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I Don’t Need to Know This: Mythology and the Protection of World Views

20 September, 2009

Over at the Spanish Inquisitor, SI brought into the discussion about the recent study showing that religiosity and teen pregnancy are closely linked a view into the willful ignorance of faith.  Faith, the willingness to believe something despite no or contrary evidence, requires ignoring certain aspects of the world around us.  And to protect the worldview of the faithful, almost anything — the beliefs of other religions and cultures, any contrary world view, even the findings of scientists  — can be relegated to myth.   The thing of it is, though, every religion teaches that their mythology is fact, and all others are myth.  Maybe they are all correct.

When I was in elementary school in Arizona, we had a wonderfully diverse class.  In fifth grade, there were sixteen students in my class:  two white Mormons, one white naturalistic universal deist (me (and no, I didn’t know the term at the time but, by the time I was in fifth grade it would not have been a bad description of my worldview)), two white fundamentalist Protestants, two relaxed Protestants (no idea the actual brand), and a non-observant Catholic, four Hispanic Catholics (one strong, three non-observant), one Hopi, two Navajos, and one Havasu.  Like I said, diverse.

I clearly remember on day, in the depths of winter (foot of snow on the ground, getting dark just after we got home from school, cold (yes, Arizona)), when our teacher was out of the room.  The four Native Americans (or (as a friend of mine puts it) Initial Immigrants) began discussing their various creation myths. 

The Havasu and Hopi myths are similar, both seeing man, after the third world was destroyed, emerging into earth through a hole (the sipapu) located in the Grand Canyon.  The first three worlds were destroyed because of promiscuity, warring and failure to live in harmony.  The myth tradition teaches how to live in harmony.  And are, despite regional (and even clan) differences, quite similar and present a coherent whole.  (This is a serious simplification;  Wikipedia gives an understandable and pretty good synopsis of the Hopi mythos.)

The Navajo creation myth also deals with living in harmony.  The insect peoples were asked to leave the first world because they were fighting each other.  Same for the second and third worlds.  They were transformed to humans because they succeeded in not fighting with each other or the people they found there, the Hopis.  First woman and first man were created from corn.  (Again, this is seriously simplified.  And, again, Wikipedia does the mythos justice.)

As they talked, comparing the ins and outs of the children’s stories through which they learned their people’s history and how to live in harmony, we all began listening.  I was fascinated.  I had been exposed to bits an pieces of it before, but the compare and contrast was enjoyable.  In retrospect, I am also intrigued in that all four of them, in fifth grade, knew that these were myths;  they knew that this was how their ancestors tried to understand the world and, more important (and far more valuable) how they taught the next generation how to live. 

Then, one of our fundamentalist Christians laughed.  He laughed out loud.  He told them that their myths were nonsense.   They were, in his words, lies inspired by Satan.  So the Havasu girl asked him to explain his creation myth. 

He, very quickly, got angry.  In rather terse language, he told her that the bible tells how god created the earth, the moon, the stars, the sun, the animals, the plants, and the land.  He gave a quick rundown of the Old Testament creation myth (with corrections from all of us (including the Native Americans who appear to have understood his creation myth better than he did (there are shitloads of missionaries in the reservations))). 

One of the Navajo boys asked what the lesson was.  Fundie boy answered that there is no lesson, it is the real history of the earth.  I fought back my laughter.  The Native Americans didn’t.  They laughed in his face.

Luckily our teacher arrived at this time.  He asked what we had been talking about and one of the Mormon kids told him.  He decided that this was a ‘teachable moment’ and we all trooped up to the library (the librarian was unhappy that we were there when we weren’t scheduled, but with only 240 kids k=12, it wasn’t that big of a deal) and each of us checked out a different book on mythology (I checked out a book on Norse mythology (don’t remember the title, but it had great artwork)), wrote up a short report on the creation myth, and presented it in class.

There were sixteen fifth graders in that class.  Four boys, twelve girls.  The only two who had a problem with this assignment were the two Christian fundamentalists.  Both expressed the opinion that studying the myths of other religions and cultures was studying the work of the devil.  Both were sure that learning the wrong thing would endanger their souls.

