Taking All Things into Consideration, Are Myths Mostly Bad or Mostly Good?

Today a writer made the case for myths.  He wrote about how they unite people and give them purpose.

Other writers, too, have waxed poetically about myths.  It is pleasant to contemplate native people sitting around a fire telling heroic and religious stories of where his/her people came from and what noble purpose they serve on earth.

So far as I know, all groups in all countries have myths telling of some special role they  play in the history of man kind.  The Japanese, for example, believe there is something special about themselves and their destiny.  As we go from country to country, including ourselves in the U. S., there is a myth of great purpose.

The problem with myth is that it kills people, lots of them.  Myths that a group will succeed in battle because a god in on their side has seen many finding god did not deliver.  My friend who was a medic in Vietnam tells in his book of trying to answer the confused and dying soldier who wondered why his god had allowed him to be mortally injured.

In U. S. politics the myth that a microscopic fertilized human egg is a full fledged human being unites some people into an exciting cause.  The same is true of those who believe the myth that gay marriage harms straight marriages.

But, the harsh hot light of reality is also helpful.  It melts away some of the most harmful myths and leaves the demonized to lead happier lives.

http://www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2014/04/20/why-myth-matters/

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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35 Responses to Taking All Things into Consideration, Are Myths Mostly Bad or Mostly Good?

  1. Michael Ross says:

    “In U. S. politics the myth that a microscopic fertilized human egg is a full fledged human being unites some people into an exciting cause.”

    A “full fledged human”? And just what is your arbitrary definition of a “full fledged human”. One who has a PhD and has been taught how to think.

    • Wolfy32 says:

      Well, just to throw a different twist on this. A friend of mine that has a 3 year old daughter has a picture of herself when she was 3 and a picture of her daughter in the same pose as herself.

      The two pictures. nearly 80-90 % identical, skin color, eye color, hair style / color, facial features, etc. How would it change things if natural human reproduction were nothing more than self cloning? Nature trying to take the best genes of both ancestral lines and make the best functioning person for today. We have outlawed most forms of human cloning for ethical and moral reasons, yet, here we are facing the realization that by having sex, we’re facilitating cloning of ourselves? Just creating copies of ourselves to replace us when we die….

  2. Wolfy32 says:

    Jon you’re judging… we shouldn’t judge… I agree that myths can be horrifyingly harmful. From the salem witch trials where people were convinced witches were real, when it was most likely predatory males eliminating evidence.

    Yet, the myth of witches fueled the hatred of entire communities to the point of killing their own within the communities. Myths do fuel societal fears. Mythological fire breathing dragons were never real (to the best of our knowledge) yet, people were sent on quests to conquer the fire breathing dragon! And towns setup defenses, tons of money was spent throughout the ages to protect against myths. Temples were made in the name of mythological gods. (Athena, Zeus, apollo, etc.)

    Myths are as much a part of society as religion. What are some of today’s myths that fuel society? Erronious fears of homosexuality taking over and eliminating heterosexuality? Fears that homosexuality will bring down God’s judgement?

    Fears that scientific discoveries will lead to our self destruction. (e.g. Terminator, 1984, Brave new world, etc)

    We believe in myths as much today as thousands of years ago. It’s just that our fears have changed some. They’ve changed from dragons and witches to homosexuals and science.

  3. H.P.D. says:

    Wolfy
    Well said!
    To me myths are something we could do with out, more bad than good comes out of myths.

    H.P.D.

  4. Adam Heckathorn says:

    It is pleasant to contemplate native people sitting around a fire telling heroic and religious stories. The problem with myth is that it kills people, lots of them. I think these might be the key sentences. My Daughter and I saw a production of The Crucible at The Moorhead High School last night We both thought it was great and The Students were outstanding. I would encourage any that live locally to see it. The play was written as a response to McCarthyism. When My wife Kari was in Bethesda Hospital in St Paul going through treatment for Her brain Injury Her Sister jumped to the conclusion that a particular Male Nurse had abused Her in some way based on Kari’s behavior reacting to The Nurse as He cared for Her. I came into the room right after the behavior and reasoned with Her telling Her this behavior had been going on when Kari was four flights of stairs up and on the other end of the hospital. She agreed not to call the police and I thought that was the end of it. To cover Her bases She called the Police on the way home. Most if not all of You reading this have greater ability to think in terms of cause and effect Than My Sister in Law. Once She did this it turned into another version of The Crucible. She embellished Her story with details of how Kari told Her She had been raped. I was interviewed By a police Woman Who I could tell thought I must be incredibly evil to protect This Monster of a sexual Predator. My Wife’s family pressured Me to help Them with a lawsuit ( My Wife’s Sister is a Paralegal ). I asked This Mans Supervisor what I could do to help and She told Me If I wrote a letter for Him They would put it in His file. That Letter has cost Me Tens of thousands of dollars if not Hundreds of thousands. It has lead to the loss of two houses ( I can’t buy or get a loan with out the signature of Kari’s Guardians or I can regain those rights By divorcing Her.) It has lead to My daughters and I not seeing their Mother for almost a Decade. This has been Enabled By the Entire Organization of JW’s especially Those taking the Lead at Headquarters in NY. On the way home from The Play My Youngest Daughter talked about in psychology class what happens to The Personality of Children deprived of their Mother and how She sees some of this in Herself. Religion tends to enable bad behavior like a shell game enables a Conman to take Your money. It is so much better to see the world as it is rather than as You’d like it to be.

