Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Required reading

Just finished reading Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth. Totally awesome book. Definitely on my Required Reading list. In fact, I'd say it's a contender for the Most-Important-Book-No-One-Has-Read prize.

A few choice excerpts (and keep in mind, this is written by a woman who considers herself a Catholic):

Mythical thinking ... ha[s] helped people to face the prospect of extinction and nothingness, and to come through it with a degree of acceptance. Without this [mythical] discipline it has been difficult for many to avoid despair. The twentieth century presented us with one nihilistic icon after another, and many of the extravagant hopes of modernity and the Enlightenment were shown to be false...

[Rationalism] has in many ways transformed our lives for the better, but this has not been an unmitigated triumph. Our demythologized world is very comfortable for many of us who are fortunate enough to live in first-world countries, but it is not the earthly paradise predicted by Bacon and Locke. When we contemplate the dark epiphanies of the twentieth century, we see that modern anxiety is not simply the result of self-indulgeny neurosis. We are facing something unprecedented. Other societies saw death as a transformation to other modes of being. They did not nurture simplistic and vulgar ideas of an afterlife [like having seventy-two virgins in heaven - ed] but devised rites and myths to help people face the unspeakable. In no other culture would anybody settle down to a rite of passage or an initiation with the horror unresolved. But this is what we have to do in the absence of a viable mythology [emphasis added]...

We must disabuse ourselves of the nineteenth-century fallacy that myth ... represents an inferior mode of thought. We cannot ... return to a pre-modern sensibility. But we can acquire a more educated attitude to mythology. We are myth-making creatures... we need myths that help us realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us ... to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred ... instead of merely using it as a 'resource'. This is crucial because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.

It's only 149 short pages. Buy it. Read it.

No comments: