Myth and Rationality

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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.


37 Comments

  1. david

    i used Joseph Campbell’s framework of the Hero’s Journey as a metaphor for my educational experiences when i wrote my master’s synthesis. using the potency of myth, it was a rewarding practice of reflection and reconciliation.

    is there a difference between thinking mythically and mythologically?

    Travis – how do you feel about Campbell’s attempts at explaining the ‘monomyth’ and his treatment of religious metaphor?

  2. Tony Heringer

    Travis,

    Thanks for the post. “True Myth” is another one of my favorite Tolkien expressions. Our own reason is so limited. I liken these modern empiricists to Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus at night troubled by Jesus’ teaching. Jesus walks him through elemental teaching (at least it’s God’s elemental teaching ) and the reaction is one we’d all probably have, essentially “What? Come again?” The more things change….

  3. sd smith

    Travis, excellent post. This is the kind of thing that makes the RR so special.

    I am with you on rejecting the assumptions of modernism that Science is sufficient and comprehensive in its explanation of “life, the universe, and everything.” I also reject the ‘Doubt as Creed’ postmodernism which denies the importance (or even existence) of propositional truth.

    Imaginative thinking, alongside reasonable thought, seems to me to be essential for biblical appreciation and understanding.

    Tally ho, good show, old chap.

  4. Matt J.

    This is a great topic Travis and I’d love to hear more about it.

    Christianity is so in the clutches of rationalism. Over Christmas, I used the word myth and bible in the same sentence. Oops. I think think all my in-laws thought I’d followed Marcus Borg of the deep end. (Nothing of the sort.)

    We need better, clearer language for some of these discussions.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    We’ve got to be careful not to dog reason. Often people go off into throwing babies out with bathwater, but reason is a wonder-full creation of God. I like Kilby’s view that myth accommodates the rational while rising above it. That puts reason in its proper perspective. Reason in the life of a Holy Spirit indwelt man becomes a powerful tool – C.S. Lewis being a great example of that.

    Reason alone is incapable of attaining the deepest and best knowledge, but it is a great help. For example, Abraham’s faith in being willing to sacrifice Isaac was built on reason. God had always kept His word to Abraham throughout his lifetime. Time and again God had fulfilled promises, and never lied. So when Abraham was faced with sacrificing Isaac, his reason told him that God had promised that the descendants through Isaac would be too numerous to count. Isaac at that time had had no children yet. So – Abraham reasoned that God was stuck. Either God would call it off, or He’d raise Isaac from the dead.

    Abraham’s reason worked hand in hand with his imaginative faculty – that’s how Reason does her best work.

    Kierkegaard and other philosophers have separated faith from reason, as if they are mutually exclusive. But it isn’t so. They’re best friends. The thing to do is to balance them.

    Great post, Travis.

  6. Gretchen Emily

    Chesterton was incredible. The way he puts things that I’ve always thought and believed into short paragraphs – when it would take me half an hour to try and put them into understandable words – is wonderful to behold.

  7. Kevin E

    Great post. I find that when my mind gets stimulated with thoughts of the supernatural, of the “myth” if you will, that the boundaries of possibility fall away. With this limitless possibility there is the glorious appearance of hope. A heavenly, utopian hope no less; a picture into heaven that “rational” thought would never allow you to have

    It is unfortunate that so much of the modern church has swung to either end of the pendelum. There has been so much abuse of the supernatural through errant teachings and attempts to humanly manufacture it that for many anything beyond our five senses is greeted with suspicion, fear and almost a denial of its existence.

    I’m thankful for all the good “fiction” writers that have let me see more than my eyes allow.

    Kevin

  8. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Loren, I’m jealous.

    Ron, well said – that’s precisely why I like the Kilby quote and found it so helpful.

