The True Myth is the Truth of All Myth

The world’s myths do not reveal a way to interpret the Gospels, but exactly the reverse: the Gospels reveal to us the way to interpret myth. – René Girard, 1996

Like so many other religions, Christianity worships a perfect man who died a sacrifice for his people and the world, and rose again to life. It’s a scandalous thought, perilous to Christian faith – until one remembers that the fact that so many other religions have shared important aspects of the form of Christianity does not mean that Christianity is false. For, that would be like thinking that the great diversity of animals means that there is no King of Beasts, no archetype of animality, or even no such thing as animation at all (this being analogous to the conclusion – or, rather, more often the unthinking presupposition – of those scholars of religion who are atheist).

The unicorn is mythical. The rhinoceros is not.


I highly recommend the linked essay by Girard. It’s chock full of nourishing nuts.

8 thoughts on “The True Myth is the Truth of All Myth

  1. Pingback: The True Myth is the Truth of All Myth | Reaction Times

  2. From The Mark of the Sacred (2008) by Jean-Pierre Dupuy:

    Only a madman or a crackpot, disregarding all the conventions of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, could make the following outrageous claims today: That the history of humanity, considered in its entirety, and in spite – or rather because – of its sound and fury, has a meaning. That this meaning is accessible to us, and although a science of mankind now exists, it is not mankind that has made it. [And] that this science was given to mankind by divine revelation. That the truth of mankind is religious in nature…

    That madman is René Girard.

    Dupuy calls Girard the Einstein of the moral sciences.

  3. Obviously, every time a myth gets recognized and compared with similar ones, competing myths become both more and less probable. More probable in what they overlap, and less probable in what they don’t.

    But the deeper question is that how seriously we should take religions and myths when they say they are the only truth and others are entirely in error with grievous consequences. It is possible that these teachings are more to be seen as a motivator than as a truth – as the people who emphasize that there many paths up the same mountain tend to walk neither, and people who think their path is the only one tend to walk more diligently on it. So it can be a useful “noble lie” basically that there is only one path. But it could be that in reality only the “overlap” is true.

    To be honest, it would be comforting to think that the vast majority of humankind, who had any sort of religion or spiritually whatsoever, has not made a grievous mistake and are probably going OK, just perhaps slower or on a bumpier road than others. But then again, feeling comfortable is almost exactly the same thing as being demotivated and being lazy, so there. We probably all know that feeling when we browse an appetizing cookbook, and one dish looks better than another, actually most look good, and it is sort of hard to put down the cookbook and actually start cooking. The truth, that in a good cookbook most dishes are quite good, is a not very useful one at that point. A “noble lie” like the best dishes in each chapter are the first ones, could motivate us more to choose and then work on it.

  4. The traditional English translation of stumbling block is far superior to timid recent translations, for the Greek skandalon designates an unavoidable obstacle that somehow becomes more attractive (as well as repulsive) each time we stumble against it.

    Yes, skandalon was also translated in the non-Indo-European Hungarian language as stumbling over something. Yet in both languages the translated word (scandal, botrány) today means “moral outrage, indignation”.

    I remember that when I was reading about Christianity at around 15 years, the concept of scandals were one thing I did not like. I mean, I generally don’t like the kind of people who participate in moral outrages, indignations. It sounds very much like people who act as if immoral acts would _surprise_ them and thus sensationalize its condemnation – at least this is how today scandals are treated today. I’ve always thought you should _expect_ other people to do bad stuff, so you could just condemn when it happens without much of a sensationalizing, scandalizing attitude. I think there are people who like to be outraged, it makes them feel important and good. Certain ultra-left websites, like AlterNet, are basically in a constant state of moral indignation or scandal.

    The original meaning of scandal, as a stumbling block, is much more profound. There is no serious path without them. Yet, I wonder why or how two fairly distant languages or cultures managed to misrepresent this idea so wrongly in everyday consciousness – treating scandals as those kinds of moral indignation or outrage that a sensationalist, self-important, boring windbag would like to participate it, instead of treating them as an obstacle on a path to spiritual progress.

    • The ubiquitous moral outrage of the modern world is a sign of that world’s crisis. Using the claim of victimization to produce victims, the characteristic gesture of the morally backsliding modern morality whose first premise is that Revelation is a myth, is another sign of that world’s crisis.

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  6. Modernity is the Serpent of Petulance wrestling with the Angel of Grace. The Angel of Grace is sublime and barely flexes a muscle; the Serpent of Petulance thrashes about, wasting the land.

  7. Pingback: The cataphatic disagreement of religions and their spiritual disunity | semel traditae sanctis


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