faith and science, religion and logic, mythos and logosramble

(3 comments)
November 5, 2009

I've been listening to Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God" on audiobook. It takes a lot discipline to listen to stay focused on a non-fiction audiobook, something akin to what you need during meditation.

She asserts repeatedly that ancient peoples had a clear split between Mythos and Logos (an idea first introduced to me in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"). Some cultures had multiple creation myths geared at explaining different aspects of the human experience, and none of them were expected to hold up to a literal interpretation as historic events. The book doesn't really cite evidence, though (at least not the audio version, I don't know if the real thing has endnotes or something) so I'm left wondering if maybe folks were just, you know, gullible back then. I mean, I'm sure some of the hoi polloi took the stories at face value -- I can't believe the question "mommy, did that really happen?" is new, created by our modern culture.

On a friend's private message board, he quoted slain politician Pim Fortuyn's line about "I don't hate Islam. I consider it a backward culture." My response was
I'm starting to think that the the backwardness of any given culture is in direct proportion to the degree the Fundamentalists (be they religious or atheistic, like the commies) hold sway.
And of course one of the traits of Religious Fundamentalism is that it demands to be thought of as scientifically, historically accurate and true. I'm not sure if Literalism is always a requirement, or if some branches of Fundamentalism admit to a poetic reading of parts of their scriptures.

My friend asked me to put my concluding statement on the site's quote board:
Fundies have this brittle need for the Mythos to be backed by Logos, but trying to back Faith with Science is bad for both faith and science.
This is what we see in America today. Evolution really shouldn't be a question... but it's also not an answer, a fact we saw demonstrated by the Social Darwinism and Eugenicist movements.

Of course, non-religious Fundamentalists have the inverse problem of Logos minus Mythos (Man, it's annoying that "Logos" looks like the plural of "logo"). At my UU Science and Spirituality group I said of Dawkins and his crew that I believe them to also be Fudamentalists, the difference is they probably have the facts on their side. But what they need to accept is those facts probably aren't what really matter to the human experience, and science is notoriously bad at showing us how to live, or why.

Hmmm.

You know, some of the issue with a Mythos/Logos split is why should anyone believe one thing rather than another? Atheist Fundies seem to be worried that people would start to believe any old thing, which partially explains mockery like The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster... I don't think that's how people actually work, however.

So why do people believe what they believe? Probably because it "feels right" - but what feels right is probably what they're used to, and what they're used to is probably what they grow up with.

(Tangent: in some ways, this is parallel to the kind of accountability that is what attracted me to a rationalistic outlook. I seem to live in subconscious fear of being called to account for why I make certain decisions, like if they went wrong, and just saying "well I went with my gut feeling" might not cut it, even in this hypothetical scenario. Being able to present the logical steps that led to my conclusion, though, seems like a much stronger defense -- even if I was wrong, I put in a good effort, and wasn't "just guessing".)

So is "culturally established" truth inherently suspect? Sometimes I wonder if it isn't like Warhol's "Art is what you can get away with" line, that the demonstrated longevity and strength of a form of Mythos in YOUR culture is a greatly determining factor. (Isn't there some quote from the Dali Lama about how you probably shouldn't try to switch to Buddhism if that's not what you grew up with?) Still, noting that I believed what I believed because I grew up immersed in one religious culture, and that if I had been born the child of an Imam rather than a Sweet Talkin' Son of a Preacher Man I'd most likely be struggling to be as good a Moslem as I had been trying to keep true to Christianity, was a huge blow to my faith, one that I'll probably never fully shake off.

Hmm. Still, it's weird how the Scientific Revolution probably helped inspire so many Christians to insist that their outlook was just as backed by Logos as it was by Mythos, and that leads us to the culture wars this country has today.

The "just" in the phrase "that's just a myth" is a terrible, terrible word. Myths can be True even if they're not true. Can people accept that? Like Bokonon said, as channeled in Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle"
Live by the foma [Harmless Untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.
Maybe they're doesn't need to be much more to it than that.


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