In high school or college, I did not have today’s Internet nor any close links to skeptical thinkers. When I first read the fantastic Epic of Gilgamesh, I was struck with the similarities with the flood story from the Bible. Now, I google flood myth, and Wikipedia spells out an entire mythological relationship between these stories across every nation. Noah wasn’t real; he is a literary character used as a trope to explain the Jewish view of reality.
Now, we have a growing history of thinkers who love to attack all myths as stories, which they are. But, in this sometimes vitriolic attack, we are also losing how we interact with symbols. If, for example, the Noah flood is fiction, then what use is the Bible or any sacred text across history? We move toward a kind of cynicism of emptiness and spend our lives debunking all the falsities history has once taught us to believe.
That’s the conundrum of scientific materialism and atheism.
I’m not attacking neither. After all, I am a humanist.
As a humanist, these symbolic stories—true or not—have cultural meaning that goes to the very root of emotion. When I watch an entire congregation move to tears over the resurrection of Christ (a person who may not have resurrected or existed), I see the point of religion not as a falsity but an emotional connection to some meaning beyond history. Redemption and salvation are human qualities some people like myself need to carry forth in this human form.
Unfortunately, many Christians or other religious people are forced to prove God or bodhisattvas (Mahayana Buddhism) exist. Again, something is lost when the argument of truth (what exists or does not exist) becomes the driving force of religion. If a minister focuses his or her entire career on the existence of Christ, then they have forgotten the better argument: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6.31 English Standard Version).
I call myself these days a nontheistic thinker. I used to be in the following categories (in this order): polytheistic; pantheistic; monotheistic; agnostic; pantheistic again; pantheistic/ethical monotheist; and now nontheistic.
I do not worry about salvation in the next life but redemption now. Redemption occurs in a conversation with a friend who smiles and encourages. Redemption occurs in giving a teenager enough money to buy lunch. Redemption happens by humbling oneself before the entire world. Pride dissolves. Ego disappears for a moment.
In all the arguments, we need mythology and symbols integrated into our lives. The cell phone is not enough! What symbols do we have now?
Most symbols are ancient but steadily modern. Dirt. Grass. Wind. Energy. Crosses. Flags. And so on. My symbols come from my childhood because they are images that still feel real to me.
Water. Not fresh water. But muddy water from lakes and streams.
Sticks and pine cones. Still, I pick them up and place them on my shrine at work or home.
Fire and incense. The burning of wood. The fragrance of transformation.
Rocks. Boulders. Mountain ranges both large and small.
Think of the flood myths. Water. Sticks to build the boat. The same symbols remain with me today but are transformed to modernity, though quite old. I am restless without touching a rock or without holding a crystal quartz in my hand. Science might say that holding such quartz does not transform any healing energy to the body, but science has never recognized the entire sensation of memory from childhood and current sources of pain. Touching anything symbolic may be more powerful than some scientific inquiry. Touching heals!
Scientific materialism and atheism are perfectly fine systems of logic. I have benefitted from modern medicines that ancient medicine could not heal. However, at the mental, emotional, or spiritual level (you pick your own term), I need the rock as part of the antidote for redemption. Without the rock, I am an empty vessel of confusion and madness.