The purpose of myth is to illustrate principles to develop your path. Please find out how to use the stories within religion to move beyond its boundaries.
“What Myth does for you is to point (you) beyond the phenomenal field toward the transcendent. A mythic figure is like a compass, with one leg in the field of time and the other in the eternal. The image of a god may look like a human or animal form, but its reference is transcendent of that.” ― Joseph Campbell
The Function of Myth
Does myth have a purpose in your life? Most people would say they do not believe in myths or legends, but if you ask those same people if they have religious beliefs, they will say yes. Do you think these people misunderstood the first question? Or perhaps they don’t realize most religions have their basis in myths?
Religion is the belief in supernatural controlling powers. The most popular religions involve belief in stories about a God or Gods. It requires faith in things without objective proof.
“One man’s myth is another man’s religion.” ― Joseph Campbell
“You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that need help?” ― Mark Twain
“You can’t use reason to convince anyone out of an argument that they didn’t use reason to get into.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson
The life stories of Buddha, Mohamed, and Jesus are examples of myths that have become religions. If you read their stories, you will see a common thread about how these respected teachers condemn organized religion. Many influential teachers tell us to forge our path and not follow prominent organized religions.
Jesus of the modern Bible was a Jewish scholar, and he was not a Christian. Although Jesus was a scholar of Judaism, he went into the wilderness alone to seek enlightenment. He admonished all those who followed organized religion to leave it behind.
Many scholars don’t recognize Buddhism as a religion. Buddhism encourages its people to avoid self-indulgence but also self-denial. Buddha’s most essential teachings, known as The Four Noble Truths; First, the truth of acknowledging that suffering is non-discriminatory; the second relates to the causes of suffering.
The third truth is that our suffering will end. The fourth noble truth is that there is a path that leads to the end of suffering. We need to find it. However, the way to do this not abundantly clear, these truths provide hope that suffering is an element of life, but it is temporary.
“So, we should not discount the wisdom within the stories of Krishna, Mythra, Apollo, Zeus, or Jesus. The analogies and metaphors within these mythologies point us to the transcendent. They implore us to create our own path using those tools that expand awareness and consciousness.” — Guru Tua
Instead of inspiring freedom from religion, many of the teachings became the inspiration for organized religions. The inconsistencies are opportunities to create more and more different sects. It makes you wonder. Do the Christians and Muslims actually believe God gave them their holy texts by divine inspiration? Similarly, those who follow Mormonism believe an angel gave him the Book of Mormon.
All holy texts are self-validating as being directly or indirectly authored by God. Because God authorizes them, you cannot question their validity. They explain errors and inconsistencies as our inability to understand the divine.
The need to believe overshadows the lack of proof. The metaphor of God becomes a mask. This mask blinds people to the facts behind the myths.
Pathway Beyond Religion
The path beyond religion is different for everyone. People who follow organized religion are not all the same. There are different levels of investment and involvement; Fringe believers, moderates, and extremists.
The Fringe Group
The fringe group makes up most of those in the three most powerful regions. Those on the fringe tell you they are Christan, Jew, or Muslim, but they do not devote followers. They may not study or practice the rituals. They attend on holidays and rarely understand their religion’s origins or evolution.
Often, people are born into their belief systems. When they gained their independence, they will start to question dogma and doctrines. However, they usually stay bound to the system by family or cultural tradition. It is difficult to reject the label of their religion, yet they are somewhat less likely to be manipulated by religious rhetoric.
If they live in an oppressive culture, they learn to give an outward appearance of alignment. Many follow the religion’s beliefs and rituals out of fear of repercussions. Some cultures do not accept freethinkers. So, they may partake in comparative religious research on their own. They acknowledge their religion is mythology and superstition.
The people in the moderate group meet in their places of worship regularly. They also support their belief system financially. Because they attended regular meetings, they are more susceptible to groupthink manipulation. They teach their acolytes to reject science and prefer their religious leaders’ advice. This group accepts whatever attributes of the mythology which their trusted leaders emphasize. They do not see their religion as mythology.
This group includes those born into the religion and those who are converts. People come to religion when they are vulnerable and seeking help. Vulnerability makes them easy converts. They do not question the mythology or the teachings because their religion is a significant part of their identity. Because of this, they will defend points even when it is contradictory and illogical. They are also more likely to slide toward extremist views. It all depends on the whims of their immediate leadership.
