in common. Perhaps none of them were formed as a result of any real supernatural experience. Were the meditations of the Siddhartha Buddha nothing more than the tranquility that an atheist might feel when discovering a particularly beautiful field during a long, satisfying hike? Were the works of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts written down and believed by the early Christians as a means to stay attached to their dead leader, Jesus? Was the myth of his resurrection created to medicate their grief?

Yes yes and yes. I personally believe that all religions and ideas about "god" are cultural phenomenons, meaning every culture throughout time has created their own god(s), gave them names and their own unique personalities and then projected those attributes upon the earth or the moon or the sun or the universe or whatever their idea of god was. I think what people think of as "god" is really just a way to explain the unknown. Which is why the more we discover through science, the more we realize that god(s) aren't a very good explanation. As far as the personal experiences credited to religion or god, I think those things are bourne through our need to connect to something larger than ourselves. I think those feelings manifest themselves in what some people would describe as "spirituality". As an atheist I myself have those feelings sometimes, but it has nothing to do with an old man flying around in the sky, it's really just a sense of wonderment about the universe and our entire existence.

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I agree that the more we discover about the nature of life and the universe in science, the more god(s) become less needed. However, I think about the course of science in history. There have always been those that have discounted one for the other, or attempted to reconcile them. Though we are fortunate in our society to have a wealth of information on latest scientific discoveries at our finger tips, there are still a vast number of people in the world that live their lives based on myth. I am not confident that myths will ever cease. They will simply evolve. I would sure love to come back to earth in two thousand years to see what myths evolved with their origins in our time.

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All religions arise from the human mind. People through the ages have experienced states of altered consciousness. It comes in many guises:visions, dreams, voices, spiritual and religious experiences. These have sometimes been described as delusions or psychotic episodes and by many other terms. Many have led to the writing of stories and have become embedded in sacred scriptures and other writings. Through the ages arguments have raged about the authenticity of these stories. Are they 'true'? Are they myths? Are they from God? Wars have been fought, countless lives have been lost, because men in the past have disputed the question you raise. One key question I asked myself is this: was the universe created by a conscious mind aware of it's consequences? Well just look at the part of the universe we see. Would a loving being that valued life create creatures that can only survive by eating each other? Did something knowingly create a planet which destoys thousands of lives through natural disasters? Would that being wait billions of years before sending his 'son' to 'save' us? What about the poor devils that lived before? I respect other people. But my simple mind is at a loss to understand why so many people still have to ask your question. If you still have doubts, read the bible the whole way through. Read the Koran the whole way through. Then ask yourself: is this the mind of a loving god or the mind of man. From my knowledge of human nature through history the answer is obvious.

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What question did I specifically ask that is the same question that men in the past have disputed that have caused lives to be lost and wars to be fought?

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What question did I specifically ask that is the same question that men in the past have disputed that have caused lives to be lost and wars to be fought?

None. I am merely picking up the issue about myth or reality. Perhaps I should have posted in the rants section and not replied to your post!

 

Regards

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Padhyde,

 

I'm glad you responded. You had a very good response. I do not have the time to respond to it in detail right now, so I just was asking for some clarification on one of your points. I hope you have a good day.

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Dude. Have you read any Joseph Campbell? If not, I highly recommend it.

 

At the heart of every myth and religion is a story about humanity. That's all. That's what binds every mythos together around the world. Only the details vary.

 

It's all about us.

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