Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let's not toss the baby out with the bathwater

If the statistic that Bill Maher mentioned (in the clip that I posted a few days ago) then 20% of people under 30 are "rationalists" and don't subscribe to any religious set of beliefs. I'm skeptical of statistics, as 73% of them are just made up, but let's just go ahead and go with that and assume that it's true. Not only that, but let's say that it reflects a growing trend and this country is getting further and further removed from religion.

As an atheist, free-thinker, rationalist, blah blah etc., I'm not entirely too sure if I should feel good about this. Now that might sound odd, but it's true.

With my seniors, I teach a unit on the Bible, focusing primarily on the Gospel stories. One thing that I say at least once a day until we're done is that they don't have to choose between believing that it's divinely inspired or believing that it's worthless. There's a middle ground. I make this appeal to the kids who are nonbelievers, and I even straight out let the kids where I personally stand so they don't think that I have some sort of hidden agenda. I actually have a pretty blatant agenda, and that's to show them the value of the stories of the Bible. I try to give the kids who see it as divinely inspired some new ways to look at it (as I say, I try to ADD meaning to it by looking at it the same way we look at any work of literature) and the nonbelievers a sense of it being relevant and important.

Now, as I'm free to be a bit more blatant and uncensored on my blog, I think that the stories of the Bible ARE stupid - when taken literally anyway. I always point to the story of Samson and Delilah, as it's completely absurd to believe that one but to then think that something like the story of Achilles is "just a myth." Jesus turned water into wine. Literally, that's a magic trick. Metaphorically, it has much more resonance.

I recently read a really interesting book entitled No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan. In it (and I'm surprised some fanatic hasn't pronounced a fatwa or two on him for doing so) he states, in regards to the Quran, that it is mythology. (He claims to be a devout Muslim, mind you.) He then explains, "It is a shame that this word, myth, which originally signified nothing more than stories of the supernatural, has come to be regarded as synonymous with falsehood, when in fact myths are always true. By their very nature, myths inhere both legitimacy and credibility. Whatever truths they convey have little to do with historical fact. To ask whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or whether Jesus truly raised Lazarus from the dead, or whether the word of God indeed poured through the lips of Muhammad, is to ask totally irrelevant questions. The only question that matters with regard to a religion and its mythology is 'What do these stories mean?'"

I was nodding my head as I read that passage, as he put into words pretty much what I've been thinking for some time now. And this brings me to my point.

I fully plan on teaching my child (I don't have one yet!) the stories of the Bible. Well, some of them anyway. I remember thinking that Abraham having to sacrifice his son was pretty screwed up even when I was little. (Yeah, I know how it ends.) My child will be well versed in the stories of Noah, Moses, and Jesus. I mean, I'll teach about Achilles and Odysseus too, but those Bible stories are important. I had a book called My Book of Bible Stories when I was little, and I remember many of the stories quite fondly, and I spent many hours going through that book.

If we are becoming a less religious society, I hope that we don't completely bury these fantastic myths. And I use the word "myths" in the same way that Resa Aslan does. They're all true, just not literally true.

1 comment:

PepperJack said...

Once again, I applaud you for your level-headed approach. How much fuller life is when we work to see the whole picture, instead of just reacting viscerally.
Society is certainly better for being open to religious myths, as you call them. I've always said, Christianity is great, except for the Christians. The stories are very worthwhile, on whatever level you view them; the problems start when people being making the stories say things they don't actually say. In the end, what I call Truth and you call Myth gives each of us an important insight into the world and our place in it.