The Joy of a Mythological Life

Jason Lief Uncategorized 3 Comments

At the beginning of every Biblical Foundations course—a college course for college freshman—I spend the first week or so talking about the importance of mythology. I have them read the first two chapters of the book From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook of Mythology in which the authors work to reclaim the word “myth.” They quote Tolkien, Chesteron, and Lewis on the positive relationship between myth, truth, and history. They demonstrate that myth and fairy tales are not primarily about escaping this world, they are fundamentally concerned with a re-narration of the world, a reclaiming of that which often becomes too familiar. This is why I talk about myth in a course about the bible. Not because I want them to see the bible as myth, I just want them to see (or hear) the bible. I challenge my students in the first few classes to read the bible in the same way we read The Lord of the Rings, not because they are the same thing—I realize the bible is authoritative in ways that The Lord of the Rings is not—but because the divine word spoken in scripture is a word that is wrapped in narrative. It is a word that isn’t content to simply impart information, it wants to narrate our lives—narrate the way we experience this world. Sure, doctrines and creeds are important, and, yes, I’m glad that technology allows us to survive negative 20 degree temperatures and 70 below wind chill. I’m just not convinced that a mythological world view is necessarily anti-intellectual or anti-scientific; a mythological worldview simply reminds us that science is one way to meaningfully narrate the world. It’s just not the only way.

I wonder… What if Christian education took a more mythological posture? What if we didn’t give in to the panicked obsession with job training and career tracks? What if Christian education at every level focused on helping students see the world through a Chesterton paradigm? You know… a magical place where apples and rivers are a wonder to behold, a place where the poor are transformed into royalty, and trees stage a revolution against the horrors of Isengard. Don’t get me wrong—we need doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers. But what would the world be like if our doctors and engineers were more Gandalf than Bill Gates? What if our schools functioned more like Hogwarts than a Fordist machine? What is our students were treated less like commodities and more like wizards in training? What if we read the bible like we read The Lord of the Rings?

Comments 3

  1. How delightful and refreshing. Probably a bit risky, but really not that radical. A mythological approach to scripture is quite common in Catholic traditions. This approach has a tendency to make some of us uncomfortable (is it wrong??), yet the authority of scripture and the kingship of God remain intact. How liberating! Confirms again: God is so much more creative than we can bear.

  2. Well, Jason, I have to confess that I am a case in point of what you are saying. Do you want young Christians to turn out like me? I know that I read the Bible like I read The Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit when I was twelve, in 1965, overnight, it had grabbed me so, and then The Lord of the Rings straight through. It "baptized my imagination," as C. S. Lewis said of MacDonald. Even today, when I need comfort, say after a difficult classis meeting, I might take down The Two Towers and read about "stewed rabbit" and Frodo and Sam in Ithilien, or some other deeply satisfying chapter.
    But one caveat. The "myth" thing is complicated. I don't see The Lord of the Rings so much as "myth" as it is "epic," like the Odyssey. The Silmarillion is more myth, especially the first parts. I know the genres blend. But isn't science our modern mythology? It seems to me that "science" functions today as the mythology of modern North Americans.

  3. I had the same experience as you, Daniel (these things tend to happen for brothers). My question is, is it worthwhile to help our fellow moderns to understand that science is their modern mythology? If so, how?

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