Armstrong, Myth

Reading Notes /

Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
wonderful, I could cite so much of it.

The third-century BCE author of the Dao De Jing, traditionally known as Laozi, also had a negative view of traditional ritual. Instead of li, he relied on exercises of concentration similar to the Indian practice of yoga. Civilisation, he was convinced, had been a mistake, which had diverted human beings from the true Way (Dao). Laozi looked back to a Golden Age of agrarian simplicity, when people lived in small villages with no technology, no art or culture, and no war.
… Dao De Jing … is addressed to the ruler of a small state … ‘It is best to retreat, lie low and do nothing until the great powers have overreached themselves.’

I love it!

But like all Axial teachers, Laozi was not simply concerned with the practicalities of survival, but with finding a source of transcendent peace in the midst of earthly turbulence. He aspires to the ultimate reality, the Dao, which goes beyond the gods, and is the ineffable basis of all existence. It transcends everything we can conceptualise, and yet if we cultivate an inner emptiness, without selfish desire and without greed, and live in a compassionate manner, we will be in harmony with the Dao and thus transformed. When we give up the goal-directed ethos of civilisation, we will be in tune with the Way things ought to be.

Damn good on Buddha too.

Both Laozi and the Buddha were willing to use old myths to help people to understand the new ideas. Believing that animal sacrifice was not only useless but also cruel, the Buddha attacked Vedic ritualism, but was tolerant of traditional mythology. He no longer believed that the gods were efficacious, but he was able to set them quietly to one side, and felt no need to mount an ideological offensive against them. He also gave the gods a new, symbolic significance. In some of the stories about his life, gods such as Brahma, the supreme deity, or Mara, lord of death, seem to be reflections of his own inner states, or personifications of conflicting mental forces.

Fabulous on the Jews:

Immersion in water was traditionally used as a rite of passage; other gods had split a sea in half when they created the world – though what is being brought into being in the Exodus myth is not a cosmos but a people.

! Badoom!
And I love her take on logos!

She calls myth “an art form.” Hails myth as a “transcendent encounter.”
so great, gotta quote so much more.

It is best to retreat, lie low and do nothing until the great powers have overreached themselves.
the Dao, which goes beyond the gods, and is the ineffable basis of all existence.
once a myth ceases to give people intimations of transcendence, it becomes abhorrent.
mythology, an early form of psychology
A myth, it will be recalled, is an event that – in some sense – happened once, but which also happens all the time.
Jews cultivate an appreciation of freedom as a sacred value, and refuse either to be enslaved themselves or to oppress others.
They knew that this myth was true, not because of the historical evidence, but because they had experienced transformation.

You could not prove the existence of the Trinity by rational means. It was no more demonstrable than the elusive meaning of music or poetry. But Newton could only approach the Trinity rationally. If something could not be explained logically, it was false. ‘’Tis the temper of the hot and superstitious part of mankind in matters of religion,’ he wrote irritably, ‘ever to be fond of mysteries & for that reason to like best what they understand least.’
… Many of the extravagant hopes of modernity and the Enlightenment were shown to be false.
… We have not advanced spiritually beyond the Axial Age: because of our suppression of mythos we may even have regressed.
… Undiluted logos cannot deal with … deep-rooted, unexorcised fears, desires and neuroses.

I love this woman, but: she refers to “our pragmatic, rational world”: I deny that we’re pragmatic or rational. That may have been our target, but we missed.

Reading Notes

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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