A primer on myth

In the coming posts, I will be making repeated reference to the word ‘myth’. Among a group of atheists and anti-theists, the word ‘myth’ has taken on a decidedly derogatory meaning. Religious myths are used in the place of facts to justify deplorable and immoral actions and policies. Indeed, the primacy of the ‘Adam and Eve’ myth alone has been used as the basis for everything from extorting money from people under threat of ‘original sin’ to the most absurd and yet powerfully harmful anti-gay sentiment. The entire young earth creationism movement, motivated by a flood myth, is working tirelessly to undermine science education. Myths about the proper role of women (and their role in the fall) are used to subjugate women and pigeonhole men into restrictive gender roles.

Without wishing to excuse the harms done by mythology, I do want to recognize that supernatural and religious myths are, in fact, only one particular subtype of myth. Indeed, our idiomatic language would be severely weakened in the absence of mythology – one might even say it is our Achilles’ Heel. And again, beyond the value of myth as a common point of cultural reference, we also use myth to explain the world around us. [Read more...]