    Matt J, I know what you mean! Whenever I refer to the Genesis 1-3 mythology, I get the weirdest looks. But I’m just trying to place it in what I think is its literary context – a competing creation myth, written either to counter the Egyptian one or the Babylonian one (depending on your view of when Genesis 1-3 was written).

    david, Campbell is always a great read and has a lot of important things to say. I use his thinking on archetypes and the monomyth on a regular basis. Still, my reservation about his work, while I think it valuable, is that it has the tendency to obscure the uniqueness of each religion/myth. So I try to keep those thoughts in balance while reading Campbell.

    sd, I think you strike a nice balance in your post, and I agree with you on rejecting the “Doubt as Creed” stance of postmodernism.

    Gretchen, yes, Chesterton is fantastic. Chapter IV of Orthodoxy is absolutely fundamental to both my life philosophy and my thinking on literature.

    Kevin, well said! “Let me see more than my eyes allow” – now that’s a phrase packed with meaning! Are you at all familiar with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his view that great literature transforms one’s “vision,” making him or her able to see the world better and to become a better person?

  9. Benjamin Wolaver

    Western culture as a whole as grown so rationalistic that it is difficult to even get your head around its influence. If you look back at the time in which the Old Testament (and even the New) was written, the world was seen as a place of mythological forces where everything from disease to wealth and success was seen as a personal statement about ones relationship to God (or the gods). We in Western Christianity have taken our faith out of its natural context of a spiritual and mystical universe into one of rational science. The transition is uneasy to say the least.

  10. Camille Rose

    Thank you for putting this into words! The thought-processes you stated have been on my mind a long time, but I haven’t been able to put it into such a great post. Thanks too for the quotes! I do love quotes, and I will be sure to add these to my ever-growing collection 🙂

  11. Randy Hoyt

    david, I would agree with Travis that Campbell’s works can appear to obscure the uniqueness of individual mythic systems. Many mythology scholars criticize him along these lines, even using the phrase “Campbell soup” negatively to describe the way he puts all systems into the same pot.

    In some ways, though, this criticism is unfair. He wrote later that his A Hero With A Thousand Faces book was about similarities, while his The Masks Of God series was about differences. I would highly recommend that four-volume series to anyone as a next step after Hero.

    But I think Travis’ caution is right on: Campbell’s work focuses on what he believed to be the common psychology of human beings that gave rise to the various mythic systems. It is tempting to put down a Campbell book with the feeling that all mythic systems are essentially the same, but I do not think that is a feeling that Campbell himself would have had.

  12. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I wouldn’t think this was your intent, but you speculated on Abraham’s thinking as “Either God would call it off, or He’d raise Isaac from the dead.” However, the account tells us in Gen 22:5:

    “And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

    Your thoughts jumped out because, for me, this is one of the most amazing verses in Scripture.

    Abraham didn’t know, but had faith in God that he and Isaac would be back from this test of Abraham’s faith. As a father this really tugs at my heart — as a dad yourself, I’m sure you’d concur. His whole attitude here shows his faith and trust in God on the front end, not knowing and I’m sure not even beginning to understand the reasoning of God.

    Where our thinking is askew in this day and age is that we put our thoughts and ways above Gods — sometimes in His name (“God wills it!”). I think this is the ultimate violation of the third commandment and one that I’m sure I’ve violated more than I care to admit or remember.

    Travis,

    I see Gen 1-3 not as a competing mythology, but as substantiating Yahweh as the one true God and not a local tribal deity. That is, He is not just the God of Israel vs. the gods of Egypt. Modern day theologians may rage over origins but I don’t think that was the original intent of the text. I say that because it seems to be the recurring theme in Scripture and one we wrestle with today. That is, our dependence on God vs. our own version of local or household idols or gods – science and reason being major idols for modern man.

  13. Randy Hoyt

    Ron, Good comment. Our society (“modern” or “Western” or “European” or whatever is the best label) has exalted reason and scientific thinking to such a height that it is now the only valid way of discovering truth. It’s hard to argue that there’s another way — in this case, myth — without falling into the trap of dogging reason. But reason is a great thing, even if it is not the only thing.

