The Power of Myth*

“Mythology is what we call someone else’s religion.” — Joseph Campbell

Like many Americans, I was raised Christian. As a child, I accepted Christianity as… well, gospel…since it was the only religion to which I had been exposed. Everyone I had ever met was Christian — or professed to be — with the exception of one Jewish girl in grade school. I had no clue what a Jew was. I certainly didn’t realize that Jewish meant that she believed something different that I did. I only knew that she was bullied by the other kids.

Through my teens and early twenties, my spiritual journey lead me to a couple of different Christian denominations, including Catholicism, which was radically different from the Presbyterian church in which I had been raised. I loved the ritual and the “bells and smells,” but initially had a difficult time understanding or accepting the role of the saints. The idea of asking them to intercede to God on my behalf was alien to me because, as a Protestant, I had been taught to believe that Jesus was the only mediator. I had also been taught to believe that plaster saints were “idols,” thus in direct violation of the numerous Biblical admonishments such as, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (English Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 10:14) As a Catholic, I developed a close relationship with the Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother and a particularly nurturing face of the “Feminine Divine,” pretty quickly, but the other saints remained distant and “unreal.”

In my mid twenties, I read a novel about the search for an ancient goddess statue with the potential to shake Christianity to its core. Sadly, I don’t remember the title. While the premise and plot were shaky, it was evident that the author worshiped the Feminine Divine. The book succeeded in shaking my belief system to its very core. When I finished the book, I tearfully asked myself why I believed what I believed. And that question changed everything.

First and foremost, I realized that I had a Christian belief system because I had been raised Christian. Yes, I know that seems obvious, but I suspect that this is something that many people don’t stop to question. If I had been raised Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, atheist or agnostic, I would have internalized those beliefs as truth, at least initially.

My second revelation was that the tenets of Christianity, like any other religion, look like mythology when viewed with a critical eye. According to Merriam-Webster, a myth is

a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon

Religion, on the other hand, is defined as

the service and worship of God or the supernatural

In short, mythology is a component or subset of religion.

But in ordinary terms, people tend to think of mythology as dead religions and belief systems while elevating their own beliefs to the status of religion. Today, with the exception of some Neo-Pagans, for example, few people venerate ancient Greek, Roman or Nordic gods and goddesses. But at one time, these deities were worshiped en masse, and were the cornerstones of thriving religions.

Moreover, we tend to consider our own belief systems to be religions while denigrating others to the status of mythology. While this can, and is, often practiced at the individual level, it gains “validity” through numbers. If a whole nation considers itself to be “Christian,” then, despite “freedom of religion” all other belief systems are treated as inferior, fanciful…myth. Jesus dying, rising from the dead and having the power to save those who believe in Him becomes Truth with a capital T. The lower-case “truth” of practitioners of religions which address the Divine by another — or multiple — names, which don’t believe that mankind requires salvation, which venerate nature or practice magic instead of prayers is suspect and vulnerable to persecution since it is nothing more than myth.

While I used Christianity as the majority religion in this example, you can easily see how this model can apply to countries where Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion is predominant.

Today, I invite you to ask yourself why you believe what you believe. Do you believe that it’s Truth with a capital T? If so why? Do you believe that other religions are truth with a lower-case t? Or worse, nothing more than myth?

* Blog title respectfully borrowed from Joseph Campbell

17 thoughts on “The Power of Myth*

  1. ReadingRenee

    Just wanted to comment that this post really resonates with me. My little raised Christian mind was blown when I took a mythology class in college and we studied all the ancient religions and then studied Christianity as a mythology as well. It was the first time I really began to see the similarities between all of the mythology and the Christianity I was raised with and to look at all religion with a different view than what I had previously, automatically believed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judie Sigdel

      Thank you so much for your feedback, ReadingRenee! There is a lot of overlap between belief systems and much of that was by design as I’m sure you know. For example, the veneration of saints was incorporated into the Catholic church in part because it made sense within the context of Medieval feudalistic society. It would have been unthinkable for a peasant to deign to speak directly to God.

      I hope that you will read future posts and comment if so moved.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Been round the block with my own faith the last 20 years. Am settling into my own amalgamation at the moment. I hope your blog lights up! And thanks for the follow. I look forward to seeing you around the neighborhood. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Judie Sigdel

      You’re absolutely right, by definition, Venerable Benkong. Clearly, we need to amend this definition! Are theism and religion synonymous? I know that the debate about Buddhism being a religion has raged for centuries. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on this and I’ll add this subject as a potential topic for a future blog post.

      Like

  3. There are many similarities in our faith journeys. I too was raised in a Christian home. Over many years as an adult, having read much, experienced much, lived much, my more mature self questioned the tenets of my bekief systems. This questioning has led me to what you so aptly name an eclectic spirituality.
    I much prefer to differentiate between religion and spirituality. For me religion is a manmade construct much like any other organisation with its strengths and weaknesses, power plays and manipulations. Spirituality, on the other hand, is a close up and personal relationship with Creator

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judie Sigdel

      Thank you for sharing about your spiritual journey, soulgifts! I really like the last two lines of your comment; they sum up the differences between religion and spirituality beautifully. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Blog Networking: 2/18/17 | Dream Big, Dream Often

  5. Hi Judie! I am currently, like others who’ve commented, are going through a shift. I was also raised Christian. I was less than thrilled after reaching my teens. Most of it simply rang false… but I also felt there were kernels of truth within it as well… I’m making a fabulous mess of working through it on my blog, LOL.

    If I can be so crass as to quote myself… “Religion is the square hole in which humanity attempts to thrust the round peg of Spirituality.”

    I’m just looking for my authentic path toward expression of the Divine Within. 🙂

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog! Thanks for making me feel a little less alone!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judie Sigdel

      You’re welcome, Amanda! I’m so glad that you found it helpful. Your quote resonates really strongly with me. It makes perfect sense that humans assign so many tenets and commandments to spirituality, thus creating something else entirely — religion. I’m off to read your blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have my own hodgepodge of spiritual beliefs. I gather them as I go through my life experiences and my readings (I love Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung). I have not been raised in a religious way. But your experience reminds me a little of that of Pamela L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. She was born and raised a Christian (Anglican Church) but later because of her life circumstances she questioned those beliefs and turned to Eastern philosophies and mostly to the esoteric teachings of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. There are so many belief systems out there and it can become quite confusing. They are all trying to explain the unexplainable. Life is a mystery and there is no single religion that can claim to have the ultimate truth. Like Carl Jung has said (and I am paraphrasing here) the finite mind cannot grasp the infinite mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judie Sigdel

      Thank you for sharing about your personal philosophy as well as Pamela L. Travers’. I didn’t know anything about her. I, too, am a big fan of Joseph Campbell and Jung. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Judie,
    I am a Jew with married into a Chrtian family. Why a Jew? I followed my parents’ religion. I also teach about Christianity to my history students.
    Maybe you can check out my blog if you need any blogging tips. That’s what I write about. I also host 10 blog parties each month where are you could meet new readers.
    Janice

    Liked by 1 person

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