I suppose if I'm going to make the case for mythopoesis plausible, I have to establish that all of us live within a mythic framework. I'll try to do that another time, but for now let's just assume that all of us live within belief systems. And because our belief systems, no matter how sensible seeming, are saturated, soaked through, with the irrational, our attempts to speak rationally about them are the attempts of a swimmer in the middle of the ocean to dive a few dozen feet below to discover a thing or two about a vastness that he could never even begin to grasp.
What we know is dwarfed by what we do not know. And yet whatever part of that ocean we have explored and have gotten to know is connected to the vastness that lies beyond it. And we can deduce some things about what the ocean is like elsewhere based on what we have learned about it locally, but such deductions are provisional at best. How the ocean works near the surface is quite different from how it works in its deepest depths, and what might be true about its laws here could be very different from its laws there. And yet there is a continuum that connects there with here.
So the best myths are the narratives that we sense come from the deepest depths and yet make sense of our lives here. One cannot but read the Gospels with an open mind and come away from them with a sense that on the one hand they are talking about the ordinary world as we all experience it, and yet they present a narrative that is in almost every way a contradiction to the world as we ordinarily understand it to work.
I do not think it is possible to grasp the astonishing significance of the information given to us in the Gospels unless one opens himself up to the possibility that the world as he has come to know it is not necessarily the world as it must always be. There is the kingdom of this world that operates according the austerely rational Newtonian and eat-or-be-eaten Darwinian principles, and yet within that framework there is another kingdom that Jesus said is "within," which as it grows in strength has the power to subvert the outer kingdom, to turn it upside down and to transform it into something very non-Newtonian and non-Darwinian. Lions will someday lie with lambs, and swords shall indeed be made into plowshares.
But that's not something that will happen to us, effected by some divine intervention; it will only happen if we humans make it happen, and we will make it happen over time to the degree that we live according to the law of the kingdom within rather than simply assuming that the law of the kingdom without is the only law worth taking seriously.
And this brings me to what I wanted to say about the Myth of Redemptive Violence, which exemplifies how we have come to assume that the law without, the eat or be eaten law, is the only one to be taken seriously. It's primal source is the Enuma Elish, and I will recount here quoting from Wink's The Powers that Be:
In the beginning according to the Babylonian myth, Apsu, the father god, and Tiamat, the mother god, give birth to the gods. But the frolicking of the younger gods makes so much noise that the elder gods resolve to kill them so they can sleep. The younger gods uncover the plot before the elder gods put it into action, and kill Apsu. His wife Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos, pledges revenge.
Terrified by Tiamat, the rebel gods turn for salvation to their youngest member, Marduk. He negotiates a steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the Assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots an arrow that burst her distended belly and pierces her heart. He then splits her skull with a club and scatters her blood in out-of-the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full length, and from it creates the cosmos...
In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes, order is established by means of disorder.
I'm going to assume that people who are bothering to read this are on board with the idea that we all live within a mythic framework, even if it isn't commonly recognized as such. And I'm going to assume that since we no longer live in a world of 'given' traditionalism, in which we have little choice about the myths into which we are acculturated, that readers are on board with the idea that we have an obligation to bring the unconscious assumptions in which all myths are rooted and to evaluate whether they are healthful or sickening.
I agree with Walter Wink that the myth of redemptive violence is the one that unconsciously saturates our culture and shapes our perceptions about what is most real, what is admirable, and what has cultural legitimacy.
There are a lot of Christians who are more influenced by the cosmogonic myth of redemptive violence with its roots in the Enuma Elish than they are in the cosmogonic myth presented in Genesis. They accept that the world is ruled by the strong who dominate the weak, and that if you're smart you put your money on the strong man or you get branded as a loser. They look to the God of power and might before they look to the God who speaks in a still, small voice. They look to the strong, violent man for redemption before they look to the suffering servant. They feel more comfortable entrusting their fate to the Boromirs than they do to the Frodos.
This week I'll talk more about how this myth is part of the irrational that saturates our beliefs about how the world works. I'm, of course, not talking about literally believing or disbelieving that this is the way world was made, but in the irrational archetypes that govern our sense of what is real. My intention eventually is to get back to the Genesis myth and to contrast this one with that one, and then to ask: Which myth does George Bush live by? It will be clear that he's as much a Babylonian as Saddam is, at least in that respect. And so is every other gun-toting American who thinks he's a Christian.