Saturday, May 06, 2006

Logos and Mythos

"Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod,
Or Love in a golden bowl?" (Blake)

Majoring in chemistry and biology, then working as a research chemist I experienced a rude awakening when I transferred to a seminary. I soon realized that an entirely different kind of language was in use than the kind of language a scientist uses. In science each word has one and only one precise, definite, distinctive meaning; call it 'proper language'. Seminary language I called "poetic language": fluid, indefinite or multiple in meaning (what is the meaning of love?).

Since that event 50 years ago it has been continuously amazing, no, dumbfounding to witness the common inability to notice this difference. Regardless of what they may be talking about people almost always assume that everyone understands the word they use-- exactly as they understand it themselves. Science yes; religion no, no, no. So they fight, and kill.

We might talk about 'proper' (scientific) and 'poetic' (metaphoric, spiritual) language or, shall we say, logos and mythos.

Read Plato's Republic! Pretty hard going for most of us; that's logos. Now turn to the end to the tale of ER; that's mythos. For me at least it has an impact.

Or read Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis. Slow going, eh? Now read The Great Divorce; that you may do in one sitting, and it will make you think a bit. Logos and mythos.

The Bible is mythos, but most 'believers' seem to take it as logos; and thereby lose the richness of meaning, the depth, the springboard to eternity.


david said...

Yet Christ is the Logos.

I feel the greatest gap between us and Jesus' era is that we have email/fax etc and Jesus stood on hillsides and preached. In that era maybe logos and mythos were the same thing --- slowly they became two sides of the same coin and then different realms -- realms with armed guards at the borders.

And so how does a man sitting at his computer screen read the parable of the Lost Lamb when logic and heart are locked in a custody battle over the soul?

Jon said...

I think many people have difficulty seeing mythos because of their personalities--there are lots of very literal-minded people out there. And it doesn't help that most teachers of the Bible teach it as logos.

Kwakersaur's point is good too, that we live in a time where logos is greatly valued over mythos. And yet, with the myriad movies and other forms of storytelling, we're more exposed to mythos than ever before, but we discount truths they may present, trying to latch on to fact only.

Truth is of the spirit. Fact is of the mind.

xianchick said...

People in this crazy world get so wrapped up in protecting their concept of a higher power that they are willing to go to great (and often very harmful) lengths to protect their graven images.

Then there are the non-committers, who have no concept at all, and claim that it is all the same religion, and the same God, and then push moral relativity.

The entire game is a distraction... it is totally fun to think about, like most distractions are; but getting too hung up, for too long, on the differences totally pulls us away from the truth.

Getting really pissed at the mythos -- hindus/buddhists/christians/jews/
muslims/the nauseating list of the rest of the religions,denominations, sects, and viewpoints -- is perhaps natural, I've heard it reduced down to an organizational mechanism that is inherent to humans, maybe so.

I am so totally not perfect at this kind of thing, but I have chosen this day who I will serve, and having made that choice, the requirements are enough for me to work on my own soul for the rest of my life... of course, and unfortunately, like the rest of us, I get fed up with my own shortcomings and then look at the glaring defects in others.

In a perfect world, the inventory is mine and not the other persons.

The bible is such an inconsistent text! Any educated xian knows about the Nicene counsel, and understands that the gnostic texts really were heretical.

But getting hung up on the fact that it is the "unwavering word of God" disappoints us when we realize that it is comically inconsistent.

Once again, I will tout the Bart Ehrich's latest book "Misquoting Jesus". It is written by a christian and it fully how the NT got to be so full of mistakes, and allows us to see the ideas behind the texts.

Larry said...

Thanks friends, for those three personal and instructive comments.

David, you're right about "maybe logos and mythos were the same thing", and it's still unfortunately true to many of the common people. Re Jesus: there's a big question in my mind whether Jesus was Grecian as well as Hebrew; he lived on the outskirts of a Grecian city where humongous building was going on. We can speculate he might have worked for those Greek building contractors.

I once asked my favorite seminary teacher how much of the N.T. was Hebrew and how much Greek. He said about half each (of course Billy was capable of saying almost anything to meet the situation).

Re the custody battle it drew me once again to the Great Commandment. The sequence of loving was heart-soul-mind-strength; we can wonder if that's the appropriate order of priority.

As Jon says, truth of the spirit; fact of the mind.

Xian, I deeply appreciate your witness ("I have chosen this day who I will serve") You show a real understanding of the Bible and the freedom to deal with it appropriately.

I like Bart Ehrich; only the fundies can attempt to swallow the inconsistencies and contradictions that fill the Bible. This is not quite apropos, but it reminds me of Whitman's "you say I contradict myself; very well, I contradict myself." If you view the Bible as poetry, as I do, then the inconsistencies and contradictions begin to fall into place.

Thanks again to all you good friends.

crystal said...

Hi Larry. Great post! :-)

Lorcan said...

Oh yes... long over due... most great religions say, it is the message behind the story, not the story... and yet the louder we say it, the louder some say the message is a lie, unless the eliments of the story are true in detail... makes me a bit itchy, I must admit.