    I think C.S. Lewis, whom you mention, is an important figure here. I think his criticisms of naturalism — the belief that all that is exists is this world, “a vast process in space and time which is going on of its own accord” (Miracles, Chapter 2) — are essential to this discussion about rational and mythical thinking. Naturalism was the dominant view in in Lewis’s day (is it still today, I wonder?) and was held as the more rational view because it only believes in things based on observation and evidence, not superstitiously or mythically. He criticizes a strictly materialistic worldview like this:

    [According to the materialist] all our present thoughts are mere accidents — the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists. … But if their thoughts … are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? (Cited in The Business of Heaven, April 9)

    A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid … would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be … a proof that there are no such things as proofs — which is nonsense. (Miracles, Chapter 3)

    He extends this criticism to naturalism, as well, even if it is not strictly materialistic:

    Naturalism … [it] seems to me … discredits our processes of reasoning or at least reduces their credit to such a humble level that it can no longer support Naturalism itself. (Miracles, Chapter 3)

    I have thought about this dilemma off and on ever since I first encountered it. There is something compelling in it. You say, “Reason is a wonder-full creation of God,” and Lewis is making the case that our reason could have no validity unless something like this were the case.

  14. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    Abraham knew God couldn’t lie. There are only two logical conclusions, springing from one source (the text). As it says, Abraham knew they were both coming back down from the mountain. Either God would stop it or God would raise Isaac from the dead.

    So – Abraham did know. His reason looked back at a lifetime of a God who never lied, who always kept His promises. And he knew God was stuck – either Isaac would have descendants, or God was a liar. God had to keep His promise. That’s why when the command came, it was a done deal to Abraham. It wasn’t a “leap of faith” as so many think of it today, based on no rational thought; Abraham’s faith had been stretched and tested and proven for years; it was founded in good solid, tangible reasons for trusting God. It may be and in fact is likely from a human standpoint that he wrestled with killing Isaac, but in the morning Abraham got up and got going. “Wait here; my son and I are coming back.” That’s faith founded in Fact – the fact that son of promise had had no children yet – and God had promised descendants as the sand of the sea through Isaac.

    Abraham had a choice, the same choice Adam and Eve had, the same choice we all have, every day, every moment – trust God, believe His promises, or not.

  15. josh

    Ron,

    I’m not so sure Abraham thought of himself as having a choice as to whether or not to follow God. Like you pointed out, Abraham had been tested and tried all his life. And God had proved himself faithful and loyal and true over and over every time. But Abraham also understood God’s holiness, sovreignty, omnipotence, faithfulness, and provision better than any of us do today. He also understood his broken and feeble humanity in light of who God is, and to me, that all adds up to a man who, when faced with the command to offer his son as a sacrifice, didn’t see it as a choice any more than Moses saw it as a choice when he was commanded to go be God’s mouthpiece to Israel. God’s words are spirit and they are life, not suggestions and options. I just don’t think someone in Abraham’s shoes would see obeying God’s commands as any more of a “choice” than taking a deep breath after being under water for a long time.

    I have always seen this story as a great example of God’s choice being more important than man’s choice. It was God’s choice to use Abraham and it was God’s choice to order the sacrifice of Isaac. It was God’s plan to make the events unfold like they did and Abraham and his choices were just something God used along the way. Sometimes I wonder if we are beginning to hold our choices and our ability to choose in a higher regard than God’s sovreign choice.

  16. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    Whether or not Abraham thought of it as a choice – and as we grow in faith it seems less and less of one, and more and more of a ‘given’ – he still had a choice. I agree with you in the essence of what you’re saying.

    If you look at the early life of Abraham there were several times he went halfway. God said to Abram in Gen 12, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.” Matthew Henry says, “This chapter leaves them in Haran… Many reach to Charran, and yet fall short of Canaan; they are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet never come thither.” Abram half obeyed God. Later in chapter 12 he half-trusts God, tells a half-lie about his wife. Bringing Lot resulted in the creation of two of Israel’s worst future enemies – the Moabites and the Ammonites.

