Monday, February 9, 2009

The Death of the Mythic God

Zeus.jpg
I just finished reading what is possibly the most heretical book I've read to date (and that is saying a lot).  The title certainly is up there on the heretical scale.  However The Death of the Mythic God (subtitled The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality) doesn't really claim G-d is dead, quite the contrary.  But, what it does say is our myth of G-d, our Big Old Man (can you say Zeus) in the sky no longer serves us well.

This book is really two books in one.  The first half is about the death of the mythic G-d and the spiritual crisis we are facing because, as the Christian church and others cling to this outdated notion not only does it impede our ability to get along across religions.  But, it is creating a crisis of faith within Christianity where people are being to told to ignore their common sense and science and just have "faith" to believe in the unbelievable (in the 21st Century).  As Marion points out, many of us are kind of stuck in an in between world, not wanting to abandon the faith of our youth but no longer able to buy into the mythical worldview.  Then, there are those who have simply walked away finding "religion" irrelevant, superstitious and irrational.

Who is this "mythical God"?  A separate "being" who lives in the sky (the people who wrote the Bible literally believed Heaven was just above the canopy of Earth).  He intervenes in human affairs based on our petitions.  People with a mythical worldview take their myths literally.  The world was created in six days.  Jesus was born of a virgin.  These things in themselves are not so problematic. But, they also see themselves as good a nonbelievers as evil.   They believe God is on their side and it's their responsibility to convert the goal to their beliefs, even if they have to use force to do it.  We see this today among Christian (not so much with the force anymore) and Muslim fundamentalists.  People at the rational level of consciousness (and above) see the world as one.  They may or may not believe in the mythic sky God. But, they are on a collision course with fundamentalists. 

The second half of the book addresses the levels of consciousness, mostly using the color coded progression from Spiral Dynamics made popular by Ken Wilber.  I found a lot of it to be review.  However, Marion did add some new insights for me.

Marion points out that a shift in consciousness was required to solve some of the social dilemma faced recently.  A literal fundamentalist view of the Bible not only allowed discrimination against African-Americans, women and homosexuals but actually justified it. Only when people began began bringing a rational level of consciousness to the Bible could they see that these things weren't justified at all.

Perhaps the chapter I found the most important in the book was the one titled "Acceptance of the Death of God".  This can be a traumatic event for many of us.  I can recall being absolutely terrified as some of my old concept of G-d went away (even though I was absolutely terrified of the first concept, also).  I found this passage particularly pertinent:

Christians go to church on Sunday as if entering a time warp, putting the modern rational worldview aside for an hour or two to submit to the old mythic worldview.  Then they reemerge into the rational worldview by which they operate their lives and professions during the week.


That is, if they still go to church (emphasis mine), for many do not because they are tired of this weekly regression and the irrelevance of the mythic worldview to their lives.  Many of those who continue to go to church have entered the fourth stage of dying [Kubler-Ross stages]- depression and mourning.  They miss the way things were and are bereft.  But they see no way back.

Others have gone all the way- into the final stage of acceptance.  They have finally accepted the new situation and no longer go to church.  They have accepted the rational worldview and the death of God.  For them, the dying process is complete and they are lost to a Church that still clings to the old.

I've been fortunate.  I've found a "progressive" church that is not totally immersed in the old mythology.  I still have to to do some "translation" as  Daniel Helminiak called it in the Transcended Christian, especially when it comes to the music.  The lyrics of some of those hymns just, ooh!  But, I think for the most part I've made the transition and been able to accept the "death" of the mythic God and can still make the transition back to church on Sunday mornings.  However, as Spong and other point out, Christianity still must change or suffer the risk of dying out completely.  I don't think the next generation will make that time warp every Sunday morning and the numbers are starting to reflect it.  Even among those who call themselves believers and church attenders, attendance is dropping rapidly.  The "unchurched" (those who haven't attended in the last six months) now outnumbers the number of Roman Catholics (listed at 62 million and wildly inflated since it includes all those ever baptized Catholic).  The church is commissioning studies to figure out how to save itself.  According to Marion, no matter the surface issues, the heart of the crisis is difference between those who still believe in the mythical Sky God (and the myths of the Bible) and those who not.  Unfortunately, the response of most churches to this criss is to cling more tightly to the past and belittle those who cannot by saying they don't have enough "faith".    It generally offers no leadership to those in mourning for the los of their god and offers none to replace the one who has died.

