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"Opinion or Myth"

Two sentences appeared recently in Adela Amador's column in THE NEW MEXICO MAGAZINE, causing letters and e-mails in reply. "Reindeer do not fly, and a fat guy doesn't come down the chimney." "We know that the sun did not literally stand still, and that Jonah did not spend three days in the gastric juices of a whale and survive to tell about it." One letter which attempts to refute those statements has been printed in the magazine's "Mail Bag" section.

Several letters attempted to refute the first sentence by referring to St. Nicholas as a historical person. And the second sentence was dismissed as the writer's opinion and no more. One writer called both sentences "blatant Christian religion bashing." What can be made of all this, and does it matter very much?

It seems quite preposterous that assertions like, "the sun did not stand still," can be called mere opinions. If all we have are opinions, then there is no Reality at all. Some of these matters were important to Galileo almost 400 years ago, and it is interesting to note that the "infallible" Roman Catholic Church has felt it necessary to apologize to Galileo, as if he could be aware of such a gesture now!

Galileo's crime back then was to assert that the sun stands still -- at all times! He insisted that the earth does the moving! So, Joshua's miracle must really mean that the earth stopped spinning on its axis, while the Israelites used that extra time to slaughter more Amorites. But the laws of physics make clear, and not in the sense of "opinion," that if the earth should stop spinning for several hours, all the unattached contents of the surface would go flying off into the stratosphere, Joshua and Israelites and Amorites and all. The assertion that that did not happen is not a mere opinion.

The problem stems from the fact that the letter-writers have granted a sort of absolute authority to the Book which contains this story. They are allowing themselves to be governed, mind and all, by irrational authority. It is similar to the irrational authority granted to a mere man in the Roman Catholic Church, which gave Galileo such a hard time.

These writers don't like having this story and others like it labelled "myth." But that is what they are, and it's not just private opinion that says so. The concept of myth, in fact, allows us all to continue to take these stories seriously, that is, to investigate what they might mean, and see if that meaning is at all helpful today. "Miracle" suggests that the laws of physics and logic don't apply at all times, but they do. Our understanding of those laws is increasing all the time, but their universality is very consistent.

Not all the myths are in the Bible. There are current ones also. Harking back to St. Nicholas doesn't, however, make the current myth about the fat guy coming down the chimney anything other than myth. People tell the story, some believe it in their immaturity, most quit believing it as they mature -- and it is all myth.

I'm not much into bashing persons, Christians or others, but I can state plainly that more and more people are becoming weary of the meanness and cruelty and arrogance of those Christians who have assumed positions of power in this country. Where's the compassion of Christ? Where's the love of God? Where's the common decency based on equality, which isn't exclusively Christian, but used to be part of the tradition? Robertson and DeLay, as two remarkable examples, need bashing, if I may say so.

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Copyright © 2006 Harry Willson

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