I’m becoming a Joseph Campbell fan. Reflecting on myth, even the myths (some true stories, some arrows pointing to truth) I learned as a young Christian growing up in Texas have been the maps I’ve used to navigate my world. I do not believe the Bible is complete myth but I do believe it intentionally contains myth (Song of Songs, for almost certain, and perhaps other chunks).
I believe Jesus was God and the Son of God, and I believe much of what is in the book has happened, in one way or another. I tend to believe Job could be myth, but I’d guess somebody like Job existed, whether or not Satan interacted with him or not (the bulk of the book is written in poetry, so the idea Job said what he said, exactly, simply can’t be true, unless he was a weird fruit nut who sat around talking in poetry) but as myth, it does help me reconcile my avoidant tendencies with the facts of reality. As a people, we don’t like reality. The majority of our energy is spent repressing rightful anger or drawing philosophical maps in our minds that give us way-points we can use to live and be and understand (these way points are, in my opinion, lies.)
I like the Bible, the myth and the history, for this reason: It squarely faces the facts of our reality. And what are those facts? Life is utterly and completely brutal. It is devastating and dark. Life is morbid. And the Bible has no problem admitting this. It’s our self-help culture that sticks its head in the ground.
Is God willing to let Job be essentially tortured by Satan? Yes, he is. Is God willing to let His son be tortured and die? Yes, He is. Is God apologetic about all of this? No, He isn’t. Why? Because all the pain is motivated by love. It’s a war. A reconciliation effort between himself and a manipulative, victim-oriented lover who simply wants to rape life, God and the book He left for her own purposes. We are selfish through and through, C.S. Lewis says. And…”I talk of love, but a scholars parrot may talk Greek.”
And yet, beneath the brutal and love-fueled war of a mess, there is a sweetness to life. It’s as though the pain is a pulling of all things apart, a stopping of a fight, a reconciling of the world back to peace. There is, in story terms, a great disturbance in the world and the world is heading back toward peace.
We are, as a people, in the middle of Act II of this story. Those who have been converted to Christ may believe their story has experienced a climax, but it hasn’t. And only fools and info-mercial style preachers believe such a thing. The truth is the brutality goes on. We murder each other with our words, we use each other, we suffer the burdens we receive, and we give often equally in return. We are a wayward, primitive children, fatherless, being daily disciplined through love, but disciplined nonetheless.
The aim, then, is to find the sweetness, the love that fuels the plants that feed us and our own deaths that will feed the plants that will feed others. But this requires an understanding that the universe does not orbit around us, and that we are not suns. If one can understand this, and give up all control and only play a part, that person will think a bit more like God, I believe. In a way, they become empathetic with all things, rather than defensive, considering all things threats.
What is the most brutal reality of life? It’s this: It’s not about us. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me. If we don’t get laid or paid, it goes on in all it’s brutal beauty. It goes on to water and feed itself, the sweetness of it goes on as a mother nurses her child, as a father swims with his son off the rock-shore of an inlet. It goes on with or without us. How much of our beliefs, the Biblical and un-biblical that we cling to are really about convincing us that wherever we go, life goes. When we die, life will move to heaven? No, it will not. It will have been there, and when we go there it will remain here too. Gratitude, then, could be arrived at by joining life rather than pulling life around us like an applauding audience. It applauds for sure, but it isn’t clapping for us. It’s asking us to clap with it, in joinful joy.
Campbell says it this way: “That’s the first function of mythology: not merely a reconciliation of consciousness to the preconditions of its own existence, but reconciliation with gratitude, with love, with recognition of the sweetness. Through the bitterness and pain, the primary experience at the core of life is a sweet, wonderful thing.”
If story is a sense-making device, and the aim of myth to reconcile our subconscious to the facts of reality, Christianity works. It’s myth works and it’s history works and it’s truth (believed by faith, not by proof) work to reconcile our minds to the brutal facts of reality. I like it. I’m in.