“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