April 15, 2009

Mything Persons

In thinking all matters of faith could be demythologized, the church ceded territory now inhabited by secular angels and devils, the vampires of Twilight and a Risen Elvis. The church's retreat from a transformative and nourishing mythic language and liturgy has reduced the menu choices to the thin broth of rationalism or the fast food of fundamentalism.

&mdash Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fran said...

This is brief... and brilliant.


June Butler said...

How right you are, Tobias. I fear that in a couple of generations, hardly anyone will remember the power and riches in the myths that we've lost.

Try saying "mything persons" without lisping "persons". It's not easy - a real tongue twister.

MarkBrunson said...

You know, Tobias, this helps me with . . . well, not a great Question-sort-of-question, but one of those curiosities about myself.

I absolutely love the movie The Greatest Story Ever Told. I've always wondered why. The cast? Of course. All Hollywood, and a good bit of European cinema is right there. Max Von Sydow? Naturally! He's a beautiful Jesus. Sets, cinematography, all of it.

Still, that doesn't answer how it speaks to my heart (in the hesychastic sense) in a way that, say, the equally-beloved Lord of the Rings films don't.

It's because it's mythic, presentational, stylized - the gestures, the sets, the costumes all speak as much as the words. It doesn't try to be realistic, like the (imho) execrable Passion of the Christ nor a beautiful cinematic epic like King of Kings, but is a film in which there is a silent communication, very intelligent, intentional conversation, underlying the dialogue.

One of our supply priests once told us of the way in which certain Native American storytellers introduce their sacred stories: "I don't know if it happened this way, but I know that this is true."

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Perhaps, instead of "the thin broth of rationalism or the fast food of fundamentalism," we should instead feast on the "Son of Duck" and "Jesus was an elephant" theology offered by Stephen Colbert.

Erika Baker said...

Yes.....yet.... the trend started because the myths didn't speak to people as deeply as they used to.

I agree it's gone too far and has had terrible consequences.

The trick is to find a balance between myth and rationalism, something that speaks to the soul as well as to the modern mind.

Fr Craig said...


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. This was sparked by reading [the other] Bishop Robinson's Honest to God. This is one of those classics I'd never actually read, and it is interesting, neraly fifty years later, to wonder what all the fuss was about. For, in fact, while Robinson admires the projects of the demythologizing trend, he clearly thinks they went too far.

Erika, yes we need a myth that speaks to the rational as well as the spiritual -- though there are some on the "rational" side (i.e., Bultmann) who really do want to get rid of myth as much as possible, and I think that is the problem. I'll say more on this in a couple of other short posts.

Vicki McGrath said...

I also think that the de-mythologizing project has failed to take into account the way language works and the way both narrative and poetry work - which is never just on the rational level. The specifics of language change, but the underlying power and process of it do not. We have (IMHO) lost a great deal of the sacramental sense of language, particularly theological and religious language.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Vicki. I'll be picking up on the question of language and poetry in Mything Persons (3)!

Fred Preuss said...

Why? I've been 'myth free' most of my adult life and I can't say that I'm any less happy for being able to save my money, sleep in on Sundays and not eating wafers.
You're no more moral than I am-what's the point? Why should I run twice as fast to stay in the same place?

Tim said...

I've just been reading A History of God by Karen Armstrong, dealing with people's views on God from 950BCE through the Reformation and onwards; your note about the outright replacement of myth by supposed rationalism resonates here too.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Why? I know why I relish the richness of poetry. Some people just don't get it -- just as some people don't like classical music and have much more free time by not wasting time listening to it.

Clearly you are happy not enjoying what myth might bring to your life. Have a great time.