Friday, October 21, 2011

Myth is like Math

Q. How do you define a myth?

A. Basically a myth is a belief system that explains any given process or phenomenon.

Q. What comes to mind are the stories of Greek mythology where phenomena in nature are personified.

A. Yes, God is personified as the ultimate father figure, Zeus, and the Earth is personified as the mother figure, Juno. And there are many others like Aphrodite who embodies sexuality, or Mars who stands for war.

Q. So myth is the means for humans to understand the world. Could one say that myth is an essential element of religion?

A. Yes, it is. But it is not limited to religion. In the Judeo-Christian context, a central belief that can be classified as myth is "Obey the ten commandments and you will be rewarded." In the domain of commerce there are myths like "you cannot go wrong buying real estate", or "in the long run you are always best off investing in the stock market rather than staying in cash."

Q. Don't you think it might be a bit offensive to many religious people to refer to the Ten Commandments as myth?

A. Yes, but only if you use the term myth to imply something is untrue or worthless. No myth is in and of itself true or untrue. Like formulas in math, myths designate abstract elements and their relationships to one another. The truth contained in math may indeed be something untouchable. It is possible to prove the correctness of an algebraic equation within the domain of mathematical relationships. But the question of a formula's validity comes up when applied to situations in the physical world.

Q. I don't quite get it?

A. Take the example of two engaged in a conflict. One has a team of twenty-five lawyers and his opponent has only himself and his partner. According to arithmetic, the one with a team of two has no chance against a team of twenty-five. But while the truth of math that 25 is "more" than 2 is unimpeachable, when the formula is applied to a given reality, the result of the interaction may appear to invalidate the underlying mathematical principle.

Q. But it does not really!

A. You are right. The mathematical statement assumes that any one of the numbers is exactly the same as any other, but when applied to reality each individual unit is in some way different from any other unit.

Q. Okay, that's math. What about myth?

A. Let's stay away from religion for the moment.

Q. Why?

A. Because with religion it is impossible for most people to think analytically. Let's take an example from money and markets. Let's take the myth "you can't go wrong buying real estate in the long run." The myth may be true as long as the reality it is applied to is in an economically stable world, but even here a follower of the myth may fail terribly. An easy example might be that of someone buying an office complex in a tsunami-prone area or within the range of the lava of an exploding volcano.

Q. Okay, what about "the Last Judgment?" Isn't that a myth?

A. Absolutely not if you are a fundamentalist Christian for whom the Bible has one and only one meaning. But you cannot deny that whatever is told as a story is a story, and stories are myth. And when stories are told, people add and subtract whatever they imagine.

Q. You mean like on judgment day when all sinners are being cast into hell where they will burn forever?

A. This is not the time to argue about details, but you have to admit if you ask individuals, each one will see a somewhat different picture. While the myth will have a basic structure, there are as many realities as there are persons. So anyone or no one will know what judgment day will really be like.

Q. But you are not going to deny that there will be a judgment day?

A. Well, if you are a fundamentalist Christian, judgment day is an indisputable truth because this truth comes from God. The myth is not just a myth; it is gospel truth.

Q. Not to be argumentative, isn't it possible for what has been announced as gospel truth not to become reality?

A. It is only impossible if someone's god cannot change his mind. But as the God of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition is a living deity and an all-powerful that deity one, He has the capacity to change His mind at any time.

Q. So there might not be a judgment day?

A. There might be or there might not...