Myth, Religion and the Human Experience

looking out to sea

 A myth is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do to live more richly.

 ~Karen Armstrong~

As early as people could communicate, they developed stories to explain their relationship with the world and cosmos beyond what they could see. They wondered at the divine mysteries in their surroundings, venerating them in their daily lives. From the beginning, people seemed to appreciate that there was something more beyond their experience of daily life.

With the development of communication, cultures developed stories which gave life and meaning to the mysteries which surrounded them. These are myths which date back in one form or another to the earliest civilizations. These days, we tend to think of myths as stories which are untrue. The original meaning was stories which put into words the larger context for human, animal and plant lives, indeed the lives of the earth and the universe. They were not meant as literal facts but as a reverent way to speak of our home and beyond.

The Koran and the Bible were both initially handed down through oral tradition and eventually published. This makes it difficult to know what was revealed as editions have changed over the years. Just one brief example. In current versions of the bible, the Angel Gabriel is said to have greeted Mary with the words, “Ave Maria”, or in English, “Hail Mary”. The Greek version which predated the Latin presents the angel’s greeting as “Kaire, kekaritomene” or “Rejoice, you have found favor.” Before that was the oral tradition in Aramaic.

Versions of religious stories appear to have changed over the centuries to reflect the civilization in which the great religions were practiced. We now take for granted, at least in the United States, separation of church and state which until several centuries ago was not even a consideration.

Since the industrial revolution, we have moved toward scientific explanation of everything in our world and away from a mythical explanation which took into account our values, emotions and personal experience of the world. Many religions have also taken the position that they are the one true religion and the others are of no account. God has not ruled on this debate, at least not yet.

The major religions have also suffered distortions of their teachings to justify inhuman treatment of each other. The crusades and inquisition are historical examples. The jihad which is geared toward killing random civilians is a more recent example.

When we return to the core teaching of all religions as originally intended to be followed, we find that the common denominator is to treat others as we would wish them to treat us. The challenge now is to return to the basics of our various religions or commonsense beliefs among people of no particular religion. We can treat each other with compassion although this requires us to release our hatreds, rivalries and competition with each other on a human level.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Decide how you would like to be treated by others.
  • Try treating others that way.
  • Be open to how others would like you to treat them.
  • Try acting in a way they would like you to act.
  • Be aware of the brotherhood and sisterhood of your fellow human beings.

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