Marion goes into great detail as to who the mythic God was and even argues that Jesus never believed in the mythic God and actually was trying to pull people along out of that level of consciousness, which was necessary for mankind and is still a level that children must pass through.  He gives 12 characteristics of the mythic God and, for each, shows how Jesus taught a different view of G-d.  Wrapping up the first part of the book, Marion gives us a little perspective on the G-d who replaces the one that died.

As I said, the second part of the book deals mainly with the levels of human consciousness although it also goes into the nature of the universe.  I particularly liked the chapter on the consciousness of the "greens" because everything I've seen about "greens" before was about how highly evolved they are. Marion also points out some of their shortcomings, one being that they think all levels of human consciousness are equal and should be "respected".  When a red is coming at you with a baseball bat or a nuclear, you cannot take the time to "respect" their level of consciousness.  You have to defend yourself.  When a society is mutilating women or stoning them for minor infractions, it's OK to say that society is not as evolved as it should be and to do something to protect human rights.  Honestly, the last part of the book felt kind of like an add-on to me and while it was "OK", it was not what I bought the book to find out.

Overall, I'd give the book 3 out of 5 stars.   Some chapters were really great and others were just "so-so".  They just didn't seem to fit in with what I thought the main theme of the book is I did like it enough to order Marion's earlier book "Putting On the Mind of Christ".

18 comments:

Don said...

Guess I'm gonna have to get this one. Man, I keep adding to my list faster than I can read. I have read over 60 books in four years and most probably NOT 60 in the last 40 years!!

Ok, on to this book. As you probably know, one of the first things I did after beginning this journey over four years ago, was to leave my denomination as well as the church. It just seemed to me as a former deacon, that was the only thing to do. I had not yet declared the "Mythic God", and I might add, the Biblical stories that I once literally believed, to be dead. Maybe I got the timeline backward. I don't know. It was only in the past two years that I put the literal Bible to rest and now see it for its mythical and metaphorical value, not as literal history. I have questioned things which I thought were unassailable, ie; the trinity, inerrancy, the existence of an eternal hell,
the deity of Jesus, original sin, the theory of atonement, penal substitution, and many other keystones of the Christian faith. Maybe you see why I now consider myself an Esoteric Christian. I don't think mainline Christianity, whatever that is, will have me anymore.
The most recent death that I have ascribed to is that of the Mythic God. I know, it should have been one of the first to go, however I seemed to have clung to that belief for the reasons you mentioned here. But, the Mythic God is dead. No question. No going back. My best friend, James and I have often shared how easy it seems to have been to turn 50+ years of religion loose, when both were so deeply involved at various levels. I don't know if others who have made this journey have found this to be true or not. How about you?

brian said...

Don,

For me, it comes in fits and starts. I remember the days when I first heard these liberal "Christians" spouting this non-literal heresy. I thought it was a bunch of poppycock made up by people who just didn't have faith.

Given all of the pain that mainline Christianity caused me you might think it would be easy to jettison it all at the first opportunity. But, as much as the Zeus-God I was taught terrified me, the idea of no G-d terrified me even more. You see, for me, I didn't know there was really an alternative.

All of the keystone of the Christian faith you have mentioned have fallen for me, as well. Many would question whether I am a "true" Christian or not. And, that's OK. It's not important to me whether I am or not. I know it's not important to G-d either. For me, Christianity has been (is being) transformed.

I know what you mean about the books, BTW. My wish list on Amazon never runs dry. I just got "Putting On the Mind of Christ" in the mail yesterday and started it this morning. Next in the queue is Thich Nhat Hanh's "Anger" which also came yesterday.

Peace,
Brian

Mike said...

Ihave accepted the new situation and no longer go to church.

Don, your remark about "how easy it seems to have been to turn 50+ years of religion loose" after deep involvement, mirrors my recent experience. That I could leave at all and that it would be easy surprised the hell out of me, so to speak.

