What’s commonly regarded as the religious sentiment will always find expression in the human realm. Even in our time when the theology of the great religions of the West have been reduced to mythologies, since they have been outsmarted archeologically (bones have been found of human ancestors from nearly two million years ago, long before any Adam or Eve), anthropologically (the themes of the Scriptures are common motifs found in many earlier human cultures), and cosmologically (the view of the earth as middle of the universe has been sufficiently refuted by modern astronomy); even in this time when a literal meaning of the symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are no longer reasonable, there will be an urge to fulfill the role of religion in the hearts of the skeptic modern human being. Even men and women that find the universe absurd, meaningless, godless and pointless have a general sensation that life is too powerful to bear (expressed in their despair), and from that sensation arises a NEED to express this overwhelming power. In some cases such men and women finding no meaning in their lives produce the most striking works in art, literature and music because even the act of expressing one’s own disillusionment with the world turns into a life-guiding and therapeutic activity.
In this new and unprecedented age in the course of human history when all authoritative divine guides to our lives are lost, we still share a common heritage that has shaped and is shaping our lives as a living species. By this I mean the process of development from the womb to a self conscious adult organism. This individual history is shared by all and our minds have been deeply impressed with this organic development which finds expression in our adult life through dreams and symbols (see Freud and Jung). Through symbols we find the surest way to express the non-discursive knowledge of our subconscious minds, a reality everyone holds within his or her own mind. What these symbols seem to be pointing at is a reunification with a totality we have lost. In biological and psychological terms this can be viewed as the separation of the baby from the mother’s womb at the moment of birth and later as the baby develops self-consciousness in its first years, creating the identity of the ego and the external (not-me) world. Some psychologists suggest (like Fromm) that this is the cause of our need to love, to be reunited with the blissful TOTALITY we experienced as infants. I think, perhaps, because of this common experience we all share as infant human beings, mythology and religion arise as a path to find this reunification with what we once belonged to.
Now, throughout history religion has most aptly been expressed in the symbolism of poetry since the symbols of the aesthetic are open to more than just a rational way of thinking. The entire mind is engaged in the apprehension of symbols, providing a more complete entrance to the individual’s inner life. Perhaps this is why science is received coldly by many today because it cannot fulfill the role of a rich mythology addressing not only what is rational in the human being but also what is intuitive, emotional and the like.
The human need to find expression of his intimate experience of the cosmos is not a theory since history supplies us with sufficient proof that this has been a solid fact. Virtually every society and civilization that this planet has harbored believed in some mythological view of the universe.
The question now lies in what form will the new mythology take shape? How will the modern human express his undeniable connection to this powerful universe in terms that are accepted by our current intellectual standards, based on skepticism, pragmatism and scientific inquiry?
The answer will not be hard to find since we share with former times, if not more vehemently, the wonder for existence as such, now that science is exponentially revealing the scope and depth of this universe and the miraculous operations of the human body and mind. The task will be for people to appreciate these facts not only in a dry rationalistic way but in a more engaging relationship with the deeper mystery all these facts are uncovering.
(This short-essay has been strongly inspired by Joseph Campbell’s insightful gem of a book: Myths to live by)