    As his time on earth wore on he did several other things which showed he did not entirely trust God – another lie about his wife, a trick that Isaac pulls later, and then the fling with Hagar, another self-effort attempt to cover his own back. Ishmael resulted in the people of whom God said, “…his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him…”

    Abraham had to grow in faith; he learned to make more solid faith-choices, not using fleshly means to accomplish God’s purposes. We can talk all we want to about God’s sovereignty versus choice but its just a fact that both are true. We choose and are responsible for our choices, and God is sovereign. In our finite minds we can’t figure out how both can be true, but then we can’t really figure out the Trinity too well either. Finite, three dimensional thinking can’t figure out the multi dimensional, infinite thinking of God Eternal, anymore than a two dimensional square on a flat sheet of paper could fully understand a 3-D cube.

    It was God’s choice to use Abraham, to order the sacrifice of Isaac, to make the events unfold just as they did – yes to all of it. But by this time Abraham had grown in faith so much that in a sense there was no choice for him. It was no longer “God-or.” It was “God Only.” There were no more fleshly alternatives left to him – he’d used his own flesh means for years, and finally learned, especially through losing Ishmael. Abraham had finally learned that God knows best.

    So – when the command came to slay Isaac, what choice was there? He knew he couldn’t hide from God. He also knew that God has to keep His promises. But even if the choice was a no-brainer at that point in his life, it was still a choice – a choice God ordained.

    Abram, early in his faith-career, could not have made different choices. As he grew in his stumbling walk he learned, esp through the bit with Hagar, that fleshly, carnal thinking and human effort cannot fulfill God’s promises. Faith alone, and stepping out on that faith, is what gets the job done.

    Truth is often a balance of paradox. I believe in God’s sovereignty – I see that whole track in my life, where I couldn’t have done differently than I have. And yet on the choice track, a track which runs parallel to sovereignty, I’m still responsible in the moment for choosing to trust God or not. Sovereignty doesn’t let me off the hook. It enables me to leave the past and future to God so that I can live fully in the Now moment – the only place where I have any power of choice at all. And in that Now I can choose to trust God – or not. As I get older many situations become “givens” where I trust God seemingly without any thought.

  17. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    A bit more for clarity:

    In “choice” what I am talking about is the choice to trust God or not. In all circumstances and at all times, that is our only choice – trust God or not. Everything else is just details. I don’t believe the human being has power of itself to choose to do good and reject evil; that’s the lie of the Serpent. Our freedom of choice lies elsewhere, and deeper. And in these last two posts I am speaking of believers, not unbelievers.

  18. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Travis,

    A.W. Tozer, who I love, wrote an essay called The Great God Entertainment. It’s a great essay about how we are killing ourselves with amusements. But he goes on a tear on how modern believers are obsessed with Story, and says that the love of stories is a characteristic of childhood, as if we are to leave it behind. It’s one of the few places where I seriously disagree with Tozer. He missed the point that MacDonald, Lewis, Tolkien, and many other writers know – that Story is a carrier of truth. It depends on the person, of course – some people just don’t have their Story-heart developed. Some are more analytical than others. I know people who say, “Fiction! Bah, humbug!” But they’re missing out on an intrinsic part of being human. We all love story because we are each in our own Story, and as our life develops our story develops. Our perception of our Story – and the greater Story of which we are merely a part – grows as we gain wisdom.

  19. Travis Prinzi

    Ron, very well said! Tozer definitely did miss the mark there.

    I came across someone recently who said, “If it’s not historical nonfiction, I don’t read it.” That’s quite the statement! But there are a lot of folks like that. I always like to point to Tolkien’s quote:

    “History often resembles ‘Myth,’ because they are both ultimately of the same stuff.”