Which brings us back to willful ignorance.  Very little of Christianity is really new.  Arguably, the only new thing in Christianity was heresy — the obdurate and willful attachment to wrong belief.  Spending eternity in heaven with Jesus and god and all the saints (or not, depends on the version of Christianity) and angels depends partly on living right and obeying rules, but mostly on believing exactly the right things about exactly the right things. 

By refusing to learn new things, by remaining willfully ignorant, a fundamentalist or literalist Christian (yes, I am painting with a broad brush here, I know that there are exceptions) protects himself (or herself).  They protect themselves from learning the wrong thing and endangering their place in heaven. By viewing everything other than the specific teachings of the particular version of Christianity to which the person is attached as mythology, unwanted knowledge can be dismissed as mythology.   Evolution, human reproduction, astronomy, geology, genetics, even medicine can be treated as a myth, a creation of Satan.  And can be relegated to the mental folder labelled:  “I Don’t Need To Know This”.

42 comments

  1. Nice, Billy.

    Have you ever read any of the Tony Hillerman novels? They are mysteries generally set on the Navajo Res, with alternating Navajo protagonists. Hillerman just died last year, but he probably wrote about 15 in the series. I’ve read them all save his last, which I’m saving for a rainy day, as there will probably be no more, unless he had one in the hopper to be published posthumously.

    He pays considerable care is representing the Navajo People accurately, with the entire series imbued with the concept of living in harmony. It’s a fascinating series of books. The mysteries are good, but the cultural background is even better. They are so good that when I was in Arizona a few years ago, I made a special trip into the Res, down through Canyon de Chelly, and around the places featured in the series, just because Hillerman made me want to visit.

    Sorry, that was off topic, but the creation myths are very prominently featured in the books.


  2. One of the Navajo boys asked what the lesson was. Fundie boy answered that there is no lesson….

    Fundie boy was wrong – the lesson is “believe this shit is literal or roast, your choice.”

    SI – I’ll have to check out Hillerman’s books.


  3. SI: I really enjoy the Hillerman books (though ‘The First Eagle’ had some editing issues). He got the mood of the Big Res right, especially the ideal of living in harmony. Another part of it he got right was that those who retained the traditions and those who fully embraced modernity were able to live in harmony, those who tried to inhabit the middle ground were the ones who had problems.

    And no, that was not off topic. Hillerman’s ability to grok Zuni, Hopi and Navajo mythology, and the effect of the belief system on the behaviour of the protagonists/antagonists makes the difference between Native Americans acting like white people, and Native Americans acting like Native Americans in his books.

    Chappie: Keep in mind, this was in fifth grade. I don’t think any of us had developed that level of cynicism. And check out the Hillerman books. They really are excellent.


  4. Hillerman died? Damn, I guess I’ll quit waiting for his next book, then.


  5. As a “Weltburger” I have always been interested in the nuances, differences, and often surprising similarities of cultural traditions.

    A little over fifteen years ago I played in a band (German, oompah music) which was mainly peopled with ‘fundies’… I stuck it out for a season, but we often went to cultural festivals and such.

    There was a ‘native American’ group near us, and on the Sunday of the fest (we were in a sort of tent city) they had a church service, they were of the Native American Church.

    Some of our folks observed a bit, and later they must have talked because on the way home in the van this was discussed in hushed, horrified tomes.

    The feature that seemed to be most bothersome was the view that “The Great Spirit” (or Whatever, I personally know bupkis about it) throughout time and place shows certain of his different symbols to different peoples in ways that they might recognise “him”.

    If I believed a deity existed, that would actually make sense, in a way.

    Outrage. Pure outrage. It was “vile”. “Sin”. “Stupidity”. Jesus was the “Only Way”. Blah blah blah.

    Then I heard one of the top ten most absurd things to cross the threshold of my ears since I left the army: “Jesus encompasses all, but he HAS to be exclusive”.

    I used to come home from gigs with that bunch with a sense of, well, numbness. (More than usual, anyway ;-))


  6. When Greece hosted the Olympics a few years ago, part of the opening extravaganza included depictions of Olympus and many of the Greek gods. The commentators on American TV (don’t remember which network) kept referring to the gods and the stories, (and yes, even the mountain) as “mythical” My thought at the time was, “I hope when Salt Lake hosts the Olympics, they also use the word ‘mythical’ for any reference to Utah’s religious heritage.”


