The purpose of myth is to illustrate a principle using a story and imagery. 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, but if you ask those same people if they have religious beliefs, they will tell you yes. Do you think these people misunderstood the first question, or is it they just 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, this requires belief in things without objective proof.
One man’s myth is another man’s religion. ― Joseph Campbell
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 own path and not to follow the large organized religions.
Jesus of the modern Bible was a Jewish scholar, 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 important 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 just 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. There are more sects being created every day. It makes you wonder. Muslims believe God gave them their holy text, the Quran by divine inspiration. In the same way, 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 their holy texts are authorized by God, the texts can’t be questioned. The errors and inconsistencies are explained away as our inability to understand the divine.
The need to believe overshadows the lack of proof. The metaphor of God becomes a mask that 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. There are those on the fringe, those who are moderates, and those who are 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 are not invested in the belief system. They may not study or practice the rituals of attendance at all, and rarely understand the origins or evolution of their religion.
Often, the people in the fringe group are born into their belief systems. When they gained their independence, they will start to question dogma and doctrines. However, they often stay bound to the system by family or cultural tradition. It is difficult to reject the label of their religion, yet these people are somewhat less likely to be manipulated by religious rhetoric.
If they live in an oppressive culture, they give the outward appearance of allegiance. 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 give preference to the advice of their religious leaders. 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 but also those who are converts. People come to religion when they are vulnerable and seeking help. This makes them easy converts. They do not question the mythology or the teachings. They see their religion as a major 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.
This is the group which although less in numbers they are the most vocal and most powerful. 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. Extremist lose their personal 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 the mindset of someone with an extremist worldview. No argument or fact will dissuade them. Their need to believe is all-consuming, and it negates their ability to reason. However, there are some tools that we can use to reach those on the moderates and those on the fringe. Comparative Analysis is one of these tools.
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. This leads us to a scientific process-based research model, comparative analysis.
Comparative Analysis Research
This is an excellent method to use when talking with someone with 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. Target scientific references, archeological, and historical records.
- Does this system use sacred texts as a basis for authority? If so, what are they? When they were 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 their values on others?
- What are the sources of their tradition or mythology?
Benefits of Comparative Analysis
If you’ve been successful in taking them on this research journey. Now see if they will use the comparative analysis process with their religion. In my experience, most will agree, although reluctantly. Share the following benefits of this kind of research process on your own beliefs.
Slowly but reluctantly they will see the function of myth is to lead them somewhere beyond organized religion. When the lights come on, they will realize myth equals religion. And myth becomes 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.”
This is a legal distinction made from the 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 a 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 grand stories that are excellent mnemonic devices because myths help us remember key points and lessons within the story.
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. This is what religion does when it infiltrates a society. This is the misuse of myth. We should not base the rules of society on mythology, but science.
The Hero’s Journey
Many popular spiritual stores have the same elements. It is the pattern of the Hero’s Journey. This is the innate desire to explore the unknown. We are explorers. We have explored 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
This is a common pattern for stories that resonate with us on a spiritual level. 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. Don’t mistake the metaphors of myth for facts, learn to use them to move beyond the boundaries of religious dogma.
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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia