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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marquez and Mythicization (2)

Another scenario in the process of myth-making – and this is no longer based on the text under study – is the rejection of a theory for an unexplained phenomenon and the assertion of a counter-explanation.

The new theory or speculation may, in turn, be amplified and institutionalized thus  leading to the setting up of another system of thought, religious tradition, or cultural norm.  It may, however, be offered by a skeptic simply as a debunker with no intention of letting a particular line of thought become cemented into a path of tradition (or traditionalism).

Now, we can concretize this whole process of mythicization by citing several widely discussed topics involving science, pseudoscience, and religion, such as UFO’s/Ufology, Evolution vs. Creationism/Intelligent Design, Reincarnation, and End-time prophecies.  All of these controversies erupted as responses to what the human mind perceives as mysterious/unknown/unexplained and therefore something that has to be figured out. They have also spawned a slew of speculations and theories, followers and scoffers, promotional and proselyting strategies, and thought and behavioral patterns.

The case of Harold Camping easily comes to mind.    

“I can tell you very candidly that when May 21 came and went it was a very difficult time for me, a very difficult time,” said Mr. Camping, 89, a former civil engineer. “I was truly wondering what is going on. In my mind, I went back through all of the promises God has made, all of the proofs, all of the signs and everything was fitting perfectly, so what in the world happened? I really was praying and praying and praying, oh Lord, what happened?” 

What he decided, apparently, was that May 21 had been “an invisible judgment day,” of the spiritual variety, rather than his original vision of earthquakes and other disasters leading to five months of hell on earth, culminating in a spectacular doomsday on Oct. 21 — something he had repeatedly guaranteed. On Monday, however, Mr. Camping seemed satisfied with his new interpretation, which apparently spared humankind its months of torture for a single day of destruction.*

Camping’s blooper is nothing new, of course, and there will be more cranks like him in the years to come just as there will always be gullible folks who will believe in any "Biblical interpretation" no matter how outlandish.  Camping’s guesswork is part of this larger obsession among Christians to “unlock” the secrets of apocalyptic texts like the books of Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation.  These books are, in themselves, mysterious but by extension the greater “mysterious phenomenon” is the future about which everyone is  largely ignorant, interested to know more, and tempted to speculate.

Scriptural texts are used to determine what the future holds, and interpretations are encapsulated in theological constructs such as “Signs of the Last Days,” “Millennial Reign,” “Rapture,” “Tribulation,” and “Armageddon.” Speculations become doctrines, personalities develop adherents, and movements calcify into sects. One need only study the formation of the following religious institutions to see how “End-Time” ideas go through the process of mythicization: (EuroAmerican) Pentecostal/Charismatic groups, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC-Manalo/1914), Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ (4th Watch), Kingdom of Jesus Christ Name Above All Names (Apollo Quibolloy), among others.

Like “Esteban’s village,” these religious societies demonstrate the transformative power of myths: changed lives, sense of camaraderie, socio-economic progress, political clout, local community service, and global outreach.  Unlike Esteban’s village though, these same institutions show the destructive effect of myths: thought control, narrow worldview, belligerent proselyting, sectarian strifes, material exploitation, and spiritual disenchantment.

4 O heart you will not arrive  at the solving of the riddle,
You will not reach the goal the wise in their subtlety seek;
Make do here with wine and the cup of bliss,
For you may and you may not arrive at bliss hereafter.

5 If the heart could grasp the meaning of life,
In death it would know the mystery of God;
Today when you are in possession of yourself, you know nothing.
Tomorrow when you leave yourself behind, what will you know?

6 How long shall I lay bricks on the face of the seas?
I am sick of idolaters and the temple.
Khayyam, who said that there will be a hell?
Who's been to hell, who's been to heaven?

7 Neither you nor I know the mysteries of eternity,
Neither you nor I read this enigma;
You and I only talk this side of the veil;
When the veil falls, neither you nor I will be here.**
* McKinley, Jesse. “An Autumn Date for the Apocalypse.” The New York Times, 23 May 2011. Available,

** Omar Khayyam, The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam, trans. Peter Avery & John Heath-Stubbs (London: Penguin Books, 1981), 38-39. Available @ Amazon: The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam 

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