  7. Ildi: Yeah, he died about a year ago. I’ve heard no rumours of a posthumous book, so that is, most likely, it.

    Sarge: Yeah, that is definately up there. Not sure if it reaches my personal top ten, but it is up there.

    Mutzali: But if it is our absurd myth, it is the truth. Someone elses? Hilarious.

    And I had no idea that Olympus was mythical. Heck, my dad has an Olympus. He’s since gone digital, but he still has the film camera.


  8. I bet the book you read was Norse Gods and Giants by Ingri and Edgar Darin D’Aulaire. It was one of my brother’s and my favorite books while we were growing up and it has great pictures. We probably knew far more about Norse mythology than we did about Christian mythology for many years. I still have it.


  9. So because some primitive Indians have myths about crawling out of a whole in the ground like mud people it means that God did not create the Universe? Please rethink who you worship.

    Also remember that the Holy Bible is the inerrent word of God. The history of the Bible has been proven again and again. The history of Jesus is recorded not only in the Four Gospels, but also in multiple historys written by Jews and pagans. His ministry to all humanity is a fact, not a myth. Since the history, even the incredible and improbable history, of the Holy Bible is True, wouldn’t it be more reasonable, more logical, to also accept that all of the Holy Bible is True? The myths of the Indians, the !Kung, the Mayas, the Aztecs, the Buddhists, the Moslems, are all false myths created by Satan to ensnare the unknowing.

    To mix the myths of cults with the Truth of Christianity is insulting. The Holy Bible and Jesus’ Ministry are facts upheld by archeologists and historians. There is more physical evidence for the Ministry of Christ then there is for any founder of a cult.

    Please separate myth from Truth.


  10. Actually, Matthew, I’d say L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) has Christ beat when it comes to documenting the existence of the founder of a cult. We know for sure that Hubbard existed, and the same can be said for Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Bahá’u’lláh (Bahai), and Mohammed (Islam). Christ, on the other hand, seems to exist primarily via hearsay — the Gospels weren’t written down until many decades after Jesus bought the dirt ranch, and then there were multiple versions until the council of Nicea decided in the 4th century what to keep and what to toss. 300 years of oral tradition and then it gets codified? Sounds like mythology to me.


  11. I guess we have different definitions of religion. Yours seems to be tax dodges and excuses to molest children. Mine is the reality of the world. The Gospels were written by eyewitnesses who witnessed the Ministry and the Ressurection. That is four independent sources right there. Add in all the other pagan and Jewish historians and you have an unassailable case for Jesuses life and Ministry. Just because the Gospels were put to paper a few years after Jesuses ministry does not mean that are myth. We read history books about American history and none of those were written back in 1776, right?

    Mythology is just that; myth. The Holy Bible is not a myth. It is the Word of God. All that was done at Nicea was to eliminate the devil inspired faked scriptures to make sure that only the actual Gospels were used.


    • The Gospels were written by eyewitnesses who witnessed the Ministry and the Ressurection.

      {Beeeeep} No, that’s incorrect, so you don’t get to move to the challenger round. Sooooo sorry. But we do have a consolation prize for you. A copy of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” in paperback, AND our home version of the game, “Stump the Atheist”.


    • “All that was done at Nicea was to eliminate the devil inspired faked scriptures to make sure that only the actual Gospels were used.”
      How do you know you don’t have that the wrong way around?


      • MO: I can predict the answer: they were inspired by god(s). But then, as one theist I know has stated (repeatedly), even Satan can quote scripture and sound like god.

        Face it. It’s turtles all the way down.


  12. I must say, Matthew has the worst case of Fundyitis I’ve seen in quite a while.

    To mix the myths of cults with the Truth of Christianity is insulting.

    Yes, it is.


  13. Also remember that the Holy Bible is the inerrent word of God.

    I’ll take Fallacy of Circular Reasoning for $200, Alex.


  14. Laurie: Bingo. Large hardcover book with great artwork. I keep an eye open for a copy at used book stores. After my sister read it, she hung the nickname ‘Loki’ on me. Lasted about two years. Then she discovered Bilbo.

    Matthew: Glad you could stop by. And no, the Bible doesn’t get geography, math, history, or zoology coreect, so why would we assume that the creation myth called Genesis is anything other than a Bronze-age myth created by ignorant pre-scientific tribes of goat herders?

    Nan: There’s even much more proof that atheists exist than that Jesus existed.

    Matthew: You said, “Yours seems to be tax dodges and excuses to molest children.

    Click on over to Deep Thoughts (on the right (under (((Atheosphere))))) and read about just a few of the pastors, priests, ministers, etc., caught molesting children or stealing money. Then think about your strawman regarding how Nan views religion.

    Spanqi: Methinks that Matthew would rather read his Bible than history, biology, zoology, etc. books.

    Chappie: Would comparing Biblical mythology tothe Hopi and Navajo myths be considered insulting?

    Ildi: Sometimes I wonder if circular reasoning causes dizziness. And you may be mixing up your game shows. I think Spanqi is referencing Family Feud (maybe?).


  15. (((Billy))), (((Billy))), (((Billy))); everyone Knows that the only True game show was Jeaopardy – all the rest were devil-inspired.


  16. Would comparing Biblical mythology to the Hopi and Navajo myths be considered insulting?

    The Hopi and Navajo might be insulted by such a comparison – perhaps justifiably so. :)

    My point was, so what if a Christian considers comparison of his myth to other myths insulting? I’m not assuming you deliberately set out to offend Matthew or other Christians with this post, but I also don’t think that you really care about whether they’re offended. Correct me if I’m wrong about that.

    Christians, Muslims, etc., think it’s okay to denigrate other religious beliefs as “just myths” and to set their myths apart as something special. That’s crap. It’s all myth, it all merits similar attention. At least the Hopi, Navajo, etc., understand that their teachings are myths that impart significant lessons about how to live life. Liberal Christians (and perhaps liberal Muslims, too – I’m told they exist) look at the Bible in much the same light – not as literal truth but as myths that impart important life lessons. Literalists and fundamentalists who think that the Bible teaches actual history, etc., don’t deserve to have other tiptoe around their feelings for fear of insulting them. They believe bullshit and should be called on it.


  17. Ildi: Blasphemer! If you asked 100 people what the best game show was in the 70s or 80s, the number one answser would be Family Feud. I have faith in that.

    Chappie: Point taken, and I agree. As one of the kids said, “At least ours makes sense!”

    No, I didn’t set out to offend anyone. Some people, though, are so uncomfortable or insecure in their beliefs that they become extremely sensitive to anything. Sort of offensensitivity.

    I expect you are correct about the difference between fundamentalist/literalist Christians and liberal Christians. My parent’s UU church really doesn’t care where the lesson comes from (mythology, history, philoshophy, etc.) as long as there is a lesson involved. It works.

    They’re still going to be offended no matter what. Kind of like modern Republicans, neh?


  18. Interesting read. It’s unfortunate the church and mainline Christian dogma tend to produce what they do.

    I’d say you go by a biased definition of faith, however: it is not the willingness to believe something despite no or contrary evidence, nor does it require ignoring certain aspects of the world around us. Sure, many faithful people commit those intellectual errors, but that’s a flaw of their own personality, not faith.

    You said, “By refusing to learn new things, by remaining willfully ignorant, a fundamentalist or literalist Christian (yes, I am painting with a broad brush here, I know that there are exceptions) protects himself (or herself). They protect themselves from learning the wrong thing and endangering their place in heaven.”

    I agree, but all people wear blinders to protect themselves, not just Christians. Fearful or insecure atheists also have an “I don’t need to know this” folder in their brains. Atheists fear cognitive dissonance and unwelcomed paradigm shifts just as much as anyone else.


  19. I think the mythos is a part of people’s self definition or identification.

    You attack my myth, you attack me, sort of thing.


  20. CL: Odd, I’ve never actually started to read something and decided, ‘this challenges my world view, it scares me, I will stop.’ Rather, I find myself, rarely, saying to myself, ‘this challenges my worldview, how do I incorporate into my knowledge base.’ Not fear, incorporation.

    That said, what is your definition of faith? Seriously. You have a problem with one of the definitions I use. Fine. It is easy to poke holes in my definition but, if you want me to take you seriously, you really need to provide a definition of your own.

    Sarge: The difference is that the more fundamentalist types see their myth as absolute fact handed down by god(s). And they react thus.


  21. I’d say you go by a biased definition of faith, however: it is not the willingness to believe something despite no or contrary evidence, nor does it require ignoring certain aspects of the world around us. Sure, many faithful people commit those intellectual errors, but that’s a flaw of their own personality, not faith.

    In other words, they are not truly faithful? Is this a “No True ChristianFaithful” fallacy? Because, while you may think it’s a personality flaw, they might disagree with you, and to outside objective observers, it certainly looks like they define faith the way (((Billy))) defined it. So, as (((Billy)))asked, give your definition of faith.


  22. (((Billy))):

    I’ve never actually started to read something and decided, ‘this challenges my world view, it scares me, I will stop.’

    Ironically, the only times I ever did that was when I was a practicing theist. Now, it’s more annoyance than anything; “Damn, I thought I could settle down with my already-established opinion on topic x. Now I have to think about it again…” Of course, when I realize that they’re WRONG, I can relax again.

    (FYI for the literal-minded; the last sentence was snark.)


  23. I’ve never actually started to read something and decided, ‘this challenges my world view, it scares me, I will stop.’

    Ironically, the only times I ever did that was when I was a practicing theist.

    OMFG – you nailed me!


    • OMFG – you nailed me!

      Isn’t that the Deacon’s job?


      • Well, there’s “nailed,” and there’s NAILED! I think you know which is which. ;)


  24. I’d say you go by a biased definition of faith, however: it is not the willingness to believe something despite no or contrary evidence, nor does it require ignoring certain aspects of the world around us.
    No, the definition is not biased it is wrong. Faith is the God-given ability to see the underlying Truth within our Creation. The evidence for God’s everlasting Love and Providence is Manifest within the natural and supernatural world. His love for Creation is shown through His Word, the Holy Bible.
    Though saved, I recognize my human limitations and recognize that 99 per cent of Gods Creation is still hidden from me. The scales which have fallen from my eyes reveal only a portion of God’s plan. Only the parts which He, through our Savior Jesus Christ, wants us to see. To assume that our five senses are the limits of reality is to accept a frighteningly limited view of Creation, one which I recoil from in fright.
    Whithout Faith, God’s plan is invisible. With Faith, we can see the parts He wants us to see.


  25. The evidence for God’s everlasting Love and Providence is Manifest within the natural and supernatural world.

    So that explains Tsunamis, and Droughts, and Hydrocephalus… oh, you meant Waterfalls and Rainbows and Puppies?

    His love for Creation is shown through His Word, the Holy Bible.

    Do you mean where he is Commanding genocide, or Smiting fig trees?

    (Ramdom capitalization grows on one…)


  26. Spanqi: I hadn’t noticed that. Cool. Not true faithfuls.

    Ildi: But some of them are wrong. Sometimes epically wrong.

    Chappie: I’m glad I know you now, not then.

    Spanqi: wink, wink, nudge, nudge

    Matthew: Our five senses are objective reality. The ideas we create within our minds (philosophy, gods, money, etc) have a reality of their own when, and only when, they affect others or spread to others through the exchange of ideas. This is all natural. There is no supernatural. If spirits, gods, sprites, fairies, kachinas, compassionate conservatives, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, etc. existed, they would be part of nature and would thus not be supernatural.

    An idea can be real but that does not make it corporeal. The effects of ideas can be measured (the ideas we call supply-side economics and neo-conservatism have produced a $10,000,000,000 national debt (which is measured)) but that does imbue the idea itself with a physical reality. An idea, whether gods, devils, spirits, ghosts or goblins, cannot be measured.

    Ildi: Ramdom? Is this a nation ruled by a ram?


    • I have to Disagree with you there. God, in His infinite Wisdom, defines reality. Our observation of Reality is limited to that which God has given us. The natural world is a Reflection of the Reality of the World as expressed through God. God is not an idea, God is the Reality. Ideas have no power, only the Mercy of the Almighty has power.


