Definitions and Origins

Philosophy and Psychology of Myths

Do the great religions of today have myths?

Most religions have oral or written narratives that are central to belief. More often than not these narratives transcend the barrier between actual human experience and the supernatural and are, therefore, “mythic” in nature. Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and practitioners of Taoism and Shinto, for example, all have “scriptures” containing such narratives. Religions such as many of those in Africa and the Americas have oral traditions with the same kind of stories. A central belief in Christianity derives from the story of Jesus rising from the dead, even though in our actual experience people do not rise from the dead. Jews believe that the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds) parted to allow the escape of the Hebrews from the Egyptians, even though seas do not part for such reasons. Some Buddhists believe that Queen Māyā conceived the Buddha in a dream by way of a white elephant, although we know that conception in such a manner is outside the possibilities recognized by our experience and common sense. For fundamentalists, stories such as those above can be believed literally; for others, such stories are considered symbolic or metaphorical. However they are received, one tradition’s sacred narrative is a myth to other traditions. We can, of course, recognize another’s “myth” as a beautiful and even profound attempt to understand reality.


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