Sunday, May 03, 2009

The mythology of modern life

Celebrities are the gods and goddesses of our age. A sordid, petty pantheon they are, but they are all the culture offers to fill the vacuum caused by the death of mythology and folklore.

Commercialism does not recognize awe and wonder unless these emotions pertain to products that are being sold to us. In the commercial world view, nature is only a place for consumption and entertainment. Therefore the sense of awe before nature, the intimate experience of nature as power, being and sustenance of humankind, is replaced with empty acquisition and spectatorship. An entire realm of mythology and spirituality has been banished to the margins of life.

Much of the organized monotheistic culture has staked its authority on the flimsy notion that its myths are “literally” true, i.e. science. The unintended result is that “myth” has now become synonymous with “falsehood” in the popular mind. Fundamentalism blames science for this, because literalist religion is blind to the potency of myth, considering it only as a means to enforce obedience to the social order. We are left with a religious culture that has been drained of meaning. When myth is hardened into dogma, it dwindles down into superstition.

Spirituality as such is tainted in the popular mind, both by commercial culture which ridicules it, and organized religion which has largely neglected and abandoned it. In the debate between theists and atheists, there isn’t even any conception of spirituality as a phenomenon, since it essentially lies outside the endless and futile struggles over “belief.”

People need folklore and mythology because our imagination discovers meaning through stories and symbols that illuminate all aspects of life. Their significance is subjective. The historicity of King Arthur is of no account when considering the power of the mythos surrounding him. Even in the case of Jesus, where his historical existence is an essential aspect of the religious tradition, the power of the tradition as it affects the soul of the Christian is not historical.

The modern age, then, finds itself in a predicament whereby the subjective is not considered meaningful. Commercial culture promotes the “meaning” of owning products, of prestige through material possessions. The dominant religious cultures promote the “meaning” of obedience to a patriarchal social order. It hasn’t worked. People still need mythology, and so we end up with the pathetic mythos of the celebrity. Homer’s gods and goddesses fell in love and squabbled and broke up and fought over children as well—as I said, myth illuminates every aspect of life. But they did much more. Our present-day pantheon does nothing but reenact the blind dramas of romance and personal conflict. Our myths reflect badly on ourselves—the horizon of imagination limited to the most narrow boundaries of alienated self-involvement and powerlessness.


Liberality said...

Our myths reflect badly on ourselves—the horizon of imagination limited to the most narrow boundaries of alienated self-involvement and powerlessness.

how very true. great post here Dashiell!

Chris Dashiell said...

As always, you are so kind.

DED said...

Good post, Dash.

DED said...

In reference to an earlier post of yours, Twitter is the modern day Oracle at Delphi for our celebrities. People can follow their favorite celebrity's activities 24/7. And then people can text their friends with the latest. "OMG! Did u hear? Paris ate a donut!" The weekly tabloids can't compete with that.

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