Mythological truth: religion as a relationship

February 10, 2010 at 9:25 pm (myth and metaphor)

I was thinking about how conversion to a religion is a bit like getting married.

The decision involves several aspects:

Is this person’s/religion’s values, aims and beliefs compatible with mine?

Are we a good fit? Does the relationship “work”?

How do I feel about the person/religion?

No-one gets married thinking “I can always get a divorce if I change my mind”. Likewise no-one converts to a religion thinking “I can leave it if I change my mind”. Because religion and marriage are things that you grow your life around… extricating yourself from them after many years of investing yourself fully in them is painful, stressful and disorientating. No-one wants to have to go through that.

Some relationships progress quickly to marriage because it is clear to both people that they are a good match. This is partly a matter of actually finding a good match, but also a question of personality – some people are more decisive and other factors like that.

Other relationships might spend several years in limbo, never quite being sure if they want to commit long-term or if they could do better with someone else.

Some people fall in love, elope, and then split up a little while later because it wasn’t based on any real substance. Often this shocks people around them who believed them when they said “this is it” and “he’s the one”.

Some couples keep falling apart and then giving it another try, time after time, never quite being able to completely cut the tie even though it’s clearly not functioning for whatever reason.

When I think over all the stories I’ve read of people choosing religions, I can see parallels for all these types of relationships.

I can only conclude that religion is a relationship. In choosing a religion, you are choosing to marry yourself to a world view. Regardless of how you came to the decision, your commitment from then on has little to do with whether that world view continues to stand up to evidence, and everything to do with a personal attachment to it. You will only let go of it if you no longer love it, because it no longer works, or you discover aspects of it that don’t match your more deeply-held values and convictions. People could show you all sorts of reasons why it’s not true, and it might make you uncomfortable, but it won’t have any real impact. In this sense it is irrational… in the same sense that any relationship is irrational.

It is in this sense that I (tentatively) understand the concept of “mythological truth”, as presented by Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, and Howard Jacobson. It’s not that anyone sets out to believe in a non-literal way. It’s just that if you’re really honest, you will admit that’s the only option left to you if you want to carry on the relationship with religion after its basis – the things you believed in literally when you entered the religion – has been taken apart and deconstructed. It’s like you’re saying, “I know it’s not really true, but I’m invested in it and it’s working, so I’ll keep going with it”. So then there is a need to come up with an alternative definition of truth – it’s not literally true, but it’s true in some other sense.

Although I can cope perfectly well with mythical and allegorical content in scriptures (e.g. the creation story), I’d find it hard to see the basic tenets of the religion as allegory and still find the religion credible. God either intervenes in history or he doesn’t… God either sends messages through prophets or he doesn’t. I can’t really get my head around the idea of truth being relative or subjective. Belief is subjective, yes, but surely truth is not?

And I think most believers – by far – are literal believers. I know I said here that I thought the literalists might be a minority, but I was wrong. People generally do believe literally, even if they don’t follow through with it. (There is an inner contradiction that some people are perfectly happy to maintain – believing something is the word of God, but not reading it, not understanding it, not applying it. I think this is exactly why I tend to be all-or-nothing – I dislike contradiction.)

Maybe it’s something I just need to think about more and read about more.  Maybe if I am comfortable with religion containing myths and allegory, then I can somehow extend that comfort to the point that all my literalism melts away.

I’ll finish the post with some excerpts that describe all this better than me.

Here is an interesting bit from Howard Jacobson’s article:

“I like the idea there is this one God, not to be obedient to, although he wishes obedience and insists obedience, but to be in a perpetual argument with. One of the great scenes in Genesis is the wrestling with the angel, and I think that’s how you read if you love the Bible. It’s a wrestle, and you’re wrestling with something that’s very, very personal.

God changes as the Bible gets rethought and rewritten, but in the Creation, God is almost there. In the very first pages, he’s walking in the garden with Adam and Eve. He’s there. He’s a presence. You can talk to him and deal with him, and that’s thrilling.

I feel proud that my Jewish religion is so rooted in philosophy and argument. Everything is up for constant refutation, endlessly being argued about and criticised. We are like no other religion in the way we subject our holy works to scrutiny. Nothing is so holy that it can’t be criticised, and re-understood, and reinterpreted. The Bible is about infinite reinterpretation.

You can’t disagree with a God, unless you start with a God. That’s the other important reason to have a God, so that you can disagree and reject him if you like. But you can’t reject something that wasn’t there in the first place.”

There were some interesting comments on that article, referring to both the article and the TV documentary it supplemented; I’m not sure I’m allowed to repost them here but I’ll risk it. First, some comments that express the view that I would like to understand but can’t quite:

“I have been studying Genesis in recent years and agree with him wholeheartedly that it is a marvelous work of literature. That doesn’t mean that its religious significance is diminished for those that require it. We have always learned great moral and human lessons from literature. It is probably important not to take it too literally and to enjoy the imagery that it invokes.”

– CAZAKAYE

“It sometimes feels that the world is split and will never be put back. Some of the comments here fill me with despair. The ‘religious’ and the ‘atheist’ comments here are a fine example of this split. Both seem to lack any sense of the doubt and uncertainty that’s required to live honestly in this world. Its not that the religious or the ‘atheist’ need to understand each other better, its that they both need to be in a different place altogether.”

– CHRISTOPHER CLACK

“I was deeply moved by this programme. You expressed with great power and poetic vision what these wonderful texts have to say. The difficulty with the two extremes it seems to me is that neither of them understands metaphor, which is the only language available to express the experience of entering these depths. The result is a mutual blindness and a kind of spiritual desolation or aridity in atheists and fundamentalists alike.”

– DAVE

Secondly, some comments that express the sceptical voice in the back of my head:

“I suppose I feel emotionally rather as Jacobson, as someone who was bought up a Baptist and who, though an atheist, feels a strong pull to ‘religion’, to the holy. However I found the programme infuriating in Jacobson’s unwillingness to admit that his position is practically identical to Dawkins’ and that his pull was effectively simple sentiment, and – worse – expressed in a mock-pious manner that made my skin crawl”

– JOHN LEAKE

“Well, so much for an invitation to see the Emperor’s new wardrobe. Is the tremendous new insight simply that we clever social creatures like to tell stories, and that we are gullible enough to believe them against all facts?”

– DARRENG

I have to admit it seems to be surprisingly easy to suspend disbelief. I still talk about God even though I’m unsure of God. The Big Brother housemates could communicate with a talking tree and keep a straight face.

Here are some excerpts from the prologue of Reza Aslan’s “No God But God”:

“Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith. It is an institutionalized system of symbols and metaphors (read rituals and myths) that provides a common language with which a community of faith can share with each other their numinous encounter with the Divine Presence.”

To that I say – yes, but that seems to me like a universalist, outsider’s point of view on religion. Religious believers generally do not see it that way. But since he is reform-oriented, maybe he is pushing this view to try and help reduce the fundamentalism fuelling what he calls the clash of monotheisms. I think it’s an ambitious aim! He continues it in the following passage.

“…we must never forget that as indispensable and historically valuable as the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet may be, they are nevertheless grounded in mythology. It is a shame that this word, myth, which originally signified nothing more than stories of the supernatural, has come to be regarded as synonymous with falsehood, when in fact myths are always true. By their very nature, myths inhere both legitimacy and credibility. Whatever truths they convey have little to do with historical fact. To ask whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or whether Jesus truly raised Lazarus from the dead, or whether the word of God indeed poured through the lips of Muhammad, is to ask totally irrelevant questions. The only question that matters with regard to religion and its methology is “What do these stories mean?”

The fact is that no evangelist in any of the world’s great religions would have been at all concerned with recording his or her objective observations of historical events. They would not have been recording observations at all! Rather, they were interpreting those events in order to give structure and meaning to the myths and rituals of their community, providing future generations with a common identity, a common inspiration, a common story. After all, religion is, by definition, interpretation; and by definition, all interpretations are valid. However, some interpretations are more reasonable than others.”

