chapter 14: the value of mythology

I wrote, “The Anatomy of a Skeptic” while I climbed Table Mountain alone.  Tristan was still a small boy.

He now is 13.  We climb many times together.  This afternoon we went on another mountain hike together.  New insights come to me as we discuss matters of faith.

Hiking up Table Mountain alone, I dealt with Christianity intellectually and on a personal level, it will again feature in my thoughts and worldview as I get older and have to face my own mortality.

I came to understand Christianity merely as a cultural expression.

A complex system that rests on 3 pillars.

The system firstly contains rational aspects.  Secondly, mythological.  Thirdly, there are particular links with the broader national and cultural group it is embedded in.   The same three aspects are true for all faith systems.

Many aspects of Christianity are sound and rational as far as it propagates cultural practices such as science and technology that advance human lives.

It holds a core set of mythological teachings that sets it apart from other faiths.

Christianity is lastly embedded in a broader cultural context which makes it “familiar”.  It speaks our language.  It “feels right”.

The Afrikaner, the Greek, Russians, Conservative Americans, Black Americans, Black South Africans, Egyptians – every group will mix Christianity into their particular sub-culture slightly differently.

This afternoon Tristan and I spoke about the fact that a particular aspect of Christianity is that the mythological aspects are generally held fairly loosely.  This is done in various degrees between different groups.

The more literal a Christian group sees the mythological aspects of Christianity, the more “fundamental” it becomes (so it is called).  The more fundamental the movement becomes, the more it will be frowned upon and the more it will be seen as a “cult”.

Christianity was destructive in my personal life since the particular cultural group I was a part of having roots in the traditional, fundamentalist American Christianity, insisted that the mythological aspects be taken generally more literal than is the case with many other Christian movements.  The group is associated with Grace Community Church in the USA, Grace Fellowship in Pretoria, South Africa, The Master’s Seminary and The Master’s College in Los Angeles.

When my business partner returned to his lifestyle of drugs, they choose to pray for him and practice church discipline.  They relied on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit as a way to “rehabilitate him”.

When another business partner complained about how I ran the business, they appointed a group of church leaders to oversee every aspect of my management of the company.

When I decided to liquidate the company that was effectively bankrupt, the biggest problem was not whether I did the right thing or not in terms of the actual situation, but the fact that I did not get the permission of the leaders that the church appointed over me.

At every key point, the particular Christian groups choose Myth over reality.

Generally speaking, the more literal a group takes the mythological aspects of any faith, the more destructive it is and the church I belonged to took much of the mythology of Christianity VERY literal.

BUT, having experienced the destruction that such a worldview holds, I have discovered the value of mythology.  This was what Tristan and I have been discussing on the mountain.

Mythology, rightly applied, is a powerful tool to focus us.

It connects us with magical (“filled with awe and wonder”) aspects of our lives that completes us.

It provides a powerful grid for self-realization as we learn to listen to ourselves.

I have for example developed my own mythology about dragons based on something I learned from a friend.  My dragons appear whenever there is a danger of any sort and animal dwelling creatures, appearing to be men, short in stature, would hike up and run down the mountain with me in times of safety.

Apart from being fun, this allows a powerful way for me to be brutally honest with myself.

I remember early in January 2011 when Oscar and I were on the verge of making major changes to our business.  I was hiking up Table Mountain, telling myself that the fundamentals of our business were all in place.  Around me, I saw my dragons and the short forest-dwelling men were no longer around me but hidden in the trees and caves.  I asked myself, “Why are the dragons here while the fundamentals of the business are all in place?  Why are the forest-dwelling men scared?”

When I got to the top of the mountain, I sat down and could be brutally honest with myself.  I meditated for a long time and started to see that I have been wrong.  The fundamentals were not all in place.

Events during the first 6 months of 2011 would prove me right.  When I climbed the mountain in early January my mind chose to shut out many signs.  The appearance of my mythological companions allowed me to speak to myself about things that my conscious mind did not want to deal with.

So, in Christianity, the problem is not the fact that there is a mythological aspect to it.  The problem is that some groups see mythology as reality.  It is tantamount to me saying that my dragons are real.  The mythology of my dragons only fulfils a purpose.

There is a more fundamental problem with Christianity besides that some groups are too literal in their handling of the Christian mythology.

What they do with the mythology is as much a problem as a literal view of the myth.

The Christian myth divides all reality into two camps – good and evil.  They have a highly centralized view of work and command and control.  Personal transformation is predicated upon the intervention of a saviour and not individual empowerment.

Generally, Christianity greatly confuses issues such as sexuality, authority, the role of women, societal hierarchy, charity and many more.

But, even if Christianity uses mythology to propagates counterproductive methods and mechanisms, this still does not make mythology itself something undesirable.

It only proves the effectiveness and usefulness of mythology in our lives.  If mythology can be so destructive as applied in Christianity, imagine how powerful it is when used rightly.

The ability to create useful mythology is as close to us as our own amazing imagination and creativity.

As my kids and I explore our amazing universe in our minds, one of the things I enjoy most is to create our own set of mythology.  Our own stories and images speak about personal transformation, facing daemons, dreaming and personal empowerment where we can become all we imagine ourselves to be.  No matter what!

Every day is a new adventure!


(c) eben van tonder