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Beyond Myth

We are coming up on Easter. It's no wonder that kids are confused about the meaning of this festival. There's as little connection between the Easter Bunny and Jesus as there is between the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs. Was the Easter Bunny Jesus' pet rabbit? Does the Easter Bunny lay eggs? What's going on here?

Easter means candy to a kid in the same way that Christmas means presents. My sister and I always came down on Easter morning to find two baskets sitting on the dining room table, green ribbons of fake grass spilling over the sides. We already knew the contents - jelly beans, cream-filled chocolate eggs, one huge egg-shaped chunk of milk chocolate and, inevitably, a chocolate rabbit wrapped in transparent plastic, just twitching to have its ears bitten off. The Easter bunny had made his appearance during the night.

I remember when my parents tried to demythologize the story for us. One day after Easter, when we were both in early grammar school, my mother sat us down with a grave expression on her face. It was the look of someone about to share the news of a death in the family. Solemnly, she clued us in to the truth about our favorite rabbit. Soon after, she set out to dispatch that other sacred icon. Santa, she announced, was as phony as the bunny! I was thunderstruck. What was there left to believe in? In a flash of insight, I said, "And I suppose there is no Tooth Fairy either!" Mother just shook her head silently.

After a moment, I exploded, "You lied to us!" Years later, my mother confided to me that she had never forgotten the impact of those words. Our childhood myths had all been laid to rest, packed carefully away in the closet of time awaiting the next generation. Life was never quite as innocent after that, for two reasons: 1. We took the first step away from the innocence of childhood and learned that it is possible to survive without having to believe in magic; 2. We learned that you have to examine mystical stories before embracing them as literal descriptions of the real world. In other words, we were confronted with the difference between magic and metaphor.

Now, we come to a beautiful religious irony. Our parents told us these stories knowing that they were not true, in the full awareness that one day they would have to untell them and admit that they were merely beautiful mythological traditions. But then their Fathers in the church told them equally fantastic fairy tales, and our parents, like trusting children everywhere, accepted the stories as gospel. And they clung to them with the same unquestioning faith that children lavish upon Santa. What stories am I talking about?

Jesus turning water into wine. John 2
Jesus walking on water. Matt. 14
Jesus stilling the storm. Matt. 8
Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead after four days. John 11

There are many other examples, but these four stories will serve to make our point. We live in a scientific age. We are sophisticated about the ways in which things work. We know what physics, rational observation and common sense tell us. Rabbits do not bring us candy. Fairies do not stick money under our pillows. Reindeer do not fly. People do not walk on water or wave their hands and chase away storm clouds. Corpses are not resuscitated after four days in the tomb. And even the most talented alchemists cannot turn water into wine.

Why do we fail to see the similarity between the Tooth Fairy turning teeth into cash and Jesus turning water into wine? Simply because these stories are told in connection with religion, we suddenly lose our incredulity and are willing to believe anything. It's clear to the historian and the objective critic that these stories were added to the Jesus saga to make it more awe inspiring, to strengthen his credentials as the Son of God, and to attract new converts to this miracle worker. When I was in seminary, I heard another of these stories - The boy Jesus, helping his carpenter father, once stretched a length of lumber to make it long enough to fit the required spot. Many such stories were rejected as obvious myths, so why, in a supposedly enlightened age, don't we do the same?

We survived learning the truth about the Easter Bunny. In the same way, we will one day be able to experience true spirituality without a dependence upon myth. These Biblical stories will become the strings which, when pulled on, will unravel the tapestry of mythological narratives which form the design of religion. That does not mean that we'll lose our faith in God. It means that we will come ever closer to the truth about God. We must learn to believe in a spiritual world grounded in modern revelation, not ancient credulity.

We have to remember the two steps we learned as children - the need to give up a belief in magic, and the responsibility to examine everything we are told before embracing it. God is real, the spirit world is real, encounters with spirit entities really do happen, we are all spiritual beings, which means that we are part of each other just as we are part of God. These realities do not depend upon magic or religion. They are our birthright. When religion gives up its mythological past, its assertion that it is the only way to God, its sexual bigotry, and admits that it is only one of the many paths to the God of all people, then we will be free to move into a new spiritual age.

Posted 2-01-08

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2008