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Several things that I have read recently including something by Rorty, I forget the reference, and Karen Armstrong's excellent little book on mythology (I don't agree with all of it but it's certainly worth a read) have lead me to some theorising about the nature of religion. Rorty's Social Construction of Reality and Dennet's ideas about narrative self in the Consciousness explained also have a bearing on this but the catalyst was probably last night's lecture on the influence of Lovecraft on the (horrible word) occulture.

My argument's a bit of muddle so I'll use bullet points.

1. The way we understand things is essentially narrative with what comes before causing what comes after.
2. Conciousness is something to do with the creation of an internal narrative from all the feeds the brain is receiving from senses, memory (i.e past narratives) and reasoning (construction of new narratives).
3. Myths are archetypal instances of narratives.
4. Myths can also be seen as rules for living, or about life, but that's not to say that this is the purpose of mythology.
5. Mythology is culturally bound.
6. Being culturally bound, mythology can be affected by those who influence culture.
7. Historically, culture has been very bound by distance and social class.
8. This isolation has lead to certain myths becoming dominant within cultures.
9. With the expansion of the media, the exposure to many cultures, this isolation has been eroded.
10. Also distance in time from the origins of some of these myths has seen them be replaced with others that are more pertinent, or at least couched in a more modern idiom.
11. In fact, many modern mythologies are entirely fictional. It's not the existence of the characters and events that is important but the underlying mythology and whether this narrative resonates with the readers.
12. There's not much evidence to say that ancient mythologies aren't fictional either.
13. In fact, the power of a mythology is to a certain extent related to what it doesn't say. Anything too prescriptive leaves little room for interpretation, anything too detailed becomes open to attack on points of minutiae which are seen to invalidate the major hypothesis (a bit like the way in which our legal system operates).
14. Whilst being modern enables readers to more easily understand a myth, the age of a myth gives it credence because it establishes its credentials. "This has also been so", it says. This is partly why New Age religions are always looking to establish links to the past so they can be said to be Ages Old.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
whollyrandom
Sep. 1st, 2006 10:24 am (UTC)
Colour me intrigued. I certainly agree with your first bullet point (on which reams have, I'm sure, been written - ties in neatly to the media obsession with turning events into Stories ...), and I also think that the stories we tell ourselves (about events, about ourselves, about society), whether particularly coherent or not, whether particularly well thought-through or not, heavily influence the way that we perceive ourselves.

I'm curious as to what you mean by 'modern mythologies', though.
gbsteve
Sep. 1st, 2006 10:43 am (UTC)
Star Wars, the Cthulhu Mythos (particularly for Chaos Magicians), the American Dream, much of the New Age religions.

There's probably also something to be said about ritual which reinforces the narratives by re-enacting them. There's much of this in roleplaying too, except that we go for myth of the week.

The messing with myth is possibly why there is such polarisation about roleplaying. Either you think it's dangerous because it challenges your mythology by undermining it with something new every week or you are so strongly attached to a mythology that you can't understand any other.

This is more of an issue for older religions, the New Age ones haven't really settled on dogma yet and many of the participants are still on their voyage of spiritual discovery (which is something to do with finding a set of myths/rituals that works for them and makes sense in the modern setting).

That said, I know some great Catholic gamers who are not at all threatened by gaming. But when why should they be? It's only a game.

The World of TeenagersDarkness tapped straight into the narratives of adolescence which may explain it's meteoric rise in popularity.
heliograph
Sep. 1st, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)
This all fits for Hubbardism, but not so much for John Frum and Cargo Cults. Unless your theory requires modern media, which neatly excludes John.
gbsteve
Sep. 1st, 2006 03:16 pm (UTC)
I think the mechanism for Cargo Cults is similar but it all happens so much faster because of the culture clash.

Underlying culture generally changes fairly slowly but there are tensions generated by novelty. In the case of the Cargo Cults, the outlandish response to this tension is because it is so much greater than that which might otherwise happen in a culture (as opposed to between). I'm not very familiar with the culture of the Cargo Cults before the Americans turned up but their response probably makes sense in this context.

That's thing about cultural or even individual responses, there's always a context in which they make sense.

davidt3001
Sep. 1st, 2006 02:06 pm (UTC)
Some random thoughts:

About two years ago I bought the souped-up new Penguin edition of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the introduction, the translator airily dismisses the monomyth with "of course, it's universal because it's a metaphor for life...)

You missed out Tolkein. He deliberately set out to create a modern mythology, didn't he?

It's interesting how some motifs -- the hero with the one vulnerability
(Achilles and Siegfried, for instance) are quite common.

New Age seems more syncretic than anything else; they mostly pick and mix the things that they sort of like, then buff them up with a goddess-friendly, cultural inclusive rag...

The messing with myth and polarisation in roleplaying reminds me of that bit in Lord of the Flies when one of them says "we need rules, and punishments for those who break them..."
timgray
Sep. 1st, 2006 04:09 pm (UTC)
Observation: you said you were going to talk about religion but actually talked about mythology.
gbsteve
Sep. 1st, 2006 06:15 pm (UTC)
Religion is underpined by mythology.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )