Apr 8, 2007

Public Myths & Ideology: Creating the Easter Bunny, Chocolate Eggs, and a Personal Jesus!

One of the best things in our country is the First Amendment--Freedom of Expression.

Obviously there's something that makes people all over the world devote so much time, energy, money, all sorts of resources to specific rituals that represent certain ideals. Religion provides this vehicle to having a purpose in life. People like to feel special and be part of a special group. Also, they need to have something that makes sense of it all, you know, explain the reason for all things that exist. Well, the particular activity doesn't have to make sense in itself as long as it provides a path to an ideal and reinforces the cultural norms of the group. Most people may not even know the origins of what's traditional. Myths have changed over the generations and have been exchanged among the various groups of people. It doesn't really matter when a myth appeared or where it came from [i.e., Pagan practices incorporated into Christianity] as long as it serves a purpose. I believe that myths have played and continue to play a very important and necessary role in human societies. I also believe that they're all man-made [emphasis on man].

There was--still is--a belief that the whole universe has somehow a divine order. Likewise, human societies are governed by this natural, divine order. Under the Old Regime*, there was a very hierarchical and rigid pyramid of society, and, for most of human history, people did not question their station in life.

I don't think a myth has to have a supernatural origin to be enjoyed--I'm a living proof of this. Most people enjoy rituals--formal or informal--without much thought or good knowledge of such practices. Likewise, secular rituals, like those in politics and sports, have the goal of reinforcing norms, promote certain ideals, a communal sense, and a collective purpose. And, that's OK. As long as things work out for the most part, people are content.
My choices don't have to be the choices of others, and vice-versa. I'm OK with this. Personally, I do want to know the purpose of my actions, especially when I'm told, "don't worry, do as I say, because it's best for you, trust me"! I'm not religious--in case you're haven't figured this out yet--but, in my efforts to understand the human condition and behaviour, I've studied religion and want to know more about it. Both of my parents, especially my mother, were religious persons, but they couldn't provide me with answers to my many questions. Most religious people I meet can't do that either. That's fine. What works for them and what makes them happy, it's fine by me. On the other hand, I wish more people learned more about their faiths. [PBS' Frontline is a good way to start, at least about Jesus] I still find it very intrigueging that most don't care to investigate something that governs their lives. Therefore, I've concluded that faith plays an entirely different role than I had originally expected. It gives people comfort.

So, when people wish me "Happy Easter", "Merry Christmas", "Hope you find lots eggs in your Easter basket", "Happy(?!) Halloween", "Kiss me I'm Irish"... whatever it is, I like it! If I think it's sincere. After all, everyone makes his own universe in a way. The perceived is often more important than the actual. Isn't it? I don't see a problem with Atheists For Jesus, for example. Jesus is something personal, like all gods. My personal Jesus is a liberal! I don’t see why I can’t have a personal Jesus like the faithful do. Oh, yeah! A few others agree with the Jesus is a Liberal idea. He was in favor of uplifting the poor & the underprivileged, against social injustice, against violence; he was for generosity & sharing, compassion, and he had no problem associating with prostitutes. I don’t think this Jesus would agree with the American ..fundies who recently told us that his father brought death & destruction to New York City, New Orleans because, and elsewhere, because there were too many people like his friend, Mary Magdalene--practicing hedonism and non-sanctioned love! Here, I do find a problem when the faithful that follow the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell do get up and leave those coots after such statements.

..I gather that Jesus was a very calculating guy. He didn’t do things by accident. He had a plan! A divine plan. I think he still does. That’s why I don’t pray to Jesus. I don’t want to impose. I mean, who am I to show up one day and pray for something that may not be part of the divine plan? If things are to happen, they will, regardless of my begging or the bargaining I offer. That’s simple logic to me. [George Carlin thinks along these lines].

Anyway, speaking of planning to invent Easter. Did you hear about the discovery of the Gospel of Judas**? Fascinating stuff, I tell you. It seems (just as I had suspected 30 years ago) that Jesus had a plan, so, he told Judas to betray him to the authorities. I mean, we couldn't have much of a Christian faith without the resurrection of Jesus, would we? Judas complied and the rest is history as they say.

A year ago, I wrote about this [I'm borrowing excerpts from ..myself above] and I argued that the environment we happen to be born in and the prevailing conditions around us shape our character and much of our world view. Very few people manage to see themselves and their original group from the outside. The less secure a person feels, the stronger the need for an identity that's provided by the group, and the stronger the fear & rejection of the "others". Where do you fall in this?


* The Old Regime denotes ascribed status and religious conformity--this was the order of human societies, until a new radical ideology, that of liberalism replaced it a couple centuries ago.

**There have been many Gospels. But the Church decided (sometimes by committee) which ones should be part of the official canon.

16 comments:

Tuli said...

Sweet post. This Easter must be hard for the fundies what with the Gospel of Judas and the Chocolate Jesus. Though, on second thought, maybe not as it gives them two more things to rail about. I read a poll recently, by I forget who, that showed that most Christians know very little, if anything, about Christianity or the Bible. Sort of like most Americans know very little about America and our Constitution.

Sad and frightening!

Andros said...

Thanks for your thoughts. These days I'm teaching my students about conservatism. It's an attitude, a way of life, and it depends on a few factors like how one handles change. Secondly, how secure a person feels in himself. The less secure a person is the more he/she relies on the group or a higher authority. That's for protection but also for re-affirming his/her identity.

The less secure a person is, the more likely to be less tolerant, less open to change, more afraid of the "others"!

The fundies are scared to death and are very insecure people.

drew said...

I didn't expect you to say myths are still necessary for people today!

Andros said...

Myths can be secular or serve religious purposes. They can inspire, provide a path to an ideal, and/or help keep together a group. Depends on the individual as well as the society at large what kind of myths are maintained.

More primitive societies are more likely to have myths that reflect their society, and those myths have dire warning against innovation and change....

[I hope you get my drift]


PS>sorry for the delay in making the comments available. I must have moderation checks here due to the amount of garbage that comes this way, and when I don't have time to go over the submitted comments, I either don't allow any or I publish them as soon as I can... My apologies.

Kelly said...

Of course, many people don't really want to know. If it feels good, it's real! Like a lucky charm, for example.

Perhaps it's human nature.

Andros said...

When it comes to behavior I don't know for sure what human nature is. I think it depends on the experiences of the individual, and the environent/conditions.

I think some people are smarter because they're exposed to different ideas, are encouraged to think critically, they get an education, and they're basically safe, enjoying some leisure time--necessary requirements for most people to think!

sasee said...

Isn't it amazing that humans in the 21st century believe that there is some kind of divine order when it comes to organizing a civil society?!!!

dr k said...

I dare say, I am religious, but not dogmatic. I also think that Jesus was a liberal. Definitely not a conservative like most American conservatives who only care about the markeplace or how to impose their thinking on the less powerful.

If you take Jesus' teachings about helping the less fortunate and those in need out of his teachings, then what have you got? Not much!

So, I don't understand why conservatives today are not for universal health care!

Anyway, I don't agree with you on many points, but I enjoyed your post. You are a liberal I can understand and possibly work with to make our country better.

N. R said...

Someone else here said how little Christians know about their faith. I'm not an expert, but I can tell you, as an atheist I know a great deal more about my friends' religion than they do.

I think the problem is when people who don't know anything pretent the know everything, AND they want the rest of us to accept defacto their dogma.

I could also understand why people believed anything the Church told them when they people were not educated and didn't know much about anything. I mean the Church was ther to explain the universe. But, today??!!! We are able to know all sorts of stuff. Information is out there.

We should talk. Call me.

Anonymous said...

interesting question: Did Jesus have a plan about Easter?

And, could he possibly had refused his fate? I mean, wasn't there a grand plan to establish Christianity?

Can you have Xtianity without Easter? The death and resurection of Jesus.....

? said...

You ask where I fall into this identity thing....

Well, I do need the group as long as the group allows me to be myself.

But, I consider myself a seeker of truth, and my identity provided by the group although important it doesn't prevent me from seeking knowledge. Like, follow the evidence where ever it leads us... [I know you agree with this because you ..told me]

Have a great week.

Anonymous said...

Often it's peer pressure that doesn't allow you to do what you like. So you get with the program...

Andros said...

Yes, I don't underestimate the pressure on the individual by the group he's a member of. More often, the common attitute prevails over the letter of the law.

For example, the law may provide for equal rights for all, but if society isn't ready to accept this, it usually doesn't happen--not for a long while.

And, I admit, I (most of us) have done things because of peer pressure.

aphrodite said...

Τhe reassuring thing about all these myths, ideas and rituals, embedded in our unique cultures, is that they serve as a sort of a "manual" so as to know what is expeted of you... In my humble p.o.v., that's as far as they go...
They get you through at points when you choose to.

But certainly true spirituality is completely detached from all that. One doesn't need to DO things or THINK thigs, just BE. Not even be things...

Having said all that, though, Χριστός Ανέστη και Καλό ΑπόΠασχα all the way from mama Greece!

xxxx

Andros said...

Aphrodite,

But, I do have frequent & true spiritual experiences, (often in the great outdoors). For me the supernatural isn't a prerequisite to transcending the ordinary and the banal, to reach emotional and physical heights, to experience ecstasy!

Now, I'm OK with people having different paths to any kind of experience they choose. I do feel a bit of sadness when I see people intentionally not having fun.....
For example, my neighbors seem to find God late at night and seem to have a spiritual experience because I hear them screaming, "Oh, God, oh God"!!


I don't know about the goddess Aphrodite and what kind of a "manual" she/you use, but I do hope you don't always do what others expect of you... After all, you have to follow your own bliss! And, live your own life, right?

Hey, thanks for coming all the way across half the world to visit. I was all out of Greek coffee. I hope you forgive me... I'll stream some Greek music over the Net and think of Greece now... Ah, those ancients, they new something when they brought their gods down to earth from Olympus and stripped them of their clothes!

xxx(x)

Tuli said...

Andros:

You said:

"Now, I'm OK with people having different paths to any kind of experience they choose. I do feel a bit of sadness when I see people intentionally not having fun.....
For example, my neighbors seem to find God late at night and seem to have a spiritual experience because I hear them screaming, "Oh, God, oh God"!!"

Perhaps this bit of fun is of the carnal variety which of course could be, under certain circumstances, a spiritual experience.

I know you thought of this!