  20. Benjamin Wolaver

    Ron,

    Wouldn’t you say that “trusting God” is “doing good” and that not trusting God is not rejecting evil? Every decision falls into good and bad categories depending on its relationship to God. Therefore every choice must logically inform our relationship to God. So if humanity can choose, the choice is good or evil.

    I think I understand you on a certain level. In the Garden, for instance, Adam and Eve had a choice between what was good and what was evil, but the choice was also between Law (self-effort, the Knowledge of Good and Evil) and the Tree of eternal Life (God’s way). But every human being must have a choice between good or evil or the Scriptural warning that God will “judge everyone according to their deeds” loses all meaning.

  21. Benjamin Wolaver

    Travis,

    Great Tolkien quote. I’ll be using that. I love the connection that Lewis and Tolkien crafted between Myth and History. I often point out to my siblings that the world of the Bible is a lot like the world of Arthur: magic trees, talking donkeys, legendary swords, and even power wielding prophets to boot. The more we begin to reject the materialistic view of history and embrace the Real Myth, the greater our faith will grow.

  22. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Travis,

    I have no idea how people can throw out all of literature because “it isn’t true.”

    Lewis dealt with this in An Experiment in Criticism, and incidentally there’s a whole chapter on Myth that is brilliant. This is from a different chapter:

    “…the association between fantasy and childhood, the belief that children are the proper readers for this sort of work or that it is the proper reading for children, is modern and local. Most of the great fantasies and fairy-tales were not addressed to children at all, but to everyone…If few but children now read such stories, that is not because children, as such, have a special predilection for them, but because children are indifferent to literary fashions. What we see in them is not a specifically childish taste, but simply a normal and perennial human taste, temporarily atrophied in their elders by a fashion.”

    Earlier in the book he lists the characteristics of the unliterary reader:

    “The most unliterary reader of all sticks to ‘the news.’ He reads daily, with unwearied relish, how, in some place he has never seen, under circumstances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn’t know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murdered someone else he doesn’t know. But this makes no essential difference between him and the class next above – those who read the lowest kinds of fiction. He wants to read about the same sorts of event as they. The difference is that…he wants to ‘be sure they are true.’ This is because he is so very unliterary that he can hardly think of invention as a legitimate, or even a possible activity.”

  23. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Benjamin –

    Yes, of course I mean we can choose good in the sense of choosing to trust God. I should have been more clear – I don’t believe the human can choose good in the sense of doing good works on its own steam. If we do that the works are poisoned by pride and self-satisfaction. It’s only in knowing we are totally weak and helpless without Christ in us that we can (and will) begin to access God’s unlimited power in us by faith.

    Being judged by our deeds – The Great White Throne. All who are not written in the Lamb’s book of life will fail at that judgment. All who are written there, those who are indwelt by Christ, will face the judgment seat of Christ, not the Great White Throne. That judgment will determine whether we built Christ upon Christ – faith upon faith – Christ-expression upon that initial Christ-indwelling we call Salvation. If we build with gold, silver, precious stones – reliance on Christ, letting His works flow through us, bearing His fruit – we will receive reward. But some will build with wood, hay, stubble – burnables. It won’t matter whether the burnables are hedonistic, greasy grace Christianity, or staunch legalistic Christianity – it’s all gonna burn. These believers will be saved, but as refugees escaping through the flames. They had Christ in them, but blocked the flow of Christ through them so that they could do it their own way (really Satan’s way).

  24. Benjamin Wolaver

    BTW, if anyone wants to read a fantastic book on the origins of Genesis, look up the rare tome Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis by P.J. Wiseman. Wiseman makes a brilliant case by comparative study that Genesis is actually written by a multiplicity of authors beginning with Adam. It really solidifies one’s faith in the face of all the textual criticism that the Bible receives.

