Modern Myths

The Heroic Monomyth and Modern Gods

Why do humans have to create myths?

Religion scholar Bruce Lincoln (1948–) teaches that myths are useful because they explain reality and provide visions of what reality could be. He also points out that when myths are used to justify the superiority of the ideals and power of one group over another, they can be dangerous. Hitler’s use of German mythology to justify the actions of Naziism is an example of the harmful power of myth.

If humans use myths to justify their actions and/or to explain reality, they also use them because they have to. Humans, as cultural historian Thomas Berry (1914–2009) suggests, might be said to be defined by the fact that they of all species make creation conscious of itself. Only humans are concerned constantly with what Aristotle defined as “plot,” a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like it or not, we are, by definition, travelers through plots—our own lives and our communal life as nations and as a species. Myths are cultural dreams, stories made up by cultures to explain the unknown, to keep the past alive, and to express hope for the future.


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