I have recently dived into Karen Armstrong’s book, “The Battle for God,” in order to better objectively understand my religious roots. For those who don’t know, I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, mainly in the Assemblies of God denomination. From what I can tell so far in her book, the thing that sets fundamentalists (of all/most religions, not just Christianity) apart is mistaking mythos for logos. I’ll admit, that kind of shocked me, but it makes sense. Before I go any further, it’s important that we understand just what logos and mythos are.
Logos is the Greek word for reason. It also means word, or plea, or a small host of other things. Greek unfortunately doesn’t translate easily/neatly into English. Here’s the wikipedia article for that word (or could I say that logos?). Anyway, logos is actually the logic/principle behind an argument.
I understand that Logos is of special importance to Christians due to it’s use in John 1:1. However, I’d like the reader to dismiss that occurrence while reading this post. I will address that in another post in the future. In the context of this post, logos refers to practical/scientific knowledge. It refers to the knowledge used in the world everyday. Agriculture is logos. Astronomy is logos. All of science and all the knowledge that we utilize to accomplish things in everyday life, is logos. Logos deals with things of this world.
This is the easiest, considering that most can see the English word within the Greek. Translated, it simply means myth. Myth is mostly considered to simply be a story, which it is a story, but it’s more. A myth can be historical, or completely fictional. It can also be based on history, but with alterations made. The myth explains, justifies, and gives meaning. Most importantly, mythos deals with our relationship to the eternal.
How they relate to each other
I will give a couple examples in order to illustrate. The first is the Greek origin myth of the spider.
The story goes that there was a princess whose name was Arachne. She was an expert weaver, but was too conceited in her skill. She had even started boasting about being better than Athena, the patron goddess of weaving. One day, Athena had disguised herself as an old woman so that Arachne would boast in front of her. Upon hearing the arrogance in person, she revealed her true form and challenged her weaving. They both wove tapestries, and Arachne admitted defeat. Afterwards, she hung herself. As punishment, Athena transformed Arachne into a spider, so that her and her descendants would be forever doomed to lives of spinning.
Clearly, logos states that the spider had a completely different origin. Spiders are a result of evolution via natural selection. The myth, however, serves another purpose. It provides the lesson to not be too boastful, lest you will be punished by the gods.
The other example is a familiar one. This myth (or small set of myths) is The first few chapters of Genesis. In the first chapter is the order of creation on the cosmic scale. In the second chapter is the creation of man and woman. Due to common familiarity and ease of access, I won’t go further into the creation myths.
Now, modern day logos tells us a different story. We now have strong evidence to completely contradict what these stories tell us on a literal level. But that’s irrelevant, because religious myths are meant to convey mythos-wisdom; not logos-knowledge. The mythos content serves to place God as the creator of all things, and man/woman as creation’s caretakers. Some may say there’s a lot more than that, and that’s right, but I won’t go on that tangent.
The prefix meta means beyond. So, metaphysics is seen as the study of the nature of things that ordinary physics can’t reach. Metaphysics deals with models of the cosmos beyond our physical realm. It deals with the nature of existence itself, with how we perceive reality, and how exactly the divine plays it’s roles. It seems like logos, but really falls under the side of mythos. If I wanted to be more accurate, I’d state that it’s the logos of mythos. It is the attempt to bridge the mythos to the logos.
Why Metaphysics is Ignored
What’s the use in it? Isn’t the process the important part? Shouldn’t the adherent simply be told what to believe, what to do, then simply do it? Granted, on a simple level, that’s all that’s really needed. But realistically, it can be a recipe for failure for some.
Why Metaphysics is Important
In the eastern traditions, there’s this state of mind called the “monkey mind.” This is usually the default state for anyone who hasn’t learned meditation (and even for those who simply aren’t meditating at the moment). Like a monkey, this mind doesn’t like to stay still. So to begin meditation, there’s a common practice of “giving the monkey a banana.” This means that we provide the mind something to focus on. Common “bananas” are candles, mantras, or the breath.
Metaphysics can be seen as a form of a mental banana for intellectuals. Intellectuals like to ask questions, we like to understand how things work. I speak for experience when I say that it’s frustrating to practice a religion that has a very meek amount of metaphysical content.
What about the Metaphysics that seems to be logos?
There are metaphysical models that have found themselves to be the basis for common practices, such as qigong and acupuncture for example. For hardcore practitioners of these arts, it may be difficult to accept this, but it still belongs (and originated) in the realm of mythos. But it’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean it’s useless or not worthwhile! And furthermore, mythos can be true too, but that’s not what it’s about. The thing about healing arts based in metaphysics is whether or not it works. How it works (the actual mechanics of the phenomenon) may be another story, but the important thing is whether or not it does.
It may be argued that since the models are used in a practical way, and the same principle are applied by different people to achieve the same results, then that must make it logos. Perhaps it’s secondarily logos. But it’s important to keep in mind that since it can’t be objectively and physically proven, to keep an open mind to alternative theories.
My Metaphysical Model is contradicted, what do I do?
Some models are compatible, and some aren’t. That’s the way it is. Since the whole matter is primarily mythos, it doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. What matters is how the model serves the believer. I’ll part with this wisdom, judge them by their fruit.