April 16, 2009

Mything Persons (2)

It is no accident that the mid-to-late 19th century catch-up with the Enlightenment on the part of the mainstream protestants (higher criticism, etc.) coincided with the rise in popular interest in the Gothick and Magick. Nor is it unfair to observe that the flourishing of Bultmann's agenda of demythologizing, and the "death of God" coincided with the sudden appearance of flying saucers. Such is our hunger for the Transcendent Other that we will give into consuming that which is not wholesome if we lack what is. The hubris of claiming to understand the incomprehensible, to whittle the divine down to solely human dimension (neglecting that all-important Other nature in the person of Jesus, who is not just us-writ-large but God-made-present), the quest for the merely historical instead of the sacred story -- these were among the greatest missteps in the church's earthly pilgrimage. We buried our treasure in a field.

—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

11 comments:

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

In preaching yesterday on the Emmaus story, I said that our demythologizing, as needed as it may have been, may have led us to the point where we were not open to being surprised by God and the unexpected things that God is doing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure it's true to say that the church lost rich, transformative language because it chose to demythologize. The point of demythologization was to try to find a way to approach texts that were in a mythic language that had already been rejected. (And I'm not sure it would be on balance a healthy thing for us as a society to decide for example that mental illness is evidence of demon possession after all -- I'm just as happy some of that material has to be demythologized to make it make sense to me.)

Throwing out all transcendental, ahistorical, supernatural language would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, of course (and just who is this "church" you keep talking about that embraced everything Bultmann said, anyway? The '79 BCP is pretty full of mythic language). But don't forget that these Magick-loving, flying saucer-seeing, Highway to Heaven-watching people have a pretty free hand to pick and choose what appeals to them. We in the church have to make sense of a document that we say contains all things necessary but is written through a very different cultural filter from the one we read it through.

Peace,

Mark.

Phil said...

I agree wholeheartedly with these short posts. You echo Fr. Alexander Schmemann when you write, “Such is our hunger for the Transcendent Other that we will give into consuming that which is not wholesome if we lack what is.” Fr. Schmemann, a prolific writer on Orthodox theology, observed frequently that man was made to be in communion and to love; it is part of his nature. Therefore, when we turn our backs on God through sin, we are bound to simply direct our love toward other things which do not give life:

“And thus by putting his love in [the world alone and food alone, on their own merits and not as a means of communion with God], man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires. And he died. For death is the inescapable ‘decomposition’ of life cut from its only source and content.”

One thing that we ought to also acknowledge is that, by giving “science” and/or what self-evidently feels good to us supremacy over religious truth, we are engaging in the same kind of demythologizing you decry here. You touch on this in, “The hubris of claiming to … whittle the divine down to solely human dimension (neglecting that all-important Other nature in the person of Jesus, who is not just us-writ-large but God-made-present)…” [emphasis mine]

Tay Moss said...

Reminds me of the "War on Metaphor" that Kathleen Norris wrote about is some of her earlier books. -t

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks Daniel. I think Emmaus is a good example of the need for vision beyond vision.

Mark, thanks also. I am painting here with a very broad brush, a hazard of the epigrammatic form! The "church" I'm speaking of is largely the church of the 50s-60s, which, it seems to me (as it did to Bp John Robinson) to have gone too far in its rationalizing mode. To give an Episcopal example, Margaret Mean warned that in transforming Confirmation from an "entry into adulthood" rite into an "adult affirmation" rite the church was creating a void in the anthroplogical ritual matrix that had been formed in out of the complex interaction of biology, culture, and faith. As this was going on, the RCC was similarly tinkering with its rich liturgical life in ways many have now come to see as disastrous. There is an element of hubris involved in this, and I do think any number of babies went down with the bathwater. What I am for, as I take it Robinson was contra the more extreme regime of Bultmann, is what Robinson called "trasposition" of the myth into a new key -- a key more accessible to the modern mind, but no less powerful.

Phil, thanks for the mention of Schmemann, whose liturgical work I find very helpful.

Tay, I'm only familar with her work by reputation, but it sounds like what I'm speaking of. My next short post on this will deal with language, as this lies at the heart of much of the concern -- the loss of poetry.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I wonder if the myths cease to be meaningful, because neither the Christian myths, the classical myths, the Native American myths, nor the myths of any culture are taught very much in the schools.

I remember how intrigued I was as a child with the myth of the two volcanoes outside of Mexico City, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, which I learned in my geography class.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Mimi, I don't quite know why, but this reminds me of a quote which captures some of what I think I'm trying to articulate here. In one of the great modern myth-maker C S Lewis Narnia books (Voyage of the Dawn Treader), one of the characters is a Star. The very secular Eustace (IIRC) says, "In our world, a star is just a big ball of gas." And the wise response is, "Even in your world, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of."

The real problem with the demythologizing project is that it seems to think that you have to strip away to find out what "is" -- when in fact, what "is" is only what it is because of its context, its cultural clothing, its relationship, to everything else. This is ubuntu at work! I think I'll raise this point in my next post, as language is in large part at issue....

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tobias. I was thinking of Bp. Robinson when I wrote. I haven't read him in a long time, but it would be interesting to dig up my old brown "Honest to God" paperback from 40 years ago. I think he would take some "transposing" to read him in the 21st century, but it might be worth the effort. How great for there to be a bishop still worth talking about almost half a century later!

Peace,

Mark.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, I've forgotten a lot of what I learned of geography, but I have never forgotten the names of those two volcanoes or where they are. Hearing the myth in geography class was an excellent way to teach me that small piece of geography.

Which is another way of saying what "is" is only what it is because of its context, its cultural clothing, its relationship, to everything else.

Fred Preuss said...

Reality should always be preferred to myth.
Stick to what you can demonstrate/prove, what is logical.
The rest is a waste of time.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Logic and reality are wonderful things. But I hardly think that art, fiction, mystery, drama, and poetry are a waste of time. To each his own, I suppose.

But speaking of wasting time, I do wonder why you spend any time at all reading and posting comments in religious blogs? What could be a greater waste of time? These two comments from you are the first ones I've posted out of the many attempts you have made -- since most of the others were simply abusive or contradictory. If anyone is wasting time, it is you.

Still, it may give you some satisfaction. But then, why? What satisfies you if it is not your own enjoyment of the your own myth -- that you could have some influence in this world, and leave something to it apart from accounts and audits?

I'd say, stop wasting your time in forums like this, where you generally seem as out of place as a member of the KKK at an NAACP meeting.