Friday, December 02, 2005

A Discussion of Mythological Proportions

While reading on the Allspark, I came across this thread that talked about a college class in Kansas that would have talked about Creationism (apparently to argue against it). This class was canceled after the would-be professor said some rather inflammatory remarks about creationists. (Here's a link to the actual article, but it's quoted in its entirety on the Allspark)

One person commenting on the thread suggested that creationists had gotten upset because the professors called Creationism a "myth." While I don't think this was the real problem (rather, I think it was the fact that he said that his course "would be a 'nice slap in [creationists'] big fat face.'"), I do think people respond to the word "myth" negatively.

So, for the record, here's a bit from the Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary:
Myth - 1 A traditional story, presented as historical, often purporting to explain some natural phenomenon, as the creation of life, and expressive of the character of a people, their gods, culture, heroes, religious beliefs, etc. 2. Any real or imaginary story, theme, or character that excites the interest or imagination of a people....
If you read definition "1", you'll note that talking about "creation" is, by definition, to talk about "myths." It's also worth noting that "1" says nothing about whether the story is true or not. It only requires that the story is traditional. Even more to the point, definition "2" explicitly allows for "myths" to be true.

I've said before that I tend to be a little more conservative on some matters than some of my friends. I actually do tend to think that most of the stories in the Bible are more or less true. That's not to say I get bogged down in the details. If (for example) historical evidence shows that a couple of revolts mentioned in Acts 5:33-39 actually occurred in the opposite order from what Gamaliel is quoted as saying they did (as seems to be the case), then I'm not particularly bothered. The point of that Scripture isn't in what order a couple of revolts took place, but rather that while revolts of purely human origin will fail, God's will still triumph.

My own opinions of the historicity of the creation accounts are less well formed. I'm happy to believe that there was a "historical Adam" and a "historical Eve," but if there wasn't, my faith is not shaken. These characters depict the prototypical humanity, and the point of their story, that we as humanity have disobeyed God, and bring many of our worst sufferings upon ourselves, remains unchanged. (Please note that I do not, by corollary, believe that human sin is the cause of hurricane Katrina, any more than I believe that God sent Katrina to harm the people living in the Gulf. I am not here advocating a "sin results in divine punishment," cause/effect theology of suffering.)

But even as I allow for the possibility of a "historical" Adam and Eve, I still call the Genesis account a "creation myth." It is a story given to us to teach us about God, and our relationship to God. Whether or not these tales are factually true does not change the fact that they are "myths." If we as Christians are to keep fighting these battles over Scriptural interpretation, at least let's not get into arguments caused by misunderstanding how the word "myth" is defined.

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