Myth and Rationality, Part 2

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Rolland Hein wrote: Myths are, first of all, stories: stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal (Christian Mythmakers, p. 3).

The fundamental assumption of the fairy tale philosopher is that there is more to this world than what the five physical senses can perceive.  Ask us for scientific evidence of this, and we can’t and won’t provide it.  We’ll only tell you that we reject the assumption that the scientific method can accomplish the task of knowing all things.

Many Christian apologists point to the many things science can’t explain – including the origin of anything to begin with – to point to the need for an “unmoved mover,” or a “first cause.”

The scientific fatalist rejects this “god of the gaps” method of explaining the unknown mysteries of the world. They claim that all religion does is to fill in the stuff science hasn’t figured out – but will! – with “God.” When science figures it out, we’ll be able to remove “god” from that realm, too.

The fairy tale philosopher embraces neither, believing that in all things (not just in the gaps) there is mystery and wonder – that even the stuff the scientists have figured out and described with a scientific law of some kind has a greater meaning and existence than the law describes. We do not reject science; we reject science-alone. We are not anti-science, we are more-than-science.

That is why the story is necessary – imaginative stories, like myth, and our own stories of when we knew heaven and earth were close, and we were lucky enough to be nearby when it happened.

This is why the faith needs to be explained and defended as much in terms of mythic thinking as evidential defense. I remember sitting with a young Muslim college student; I was speaking at an InterVarsity retreat weekend. After some conversation, the young man, who was under great threat from family members never to convert from Islam to Christ, told me that he just needed some proof, some evidence.

I launched into a defense of the historical reliability of the biblical text. His eyes glazed over. He told me that was not the kind of evidence he was looking for. I had no idea what to do in response. I prayed, of course.

The next day, as everyone was piling into vans and getting ready for the drive home, I approached him one more time, this time equipped not with rationalistic evidence, but a story of mythic proportions:

I know that what you’re going through is tough, and you’ve said that you’re looking for God, and just need to be sure that the Christian God is really God. I want to tell you something my dad said at his baptism. He said, “I spent years and years looking for God.” [He had. He had read the texts of many different religions.] “But when it came right down to it, God found me.”

That’s a mythic story. No scientific evidence or rationalistic argument. Just a God who actively searches. The young man said, “Thank you. Thank you so much for telling me that. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”

He needed a mythic story of a God who would come and find him. We all need mythic stories, because we are more than what our five physical senses can perceive.


7 Comments

  1. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Travis,

    “God found me.” That was the perfect, Holy Spirit directed thing to tell him.

    Apart from the mythic story, what he also saw was someone who was interested in meeting his need – not a person arguing for “my religion.” And you were interested in meeting that need for no other reason than that it existed as his need. In that sense the carrier of the myth was also important, as seen by his reaction to your telling him.

    That’s love. That’s not quantifiable by any scientific method. I recently showed my Dad the movie End of the Spear. The kind of love the missionaries showed and especially the love their wives showed to the natives – that’s love of mythic proportions. At the end I said, ‘Dad, what’d you think?” He said, “I don’t see how they could DO that.” I said, “That’s God’s love, Dad – it goes all the way, no matter what.”

    Lewis points out in An Experiment in Criticism that a mythic story is a thing in and of itself, apart from who tells it. It has “a value in itself – a value independent of its embodiment in any literary work.” Myth is “…extra-literary. Those who have got at the same myth through {different writers} have a mythical experience in common.” More: “The first hearing is chiefly valuable in introducing us to a permanent object of contemplation – more like a thing than a narration – which works upon us by its peculiar flavour or quality, rather as a smell or a chord does.”

  2. Marcus hong

    Travis,

    Thank you for your words. I’m currently studying in Seminary and have come to much the same conclusion. Even all of our clever theological language and rigorous bible study cannot ultimately tell us enough about God. “Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…” and theologians, and biblical scholars. It is this love that keeps me coming back, this mysterious unconditionality, this grasping for straws and somehow finding something as strong as steel instead. This mystery is what continues to engage my heart and my spirit in the important work of discovering God in my academic classes. The mystery pulls me in; the story holds me.

    Thank God that I’ve been found.

  3. m a t t

    Thanks for putting this is words, Travis. For a while now, I’ve been convinced that everything worth knowing can be expressed in story. Now I have a better idea why.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Travis,

    I had a similar encounter with a guy who grew up in a Hindu family in India and was working over here at my company. He studied other faiths and was curious about the context of my faith. The apologetics didn’t move him to faith in Christ, but he reckoned I had something real because of the way he was treated by me and my family. He communicated this to me in a letter and it was a bittersweet note to read — bittersweet because he had apprehended the substance of the Gospel, but would not take it in and see for himself the joy of Christ. There are some folks that we pray for during a season of life and there are others we pray for a lifetime. He’s on the latter list for me. God knows what will come of those prayers – literally. 🙂

  5. Mark Nikirk

    Travis,

    I like your insistence on God not being the ‘God of the Gaps’ but the God of everything! This world is God infused – our lives are God breathed…not in some pan-theistic way, but personally.

    Its interesting to note that many of the theology geeks over at the blog I frequent sometimes despair of theology, but never of mystery.

    Enjoying the posts…

    Mark Nikirk

  6. Ben

    The more I think about Scripture, the more “implausible” our cosmic story seems. Two magic trees, a flooded world, the Promised Land, ten ludicrous plagues, the fire on Sinai, the voice of God, the Holy of Holies, power wielding prophets, the God Man, twelve apostles for twelve tribes, a global mission, a villainous “Man of Lawlessness”, a final battle, a future resurrection. If you think about it, it seems pretty outrageous… which is why its so brilliant.

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