I guess I don’t understand why he says that myths inhere legitimacy, and all interpretations are valid. If I’m honest, it seems like this is a polite way to deny the literal truth of religion but still respect others’ literalism. When Paul Merton visited the temple of rats in India and was invited to drink the milk from where the sacred rats were drinking it, he declined, horror and discomfort all over his face… but he still managed to say to the camera, “he believes in this, so it is true, it is real”… and yet somehow I couldn’t believe he really meant it.

What do you think? Do you understand this non-literal approach to religion?

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30 Comments

  1. susanne430 said,

    Great post. I like how you started it with the comparison of marriage and religion. Lot of truth in what you said there.

    Hmmmm, I’m not sure that all interpretations are valid. Isn’t this leaving God’s truth up to our subjectivity? What’s right for you might not be right for me? I just don’t know. It sounds fun and nice for everyone to be right, but the big question for me is ARE all interpretations OK? ARE all paths equal? Do they ALL lead to God? Because that’s what his statement means to me — we can get to God however we interpret the path. Because all paths are valid…some are just a bit more reasonable.

    Too relative for me.

  2. Jasmine said,

    Myths can be true without being fact – like for example: the story of the toroise and the hare. Its not truth or fact that this race occured, but it is neverending truth about two attitudes and characters – arrogance, and over confidence versus hard work, determination and not giving up.

    “Religion is not faith” – I totally agree. I also agree with your marriage analogy: and like marriage – the person you meet and fall in love with (your religion) turns out to be a different person once you get to know them – and then you have to try and find a way to change it – but then of course, you cant change it. BUT, like in marriage, if your religion is abusing you, or turns into a man of no morals and treats you bad -then you have adequate grounds for divorce and in my opinon thats OK. You cant stick with something that is hurting you.To do so would defy logic and reason.

    Dalai Lama says that doubt is religions best friend. That first you MUST doubt, in order to analyse and meditate on answer and then see the real truth without bias. So…Hmm.

    Good post, packed to the brim as usual! Peace, Jasmine xx

  3. aynur said,

    Great analogy, I think it’s perfect!

    I think that over time, yes even myths become accepted as reality. Look what happened with some (or many) hadiths – I was reading one that used to be accepted that narrated something along the lines of if women were educated they became witches. So, that was accepted as a legitimate reason not to educate women. (I have no idea if anyone still believes that nowadays). But anyway..

    It looks like his definitely of “myth” is a bit different than what I thought it meant … when I think of the word myth I think of something made-up, not real.

    When he says: “To ask whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or whether Jesus truly raised Lazarus from the dead, or whether the word of God indeed poured through the lips of Muhammad, is to ask totally irrelevant questions. The only question that matters with regard to religion and its methology is “What do these stories mean?”

    That’s exactly what I think … and I tend to think of more rational explanations for those things – like a natural occurrence that made it look like Moses parted the Red Sea (with God’s help telling him, somehow), that the part about Jesus raising Lazarus was either symbolic, or that he was in a coma or something.

    “I guess I don’t understand why he says that myths inhere legitimacy, and all interpretations are valid. If I’m honest, it seems like this is a polite way to deny the literal truth of religion but still respect others’ literalism.”

    Well, how can one say that their interpretation is the only interpretation that is correct, and be certain? I mean, *they* can be certain, but does that mean their way is the only way? There is no way to “prove” it. I agree, it seems like a polite way to deny the literal truth of religion. 😉

  4. Achelois said,

    First, congrats on a great post! 🙂

    Exactly! converting is like getting married, or planning a family!

    “If I’m honest, it seems like this is a polite way to deny the literal truth of religion but still respect others’ literalism.”

    I agree with you completely. When I read this in his book, I was completely confused 🙂 He isn’t direct through his words but does mention in the preface that if his work symbolises apostasy then so be it; he would tell the truth. And I feel the truth is that he doesn’t believe that Muhammad received revelations, but that he thought he did and the end result was *miraculous* – in a mythical way 😀 LOL. The whole book tries to justify Islam while still believing that Quran is a myth.

    I guess I can’t understand a non-literal approach to religion especially Islam because if one reads the supplementing history and oral traditions one will not be able to ignore that the early Muslims as well as the Prophet were very literal; they truly believed and accepted the literal approach to religion and the Quran. There was no understanding of myths or metaphors, if that was the case, metaphors and myths would have existed only in the Quran and not in hadith, but hadith is often equally mythical. The Prophet and the early Muslim did believe that Moses parted the sea; they believed that Mano Salwa was dropped from the sky and they believed that ababeel threw pebbles to save the Kaaba. These were not mere myths to them or to the majority of Muslims even today. I would have liked Aslan to explain that somehow.

  5. Wrestling With Religion said,

    I came across this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Myths-We-Live-Mary-Midgley/dp/0415340772/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I3LRYQCN2EB4E3&colid=2L6W7ZOHRM72I
    You can look inside it and read a bit of it. I think I might get it, it looks interesting, even though the 2 reviews both express negatives.

    This evening, out of the blue my husband confessed that religion is myths for him. Spooky coincidence! It was an interesting conversation. He basically feels that too much Islam can be bad for you, but a moderate amount leads to a good stable life and he hasn’t seen anything that does as good a job or better. He said he was afraid of becoming an atheist if he learned too much about Islam. Wow!

    • LK said,

      I don’t blame him. You have to be careful too much studying can destroy religion for you. I think we all know that this is true. I’m trying to be very careful of it myself.

      • Safa said,

        Wow, what a coincidence

        But if too much studying destroys religion for a person, what does that say about religion? Shouldn’t we study it more and ask questions?

        I’m not necessarily in the same situation that your husband is in WWR, I want to learn more about Islam and let it lead me to a conclusion.

        But thought provoking post! Especially the nice analogy between marriage and relationships

        • Wrestling With Religion said,

          That’s what I thought… what does it say about a religion if too much of it either leads you to a bad place or else makes you reject the religion? I would be unable to live with that sort of contradiction. But I can understand him, it is not easy to let go of something.

          • susanne430 said,

            Wow — interesting words from your husband!! Isn’t that a frightening place to be though? Not wanting to learn more about your religion for fear it will be wrong (or you’ll end up atheist). I think it’s good to question things and find out why you believe the way you do. People accepting a belief system blindly could wind up mistaken on Judgment Day and never knew they were following the wrong path because they just figured “eh, this is the way my family has believed for generations.” So they follow the religion regardless of whether it’s true.

            • Jasmine said,

              So true. I am 100% more religious and strong in faith when I am not reading / learning about it. My greatest faith moments come when I am far away from relgion actually. Reading about it turns me cold and unfeeling. I agree – and wow for the coincidence too!

            • Wrestling With Religion said,

              It’s not totally blind following – he genuinely thinks the Islamic lifestyle is more healthy and better. Presumably having faith is a part of that healthy lifestyle.

              I think fear of hell is another big reason why people don’t question their beliefs too much. Perhaps the notion of hell should make people want to check that they’re on the right course… but it doesn’t – it just paralyses people with fear.

              Too much religion stifles me too.

              • LK said,

                I think the issue from studying to much is it starts to break down the stories. You start to learn there isn’t historical context or that the historical story actually contradicts what we are taught. You start to see more “myth” in the religion. It starts to become no better than the stories of the Greek gods. And that is the scary part.

                Once it starts getting too broken down I usually stop studying the topic. I dont want my faith in religion to completely disappear because I learned too much. This is partically why a lot of religions discourage studying.

                • Wrestling said,

                  “I dont want my faith in religion to completely disappear because I learned too much.”

                  See, I’m not afraid of that happening any more. I might live to regret it, who knows? 🙂

                • susanne430 said,

                  “This is partically why a lot of religions discourage studying.”

                  These verses seem to encourage studying although I understand what you mean about *religion* discouraging it. Perhaps some religious people just want you to take their words for it, but I think it’s admirable and needed to study to know why we believe the way we do.

                  Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Tim. 2:15)

                  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (I Peter 3:15)

                  You study the Scriptures in detail because you think you have the source of eternal life in them. These Scriptures testify on my behalf. (John 5:39)

                  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)

  6. Wrestling With Religion said,

    Susanne – exactly, I think some interpretations of things could be downright harmful. We can’t just respect them all!

    Jasmine – that’s a good example of a myth with a clear real meaning. On another blog somebody mentioned the story in Islam that God addresses us all at the time of our creation and makes sure we know him – and I understand the meaning there too; it’s expressing the idea that we have an innate knowledge of God and of morality. But in Aslan’s examples, like that the Quran being the word of God might be a myth… what would the meaning be there? I can’t see any general, universal lesson from that myth! I just don’t get it.

    No, you can’t stay with a religion that is hurting you. Sometimes they can be salvaged and sometimes they can’t!

    Interesting about doubt. Most religions look down on doubt, but I agree, it’s an essential part of faith. I think I should read about the Dalai Lama! Peace 😉 xx

    Aynur – I guess in his definition a myth is a meaningful story that is not literally true. I think Muhammad Asad’s commentary describes a few of the Quran stories as myths – things like the sleepers in the cave. It would be interesting to know whether they were understood as myths at the time, or believed to be literally true. As you say, maybe literalism develops more strongly over time, like when that hadith became accepted as true… but then I also think Reza Aslan’s non-literal view about Islam is a very new idea.

    I agree, no-one can be sure they have the correct interpretation of reality… but is there only one interpretation that is actually true, or are several different interpretations of reality somehow equally true? I am not sure. I really don’t know!

    Achelois – I liked that bit in his prologue: “There are those who will call it apostasy, but that is not troubling.” Makes me smile! I guess he might have good reasons for not making his own views clear. Maybe he doesn’t believe in it but wants to remain in it so he can influence Muslims towards reform? Or maybe in presenting the mythological view, he’s simply making the book accessible to non-religious westerners?

    Good point about how it was originally received. For years I was perfectly comfortable with the Biblical creation story as being allegorical… but the question of how it was originally understood is an important one that I completely ignored. Who am I to reinterpret it and see it differently from the person who wrote it?

    In chapter 6 he is scathing about the tendency to view shariah law as “the infallible, unalterable, inflexible, and binding sacred law of God” – and of course I agree with him – but surely that is some people’s “myth” and must be respected since all interpretations are valid??

    • LK said,

      Aslan is a bit confused lol. You’ll figure that out as you go. I found the book to be stunning but he is confusing about what he thinks. Especially confusing is his stance that Muhammad was a prophet (of some sort) but the Qur’an may not have been Directly from God, but Muhammad had revelations, but not necessarily from God, well some may have been from God and some not…..Yet the Qur’an is totally valid.

      I want to say he is trying to say that The Qur’an is valid because its message is valid. It may not be literally the word of God but the message holds a lot of value. So why the stories may be myths, its lessons are truth. At least, thats what I gathered after reading the book.

      He is confused LOL. He seems to not want to take a stand and stay there. But his writings on the evolution of religion are fantastic! This book is wonderful for anyone who is just interested in seeing how a religion develops.

      • Wrestling With Religion said,

        LK – I guess Aslan’s just maintaining a bit of mystery about his own views, keeping us guessing! I am enjoying the book too, I think it’s a brilliant history of Islam, I am already nearly finished it. Very well-written and informative. I have learnt a lot I didn’t know!

        • LK said,

          Oh me too! Its such an interesting account of both the history of Muhammad’s time and the recent history of the middle east. I was shocked to find out where the Taliban came from! And Iran’s history is fascinating.

          The book has a lot of value no doubt. But yes he is probably just trying to retain a little mystery.

  7. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    Great post!

    “And I think most believers – by far – are literal believers. I know I said here that I thought the literalists might be a minority, but I was wrong.”

    Yes, this also shocked me. I thought literalists were a minority but apparently not.

    “To ask whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or whether Jesus truly raised Lazarus from the dead, or whether the word of God indeed poured through the lips of Muhammad, is to ask totally irrelevant questions. The only question that matters with regard to religion and its methology is “What do these stories mean?”

    I think he makes a valid point. I love what Jasmine said about the tortoise and the hare – why do we need to debate whether the race actually took place or not? The story is showing us a moral. We can apply this to the Qur’an – God is showing us through mythology how to act and behave.

    We are so used to seeing the Qur’an being approached literally, it seems strange to approach it metaphorically. But why is the metaphorical approach any less valid?

    • Wrestling said,

      Sara,

      Yes, I think that the Quran teaches lessons through mythology – I’ve always thought that. I would love to know whether that’s how it was seen at the time, but it doesn’t really matter.

      Aslan seems to be taking it even further though, and suggesting that the very notion of God speaking through the Quran is also a myth. That is the part I don’t understand. I can only understand (a) believing it is from God, or (b) not believing it is from God. I can’t understand not believing in its divine origins literally but still believing in it in some other way… too confusing! Maybe if he’d explained it a bit more?!

      • susanne430 said,

        Yeah, that really IS bizarre. The whole revelation thing is what makes the Quran so important so I don’t understand him separating the two if that’s indeed what he did. Weird.

  8. Staying Anon said,

    “Some relationships progress quickly to marriage because it is clear to both people that they are a good match. This is partly a matter of actually finding a good match, but also a question of personality – some people are more decisive and other factors like that.”

    Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance in relationships such as marriage, with family and with friends. I wonder if this one is relevant in religion?

    “extricating yourself from them after many years of investing yourself fully in them is painful, stressful and disorientating. No-one wants to have to go through that.”

    So true…

    I can definitely see the parallels you are drawing here, lol. It’s an interesting way to look at it.

    • Wrestling said,

      Good point. It definitely goes smoother if you can tolerate a lot!

  9. Lat said,

    Ahhh….. there’s a hadith saying that marriage is half of religion.
    Just 50% 🙂

    I think there should be balance to how far you would believe in a literal interepretation esp one that you did not witness.Personal experiences are based on these to decide on the paths some choose to follow.But then again sometimes what you see is not truth but rather illusions to trick you.Things can be so complicated in life! As long as we do not confuse and lose ourselves in the process then we’re safe,I think.

  10. Zuhura said,

    I highly recommend Omid Safi’s new book _Memories of Muhammad_, which I’m in the middle of. Although he doesn’t address mythology in the same way as Aslan, he spends a lot of time on how various issues in the Qur’an have been interpreted in different ways by Muslims in different eras and from different perspectives, and to me shows how a mythological reading (in Aslan’s sense) of the Qur’an is possible, without necessarily endorsing that reading himself.

    One part in particular that speaks to your concerns in this post is a distinction between God as Truth versus religion as truth. (Safi says that whenever Truth is mentioned in the Qur’an it is a reference to God; I haven’t checked yet.) Religion, he says, is never truth; only God is Truth.

    In one of your comments you wrote, “But in Aslan’s examples, like that the Quran being the word of God might be a myth… what would the meaning be there? I can’t see any general, universal lesson from that myth! I just don’t get it.”

    Does he actually say that “the Quran being the word of God might be a myth”? I remember while reading the book wondering what exactly he believed about this, but I didn’t think it was so clear. In the part you quoted he says the Qur’an and hadith are “grounded in mythology” — which is not the same thing as saying the Qur’an being the word of God might *be* a myth. But even if it that were the case, personally I can still see some lessons in it. Like: God has a message to deliver to humanity; some individuals are examples worth emulating by believers; humanity can have a personal relationship with God.

    • Wrestling said,

      Thanks for the recommendation! It sounds good.
      “Religion, he says, is never truth; only God is Truth.” I think that’s a fantastic attitude and it’s a shame so many people hold such a deadly certainty about their religion.

      I don’t know what “grounded in mythology” is supposed to mean – and I think that’s the point – it’s so vague as to be impossible to squash. 🙂

      “God has a message to deliver to humanity; some individuals are examples worth emulating by believers; humanity can have a personal relationship with God.”
      Good lessons, but I still can’t really see how this is different from a literal understanding. Unlike with the tortoise and the hare, where the real lesson has nothing to do with tortoises or hares.

  11. Zuhura said,

    The literal understanding is specific to Mohamed and the Qur’an, while the lessons one could derive from a mythological understanding are ones anyone could get from Islam even if they are not a capital M Muslim. In addition to being Muslim, I also belong to a UU community. This is the approach must UUs take to all religious traditions; they all have something to teach us even on the level of myth, regardless of whether we choose to believe in their stories literally or follow the laws they dictate.

    • Wrestling said,

      Hmm… OK, I think I see what you mean. I guess it’s like the creation story – its most obvious mythological meaning is that the world had a beginning and God caused it to happen, even if not literally in the way described in the story. Likewise, for the Quran as a myth, the meaning is that God sends us messages, even if not literally through the Quran.

      An even less literal meaning for the creation story might be that there is some underlying purpose behind the world, and someone who doesn’t believe in God could even find value in that myth and admire it for the nice sense it gives of everything happening for a reason.

      Could someone who doesn’t believe in God find value in the “Quran as myth” idea? Maybe… I don’t know if my imagination will stretch that far!

      UU really interests me, I just ordered a book about it actually!

      • Achelois said,

        WWR, I just wrote to LK that as a UU what I found truly heartening was that I was never expected by Christians to believe that the Bible is the unaltered word of God. It is believed to have been inspired by God but not His word per se. On the other hand, Quran teaches that the Bible is God’s revealed Book which makes matters very complicated and when the two Books don’t tally with each other it is claimed that the Bible has been corrupted.

        So as a UU I can draw valuable lessons from all religious books while not believing that any was God’s word put down on paper. I don’t believe that God dictated the books but the message is beautiful and it does good so that is enough.

        I think what Aslan was trying to say was that there are myths in the Quran (as opposed to people having created a myth that Quran is the unaltered word of God and Muhammad never preached it like that which isn’t impossible either), but he insinuates that because of those myths it can’t be the word of God. However, myths originate from something real and offer real lessons to learn which is what matters.

        I think where he insinuates that Quran is not the word of God is when he creates links between earlier hanifs whom Muhammad emulated in manner and speech, often repeating what they had done or said in similar situations. He doesn’t use the term but he hints that Quran is the result of Muhammad’s collective unconsciousness (which is a very interesting subject in itself).

        • Wrestling said,

          Achelois – a lot of Christians seem to treat the Bible as the inerrant word of God, but Christianity is centred on beliefs about Christ, not about the Bible, so it’s a puzzle how this view of the Bible arose. It’s not even one book but a collection of books, and the nature of the different books within it are very different!

          Everyone seems to want to believe that God wrote them a life manual. Neither the Bible nor the Quran is this, IMHO, and yet we treat them as if they are. We want the authority and truth of God to be tangible in the form of a text.

          I still want to read them; I’m not sure if I will embrace it as truth in any way, literal or mythological, but I still think they are of value in some way and it will be interesting to see what I am able to do with them.

          When Aslan says: “To ask whether Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or whether Jesus truly raised Lazarus from the dead, or whether the word of God indeed poured through the lips of Muhammad, is to ask totally irrelevant questions.” I take that to mean that he’s saying none of these events are necessarily literally true. That the literal truth or falsehood of them is irrelevant. So he’s saying that it doesn’t matter whether the Quran is really the word of God or not. This is what I have trouble getting my head around. Because to me it mattered!

          Yes, I suppose in pointing out where Muhammad got ideas from, he’s also undermining the Quran’s miraculous nature. But I think he set us up for this by telling us that the reality or unreality of its miraculous nature is irrelevant. So that gives him carte blanche to represent the historical picture without it having any effect on the validity of Islam as a religion. Quite clever actually.

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