Myth and Meaning Term Paper

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Constructed Myths and Man's Purpose

Since Nietzsche declared that God was dead, science and mankind have begun a twofold search. Nietzsche's declaration asserted that the need for God in the society's constructed identity no longer existed. The understanding of the times was that the scientific method could break down any problem into is components, and uncover both the purpose and the source of all of mankind's desires, tangible and intangible alike. The accompanying hopes for a utopian society would also be ushered in by modern thought. Modern, logical and rational thought would be able to replace oppressive superstition, religious, and myth of ignorant and uneducated people who used religious beliefs to explain those elements of life which previously could not be understood. Since the publishing of his work, along with Jung, Kant and a myriad of others, the social sciences have searched to identify the purpose of religious life within the context of community.

The ongoing survival of religion in the cultures around the world long after God's widely reported death has created problem for sociologies and theologians alike. Sociologists like Claude Levi-Strauss have correctly identified that myth, the scientifically defined synonym for religious thought and belief has continued across all cultures. But in their efforts to define the purpose of myth and how it gives real and concrete meaning to individuals and communities, sociologist are at somewhat of a loss.

If God is dead, why do individuals and collective cultures still seek to identify a religious system of beliefs, and integrated these beliefs into our daily lives? Why is it that atheist societies have failed, and those cultures which identify themselves with a strong religious ethic have remained a dominant influence in the history of our world? Why is mankind's experience shown that the only communities and cultures which do not have an active religious / myth system are those which have been ruled under the military law? When a socially accepted myth is absent, and replaces by military dictatorship, citizens were under penalty of death if they surrendered to their superstitious nature and followed a religious / mythological order. Nietzsche claimed that God was dead. Maybe his is the myth, and the presence of continued religious thought and life in diverse cultures is the proof of his error.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche's statement is built from his two postulations:

That the development of human knowledge has brought mankind to a point at which belief in God is no longer rational.

That without belief in God, the concepts of objective truth, order, and morality must also be relinquished.

Nietzsche's assertions have left the world struggling under the search for individual and social identity. Without God, atheism's alternative to replace God's place in the belief systems has a variety of sources, but none have produced a stable and lasting social order. One source is the rapid advancement of geological and biological sciences. Through the lens, all the mysteries of the universe could be explained. Therefore, according to the sciences, the purpose of God in the social construct also disappeared.

In the wake of his teaching, sociologists have been left with two unanswered questions.

If God is dead, and the need for a god identity longer exists, then what are the mechanisms by which religious beliefs, now termed 'myths' have been developed within the construct of community life?

If God is dead, why does fervent religious belief continue in cultures across the globe, and even in modern western society, still remain a vital part of the social conscious identity?

In response to the scientific mindset which swept the western culture in the 19th century, the clergy and epistemological leaders attempted to build a case for God on a similar rational foundation. Surely if science declared that God was no longer needed, and the basis of their argument was the realm of scientific reasoning, then through rational thought, God's existence should also be able to be supported. Their failure to prove God's existence culminated in Hume's declaration that the existence of God cannot be proved or even given much rational support. While the appearance of design or order in the world around us suggests the possibility of an intelligent creator, this similarity does not offer unequivocal proof for the existence of God and his involvement in man's daily affairs.

As consequence to the failure of religious leader to adapt an argument for God's existence in scientific terms, man's continued desire to connect with a 'higher being'
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was reduced to the idea of myth. Thus construction of the myth has absorbed much of sociologist's activities for the last half century. How and why man creates belief systems for something that is not real poses a problem to the scientific mind. If God does not exist, then within mankind there must be internal desires which create the longing and psychological need for attachment to an ethical system, or moral compass. Another hypothesis is that within the social construct of a community, there exists a collective need for the group to find identity with a 'higher order.'

Levi-Strauss' conundrum regarding myth

In his book Structural Anthropology, Claude Levi-Strauss (CLS) begins to create order out of the chaos and conflict which the devolving arguments of the modern age have left behind in the area of sociological myth identification. In his chapter on the structure of myth, CLS begins by discussing how those who are now engaging the arguments regarding myth are doing so from the broken remnants of what has been left over of the theories of the past two decades. CLS puts it this way:

Despite some recent attempts to renew them, it seems that during the past twenty years anthropology has increasingly turned from studies in the field of religion. At the same time and precisely because the interest of professional anthropologists has withdrawn from primitive religion, all kinds of amateurs who claim to belong to other disciplines have seized this opportunity to move in, thereby turning into their private playground what we had left as a wasteland. The prospects for the scientific study of religion have thus been undermined..." (Jacobson and Levi-Strauss, 1963, p. 215)

For CLS, maintaining current outlooks on the expanding study of myth is imperative to arriving at a current and accurate understanding of the process of myth creating. Thus accurately identifying the structural aspect of myth creation must be rooted in throwing out the theories which have been found faulty, and replacing them with new theories that have not yet been found faulty. For CLS, those who labored in the wasteland which anthropologist had deserted were men such as Frazier, or Durkheim who approached the subject of myth creation from a psychologically oriented position.

CLS disagrees with this approach because of the inherent contradiction which it leaves in the theory. A psychological approach to myth creation is ultimately anchored in the personal experiences of the individual. Trying to build a structural understanding of myth creation from a psychological basis creates an inherent weakness in the structure. CLS quotes Hocart so profoundly noted in his introduction to a posthumous book recently published, (Hocart, 1915) that psychological interpretations were withdrawn from the intellectual field. Hocart added "the inherent defects of the psychological school... (is).. The mistake of deriving clear-cut ideas... from vague emotions." A psychological interpretation of myth creation had to be rooted in the experiences of the individual people, or group. Thus one could expect that depending on the experiences of the group, the myth would be significantly different from one another across different cultures. And herein lies the problem. According to CLS, myths across cultures are significantly similar. When one studies a number of myths across a wide spectrum of cultures, times, and global regions, one can find striking similarities between them, rather than stark differences. Thus, CLS insists that a psychological approach to myth creation works counter productive to the developing field. "Instead of trying to enlarge the framework of our logic to include processes which, whatever their apparent differences, belong to the same kind of intellectual operation, a naive attempt was made to reduce them to inarticulate emotional drives, which resulted only in hampering our studies." (Jacobson and Levi-Strauss, 1963, p. 217)

CLS continues this theme in his book Myth and Meaning. He complains that the ongoing debate regarding mind vs. experience is an inadequate means by which to undertake building a structuralist perspective of myth creation. The elements of mind and personal experience do not give way to a uniform code, or a similar set of construction components by which to develop a structuralist point-of-view. (CLS, 1979, p. 8) CLS refers to his education first as a scientist, and then as a graphic artist. His goal was to develop theories regarding science, or drawings for the theater, from basic building blocks which were understood in the fields. His job was to identify the components of proper design, and communicate them so they could be replicated.

He approaches the idea of myth and meaning in the same way. He…

Sources Used in Documents:


Barrett, J.L. Anthropomorphism, intentional agents, and conceptualizing God. Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University. 1996

EC. Keil Conceptualizing a non-natural entity: anthropomorphism in God concepts. Cognitive Psychology 31, 219-47. 1996

Blommaert, J. & J. Verschueren. European concepts of nation-building. In E.N. Wilmsen & P. McAllister (eds) The politics of difference: ethnic premises in a world of power, 104-23. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press. 1996

Boyer, P. Traditions as Truth and Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992

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