  25. Benjamin Wolaver

    Ron,

    Thanks for clarifying. I kind of have a bee in my bonnet about “works” and “faith” since I’ve heard far too many leaders in the church go way overboard and begin to equate baptism with a “work” or communion with “a work”. There are many examples. I agree with you that works are perishable or imperishable depending on ones faith in God. True faith makes everything permissible and false faith makes everything a sin. But that doesn’t mean that “works” don’t have intrinsic value. That to me is the meaning of Myth as History. It means that Communion is effective regardless of our belief. Our belief might decide whether it works on us positively or negatively, but it is still effective. The waters of Baptism aren’t just a way of showing what’s in our heart. They have intrinsic mysterious value. This is our Father’s World, not the world of science (even theological science).

    Don’t know if that makes any sense or has any bearing whatsoever on this discussion, but… oh well… 🙂

  26. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Benjamin,

    Back behind every action we take is a faith choice. We’re actually making these choices in the natural every day, all day. I get on a plane because I believe it will get there. I drink my glass of water because I don’t believe it is poisoned. I eat raw food because I believe that’s best for my body. In fact, we have a name for people who have become unbelieving in their choices and as a result paralyzed in their actions: phobics. In whatever particular area, natural trust has broken down and given way to fear – and their actions show it.

    We see the spiritual version in Eve’s choice. Before she plucked the fruit, she chose: “I believe and trust…the Serpent’s word over God’s.” Her plucking was the natural outcome of her inner choice.

    We do the same thing daily. When my kids are fighting, or have done something wrong, I can react from fear: “I have to keep my kids from becoming felons.” (I really did have a false belief something like that; God healed me). That’s the human thinking it can be good or produce good by its own effort. Or I can take an attitude of trust and see it as a learning experience for all of us – I can trust the Father within me in Christ, and know that He will bring about the perfect solution.

    Every day, in every way, we make this one choice. All action springs from the continual stream of faith choices; the object we choose to trust in (self, others, money – or God) determines the action we take.

  27. josh

    Ron,

    Thanks for clarifying. By the way, I really really enjoyed your blue grass jam with Stuart Duncan and the girl that played the fool out of that mandolin at the BTLOG show in Nashvegas.

  28. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Benjamin said: It really solidifies one’s faith in the face of all the textual criticism that the Bible receives.

    I guess that would depend what your faith is in and on what your faith is based.

  29. josh

    Ron,

    So Sierra is her name… What’s her last name? I’m going to have to keep an eye out for her, hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

    I was also wondering if you could refer me to any good up and coming blue grass artists that are around right now. I am really into the porgressive blue grass sound of bands like Nickel Creek and Chris Thile and Punch Brothers and I would love to know if there are any other similar artists like that out there.

  30. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    Sierra Hull. We produced her first record, on Rounder, and it came out last year. It’s called “Secrets” and has a bunch of great players on it, including Stuart Duncan and members of Union Station.

    Have you ever listened to Newgrass Revival? Get some of their records from the eighties. Rock-influenced bluegrass – Sam Bush, John Cowan, Bela Fleck, and Pat Flynn.

    Also Tony Rice’s records – Manzanita, Cold on the Shoulder, Church Street Blues, Me and My Guitar, Native American. Church Street Blues is especially sparse – many of the tunes are just two guitars and vocal, some of the best guitar playing you’ll ever hear. Tony also did an amazing instructional video called An Intimate Lesson with Tony Rice, on Homespun. Tony’s music has been a huge influence on Alison Krauss and the rest of us in Union Station as well (Jerry Douglas, of course, played on all of Tony’s records).

    David Grisman as well – The David Grisman Quintet. The first record had Tony Rice – early progressive jazzgrass, I think it came out in the late seventies, right around the time of Manzanita.

    A little closer to home, what I would call progressive traditional bluegrass would be the first J.D. Crowe and the New South record from 1975, with Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Douglas.

    Speaking of Rice and Skaggs, they did a beautiful duo recording called Skaggs and Rice, back in the early eighties. Old time country duets. The singing is amazing, the picking is stellar.

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