In an article published in today’s edition of The Guardian, the author of The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah, Karen Armstrong, distilling the arguments she makes in her recently published The Case for God, suggests that religious people, rather than talking whether or not they believe in a set of doctrines “which cannot be proven rationally since they lie beyond the reach of empirical sense data” should learn – or, more precisely, relearn – that ” religion is something you do, and that you cannot understand the truths of faith unless you are committed to a transformative way of life that takes you beyond the prism of selfishness”
Hers is in essence a clarion call to religious people to subsume the dichotomy of logos and mythos that existed in before Newton and Descartes and their successors subjected religion to scientific scrutiny “and scientific rationalism became the only valid path to truth”
In most pre-modern cultures, there were two recognised ways of attaining truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were crucial and each had its particular sphere of competence. Logos (“reason; science”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to control our environment and function in the world. It had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external realities. But logos could not assuage human grief or give people intimations that their lives had meaning. For that they turned to mythos, an early form of psychology, which dealt with the more elusive aspects of human experience……
Above all, myth was a programme of action. When a mythical narrative was symbolically re-enacted, it brought to light within the practitioner something “true” about human life and the way our humanity worked, even if its insights, like those of art, could not be proven rationally. If you did not act upon it, it would remain as incomprehensible and abstract – like the rules of a board game, which seem impossibly convoluted, dull and meaningless until you start to play.
The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that it’s very difficult to see why one mythos, in a world in which so many competing mythii in what is now close proximity, would be preferable to another.