Ancient Religious Myths or Contemporary Stories
by: Gordon Wayne
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Every religion has stories and myths describing humanity’s place in the world and the challenges of human existence, specifically the challenges of virtuous living. These myths are tales of human conflicts and compromises, stories about human triumphs and failures, human abilities and limitations, human follies and prudence, virtues and vices. While every religion has myths, most faiths employ ancient myths with ancient interpretations, completely ignoring the possibility that contemporary stories have spiritual significance.
Traditional religious myths have the distinct advantage of surviving centuries, even millenniums, though this longevity is also their greatest weakness. Ancient myths reflect ancient knowledge, ancient beliefs, ancient attitudes, and ancient challenges, which is not necessarily applicable to contemporary challenges or compatible with modern knowledge. Ancestral myths may conflict with contemporary knowledge of life, reality, the world and the cosmos, and they may not address contemporary spiritual challenges.
Traditional myths about natural disasters illustrate this conundrum because the ancestral myths attribute natural catastrophes to divine retribution or bad karma. Our ancestors did not know about tectonic plates and global weather systems so they could not offer earthly explanations for the causes of natural phenomenons like earthquakes and volcanoes. Without earthly explanations, our ancestors explained the mysterious causes as divine retribution or bad karma, an interpretation that reflects ancient knowledge rather than contemporary knowledge.
Contemporary knowledge of geological and meteorological forces renders traditional religious interpretations of bad karma and divine retribution highly inappropriate for modern sensibilities. Because of modern knowledge, we know that earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, volcanos, etcetera are natural phenomenons that occur whether humans are moral, immoral, or amoral. Volcanoes were erupting before humans stood upright, earthquakes shook the ground before humankind built cities, and hurricanes pounded shorelines before people populated those shores. Moreover, these natural calamities will continue disrupting the earth’s surface long after humans cease to walk this earth because they are natural events.
Modern movies such as Earthquake, Twister, Volcano, The Perfect Storm, and Asteroid are excellent stories that reflect our modern understanding of natural disasters. While these modern tales are depicting our present understanding of the underlying corporeal causes, they display another very important detail about natural disasters, namely that humans can survive. If we study a history, we will realize that humans not only survive natural catastrophes but they rebuild their lives, their homes, and their cities. Modern tales of natural disasters do not chastize us for immoral, iniquitous conduct but give us hope, the courage to survive, the fortitude to return and rebuild.
Whoever or whatever created us also created our innate intelligence and generously gave us two important cognitive abilities. First, Nature, Evolution, or the Creator gave us the imagination to create contemporary stories, which includes the imagination to create contemporary spiritual/religious mythologies. Second, Nature, Evolution, or the Creator gave us the analytical intelligence with which we can study the religious/spiritual significance of any story that the human imagination can produce. In other words, any story, whether ancient or modern, can be a spiritual/religious fable if we are willing to find the spiritual lessons.
We should also note that Nature, Evolution, or the Creator did not make our ancestor’s brains any larger or more sophisticated than modern human brains. Therefore, if our ancestors could produce important spiritual myths, then we have the intelligence to produce important spiritual fables. Also, if our ancestors had the intellectual sophistication to appreciate the spiritual significance of ancient stories, then we have the intellectual sophistication to analyze the spiritual significance of contemporary stories. More important though, modern humans know more about life, reality, the world and the universe than our ancestors knew, and this will influence the spiritual myths.