Fact, Fable or Future?
I recently posted an article I had the pleasure of co-authoring last year regarding spirituality and religion. I was asked to write the article which was to be entitled “Religion versus Spirituality”. I did not select the title nor was I successful in changing it. I did invite a spiritualist to join me in writing it. My purpose in doing so was an attempt to counter the title. You see, for me there is no “versus”. I have since learned that I am not in the majority in that thinking and that, interestingly enough, both theologians and spiritualists agree in the “versus”.
The stories of our creation are largely the basis upon which belief systems are built. If you believe the story, then it becomes a fact, a religious or spiritual tenet of doctrine. If you do not, then it is considered a myth. Myths with factual basis are referred to as legends and those with talking animals often as fables. Victorian literature romanticized some myths, especially those with the more diminutive spirits or deities and fairy tales were written.
All of these stories, regardless of what they are called, served a very important purpose and had a lasting and profound effect on the cultures of the world. For many they were sacred tales. For some they were a compass for moral living. Even for the nonbelievers these tales were a beckoning rod, encouraging exploration and discovery. The premises for these sagas were the benchmarks of living – birth, death, growing, learning, how the natural world operated, man’s environment, and possibly the proposition that there was more than what was experienced in one lifetime.
For many these myths reflect a collective wisdom, things common to all cultures. Three common themes in all cultures are myths about a great flood, a virgin birth, and the afterlife. Myths did not always end with a “happily ever after” although some explained the “in the beginning”. They all spoke of “once upon a time” and like life, expressed both positive and negative, good and evil, life and death. They not only served to teach ancient cultures, they remain popular in our own century today. They have been evident in the arts of the world from cave drawings to frescos to elaborate oil paintings. The reason is clear: They speak to us today as they did hundreds of centuries ago to our ancestors.
Dejan Davchevski wrote a very interesting piece published online in late 2014 at the website, the-open-mind.com. In this piece he continues the division between religion and spirituality by listing seven differences. I do not mean to take issue with Dejan’s thoughts. They are as valid as my own and I do respect that. Let me briefly list his seven differences. They are worthy of your notice. First, “Religion makes you bow – Spirituality sets you free.” Second, “Religion shows you fear – Spirituality shows you how to be brave.” Third, “Religion tells you the truth – Spirituality lets you discover it.” Fourth, “Religion separates from others – Spirituality unites them”. Fifth, “Religion makes you dependent – Spirituality makes you independent.” Sixth, “religion applies punishment – Spirituality applies karma.” And lastly, “Religion makes you follow other journey – Spirituality lets you create your own.”
I think how we undertake our journey tells whether or not Dejan’s words are truth. Much like the myths we are discussing in this series, the core value is what you believe and how you live it. For me, most of his comments are both right and wrong… on both sides of the hyphen. For me, many myths are wonderful bits of literature but I do not hold them to be universal truths. It is comforting, though, when as yesterday I sit in the middle of a thunderstorm with my smart phone telling me how close the lightning strikes are, to think of an ancient deity striking the ground of his mountaintop with a hammer rather than imagine electrically charged particles clashing due to changing air temperatures. I doubt said deity is going to drop out of the skies and hit me; the electrically charged particles….not so sure.
He portrayed a caveman brought back to life after a frozen hibernation in a Hollywood film designed for young adults and teenagers. The ensuing chaos felt by the caveman when confronted with the modern world is the basis of the film “Encino Man”. One of my favorite quotes about mythology and the darkness it sought to explain comes from Brendan Fraser, the same actor who portrayed the caveman in this film. “I guess darkness serves a purpose: to show us that there is redemption through chaos. I believe that. I think that’s the basis of Greek mythology.” Another quote speaks to the passage of time and the inventions of man. “Our grandkids will lead the lives of the gods of mythology. Zeus could think and move objects around. We’ll have that power. Venus had a perfect, timeless body. … Pegasus was a flying horse. We’ll be able to modify like in the future.” These words from Michlo Kaku might seem to be describing life in our current times.
Yesterday I changed a channel on the telly without moving my feet at all. Last week conjoined twins were separated and somewhere, during business hours in a plastic surgeon’s office everywhere, someone is striving to have a perfect body created. Life is too short for us to pick it apart and create divisions. The mythologies of the world are evidence of our commonalities. Continue the journey with me as we explore them and in doing so, perhaps learn something about ourselves.