Systematic Mythology 101

“Welcome, students, to Systematic Mythology 101!” With little imagination, we humanists may readily describe a more honest human species, one better disciplined by discernment between reality and fantasy. In truth, such a species would never dignify any domain of human thought that is not yet under the governance of rational evidence and scientific method as even being informative in the enterprise of the mental construction of reality.
That more rational state of humanity may seem altogether unrealizable. Yet, we as a species appear to have little confusion when discerning the mythosystems of other societies, whether ancient or modern. Consider the shameless absurdity of Christian apologists who would have us believe that one, yes but one, garden-variety Iron-Age tribal society became the only ancient civilization not ever to have produced a central system of mythology, no folk-beliefs, no cultic deities, no myths of origins, no superhuman heroes, no ethnic tall tales, no religion. Unlike all of their ancient neighbors (e.g., the Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Persians), indeed, unlike any known pre-secular society, the classical Hebrew peoples produced no mythology; instead, they had a relationship with the only actual ontological god, knew the true origins of humankind, and, also altogether unique in ancient society, experienced and passed down purely historical accounts of supernatural phenomena. The apologist would have us dismiss the nigh-endless analogues and permutations of similar myths shared across the regions of ancient neighbors, insisting on a measure of otherwise unseen impermeable cultural isolation. And, of course, the Christian Bible, quite contrary to any other sacred collection of texts, preserves the survival of those alleged ontological truths for all of human posterity.

One may perhaps excuse such flagrant ignorance when visible in pre-scientific society, say in Medieval Europe. Even there, however, in times beset by “Christian” militarism, famine, the bubonic plague, the Inquisition, commonplace maternal and natal mortality, etc, etc, the rational mind discards the hypothesis of an all-loving, all-powerful supervisor; that explanatory option is ipso facto soundly excluded. Such mythology, when wrongfully held out as true, suffers immediate collapse, crushed beneath the phenomenological realities of this mundane world that we all know and experience. Apart from gross duplicity, how can Christian mythology survive the Holocaust, world-hunger, COVID-19, or even just an honest afternoon at the local children’s hospital? Consider the profound incoherence of Biblical mythology with our present reality. A literal reading of the Bible may lead the commercial airline pilot to fly his group of passengers up, that is, to “heaven.” The doctor may attempt a demonic exorcism on six-year-old Sarah during her next epileptic seizure. We may suppose that an ancient Near Eastern tribal deity experienced a fit of uncontrolled rage toward the impoverished people of Haiti during the 2010 catastrophic earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, taking countless lives (instead of noting the relationship between abject poverty and low building-code construction in the third-world). Was Hurricane Katrina caused by an angry Yahweh or Poseidon, or was it the result of ever-escalating global climate change? How essential has the doctrine of human “dominion over the earth” been, once considered in the aggregate, in producing economic systems of unmitigated pollution, deplorable ecological disruption, and run-away exploitation of this precious planet that bore us? The unintended consequences of Biblical mythology have been unimaginably pervasive and all-but-inscrutable. Consider even just the vandalized psychology of the teenager, now coursing with new-found reproductive hormones, becoming convinced that those natural drives are in point of fact “evil” arising within them, impish impulses that must immediately be “put to death” upon threat of eternal torment in hell (Gal. 5.19-21; Rom. 8.13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 22.15;…). Who would not immediately phone the police and Child Protective Services upon hearing that the father across the street was hearing “voices from God calling for him to kill his son”? That is the central myth of the three Abrahamic world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), three mythosystems that each fantasize about an imminent end to human civilization wherein their religious ideology wins out in some horrifying cataclysmic endgame.

The Christian mythosystem is a machine that must be stopped, first and foremost by calling it out, showing it for sham that it is. Many, I included, see the end of Christian literalism as requisite to the advancement of human civilization (as a process) and our technological survival as a species in the decades and centuries ahead. The myth-machine is fueled by delusion, power, and money. They cannot afford to rename their fraudulent institutions. Who would enroll at a “Westminster Mythological Seminary” or, upon dying, leave their estate to the “Trinity Evangelical Delusion School”? As I see this, our humanistic duty, therefore, stands to debunk the dangerous and harmful claims of these modern custodians of Western mythology and doctors of human delusion.
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Further Reading: See my own recently published article of the mythological character of the New Testament Gospels. See also, from one of the all-time greats, Burton L. Mack, The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy. New York, NY: Continuum, 2001.
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Dr. Miller, author of Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity (Routledge, 2015), is a humanistic critic of contemporary religion and a trans-disciplinary research scholar exploring the cultural and literary nexus between classical antiquity and the social origins of earliest Christianity. His published work focuses on the mythological roots of the New Testament Gospel portraitures of Jesus, the sacralized founding emblem of the Christian religion.