Friday, 13 September 2013

Christians *must* have mythic thinking


Just something that struck me this morning - what lifted me from a mood in which legitimate and necessary pessimism was in danger of going into sinful despair - was the mythic mode of thinking.

Simply reading a couple of psalms then just recalling the spirit of Tolkien's work was effective - this was lifting my mind from the deadly pseudo-precision of the pervasive bureaucratizing of modernity, and opening it into the primal world of the human condition: which is mythic in form.


Before I was a Christian I focused a lot on the problem of alienation and its solution in 'myth'  - and was a part of that 'post-Jungian' movement which seeks to restore mythic modes to modernity.

The diagnosis was correct - partially - but it didn't work because a mode of thinking has neither meaning nor purpose, is self-subvertingly unreal, and anyway cannot be pursued in isolation. Trying to think mythically in a context of modernity is progressively less and less effective.


Yet Christianity as is - is so often so very dry, literalistic, legalistic, bureaucratic - that it is itself alienating.

We crave myth and we get crushing, oppressive dullness or mere cheerful entertainment - the two poles of modernity - meaningless procedure or meaningless laughter.


For Tolkien Christianity was the frame, in a vital sense just there and taken for granted. It was the metaphysics and meaning and tidal purpose - and within it was, properly, mythic thinking: with all the intrinsic imprecision but associative richness of myth.


Myth means; but we cannot say exactly just what it means, and when we try we get it wrong and what results stops being myth.

Myth is what we crave: we crave it like we crave wholesome food and drink; earth, wood, stone and water; trees and skies - not as abstractions but as palpable realities; and we find these in myth and only in mythic thinking, and in real myths.

And three of the most vital myths we lack are: Man and Woman, Marriage, Family. From a mythic perspective, all complications and arguments fall away, we know where stand - the human condition - we know what we want and feel why this must be.


Surely myth ought to be what we think about and the way we think - as Christians? Surely the content and mode of our thinking should be mythic, and this within Christianity?

Rather than, as so often - almost universally it seems - Christianity being non-mythic (legalistic, philosophical, bureaucratic, dead and deadly) modes of thinking but with with a (tediously, monotonously) Christian subject matter.

'Memo wrt. Jesus: Executive Summary and Action points...'



Nicholas Fulford said...

To illustrate my point about meaning from my previous comment, consider this quote from "Man's Search for Meaning" when Victor Frankl and other prisoners from Auschwitz were being force marched across a field in freezing conditions.

We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory...."

Bruce Charlton said...

Nicholas Fulford said: "Mythic narrative always carries appeal, (or it has for me at least.) Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", is a seminal work, which I heartily recommend. Another book which is essential reading is Victor Frankl's, "Man's search for meaning". These two taken together are highly enlightening. Without meaning, and the mythic engine for embedding meaning in narrative, the modern problems of alienation, discontent, and boredom will eat away at people like termites at the wooden frame of a house."

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I thank you for the reference you gave me of Schumacher's Guide for the Perplexed. I noted he quotes Maritain and Gilson at the forefront of his work, which makes me think he was definitely influenced by the revival of Thomism led by those two prominent authors.

I personally have nothing to say about the present post, but in perusing The Peasant of the Garonne last night, I saw a passage about myths and dreams and psychology that you probably would be interested in. Since it comes in a sweep-through of all the problems of our time, or their sources, I think you would profit much from this book.