Sunday, January 5, 2014

Twelfth Day of Christmas 2014

I'm writing on a computer and what I write will be accessible by other computers all around the world (but probably not everywhere, allowing for some governments possibly blocking Blogger). To get to this technology, someone had to think a certain way and I'm ultimately glad someone did. I do rather love the internet.

At the same time, I also know that to get to this scientific process, we lost a mythological way of thinking. Having lost that, we've lost a way of reading that doesn't rely on facts. With that loss, we also lost a way to read the Christmas story.

Because what Matthew and Luke were up to was not reporting, but explaining to their culture who they understood Jesus to be. They used common Hellenist tropes (like virgin births or stars appearing to denote deity) to tell the world that Jesus was the Messiah.

So when I post about the differences between the gospels or otherwise point out how some piece of the story is probably not factual, it's not because I don't think the stories are true, it's because I don't think it helps us, in our current age, to talk about miraculous stars and virgin births to a world who wants facts, precision, verifiable and repeatable results.

This is where I no longer believe in things like the "plain meaning" of scripture. I'm not sure that speaking of divinity via the appearance of a star brighter than the rest communicates to us in the same way it did to the first readers/hearers of the story. I don't think it calls up for most people the story of a similar event at the athletic games played in honor of Julius Caesar, hence it doesn't connote the information that Caesar became a god after he died, but this baby was God from birth. (Whatever that might mean!)

Reconnecting to the mythological world of the Hellenistic period gives us more insight, I believe, than a plain reading does. Without learning what was informing the writer of the story, it too easily appears as a fanciful tale, easily dismissed by readers looking for science and fact.

But through the eyes of a mythological reading, you begin to see the subversion, the claiming of Jesus being greater than the Caesars. And this can lead to a deeper understanding of why Jesus was killed, why early Christians were persecuted by the Roman state.

A myth isn't just a fanciful tale, with nothing to tell us. It is a way of telling a truth that science and facts may not have the language for.

So I end these twelve days of Christmas with this: However you feel about virgin births and angel pronouncements and bright stars in the sky, I hope you can find your way into reading the stories that brings you the comfort and joy I mentioned a few days ago.

Just because a story isn't factual doesn't mean it's not true.

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