Although less in numbers, extremists are the most vocal and most potent. Unfortunately, they are often the leaders of the organized religion. They use any power necessary to further religious discrimination and preference. They use whatever means possible, including violence. Extremists lose their identity. The belief system becomes blinders of their intellect and common sense.
“Religious people claim that it’s just the fundamentalists of each religion that cause problems. But there’s got to be something wrong with the religion itself if those who strictly adhere to its most fundamental principles are violent bigots and sexists.” — David G. Mcafee
It is almost impossible to change someone’s mindset with an extremist worldview. No argument or fact will persuade religious believers to acknowledge any issues with their worldview. Their need to believe is all-consuming, negating their ability to reason.
You step on sacred ground when you speak of religion as a myth. If you call someone’s religion a myth, it will most likely cause a conflict. These are “fighting words” for most believers. So tread with caution. You can approach the function of myth in another way. Use another worldview as an example. You’ll have better success using a more non-threatening manner. It leads us to a scientific process-based research model, comparative analysis.
Comparative Analysis Research
It is an excellent method to use when trying to help someone escape deeply held religious beliefs. First, start with another religion other than theirs. People are more likely to accept the process because they won’t feel like they are under attack. For example, if they are Christian, start with Eastern traditions. Buddhism or Confucianism are sympathetic systems for comparison.
Now answer the following questions. Use resources from outside of their belief system. When possible, use scientific references, archeological and historical records.
- Does this system use sacred texts as a basis for authority? If so, what are they? When were they created, and by whom?
- Is this belief system based on a Supreme Being? Use external sources to find out as much as you can.
- Find any critics of this worldview and the resources they cite for their opinions?
- What does it take to become a follower of this system? Does it have rules for behavior? If so, what are they?
- Does this belief use and align with common sense or logic? If not, what are the logical flaws?
- Does this worldview impose its values on others?
- What are the sources of their tradition or mythology?
Benefits of Comparative Analysis
Suppose you’ve been successful in taking them on this research journey. Now see if you can get them to use the comparative analysis process. In my experience, most will agree, although reluctantly. Share the following benefits of this research process on your own beliefs.
Slowly but reluctantly, they will see the function of myth is to lead them somewhere beyond superstition. When the lights come on, they will realize myth equals faith. And myths could be a pathway beyond religion.
- This process deepens your understanding of your beliefs.
- It helps you to become more compassionate toward others with differing worldviews.
- Research exercises my critical thinking skills, which enable me to make better choices.
- Increases your line of sight, providing a greater perspective
Religion as a Popular Myth
“The study of religion rests on the basic distinction between studying about religion as a field of inquiry and being a religious practitioner.” — U.S. Supreme Court case Abington vs. Schempp (1963).
There is a similar philosophical distinction between a cult and a religion. A cult is an unpopular religion, and religion is a popular cult. Or, as Joseph Campbell stated, “One man’s myth is another man’s religion.”
Tradition isn’t without purpose. The function of myth is to show how to forge a pathway beyond religion. The imagery of the stories in most religions is excellent mnemonic memory devices. These stories are memorable because of their unique themes and characters. It helps us remember key points and lessons within the legend.
Myths are a way of preserving and communicating essential spiritual lessons. Above all, myths point us toward discovering our spiritual truths. Myths can also influence the direction of the cultural narrative. Religion promotes myth and superstition to law. Many people disagree and think we should base society’s rules on facts and science.
The Hero’s Journey
Many popular spiritual stories have the same elements with different names. However, it’s the same pattern. It is this pattern Joseph Cambell calls the Hero’s Journey. It’s our innate desire to explore the unknown. We have researched and conquered most of the planet. Many cultures also turned this need to explore inward.
“The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, ‘Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.’ And so it starts.” ― Joseph Campbell
It’s a typical pattern for stories that resonate with us spiritually. It is the call to forge your pathway beyond religion. You even find this formula at the heart of the Bible or movies like Star Wars.
The purpose of myth is to illustrate a principle using a story and imagery. We need to use these stories as roadmaps to create our path. Otherwise, it remains someone else’s story. And the function of myth is to show us there is a path that leads beyond religion. Please don’t mistake the metaphors of myth for facts. Learn to use legends to move beyond the boundaries of religious dogma.
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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia