Talk:Christian Mythology

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Are the examples in this article appropriate for the term "mythology?" King Arthur isn't really related at all to the accounts in the Bible or the Hebrew scriptures. Your right, this article definitely needs some clarification. -- Jzcool


I recommend that ideas which are currently part of mainstream theologies not be labelled mythology. To me at least, mythology implies legends that are no longer taken seriously, like the greek myths. While to a materialist, all the supernatural parts of the Bible may by "myth", to religious believers these things are part of their living faith.

Perhaps a less insulting term can be used, which nevertheless serves the purpose. Perhaps someone less emotionally involved than I am, can straighten this out: neither a fervent believer nor a materialist. Who will it be? --Ed Poor

I agree with this. We have to be careful not to label The New Testament, nor most of the Apocrypha, belief in the existence of angels, demons and the devil or Hebrew New Testament quotations as 'mythology'. This label will indeed offend many Christians. I'm afraid whoever started this article will have to come up with specific stories generally considered myths. Then we can look at those examples one by one.--TK

I think it is entirely appropriate to describe these stories as myths. A "myth", despite the popular impression to the contrary, is not a false story -- it is merely a religious story. If we are not going to call Christian religious stories false, what right do we have to call the religious of the ancient Pagan faiths myths? To make this distinction between Christian stories and Pagan stories is not NPOV.

And if you counter that many people today make use of Pagan stories, or find them in some way enjoyable, without believing in their truth: the same thing applies to the Bible also. Many non-Christians find the Bible an interesting book to read without actually believing half the stories therein are true. -- SJK


As the main author of this page, I certainly meant no insult, and I tried to keep a NPOV that was sensitive to religious faith.

I think there are stories that are mythological that have very strong Christian themes -- these I would call Christian Myths. For example, the stories of King Arthur and stories of common folk outsmarting the Devil. (Folklore might be an interesting avenue to explore as well.) These are less controversial, I think, because fewer people believe these to be divinely inspired truths.

More controversial are texts that to some are both sacred and true but that to others are merely equivalent to other mythologies -- for example, the beginning of Genesis and other creation myths, the story of Noah and portions of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Norse Ragnorak and the Apocalypse. I suggest that the best way to approach these topics from a NPOV is to point out (with citations, ideally) that some consider these to be mythological while others find such characterizations offensive.

Ed Poor, you seem to disagree with the terms "myth" and "mythology." I hope I will not offend you by quoting from the myth page:

A myth (not to be confused with an urban myth or urban legend) is a story which has deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for a culture. The term is sometimes used pejoratively in reference to the beliefs of a religion, to imply that the story is both fanciful and fictional. It is more often used to refer to a story that has been recorded as part of the history of a culture.

(snip)

The myths that make up a culture's mythology are stories with deep explanatory or symbolic resonance for a culture.

Let me invite folk to talk about why these definitions are offensive and to offer ways to redefine them with more of a NPOV. Should we link this page on the [[:Wikipedia utilities/Controversial subjects|Wikipedia utilities/Controversial subjects]] page? Thanks for your feedback -- Cayzle

Can't get that darn [[:Wikipedia utilities/Controversial subjects|Wikipedia utilities/Controversial subjects]] link to work!


From Merriam-Webster dictionary (www.m-w.com) . . .

1 a : a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b : PARABLE, ALLEGORY 2 a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society <seduced by the American myth of individualism -- Orde Coombs> b : an unfounded or false notion 3 : a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence 4 : the whole body of myths


When discussing 'myths' on Wikipedia, sense (1a) above is the primary one we would use. Note that that definition says nothing about the truth or falsehood of the events -- it says it is "ostensibly historical", without saying whether it actually is or not.

The other MW definitions, like (2b), really can't serve as the basis of an encyclopedia article -- we aren't going to write an article on "unfounded or false notions", especially since no one could agree what those unfounded or false notions were...

