Thursday, April 29, 2010

Theology and Theomythy

I was just reading Jamie Smith's recent post on "Poetry and the End of Theology" over at his Fors Clavigera blog.  His post reminded me of something I was thinking of several years ago when I was writing From Homer to Harry Potter.

Back in Homer's time, the words λογος (logos) and μυθος (mythos) were near synonyms.  Over time, they came to be distinguished from one another as meaning something like "an account in propositions" (logos) and "an account in stories" (mythos).

The word "logos" is one of the roots of our word "theology," of course.  Theology, then, means something like the attempt to discuss the divine in a logical and propositional manner.  Which is all well and good, unless it begins to turn God into something we only analyze and never experience, about which we speak propositions but whose story never means much to us.

As a philosopher of religion, I think theology is important.  The things we believe have consequences for us and for others.  As one of my mentors, Ken Ketner, puts it, "Bad thinking kills people."  We know this from experience: people use theological ideas to justify all sorts of unethical behavior.

Nevertheless, theology is pretty dry stuff, and its very dryness has a genealogy and has consequences that we should be aware of.  As Jamie puts it, some of the dryness of contemporary theology comes from a Cartesian anthropology that assumes that the most important part of us is that we are thinking things - things that care chiefly about propositions.  If all we care about is getting our religion right, than this is the kind of theology we need, I suppose.

But is that what we are?  Are we not also beings who live in the world, who live out stories, and who tell stories?  Aren't creativity and poetry and loveliness important to us as well?  This got me thinking: maybe what we need is less theology and more theomythy.  I'm not sure just what that would look like, but I think it might be worth a try.  I'm interested in what you believe, sure.  But I'm also interested in hearing your story. 

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