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How a Theologian Interprets Myth

When it comes to theological discernment, one must first ask the question: does myth count in theology? No. Most theologians are willing to interpret myths, but certainly not willing to believe them in their literal form.Rudolph Bultmann gave us the term de-mythologizing. "Its aim is not to eliminate the mythological statements but to interpret them" (Bultmann, 1958, p. 18). This New Testament scholar had in... Myths tell us about human anxieties and propensities, to be sure; but they do not tell us about the reality of God. It is the task of the theologian to say: don’t believe this myth. Or, at least avoid believing it with a high degree of confidence. Science has not demonstrated that it can save us from self-destruction, whether it be terrestrial or extraterrestrial science.

Science, just like all other human enterprises, is fallen. Despite the marvels of the new knowledge gained and new technology produced, science has become subject to the funding of jingoists and the ambitions of militarists. Advances in scientific knowledge lead frequently to equal advances in the breadth and efficiency of murder, mayhem, and mass destruction. Each decade marks a new level of global terror due to advances in nuclear and biochemical weaponry. This spiral is beyond political control, religious control, moral control, and beyond self-control. If the ETI myth suggests that augmenting terrestrial science with extraterrestrial science will provide this control, the theologian must simply shrug and say: where is the evidence for such a belief?

The blind alley into which the myth leads us I call the eschatological problem (Peters, 1977). The myth proposes that if we in our generation simply make the right choice that, with the advance of science, we in the human race can advance from warring destruction to a state of world peace. Yet, the theologian should ask: how do we get from here to there? Can a leopard change its spots so easily? If science got us into the present mess, how can we expect science to liberate us from this mess? If we have evolved to this point, why should we think that more evolving will save us?

Salvific healing, according to the Christian theologian, comes from divine grace granted us within the setting of our fallen life on earth. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ symbolize the presence of this saving grace. In the cross we see God’s identification with the victims of human injustice or violence. In the resurrection we see God’s promise that we will not forever be locked into a cycle of poverty or spiral of violence. Unambiguous healing - even world peace - will come to us only as an eschatological transformation, as an act of God. More science will not save us. It is a delusion to think that it will. The theologian, like the rest of us, should welcome and even celebrate the triumphs of science; but these triumphs should not delude us into thinking that science will save us from our human propensity for social injustice or even environmental degradation.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Ted Peters

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