I see no problem with calling the stories of Jesus, Noah, etc., myths. People may find that offensive at first, but so long as we make clear that by calling them myths we are passing no judgement on their truth or falsehood, just commenting on their religious significance or cultural function, than they would no longer have any rational reason to be offended. -- SJK

I don't think that's going to work, because the MB (2b) definition will seem to be operating, regardless of your sympathetic intent. How about 'Creation Myths' as a separate article?
Creation myth is already a page of its own -- and I like the idea of linking to it! But many myths are not about "creation" at all. -- Cayzle
The MW definition (2b) is not NPOV. We really have only two choices -- make our mythology articles use MW definition (1a) (in which case the story of Jesus is undoubtedly a myth), or else not use the words myth or mythology at all. So either Jesus is a myth, or there shall be no mention of myths at all. If neither choice sounds ideal, that is only because of inbuilt Christian (or Jewish or Islamic) bias that most readers have. -- SJK
I suggest that a good approach might be to use MB (1a) as a foundation and acknowledge (2b) as a common point of view -- see my latest change to the page. -- Cayzle

I really like this latest version except for this: "Some people may consider referring to the Bible as a collection of myths to be offensive, but that is only because they have failed to understand the definition of myth we are using here." This sentence, especially the last half, sounds a little smarmy. I suggest, "Note that some people may consider referring to the Bible as a collection of myths to be offensive." and just leave it at that. -- Cayzle


Removed the following text because it doesn't really fit with the bullet list: Thus, the entire Bible is a collection of myths; something which even those who accept it as literally true would agree with, using the definition of myth we are adopting here. Some people may consider our referring to the Bible as a collection of myths to be offensive, but that may be due to a failure to understand the definition of myth we are using here. Somebody might reuse the content if the article is more comprehensive. -- HJH


I like the introduction as it is now. If someone later on reuses the removed text, he or she may consider to change it into a less 'didactic' version, avoiding the word 'failure': Thus, the entire Bible is a collection of myths. Some people may consider referring to the Bible as such to be offensive. However, using the definition of myth we are adopting here even those who accept it as literally true would agree. --TK


On reflection, I am not convinced that the Vodun reference is appropriate, primarily because my knowledge of it is so scanty. The question is, does Vodun include narratives (stories, legends, or tales) designed to enlighten, explain, or reveal truths? You can't have myth without narrative. Could someone who knows Vodun help out here? -- Cayzle


I'm not sure I agree with the addition of Pilgrim's Progress, especially in contrast with Narnia and the Selfish Giant. Both of the latter also include traditional mythological elements (mythological creatures, miraculous events, depictions of supernatural forces embodied in corporeal shapes). These are elements of fantasy fiction that are archtypally used in myths. Does Bunyon include any of these? Does Pilgrim's Progress fit the definition on the page? -- Cayzle


It's been a long time since I read it, but I think that Pilgrim's Progress at least includes "depictions of supernatural forces embodied in corporeal shapes", but mainly by running into a person named "(your favorite supernatural force here)". In other words, he didn't exactly make you guess what he was referring to or what was meant to represent what. In most or all of the others, there's plenty of symbolism, but the meaning of them isn't nearly as explicit. I'd be inclined to say Pilgrim's Progress is in another genre... --Wesley


I tried to compromise with my copy-edit, but I'm still unsatisfied as the connotations of unfounded, false, and imaginary seem inescapable. The article reads as an attempt to reduce religion to a level below that of science. --Ed Poor


I agree, and as long as stories are characterised as mythology that are actively believed as true, that will stay true. As I said on the talk:Scientific Mythology page, the technical use of myth as refering to true statements is not generally understood by the reading public at large, who I understand to be the target audience of the articles on wikipedia. -- BenBaker


I think it is obvious--though I am not a Christian at all but basically think much religion talk is nonsense (so I don't even like to call myself an atheist, because I don't know what it would mean to deny that God exists)--that the title of this article is extremely prejudicial. To label a body of literature "mythology" is to imply that it is false, or that it ought to be doubted anyway. Obviously, Christians disagree with that. When disagreement of this sort arises, what do we do? We try to rewrite the title, and the article, from a more neutral point of view.

