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Author Topic: When does "religion" become "mythology"?  (Read 14394 times)
semperfemme
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« Topic Start: July 08, 2007, 07:58:19 pm »

During a fun chat with a coworker about religion, he turns to me and says "I just don't see how you can believe in Greek Mythology."  Undecided

I chuckled and didn't respond, really because I didn't know how to (without looking weird at work) and there were tables to be waited on, but it got me to thinking; When does a "religion" become mere "mythology"? Is it when people stop believing in the system and cast it aside? When I think of "myth"  I think of something that EVERYONE knows isn't true- like Santa Claus, but religion bears truth to for the person involved, so it doesn't get the "myth" stamp from me.

I'm sure many Christians would be offended if I said that Jesus is a "myth", yet most of western society has no problems labeling "Zeus" or "Heracles" in such a manner.

What are the differences to you if any? Do you draw a line or is the label of "myth" irrelevant to the worth of anything that could be tied to a religion?

Just tossing around a few thoughts and I hope I'm making sense.

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« Reply #1: July 08, 2007, 08:04:38 pm »



I'm sure many Christians would be offended if I said that Jesus is a "myth", yet most of western society has no problems labeling "Zeus" or "Heracles" in such a manner.

What are the differences to you if any? Do you draw a line or is the label of "myth" irrelevant to the worth of anything that could be tied to a religion?



In Religious Studies, the word myth simply means sacred narrative or story.  It's true and is relevant to the religion it belongs to.  Many times myths explain ritual in a religion. 

Myth in this context does not mean "false". 
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« Reply #2: July 08, 2007, 08:30:02 pm »

I chuckled and didn't respond, really because I didn't know how to (without looking weird at work) and there were tables to be waited on, but it got me to thinking; When does a "religion" become mere "mythology"?

When some damnfool thinks that one set of sacred stories is somehow more obvious and true than anyone else's sacred stories, and thus exempt from being referred to as such.
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« Reply #3: July 08, 2007, 08:32:20 pm »

In Religious Studies, the word myth simply means sacred narrative or story.  It's true and is relevant to the religion it belongs to.  Many times myths explain ritual in a religion. 

Myth in this context does not mean "false". 

In religious studies it means this, but I mean in "layman's" terms. Not everyone has taken religious studies (I know I haven't) so I'm using "myth" in the more common (with most of the people I know anyway, it may be different for you)  context of something that has been proven false.

I'm sure if we all knew the true meaning of "myth" than there wouldn't be shows like "Myth Busters" or lines like "oh that's just a myth!" LOL!

I'm sorry if I was vague.
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« Reply #4: July 08, 2007, 10:13:42 pm »

In religious studies it means this, but I mean in "layman's" terms. Not everyone has taken religious studies (I know I haven't) so I'm using "myth" in the more common (with most of the people I know anyway, it may be different for you)  context of something that has been proven false.

I'm sure if we all knew the true meaning of "myth" than there wouldn't be shows like "Myth Busters" or lines like "oh that's just a myth!" LOL!

I'm sorry if I was vague.

I think that both connotations are true, as in people use myth in the story way and also a myth as in something that was believed to be true but isn't. The problem I think is that the two in some context have been used interchangeably. is that a word?haha.

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« Reply #5: July 08, 2007, 10:44:25 pm »

I chuckled and didn't respond, really because I didn't know how to (without looking weird at work) and there were tables to be waited on, but it got me to thinking; When does a "religion" become mere "mythology"?

When someone decides their religion's myths are the only true/factual ones -- at least in common usage of the words religion and mythology. In a more technical sense, religions can't become mythology, instead all religions have a mythology (stories about the Gods/Reality/etc) that explain their religion's teachings about reality.
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« Reply #6: July 08, 2007, 11:23:23 pm »

In Religious Studies, the word myth simply means sacred narrative or story.  It's true and is relevant to the religion it belongs to.  Many times myths explain ritual in a religion. 

Myth in this context does not mean "false". 

I understand what the OP meant when the co-worker said "Greek Mythology". As in, the gods don't exist. They're just mere "myths".

Thats when I just say, "They were worshipped for thousands of years. Who has the right to say they don't exist?"

But thats just me. And like several people have said, religion has its mythology ("sacred stories"), but religion, I believe, can never 'become' that mythology. At least in the literal sense.
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« Reply #7: July 08, 2007, 11:27:38 pm »

Once Christianity started taking over everything, it had to downgrade the stories of the gods in order to lend itself legitimacy.

