Walt Whitman sang The Body Electric. Let us sing The Mind Electric for its soaring imagination. Nothing distinguishes our species more than our creative capacity and need for story telling. Stories can be grounded in fact and history or wildly fantastical. Both avenues define our culture, our selves, and our species. They are tools for passing down learning and expressing our hopes, desires, needs and are the major source of entertainment. For millennia, they were told person to person, or person to persons, especially around campfires and hearths in the evening. The invention of writing not only aided their spread but also their saving. In the modern world, story telling is the staple of radio, movies, television, and the internet.
Its important to keep stories of fantasy, conjecture, and real events separated from fabrications which are purported to be true. Propaganda and confidence games are especially egregious because the perpetrators know that what they say is false with the intention to misinform and mislead. Fox News being an obvious example. And isn't it revealing that each of the Western faiths that originated in the Middle East rejects the stories and dogma of all other religions including their dozens of divisions and thousands of splinter sects?
The stories told by the Abrahamic religions are, on the whole, presented as literally and historically true, but there is little objective truth in their Holy Books, according to experts like Carol Meyers. The Old Testament is, at best, a sketchy history of early Jewish tribes, more a retailing of tribal myths. And while some of the mythical stores are inventive, as moral lessons, they can be appalling. Is there anything in the Quran that is as blatantly xenophobic as the Book of Exodus? The stories told in the Book of Exodus, for example, and the characters are total fabrications. Nothing in Exodus is true. None of it happened. Further, the God depicted in Exodus is a jerk at best; at worst, mad. Why did he bring the plagues on the Egyptians while “hardening Pharaoh's heart” after each plague “so Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go”?
[Carol Meyers in her commentary on Exodus suggests that it is arguably the most important book in the Bible, as it presents the defining features of Israel's identity. . . . Meyers is a feminist biblical scholar. She is the Mary Grace Wilson Professor of Religion at Duke University. Meyers studied at Wellesley College and Brandeis University. -Wikipedia]
Do the departments of religion at the best universities degrade those institutions when publishing sham tracts pretending scholarship? Is religious scholarship a contradiction? Society suffers when untruth is given an academic imprimatur. What is mostly going on at these universities is careerism. Young people from religious cultures who go into religion as a career often do feel the “Call”. But those who learn better as they continue now have career investment. Reference The Clergy Project which is a support network for mostly older religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs.
So, lets keep telling our stores while remembering that the proper place for fiction whether Swan Lake, The Sixth Sense, or Star Wars is in the arts, not in science, politics, nor religion.
Tell me a story.
Image credit: Charlie Dees, Flickr