This isn't even very hard! We just have to remember that it's what we're doing. Why can't we try to work toward compromise more often? Surely most of the same purposes of this present article can be achieved in the context of an article called the stories of Christianity. Why do we have to exert so much energy trying to make Wikipedia reflect our own personal views? --LMS

I'd hypothesize that it's because if we aren't going to call Christian stories "Christian Mythology", but we are going to call Celtic stories "Celtic Mythology", we are violating NPOV. First, we try to stay NPOV. Second, we try to reflect real world usage. This is a case where real world usage is decidedly NPOV. My religion is *based* on Celtic Mythology -- so do I now complain about it being NPOV? I'd sure have reason on my side, wouldn't I? Are you going to treat my religion differently from Christianity because it's not "mainstream"? Or are you going to water down the common terminology "Celtic Mythology" to "Stories of the Celts"? Shades of PC!
Don't worry, it's not a problem for me, anyway. I know my relious stories are considered "myths" by the majority of people, so it can stand as it is. But if we hold to that argument, the majority of people consider Christian stories to be myths, also. They just happen to be the majority in our part of the world and on Wikipedia. --Dmerrill
P.S. If I got a bit flamey, I could get points for arguing with LMS on the Are you a Wikipedaholic" test. ;-p

I'm confused by this argument. I can't tell if I should agree or not with your point. On the one hand, I'm fully aware that some neopagans regard their religions as derivative of old Celtic religions; but I am not aware that any of them would take issue with the words "Celtic mythology," per se. On the other hand, it's well-known (and therefore just maybe a smidge dishonest of you to pretend otherwise?) that many Christians will take issue with the freethinkers' and liberal theologians' label for Christian stories, "Christian mythology."

It's not about being politically correct--it's about being (1) polite, and more importantly for our purposes on Wikipedia (2) non-prejudicial.

And yes, common labels can be very prejudicial. Think of racial epithets. --LMS

I sure wasn't trying to be dishonest, and I don't think I was being dishonest, but I also was not clear. I only wanted to point out that a sizeable number of people consider Christian stories to be mythological, a sizeable number consider them to be largely true, and a sizeable number consider them to be literal fact. The same goes for Celtic mythology. Despite my personal view that they are all mythological constructs that explain truths in an accessible way, I think the same consideration should be given to those who believe otherwise, whether Christian or Celtic. I personally don't care whether we use "mythology" or "stories", but I do care about it being applied consistently.
And I should have never even mentioned PC. I don't think that's what you were doing. --Dmerrill
I don't have any idea where to put this interjection, so I'll put it here. Many of the stories of the Bible are what you are calling myths. Some of them, quite clearly, are meant to be understood as metaphor or secret communication (like the Revelation of St. John). Some of them are just meant to be a plain description of historical events... so I don't see how one can talk about the Bible as a whole being either a myth or not a myth. --Alex Kennedy

The mere fact that some people will be offended by something does not, by itself, imply that it's wrong or biased. How can we call the stories of Sumerian gods "myths" and not call the same kinds of stories, told for the same kinds of purposes, "Christian myths", just because some (well, really, only one that we know of) might object? Are we men or mice? --LDC

Re this "The mere fact that some people will be offended by something does not, by itself, imply that it's wrong or biased," I'd agree, but I would add that the mere fact that some people will be offended by a certain label makes it very likely that it's biased. Remember, we're using a sense of bias, or neutrality, according to which something fails to be neutral, or is biased, if some significant minority of experts (or concerned parties) would disagree with a characterization. If the concerned parties are offended by a name, surely they'll disagree with it. --LMS


We exert a lot of energy probably because our deepest held views are the ones we have passion about, and passion is a strong motivation toward change. (and of course, we are talking about changing wikipedia)


Yeah, but look--if we all tried to channel that passion into a passion for truth, namely the truth about what various people (and the experts where expertise is needed) believe, Wikipedia would be a much more pleasant and (I'd argue) more productive place. I for example am not particularly interested in using Wikipedia to promote my own pet views of agnosticism (in a broad sense), libertarianism (the truth is out!), ethical naturalism and objectivism (even more shocking), and anti-supernaturalism (or, love of science, if you will). And yet I sure don't have to think to myself, "Gee, I'd better work on Wikipedia or I won't get paid"--I mean, I'm more addicted than anybody! So, on the one hand I'm addicted; on the other hand, I'm not grinding axes (I think).

