Last updated: March 21, 2019
Topic: SocietyHistory
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A biblical myth is defined by Burrows, (1946) as a symbolic, approximate expression of truth which the human mind cannot perceive sharply and completely, but can only glimpse vaguely, and therefore cannot adequately express. In bibilical interpretation a myth is a story which communicates a set of values or beliefs through imagery. The most important thing in the myth is the message and not the literal truth of the imagery. . Good examples in the bible include: Jonah and the Whale Noah’s Ark The resurrection of Jesus There are three senses in which the word ‘myth’ could be applied to religious texts and religious statements: The myth could be a method of interpreting ‘ultimate reality’, as described by Tillich. So myths have symbolic meaning in the sense that they open up new levels of reality, or, as Randall argues, their purpose is to bind communities together and urge us into action. The first advantage of using religious myth as a way of conveying religious truth is that it opens up a lot of boundaries between religion and science that are thus unbridgeable.

Biblical stories, for example, might seem strange or absurd to the scientifically-minded modern believer, however, if they read the bible as a powerful piece of literature, which, although may not necessarily be absolutely true, they can still appreciate it as an excellent source of spiritual and moral guidance. This means that the Bible/Torah/Qur’an can all be read and understood by those who believe in them fundamentally, and those that believe them to be less absolute truth and more interpreted truth.

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This, in effect, opens up the message of the Bible as morally true if not literally true to a massive number of extra people who are more analytically minded and skeptical, and as such is a effective way of conveying religious ‘truth’. Another advantage of not taking a literal view of religious language is that many Biblical claims can be shown to be false on the basis of scientific evidence, such as the age of the universe, however, if we interpret them as myth, and merely claim that they convey a larger truth. This sidesteps the criticism of Flew/Ayer, with their falsification/verification principles, aying that religious statements are meaningless. If we don’t expect religious myths to be factually significant, their power relies in their metaphorical or symbolic sense. However, this can prove a disadvantage of using myth as religious language, fundamentalists claim that the Bible is nothing more than a ‘warm-hearted story’ if we strip the Bible of all meaning except for myths. Conveying religious truth through myth has many advantages, most importantly, it gives people a visual way of understanding what are often abstract ideas, so they ideas can become more easily understood.

The stories are often lively and memorable, so are passed down through generations, often remaining intact after religions themselves are long forgotten- for example, we still hear myths of Roman and Greek Gods, and the Roman and Greek ‘religions’ are long forgotten in history. However, this can also be one of the disadvantages of using religious myth as a way of conveying religious truths, as often the myth has been around for so long that the myth is no longer in its original form and may not still carry its religious meaning, which suggests that it is no longer an original religious truth. as people have forgotten or just don’t know what the story was originally meant to mean.

Therefore, religious myths lose their place in ‘religion’, as they couldn’t be possibly God-related, just nice stories people have made up and changed, as they have been passed on. However, ideas that express myths can be difficult to communicate in other ways, and sometimes it is necessary to have different ‘layers’ of meaning, passed on throughout the ages, that bind together to form one myth full of meaning. as people can return to them and find a different religious meaning with which to place effect on their own lives. One of the main criticisms religious myths face is the same problem religious symbols often face, that is, that they are outdated and deal with concepts that have long since become out of date.. Bultmann argued that it was necessary to access the real truth of the authoritative word, and to do this, religious language must be ‘demythologised. Rudolf Bultmann was one of the foremost advocates of religious myth being the only way to truly interpret the holy texts and their religious truths, he claimed that believers can no longer take ‘Chariots of Fire’ (2 Kings 2:11) and ‘Angels, Dragons and Ancient Serpents’ (Revelation 20:1) seriously, as it is only by reading the texts as mythological that modern believers are able to make their scientific understanding of the world and the miraculous events of religious stories compatible.

It was clear to Bultmann that they Bible was written in a pre-scientific era when myths were everywhere and were an acceptable method of conveying meaning. For example, the cosmology of the Bible (Hell down below, the Earth in the middle, and Heaven up above) can only be understood as mythological cosmology, given what we now know about the Earth, the crusts, solar system, etc. Now that our view on the world has changed, language must be demythologised, not meaning that we should edit myths out of religious language, merely reinterpret them to reveal their personal meaning to people today. The real point of myth is not to give an objective world picture, what is expressed in it, rather, is how we human beings understand ourselves in the world’, claimed Bultmann. Religious myths are an effective way of conveying religious truth, as I believe that Christ’s splendour, if it is present, could not be interpreted through basic language, as language could not do it justice, and myths are pretty much the only way to avoid talking directly about God, but still conveying enough meaning about God to make the point clear.