  27. “Someone is WRONG on the internet. What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they’ll keep being wrong!” -xkcd

    Ramdom Probably more in the nature of a Freudian slip Well, if I could figure out how to make the text larger on this new monitor, maybe I could see what the fuck I’m typing.


  28. Ildi: Old people chronologically enhanced people use magnifying glasses to increase text size.


  29. Damn your eyes, (((Billy))), I’m now officially calling you an evil rat bastard.

    Magnifying glasses; hmph!

    (Let’s see, if I hold the margarita glass in front of the monitor…let’s see, if I take a sip from the contents of said margarita glass…)


  30. That’s magnifying glasses, not margaritafying glasses. Note the difference.


  31. (((Bill))):

    Our five senses are objective reality.

    I wanted to deconstruct this a little bit, because I think it highlights a remnant of religious thinking that is so pervasive that most people don’t even realize they’re doing it. The senses actually suck at representing objective reality. Our visual system is sensitive to a teeny, tiny portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, our hearing to a narrow range of acoustic waves. And then, we filter so much of what we do perceive. The icing on the cake is that we misinterpret so much of that.

    I think it was Dawkins who gave the example of an experience he had as a child. He was lying in bed one night, and heard a voice whispering to him. Freaked him out. What he did next is what I think distinguishes scientific thinking from superstition. He got up to check it out, and as he walked closer to the door, realized that it was the wind blowing through the keyhole.

    Our senses really haven’t evolved much further than what’s needed to recognize potential predators, prey, mates, food and shelter. The problem is, we rely on our perceptions for a lot more than that in current society. A great example of where this goes terribly wrong is eyewitness testimony. I highly recommend “Eyewitness Testimony” by Elizabeth Loftus. It’s a bit depressing, actually, and the reason why I’m opposed to the death penalty.

    The scientific method has actually allowed us to overcome the limitation posed by our limited senses and faulty perceptions. People used to think the earth was flat and the sun and stars moved in the sky before the advent of science. There are aspects of reality unimagined by us prior to science, from the billions of galaxies in the universe to quantum mechanics.

    Why, then, do we persist in thinking that our senses reflect objective reality? I think one root cause is the belief that we are created by a perfect god in his perfect image. On the contrary, we are an evolutionary work in progress, with all the attendant limitations and biases. The scientific method is the only tool we have come up with to overcome that. But what a tool! What doors and vista have been opened to us as a result! I’m with Sagan in thinking that is fucking awesome.

    (Oh, and I moved the monitor off the monitor shelf. Duh.)


  32. Billy,

    Well, you defined faith as, “..willingness to believe something despite no or contrary evidence.” I can only accept that as condescension, as even the dictionary shows your definition is jaded.

    “..what is your definition of faith? Seriously. You have a problem with one of the definitions I use. Fine. It is easy to poke holes in my definition but, if you want me to take you seriously, you really need to provide a definition of your own.”

    Generally speaking, faith is belief in the absence of proof. We all have faith in different things to different degrees.


    • If you use your definition that faith is the belief in the absence of proof, then by your Definition, Christians do not have Faith. God’s existence as the Creator of the Universe, as the Creator of the seen and the unseen, is manifest in all of Creation. How can one read Scripture, or look at our world, or look at our bodies, and not see the Design of the Creator? Does this mean that, since I accept the Proof of God’s existence, and the Proof of Jesus’ Life and Ministry, I am not Faithful?

      I view the Faith of a Christian to be a willingness to Accept the Love of God as expressed through His Son, Jesus, and to remain Faithful to all the Teachings of the One Truth of the Holy Bible.

      Perhaps I misunderstand. Unlike many here, I recognize the limits God has imposed upon me as a human.


  33. Wow, Matthew is as crazy as a bedbug on LSD. If he gets wrapped any tighter his head will implode. Damn, I’d pay money to watch that happen. Put it on YouTube and it would score right up there with the video of Lucifer inventing Christ.


    • Look around and See with your whole consciousness the Reality of God. Wouldn’t crazy be denying the Truth of the World? You, and others like you, are the crazy ones.


  34. […] The Atheist at the bafflingly named (((Billy))) The Atheist relates a revealing story from his elementary school days about the dangerous, willful, fearful […]



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