Am I really to believe that some of these people here couldn't be interested in Wikipedia if they weren't using Wikipedia to grind their personal axes? --LMS


Is it a personal axe to say that myths revolving around Christianity do exist, and that the best way to treat them is under the topic of "Christian Mythology?" What about Narnia, at the least? See my citation of Christianity Today magazine -- which was removed!! Why was my citation to a Christian authority removed from a page on Christianity, anyway? I've been checking this topic VERY frequently, and it makes me sad that this page was removed so quickly that I had no chance to debate the issue before the work was complete. -- Cayzle

I'm with you, Cayzle, but try to remember that we passionate religious believers are participating in an NPOV project. We gotta find a way to channel our passion into writing that meets the NPOV standard. Is it easy? No way! If I hit the mark 80% of the time, it's a good day for me. Ed Poor
Thank you, Ed, for your kind words and attitude. Also note that my citation to Christianity Today was not removed, just put into one of those [1] things where I missed it at first. Sorry. -- Cayzle
and Ed, I simply feel that if I make an effort to be sensitive to non-Christian point of view, that they should make an equal effort to be sensitive to my point of view. Is it really too much to ask? -- BenBaker
Reportage that particular people hold particular points of view is at home here. But minority points of view expressed as if they were accepted or majority points of view are not, and failing to report on a significant point of view simply because it's offensive to some is also unacceptable. This is an encyclopedia, not a discussion group. An article should report on the state of the world--including the state of people's beliefs. It shouldn't bend over backward to pander to any of those beliefs, or misrepresent them. --LDC
I'm glad you agree with me, Lee, minority points of view should not be misrepresented as majority points of view, and should be labeled as such. The only concern I have is that when 'everyone knows something', it is hard to point out what numbers of people hold a view. We each live in our own world, in some strange solipstic way, wherein the people we find around ourselves tend to hold views similar to ourselves. -- BenBaker

Cayzle, maybe you don't have an ax to grind--that remark didn't apply to you alone, of course, if it applied to you at all! --LMS


Hi. I'm a Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, died to free us from sin, and literally rose from the dead. That being said, I don't find the title "Christian Mythology" biased at all. However, I also don't consider the word "myth" to mean "false story that someone made up". It's unfortunate that the full and rich meaning of a wonderful word like "myth" is so tarnished.

I think the big fight over this page, the making of a science mythology page in response (containing non-mythical material), and the replacement of "mythology" with "story" are all simply ridiculous. That's not meant as a personal insult to anyone involved, but simply my view from a couple steps back. --STG

You don't think the story of Galileo dropping cannonballs from the leaning tower of Pisa is just as "mythical" as, say, the serpent in Eden? It has the same sorts of story elements: the evil establishment of Aristotle, the bold young hero, a memorable setting, and most importantly, a moral lesson: do the damned experiment yourself. It also forms some of the underpinnings of scientific culture. I think "myth" is exactly the right term for it. It also never happened. I share with Larry the concern that this page may reinforce the interpretation of "myth" as falsehood by listing only such examples, so I'll try to find some examples that actually happened if I can find them (actually, the peppered moth story is pretty good there--it's kind of ambiguously true). --LDC

Sure I do! Science has many wonderful mythical elements in its history. I was refering to the original science mythology page that listed Darwinian evolution and Newton's theory of gravity. I quite like the current version, and hope that you continue developing it. Hmmm... do you think many scientists will be offended by the title? ;-) --STG