Brian, it seems to me that the three of us are closer to being categorized as agnostics rather than Christians. I simply accept the fact I don't know about the unseen, and I reject the claims of those who insist they are the fonts of all knowledge.

brian said...

Mike,

To me, an agnostic is one who doubts the existence of the divine or the "supernatural". While I don't think there really is anything "supernatural", I do believe, with almost zero doubt, in realms, energies, spirits, etc. and I definitely believe in G-d, as in the ground of all being.

There was a time that radio waves, quarks, etc. would have been deemed "supernatural". I think what we call supernatural today is simply beyond the ability of our instruments or senses to detect.

As far as being Christian goes, that maybe is not the best label for me. But, it is one among many that kind of fits.

Jeff said...

I sympathize with many of the remarks made here. For me trying to understand the Bible the way a fundamentalist would is like trying to put on a shoe many sizes too small. Honestly I find such beliefs so hard to fathom that I question whether fundamentalists even belief them. They're so desperate to convince others, and so vocal, it makes you wonder whether they're trying to compensate for their own secret doubts.

The new member ceremony at Nexus actually made me a little nervous for this reason. Many of the statements of faith the new members are asked to affirm are things I'm not sure I believe in. Assuming all goes well, at some point I'm going to want to be a member and I'll be taking part in that ceremony myself.

Do I say 'Yes' just because it's part of the ceremony? Do I try to work out some personal interpretation of these statements that's comfortable for me before I go in front of the congregation? Do I ask that the statements be modified to something I'm more comfortable with and thereby set myself apart from other members?

I'm somewhat uncomfortable with creeds and statements of faith in general. I've found that even in fundamentalist churches there's some variation in beliefs. One size doesn't fit all.

Jeff said...

By the way, I knew that picture looked familiar. It's the cover art for a game, entitled, appropriately enough, Age Of Mythology.

brian said...

Jeff,

I'll let you in on a secret... I don't know that I could have taken that creed at Nexus either. Made me a little uncomfortable. I often have to "translate" to a non-literal mode in church.

If you want to join and need the words modified to suit you, just ask. I'm sure we can make it happen.

Funny, when I heard the vows Buddhists take, I realized I'd have to do the same thing. I can take refuge in the Dharma and I can take refuge in Sangha (community). But, I would not (literally) take refuge in the Buddha. I could take refuge in Buddha Mind or Christ Consciousness though. So, if I ever officially become Buddhist, I'll have that in mind when I take the vows.

Peace,
Brian

Mike said...

Brian, It sounds like you are still quite sure about God in many ways. At this point I see no objective basis for that kind of faith, although I remain open and certainly non-condemning.

Let me say this: If I wake up on a glassy sea facing Christ on a throne, I will immediately bow my knee and confess with my mouth Christ is Lord, with utter sincerity and immense pleasure.

If that is even minimally Christian, then I am still only an agnostic Christian, because I am simply not sure which, if any, of the many competing and contradictory claims of Christians are true. Therefore I cannot be sure any of them represent truth.

At worst, I am simply agnostic, by which I do not mean to convey doubt as much as a lack of confidence. I just don't KNOW, not because I am hard-headed, but rather because Christianity has done a piss-poor job of presenting any sort of unified message that makes any kind of sense.

brian said...

Mike,

I think we may pretty close to being in agreement. When it comes to being a true Christian, I would agree that my position is "doubtful". I'm certain many would say I am not a Christian (and that's fine by me). I call myself a Transcending Christian because while I don't take much of the Christian mythology literally anymore, I do still follow the example of Yeshua and I believe in the Christ Consciousness available to all of us.

When it comes to the existence of G-d though, I am most definitely not agnostic. I am as sure about that as I can be about anything.

Being a Christian and believing in G-d are two totally different things in my mind (although one can obviously do both).

Peace,
Brian

Mike said...

Brian, I agree that most Christians would not consider either of us "truly" Christian. There's probably not much value in stretching the definition too far.

How are you so certain about God? Having formerly been an evidentialist and later a presuppositionalist, those systems no longer seem adequate to me.

