Myth and Rationality


Myth is scoffed at because reason has disproved it, so they say. It’s interesting as far as sociocultural studies go, but where’s the evidence? If there’s no real, empirical, demonstrable data that shows there are such things as gods, supernatural heroes, fairies, elves, and the like, then how can one possibly believe in the supernatural? If we’re on the quest for truth, and there’s no evidence for the reality of myth, isn’t it subversive to the quest? Shouldn’t we put Tolkien on the shelf and pick up an apologetics book?

This only works if humanity is only physical. If we’re seeking truth, and there is truth that can only be perceived in a spiritual-mythic realm, then Imaginative Story has its justification – indeed, its necessity in our truth-quest.

Empirical evidence usually can’t prove the supernatural. And even when something supernatural stares an empiricist in the face, they often deny it because of the assumption that empirical evidence has already disproved the supernatural.  Now, an empiricist need not be this way but the fact of the matter is, if there is supernatural involvement in the world, if humanity really is “fundamentally mythic” (Kilby, “What Is Myth?“), then empirical evidence, logic, rationalism, etc., are incapable of attaining this knowledge alone. Faith, myth, fairy tales, etc. are a part of grasping what it means to be human.

Clyde S. Kilby writes:

Myth is necessary because reality is so much larger than rationality. Not that myth is irrational, but that it easily accommodates the rational while rising above it.

Or, as G.K. Chesterton put it:

My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. I generally learnt it from a nurse; that is, from the solemn and star-appointed priestess at once of democracy and tradition. The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies; compared with them other things are fantastic.

Unsatisfied with the explanations? That’s as it should be. If humanity is “fundamentally mythic,” then the truth-criteria of the scientific fatalist will always find mythic explanations unsatisfying. But the scientific fatalist’s truth-criteria is painfully limited because it can only discover the physical aspects of earth, not the mythic dimensions of heaven.  Learn to think mythically, and you will have a more human – which is to say, more complete – experience of the True Myth.

References:  Clyde S. Kilby, “What is Myth?” in Rolland Hein, Christian Mythmakers.  G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter IV.