    • Henry says:

      This comes down to evidence. With McCarthyism, the Venona wire intercepts are the evidence justifying McCarthy’s allegations. These were ignored in favor of relying on the mass hysteria generated by the news media of the aweful McCarthism. I believe the good Democrat politicians and news media even said he was gay (gasp).

      Concerning your wife, it doesn’t sound like sufficient evidence was present, and you correctly acted. I have not personally experienced the level of hysteria you have reported, but I have seen a lessor version of it with gossip/murmering/assumption of sexual concern against a very good man. I asked the two women what did he do? What evidence is there? As it turned out, they provided meaningless periphery details cobbled together that did not add up to any measureable concern.

      • Adam Heckathorn says:

        Henry I appreciate the experience You mentioned. I think it points to what I’ve talked about a few times. The nature of Human thought; in our minds from Our own point of view We seem rational and logical but unless that logic actually is reasonable, defensible, provable it’s valueless. The older I get the more I see the value in education in teaching folks how to reason.

        • Henry says:

          Adam:“The older I get the more I see the value in education in teaching folks how to reason.”

          You have your work cut out for you teaching your atheist friends and their struggle with logic.

          Logic and reason is good, but cannot be applied to all things. You can’t cleanly apply logic and reason to art, music, and love. When tried, it does not fit well. Be careful to which items you apply it.

          • entech says:

            Henry, you forgot to include religion in that list of things to which logic is, in your view, inapplicable. You have been known to say that if it contradicts scripture it is wrong, or words to that effect – passing through the sieve and so on.
            If you use logic to build a set of arguments to support a hypothesis you really can’t use the answer as part of the argument. The conclusion derives from the arguments not the other way round.
            An example is when someone questions the validity of scripture you frequently quote scripture “As If” that proves something.

            You are so humorous, sure you are not a script writer for Seinfeld? Of, perhaps Duck Dynasty.

          • Henry says:

            Faith alone.

          • entech says:

            The ultimate logic, I just believe it that is all.
            Wow.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            In virtually every case, the term; “Faith alone”, producing salvation, as compared to works alone, or faith and works combined to produce salvation, instead of good works as the result of faith.

          • entech says:

            Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
            John 3:36
            Sola Fide – intelligo.

            The problem I was trying to point out is that the presupposition of God and the scriptures as the inspired word of God cannot be the basis for any logical process, it is in the end question begging and even though it can be a tortuous path it is ultimately circular.

            The question of atheists and logic and theists and logic:
            The theist must base everything on the pre-existence of a supreme being of some kind, a creator, a supernatural entity – Theos – God. They must believe, on faith, that this God exists. Sola Fide.

            Sola scriptura does not really help, except in the way it helps complete the circle.
            There are Jews that reject the oral tradition, believing only what is written in the Torah – one story that is used is that Jesus is castigated for letting his disciple eat without washing their hands first, among the many rules and regulations there is not one that says wash first.
            Does this mean that Jesus is rejecting tradition imposed by the Pharisees?
            Is this the basis for protestant rejection of some Catholic traditions?
            Does it matter?
            Not really, the presupposition that the “The Bible is complete, authoritative, and true” using 2 Timothy 3:16 as a basis still leaves unanswered the question from Sola fide, faith in what? The God that inspired the Bible and is proved to exist by the Bible?

            Ideally the atheist rejects the notion of a particular God while not necessarily denying the possibility. It is clear that not all atheists follow the rules of logic.
            Some are even guilty of the accusation made that they have been hurt by religion and therefore hate god.
            I don’t know of any that a guilty of the other accusation about hating god for not existing, that is the illogical ranting of someone who can’t believe that it is possible to be a non-theist.
            Even those that will state that there are no supernatural entities of any kind, have a logic on their side, demonstrate these entities and I will accept that I am wrong.
            While not all atheists follow a perfect logic at all times the starting position is not as intrinsically illogical as a presuppositional one must be.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Way more dust in the air through which little can be seen than necessary. Your 2:46 was going in a different direction from the generally accepted usage of the term; “Faith alone”, as reflected in my 3:10. I know what you’re trying to get to, but that isn’t the intent / content of the term. I’m afraid the trail you are on has a mailbox on the end of it with the name Pelagius or Pelagius and semi family on it.