And, just out of curiosity, why do you not spell out the name? I think the Jewish people followed such a tradition out of respect.

brian said...

Mike,

Depending on how you define God (or on which level you look at it), God is either extremely self evident (as in God being the ground of all being) or completely and utterly unprovable (as in a separate Zeus-like being that lives in the sky).

The fact that I am here points means there is something rather than nothing. If I look at God as the source of all Creation, then Creation itself if evidence of God.

I don't spell out G-d for a number of reasons. It started out of respect to the Orthodox Jews I was communicating with. It continues out of a respect for G-d and to remind myself that there is no noun that sufficiently describes G-d.

Peace,
Brian

Mike said...

Thanks, Brian. That is helpful!

karen said...

I hate labels. Period. Yahweh is big, way bigger than anyone supposes. Most folks who write about a mythical God have had little to no experience on an intimate or supernatural level with God, and take that as evidence of non-existence. What an egotistical viewpoint. I've never been to China, therefore it must not exist, and I am well able to discount any evidence that I have not personally experienced. Tolstoy said that materialists mistake the limits of life (as what we can see, hear, and touch) as life itself. We only know so much, we only see so much. Hebrews says that what is seen is made from what is not seen. Physics in an ancient text...they had no way of understanding or even proving that.
Of course Jesus doesn't look like the long haired bearded Greek or Roman icon we're presented. God isn't up there on "throne" in a sky-city. The other realm is...another realm. Quantum physics just tickles me because it's our lame, baby-step journey of discovery of what's real; the beginnings of discovery of the connectedness of everything--the All in All.
Supernatural is that which is not natural for us, nor understood by us. I used to be agnostic, but coming face to face with a Middle Eastern man in a vision forever changed that. A 15 year old Iowa girl had no concept of what Middle Eastern was. I used to think the Bible was a sexist, homophobic manual, but studying the languages changed that. I love to read "heretical" texts and am myself a heretic as far as Christianity is concerned. There is not a label for me; but I know that Yahweh is, Jesus is, because I cannot discount the countless experiences that I've had and all things lead me back to Him/Her/It. Whatever. I doubt that most folks in church really see that Charlton Heston kind of God. I haven't really seen that they're still selling that in most churches. I'm less concerned with fixating on a white-haired deity than I am in the ridiculous shackling that all religion brings.

brian said...

Thanks for your comments, Karen.

It's hard to say what "most" folks think about G-d. But, I'd guess the mythical Sky God on a throne is still fairly commonly taught and accepted by people who were raised as Christians.

karen said...

I've been visiting a multitude of churches lately, and no one is selling this viewpoint. They are very much more spiritual.

brian said...

Karen,

That is good to hear (that the churches you've been visiting have evolved past the Sky God stage.

Perfume of Presence said...

Hello, my name is Chris and I live in London. I came across this site after picking up Jim Marion’s book, “the death of the mythic God.”

Forgive me, as I find using the Internet difficult, but I have a question. At the back of “the death of the mythic God.” Jim recommends us to go deeper into our tradition. His advise is if you are a Catholic to go to daily mass and receive communication. I find this curious, as I left Catholicism because I felt the Host was magical thinking and exactly what Jim was skillfully inviting us to move beyond.

I would be keen to explore this with anyone who is willing to help me understand.

Chris

Perfume of Presence said...

I should add that I left the Catholic ten or so years ago and now feel fully at home with the Quakers...a true breath of fresh air for me.

The catalyst for the switch came one day whilst attending mass and being given the eucharistic host. All of a sudden I realised that all my adult life I never believed in it, yet never wanted to give up that wanting to believe it. Until one day, when I just gave up that wanting to believe.

There I was holding the host and and not consuming it. I was soon confronted by the eucharistic minister and asked for it back. Which I did. Then I was asked to turn my pockets out. I was not in the least confrontational, I obliged. In that moment, I was just stunned into seeing how my life was underpinned by the longing to believe at the expense of a deep reality.

That was the last time I took the eucharist.

For me everything is holy, and it does not require a man who has undergone a certain training to say a prayer to make it so. In truth I have always felt this way from the start.

This is what generally confuses me. Why would JM advocate getting behind such an mythic magic belief in communion?