Personally, and this is just because this brings out my confrontational side, I'd fire back with "And you want to believe the reality of a god like God? Have fun with that one..."
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« Reply #8: July 08, 2007, 11:32:29 pm »




To me, all religions have myths. Granted since Wicca is still so young our myths are still forming, it doesn't mean we haven't got any. American history has myths, I remember the tall tales series from when I was young; Daniel Boone, Paul Bunion and Johnny Appleseed all come to mind. These myths are based on real people, but the tales themselves are rather far fetched.

And Santa Claus and the toothfairy are very real for the young children who haven't been disabused of the idea by "reality".

I believe that the Christian bible is a wonderful series of myths. If they choose to take their myths as statement of fact, far be it for me to tell them they are wrong. If my reality on the other hand has me believing that Diana and Hercules are real, who's to tell me that They are not?

Mythical beings are larger than life - mortals become god-like. The stories grow with each retelling until the original person, if indeed that person ever existed, is consumed by the story and becomes more than mortal. Just think some day Gerald Garner will have assumed mythical proportions like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Buhda.
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« Reply #9: July 09, 2007, 05:23:11 am »

Once Christianity started taking over everything, it had to downgrade the stories of the gods in order to lend itself legitimacy.

Personally, and this is just because this brings out my confrontational side, I'd fire back with "And you want to believe the reality of a god like God? Have fun with that one..."

Adoratrix,

Could you please remember to leave a quote in your post please?  It helps to preserve the chain of the conversation.

Thanks!

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« Reply #10: July 09, 2007, 08:25:52 am »

What are the differences to you if any? Do you draw a line or is the label of "myth" irrelevant to the worth of anything that could be tied to a religion?

Just tossing around a few thoughts and I hope I'm making sense.



What Sat Aset and others said:  myths are sacred stories.  Religion is the structure that grew up around those stories, to translate them into meaningful experiences for human beings.  The use of the word "myth" to mean "false story" (in English) is Christian linguistic propaganda to try and differentiate their "true" stories from everybody else's "false" ones.  Whenever I teach folklore, there are always some Christian students who bristle at their stories being called myths, so I always make sure to explain the scholarly, value-neutral usage of the world.  If they still don't like it, tough.  "Myth" has a specific meaning (actually, a number of meanings, but that's the basic one) in a scholarly context, and I really wish more people would learn that meaning, to try and drown out the "false story" nonsense.

BTW, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy aren't really myths, in folklorists' terms -- they're closer to *legends*.  If you're interested in the differences, I posted an essay on "myth/legend/folktale" here:

http://www.ecauldron.net/forum/index.php?topic=1587.0
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« Reply #11: July 09, 2007, 08:38:27 am »

To me, all religions have myths. Granted since Wicca is still so young our myths are still forming, it doesn't mean we haven't got any. American history has myths, I remember the tall tales series from when I was young; Daniel Boone, Paul Bunion and Johnny Appleseed all come to mind. These myths are based on real people, but the tales themselves are rather far fetched.

And Santa Claus and the toothfairy are very real for the young children who haven't been disabused of the idea by "reality".

I believe that the Christian bible is a wonderful series of myths. If they choose to take their myths as statement of fact, far be it for me to tell them they are wrong. If my reality on the other hand has me believing that Diana and Hercules are real, who's to tell me that They are not?

Mythical beings are larger than life - mortals become god-like. The stories grow with each retelling until the original person, if indeed that person ever existed, is consumed by the story and becomes more than mortal. Just think some day Gerald Garner will have assumed mythical proportions like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Buhda.

Well, not really, at least if you're going by scholarly understandings of the term.  I linked to my essay on folklorists' usages of the terms "myth/legend/folktale" in the above post.  Wicca most certainly does have myths:  the Wheel of the Year, the dying and rising god, the MMC goddess and her son/lover's progression through the seasons.  Religions cannot exist without myths -- the sacred narrative(s) that provide the organizing principle for the religion.  Religion is the structure that springs up in order to translate the myth -- the story -- into meaningful experiences for people.  Back on the old board, we had a discussion about whether there can be "new" myths; for me, the answer is "yes," because I, like many folklorists, think of myths in terms of the function they serve.  Myths are sacred stories that narrate events of *cosmic* importance.

Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and Daniel Boone are not mythic figures -- they're legendary ones.  In the case of Boone and Appleseed, they were real people who acquired legendary narratives about themselves (like, f'ex, Charlemagne, Barbarossa, and the Christian saints who are known to have existed).  Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are likewise legendary.  Sorry, I'll stop babbling -- I explain it much better in the essay, so you're better off reading that.   Smiley
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« Reply #12: July 09, 2007, 09:54:08 am »

During a fun chat with a coworker about religion, he turns to me and says "I just don't see how you can believe in Greek Mythology."  Undecided

I chuckled and didn't respond, really because I didn't know how to (without looking weird at work) and there were tables to be waited on, but it got me to thinking; When does a "religion" become mere "mythology"? Is it when people stop believing in the system and cast it aside? When I think of "myth"  I think of something that EVERYONE knows isn't true- like Santa Claus, but religion bears truth to for the person involved, so it doesn't get the "myth" stamp from me.

I'm sure many Christians would be offended if I said that Jesus is a "myth", yet most of western society has no problems labeling "Zeus" or "Heracles" in such a manner.

What are the differences to you if any? Do you draw a line or is the label of "myth" irrelevant to the worth of anything that could be tied to a religion?

Just tossing around a few thoughts and I hope I'm making sense.
my2c...myth, to me is an idea someone has not proven or disapproved and lives on and on...religion is when any group or person takes a myth and makes certain tenets about said myth mainly to conform everyone to the same set of beliefs...
believing in the Greek Gods is just as easy as believing in Santa Claus or the Fairy because it is what you, as an individual, feel to be truth.
I think just naming something a religion is not such a good thing...I really don't like to label anything, it puts up walls and that is most definitely not conducive to open and intelligent discussion. I cannot prove/ disprove anything in our world as all is in flux and not easily nailed down. If I were asked how can I believe in this or that I would have to answer how can I not?

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« Reply #13: July 09, 2007, 10:06:10 am »

I really don't like to label anything, it puts up walls and that is most definitely not conducive to open and intelligent discussion. I cannot prove/ disprove anything in our world as all is in flux and not easily nailed down. If I were asked how can I believe in this or that I would have to answer how can I not?

I dunno, I think labels can be very useful for communicating what we're talking about.  Differences don't have to be divisive, especially in open and intelligent discussion.  Participants in such a discussion should be well aware that "different" doesn't mean "bad" (or, for that matter, "good"), just...  different.  Recognizing the differences we have and exploring our diversity is a wonderful thing, IMHO, and much more interesting and conducive to understanding each other than trying to pretend we're all the same.  Smiley

(And yes, I know, that's my ideal little world and I know that in a lot of cases labels do wind up being divisive because people don't acknowledge that "different" is not a value judgement.  But I don't see that as a reason to stop using labels when they're accurate and necessary for clear communication.  *shrug*)
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« Reply #14: July 09, 2007, 12:29:34 pm »

Just tossing around a few thoughts and I hope I'm making sense.
my2c...myth, to me is an idea someone has not proven or disapproved and lives on and on...religion is when any group or person takes a myth and makes certain tenets about said myth mainly to conform everyone to the same set of beliefs...
believing in the Greek Gods is just as easy as believing in Santa Claus or the Fairy because it is what you, as an individual, feel to be truth.
I think just naming something a religion is not such a good thing...I really don't like to label anything, it puts up walls and that is most definitely not conducive to open and intelligent discussion. I cannot prove/ disprove anything in our world as all is in flux and not easily nailed down. If I were asked how can I believe in this or that I would have to answer how can I not?



What Star said.  Without "labels" -- agreed-upon definitions/usages for particular words -- communication would be impossible.  If everybody goes all "words mean what I want them to mean!" it becomes impossible to carry on a conversation, so how, precisely, does that foster "open and intelligent discussion"?  That's not to say that word usage and meaning can't and doesn't change, or that lots of definitions don't have grey areas built into them, or that words aren't used differently in different contexts; but words do have specific meanings in context, and if you insist too much on avoiding "labels," then no one will understand you.  In the context of this board, we favor scholarly usages and definitions, and most of the time, people are very good about explaining what those are for the topic being discussed -- especially, as is the case with both "myth" and "religion," when there's a disjunction between scholarly and popular usage of the term.  Learning the language is part of becoming a member of a community, because language usage is contextual.
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