After posting the link to N.T. Wright’s blip on Meaning and Myth, one of my college friends posted a response on my facebook link. The response was excellent, so I asked if I could re-post what he wrote here. The following was written by Caleb Guard, M.A. student in English at Virginia Tech.
I have to comment on this because I’m finishing up my capstone on mythology-the theories of C.S. Lewis and Joseph Campbell compared.
I much rather like how Lewis drew a distinction between myth, truth, and fact. Christ is the manifestation of all three. He was the story, the meaning behind it, and a literal incarnation of it.
Here’s a sample of some of the things I’ve pondered in this area:
Are truth (associated with reason) and meaning (associated with imagination) the same thing? Truth is an abstract statement of correspondence with reality obtained by reason. Meaning, however, is a product of imaginative connection through metaphor. And I think myth serves this function. To say that Santa is “real” is not necessarily to imply that he is literal any more than to say that “the good Samaritan” is “real” means that he was a literal figure who fell into the exact literally-sequenced events as told. Part of our heritage of Western thinking is that it is hard for us to grasp this idea.
Something must have meaning before reason can discover it. After all, reality loses some of its truths when reduced do mere words. Sometimes the word must become flesh. Myth can help communicate reality, received in whole, within one’s imagination, because myth enacts truths. These things are based on the most solid reality, while paradoxically being incredibly distant from literal reality. In the Christmas tradition, we take the myth of Santa and “flesh” it by “being” Santa to each other. I still tell my parents, “I wonder what Santa’s getting me this year.”
Myths such as Santa Clause are not literally real, and we should never intend them to be. But they can function as very real, though unfocused, glimpses of the divine truth we do believe to be real. There is a reason why there are so many pagan parallels to Christianity. They point toward it. The death and rebirth is a pattern in nature and in mythology because it was first in the eternal plan, foreshadowing the coming of Christ.
But I can see why we run into problems with just the word “myth” becuase colloquially it means “a lie breathed through silver” to many people. I’m searching for ways to help people change their understanding of the word myth. I hope that it has more potential especially to minister to modern pagan cultures.
In an additional comment, Caleb adds:
Many Christians have dismissed non-Christian mythology as useless garbage out of … See Morefear of the obvious parallells between Christian and pagan myth. I think one reason pagans are easier to convert than atheists is that the religious heritage they already possess has “tutored” them for the introduction to Christianity, much like the OT law was a “tutor” for the New.
Hence Paul’s “I see you are a religious people” sentiment as a starting point for developing outreach, rather than jumping directly into the differences between Christianity and the current culture.
My biggest problem with what Caleb has written is the complete and utter absence of sarcasm. Caleb is one of the best amateur satirists I know. Though you won’t get most of it, his senior chapel was legendary: