Mythos and Logos

An interesting interchange betwee Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong on belief and evolution in the Wall Street Journal.  In particular, I thought the distinction she makes between logos and mythos can be helpful for properly reading Scripture literally:

Most cultures believed that there were two recognized ways of arriving at truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary, each with its own sphere of competence. Logos (“reason”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to function effectively in the world and had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. But it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggle. For that people turned to mythos, stories that made no pretensions to historical accuracy but should rather be seen as an early form of psychology; if translated into ritual or ethical action, a good myth showed you how to cope with mortality, discover an inner source of strength, and endure pain and sorrow with serenity.

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5 Responses to Mythos and Logos

  1. Gabriel Austin says:

    Mary Midgely disposed of Dawkins rather shallow thinking a few years back. He complained that she was a meanie.

  2. Paul J Clifford says:

    Why is it always Brits who arguing about this stuff? (Karen Armstrong and Dawkins are both Brits). Most Catholics couldn’t care less about the atheist vs believer argument.

  3. Then the Brits might actually have something over most Catholics (as hard as that seems to believe).

    • Paul J Clifford says:

      I disagree. I think that in Britain (where I am from) there is a fad for atheism at the moment. It is being sold by Dawkins and Hitchens and others as an exciting and dynamic world view – the thrill of knowing we are on our own. It is all rather silly. Anyone with any sense can see that atheism is ultimately a literal dead end world view. And besides, it is just plain dull. I think Catholics dignify atheism as a legitmate world view when we enter into dialogue with atheists. Atheism likes to portray Catholics as freaks whereas a simple analysis of the world population shows that atheism is the unusual worldview, not belief. I am not too comfortable with my religious beliefs being compared to a “good myth” – I think that is a concession too far to Dawkins and his crew. It should be remembered that Armstrong rejected Catholicism years ago after her negative experiences as a nun. She now descibes herself as a “freelance monotheist” , whatever the hell that means. I think it is Britain’s relative prosperity and Protestant heritage that make it get excited about such debates. Alistair McGrath and John Polkingthorne (both prominent defenders of belief) are both Anglican. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Iain McEwan, Kingsley Amis and others are all prominent atheists and are all taken seriously by the British media. To a relatively poor son of Irish immigrants like me it all seems like a decadent argument, one that takes place among the spires of the Oxford Student Union, and one that has little relation to everyday lives. In fairness to Alistair McGrath, he wrote a very good book on Doubt in the Christian experience. I think “Doubt” as a topic is much more interesting and relevant to human experience (as your previous post on John Patrick Shanley’s film showed). Atheism is a topic that I have less and less patience for. Atheism is a like a “luxury” that is indulged in by the proud and comfortable. If atheism is spreading in the West then it shows we are too full of pride, too spoiled by comforts. Karen Armstrong thinks she is doing believers a favour by engaging with Dawkins but it has the feel of condescention. I am not suggesting that all of Scripture be taken absolutely literally, just that I think believers have better spokesmen and women than Karen Armstrong (Newman, Chesterton, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila).

  4. This is a tough topic that will never go away,
    because at issue is the meaning of humanity,
    in the old days, termed the meaning of man!

    In our Century, we can break free of this Greek
    distinction, thanks to the pioneering work of
    Carl Jung. “Reason” can now take a back-seat
    to being just one of four key variables influencing
    the mind’s reading of reality, as available in
    the scientifically validated work on the MBTI
    (Myers Briggs Type Indicator), a vast topic unto
    itself! As an aside, so goes also Lonergan’s “Insight.”

    Reason itself is an act of faith: it is an act
    of faith to assert that our thoughts have any
    relation to reality at all! (Chesterton)

    Thus, reason deals with possibilities,
    existence deals with actualities!

    Atheist writers have never discovered the limitations
    of the mere tool of reason as “reason!” And speak
    only to about 5% of the population, yet garner
    the greatest public attention from the myopic
    mass media!

    So, for us believers, “reason” is not the way to
    ultimate truth. All reason does is show that
    the world is a strange place! The unknown is the
    unknown, it is the limit beyond which
    reason can never go. Because we reason from
    existence, not towards existence!

    As Kierkegaard writes, faith begins where thinking
    leaves off! And Chesterton: religion begins
    where biology leaves off! -virgil
    because to assert our thoughts

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