We Need a New Myth
In his book, The Cry for Myth, psychologist Rollo May argues for the necessity of myth for the well-being of society. In essence, he says we are only as good as our myths. Myths tell us who we are—who we ought to be. If our myths are positive, our society will have positive goals. If our myths are negative—or, worse, if we have lost our myths—society is in for troubled times.
For the past several years, America’s myths have been troubled. They are myths of divisiveness, of separation, of one group or class of people attempting to be superior to other groups. As a result we have, among other problems, protest groups turning to violence, resulting in death and destruction. In words of one kind or another we hear voices warning us that our society—our nation—will disintegrate if we cannot find ways to overcome these divisions, ways of coming together to achieve the more perfect union for which this nation was founded.
We cannot even find unity within the Christian Church. In his prayer at the Last Supper Jesus petitions his Father, “that they may all be one even as we are one;” (John 17:21) that unity among Christ’s followers might mirror the unity he shares with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are confronted daily with proof that we fall far short of that unity.
John Donne, the seventeenth century English poet wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…”
Humanity is all of a piece. We have scientific proof. Geneticists have shown that my chromosomal makeup is essentially the same as every other person’s—over ninety percent the same. Like the Christians who argue vehemently—sometimes to the death—over tiny bits of dogma, so the human race argues—sometimes to the death—over less than ten percent of our genetic makeup.
Peter had been raised to believe that every non-Jew in the world was inferior—unclean. He lived his life accordingly, shunning all contact with Gentiles. Jesus sent both a vision and a Roman centurion to teach him otherwise. In words written in red in my Bible, Jesus says to Peter, “What God has made clean do not call common.” Peter learned his lesson, and as a result, Cornelius and his family became followers of Jesus Christ.
We need to reactivate the myth we created in 1776 when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This myth says all of us are entitled to the same rights as each of us—no exceptions. Peter, with the vision still fresh in his mind, with Christ’s words still in his ears, stands before Cornelius’ household and says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality…” Peter was referring to God’s call to all people to become followers of Christ; but we know these words apply to all areas of life. God shows no partiality. We are all God’s children, all created by God, and all entitled to the same rights.
In the final chapter of his book, May writes about the astronauts of Apollo 7, who saw the earth from a different angle than any human had ever been able to experience. From that distance, as they circled the earth, they could see no national boundaries, no lines of division between countries or people. The earth, to them, was one unified whole.
May says that is the myth we need to adopt as our guiding principle. We are all one people, connected by our humanity.
From God’s viewpoint all divisions disappear.