Thursday, May 26, 2011

Myth and Truth

I associate with a number of people who are intellectuals, questioners, or who are involved in the field of theology in general or mormon studies in specific. Some of these people are deeply committed to the LDS church, and others find their faith wavering or changing. There is (so they tell me) archaeological and DNA evidence that indicates that the Book of Mormon isn't a historical document. There are contemporary accounts that conflict with the way Joseph Smith said things happened during his visions, translations, and revelations. There is also a whole lot in the Bible that seems pretty far fetched if we're supposed to accept every word of that as historical fact too. These incongruities cause a trial of faith for many and a loss of faith for some.

But not for me.

The reason why is simple: I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter if these things are factual, or if they are stories (myths), because they can still be true.

Yes, you read that correctly:  fact =/= truth

A myth is not true because it is factual, but because it is meaningful.

Take Job. Do you really think that God and Satan made a bet? Really? I can go along with someone being faithful through enormous difficulty, but the betting part? That never sat very well with me. (And did Satan visit Heaven or did God visit hell do you suppose? Or did they have a bookie somewhere in the middle?)
What about Jonah? Swallowed by a fish? How about the post-fish part, where he was sitting on the hilltop waiting for Ninevah to be destroyed, and the vine grew to shade him (in one afternoon?), and then a worm (one worm?!) came and ate the whole vine (in the same afternoon?)  Yes, I believe in miracles...but I'm inclined to say that this one is probably a myth. There is a valuable lesson in the story of Jonah, and actually, because of the unbelievability of it, I think it might be better if taken as a parable. Because if we take it as a parable, then we stop saying "oh that poor guy, stuck in a fish" and instead we say "what is my fish? What is catching my attention to point me toward what I should be doing?" In other words, when we hear parables, we skip the "history lesson" part and move right into the "liken it to myself" part. Which I think is the more important part anyway.

I found an excerpt from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien that I think expresses this best:
Myths, Lewis told Tolkien, were "lies and therefore worthless."

"No," Tolkien replied. "They are not lies." Far from being lies they are the best way — sometimes the only way — of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbor.
And so I am comfortable with following in a faith, even though there are some things that may appear problematic. In many things I am a literal believer, but I'm also ok with  trusting that some things might just be parables, and that they are still useful and valuable and, in fact, TRUTHful, even if they are not factual.
That has been very freeing, and helped me maintain faith in the midst of the many conflicting and confusing messages out there.

(My thanks to the several friends, particularly Jared and Genevieve, who helped me sort all this out.)


Mallory said...

Very well put. I definitely agree that there are a lot of stories found in scripture that I can't seem to believe as fact. And that's ok. I appreciate them for their metaphorical value.

It's interesting that you mention some of your scholar friends say that there is evidence that indicates the Book of Mormon isn't historical, because I believe I have heard the opposite! But I suppose it doesn't really you have outlined in this post! :D

MooMama said...


I don't know if I ever shared this with you before, but when I prayed about the BOM I received a very clear message - not quite auditory, but yet almost - that "it isn't true, but it's the truth".

I took it to mean that there were some factual problems with the BOM, but that I could learn the truth within it.

That was good enough for me! :)

Jenni said...

Mallory, I've also heard DNA evidence that says that native americans were from the middle east. I've also seen pictures of archaeological digs that show fortifications the way Moroni built them. There is also archaeological evidence that shows that pacific islanders migrated over from south america (a la Hagoth).
But I hear there is a lot of evidence that points the other way too. And at first it unnerved me a little, and I wanted to go study it...and then I had the realization that it didn't matter whether scripture (any scripture) was factual or not. It just mattered that it was teaching me to do good things, and bringing me closer to God. :)

Linemoren said...

THANK YOU! for putting this out there, though I am not faltering (at the moment), many are and I think we need to realize that that is okay. Thanks for sharing your life-truths!!! :)

Jenni said...

(from my dad)

Just as another minor piece to strengthen the faith of the already converted:

After Wilford Griggs used word print analysis of the book of Mormon, and applied it to Mayan glyphs, and thereby broke open the mystery and unveiled that language for the first time, the international archeological association gave him its highest honor, and made him Keynote speaker at the International convention in Greece (about 15 years back). In his introduction, the president of the association said, "Dr. Griggs, NO COMPETENT archeologist doubts any more that the Book of Mormon is an authentic Mayan Document, but could you please give us a better account of where you received that book."

And just in case you want to do the kind of research that Uncle Bob has spent 50 years doing, you will find that ALL, (100%) of the documents contradicting Joseph Smith's written notes or accounts, in any detail, are false, spurious or vengeful.

Finally, I got the DNA "research" that is running rampant on the net, and it is a loosely woven web of baloney from beginning to end. It traces a genetic marker found (today) only in people of Jewish descent, and found only in about 15% of them. It then fails to find said marker in any Latin American or Native American stocks (though it only sampled a small number of people). It fails to mention that unless it is inbred, the marker is lost, as it is selectively unhealthy.

Furthermore, Lehi was not Jewish. But life is far more interesting. The entire human genome is 99.9% identical across all human beings (obviously) and so differentiating markers are hard to find for any race or group. In fact, the human genome is 30% the same as genes found in lettuce (and why not--genes for sugar, or amino acids or veining should be alike. Why invent the wheel twice?) Yet the article says that the genome--THE WHOLE HUMAN RACIAL GENOME--between the Jews, and the native Americans was 30% different. That is more different than human to spider. And all the rest is just as ludicrous.

Those who choose to doubt will take any bait, will eagerly suck up any lie, are just looking for excuses. Those who choose faithfulness are not put off by lies, and some of us with too much time on our hands are just curious enough to seek out the facts. Maybe this would also be useful info on the blog. If there are "missionaries" for Lucifer trying to deceive, delude and damn the faithful, may you could shore up their faith before they fall.

Carrie said...

This was expressed so well Jenni!

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