          • entech says:

            You are reading far too much into all of this. I was merely having a dig at Henry who is always saying derogatory things about atheists and logic.
            I just say he has no case when his own logic relies only on his faith (faith alone???).
            My long winded 7:56 was just to show that I knew the context of faith alone as both you and Henry would use it but was being deliberately obtuse (a trick I learned from Henry. To a lesser extent you, although I do think you just like to expound a bit).
            As an atheist I don’t think the ideas of Pelagius or any other “heretical” ” errors” should apply, apostate I would agree too.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            I think I clearly defined the intent / content of the term. (Without many words). Smilie face with one eye open.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            That one has one eye closed. grinning face.

          • entech says:

            Depends entirely on interpretation, just like the Catholic and Lutheran variants on faith and freewill.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            The will isn’t so free if one bumps into the Magisterium. Just saying.

          • entech says:

            Yes free to do whatever you are told, one of life’s little contradictions.

            Well early night for me down here. Big chess tournament tomorrow. (actually just a small competition in a small club, but we can all have our illusions and delusions)
            I hope to get past the first round this time. :)

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Adam 2:42 Thank you for sharing with all of us that gripping story.

      It points to the importance of rational thinking and the danger of going too far with mythology and cult-like behavior. While we all know most religious people, including Christians, and fine people we can be proud to have among us, those who go off the deep end are a destructive lot.

      • Adam Heckathorn says:

        Thanks Jon. Awhile back I saw a televised debate between a couple of atheists and an assortment of Clergy. One of the Atheists made a point that made a real impression on Me. He pointed out most mainline religions tend to become somewhat sanitized from some of the Bibles harsher teachings and using examples from the Bible showed most with or without faith are glad to see it. He went on to argue why hold on to any of it?

  5. Adam Heckathorn says:

    When I posted My long comment there was only the first comment it is interesting that at least two of Us would be lead to witch trials. Not much has changed since Salem religious thought brings Us back to the same results regardless of the century.

  6. Fr. James says:

    Myths can kill. For example:

    1. The myth that abortion is not killing a baby.
    2. The myth that religion is evil and should be eliminated.
    3. The myth that homosexual “marriage” exists.
    4. The myth that atheism is scientific and proven.
    5. The myth that religious people are stupid.

    There are many myths that have killed far more people then in all religious wars combined. These myths have become the new dogmas and are being enforced.

    • Josiah says:

      1. Abortion results in the death of a fetus.
      2. Religions have a historical tendency promote authoritarianism, suppress critical inquiry, and spread irrational beliefs that lead otherwise good people to commit or excuse evil.
      3. Borrowing your erroneous logic from a previous post: you can’t prove that homosexual marriage doesn’t exist, therefore it does.
      4. Atheism is not (and cannot be) proven, but agnostic atheism is the only scientifically and rationally defensible position on the existence of gods.
      5. Religious people aren’t stupid, but religious indoctrination creates a huge blindspot in their ability to think critically about their religious beliefs.

      I understand that in religions such as yours myth and dogma are often the same thing. But outside your religion, and especially among the Freethinkers, myths are not taken seriously, and dogmas are meant to be questioned and rejected.

      • Adam Heckathorn says:

        “spread irrational beliefs that lead otherwise good people to commit or excuse evil.” I think this point hits The nail on the head.

      • entech says:

        “Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.
        But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
        ? Steven Weinberg

      • Fr. James says:

        Josiah,

        Abortion kills a human being.

        The most authoritarian regimes were secular, see Stalin.

        Marriage is between a man and a woman. It is that by definition.

        Agnosticism can’t be proven either.

        Secular indoctrination produces people who simply can’t think. I see that on this blog. They won’t even read anything that contradicts their opinions and myths. Your dogmas blind you.

  7. Avatar of seaofstories seaofstories says:

    I find this post confusing. It seems to mix and match the two very different definitions of the word myth.

    1) Traditional stories, especially concerning the early history of a people
    2) A widely held but false idea

    For my part, I think that the first type are good, especially if they’re understood metaphorically instead of literally.

    The second are clearly bad and are too often the result of reading the former literally.

  8. Avatar of seaofstories seaofstories says:

    Joesph Campbell said: “There are two pathologies. One is interpreting myth as pseudo-science, as though it had to do with directing nature instead of putting you in accord with nature, and the other is the political interpretation of myths to the advantage of one group within a society, or one society within a group of nations.”

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