The contribution of phenomenology to the study of myth and especially religion lies in its direct and consequently more serious approach; this means that phenomenology refers to the study of religion in itself, as a distinct discipline with its own subject matter. Consequently, the phenomena, such as ritual, sacred texts and traditions are brought into the limelight without a general reductionist approach as was commonly the case … specifically at the outset of every new methodological tradition (where patrons and personal goals are the predominant factors that give rise of subjective inquiry). This means that phenomenology goes beyond the methodological atheism that the aforementioned and discussed theories and approaches in my Myth in theory series generally adhere to. The exploration of the phenomenological subject matter requires the factual examination to give way to emotional, personal and spiritual positions.
The roots of phenomenology can actually be found at the very beginnings of religious thought, where religion and myth were considered sacred and thus viewed seriously and with reverence. There’s plenty of paradoxical irony here, of course. The issue of objectivity certainly comes into play, as there has always remained a distinction between the objective/academic/scientific position and the subjective/intricate/religious view, perhaps most notably observed by Kant. The central paradox is thus assumed; namely, how can one critically study a subject, when its conception is based on matters beyond the factual and physical approach? Dare I say POST-META-physics!?
What the worldly sphere wants to scientifically scrutinize is actually rooted in the world beyond; this is the paradigm of what Eliade divides between the profane and the sacred, the world of society and the world of myth. Essentially, we have returned to the issue of science versus religion, the duality of body and mind, fundamentally the concept of the Dao not being present in the now or the physical reality. This is consequently not only a philosophical dead end but a conundrum for any research like mine that kind of walks on the fringes of what is concrete and what can essentially never be completely understood within the confines of current human evolution. Plus, this already touches upon the Kantian paradox of not being able to prove God’s existence, yet not being able to disprove it either, which is not only one of my personal favorite concepts because it essentially “attacks” both sides of science and religion, but this agnostic paradox is pragmatically very much still in effect.
The duality of science and religion is something that has always interested me personally and academically. Truth be told, the perpetual tug-of-war between the fields is still raging, however, the distinction between these two long-held rivalries lies not in their seeming opposition, but their commonality and cooperation. Just as the yang and yin are not separate but integral in each other as the spherical symbol itself denotes, so the world we inhabit operates between different positions which are not excluding (or at least should not be), but are interwoven as any scientific or academic theory is. Life is intertwined, plain and simple. Even if you’re lucky enough to master a particular field or endeavor, you’ve essentially done nothing, because you are still a minnow in a miniscule pond of potential that we have only begun to explore. It’s not nihilism or some post-existentialism, this goes far beyond money, ego, success, morality and many more issues that we either hold dear to or take for granted, especially when it comes to Being itself (speaking either strictly philosophically or extremely concretely …or rather both). That may be a hard pill to swallow, but if you really think about it beyond yourself, it’s as true as it has always been.
Now, how does this refer to myth? Myths in the sense of stories of Being connect the human condition to the (perceived) reality our condition occupies. While myths may seem like an absolute, fantastic position, even touching upon blind religious obedience, their factual analysis occurs on a seemingly opposite field, the “absolutism” of each is dependent on each other and the middle way of appreciating myth in itself and understanding the blueprints that make up its subject matter seems to be the only palpable position to take. Take the example of the word logos: meaning either word or reason. This perfectly illustrates how religious texts entice the readers to experience their teachings not merely through passive reception, but actually reason and try to find deeper understanding of the subject matter. Thus, it becomes clear that just as myths and religions function on different levels, logos as such demands simultaneous awareness of both meanings (if not more). Consequently, the demand for a distinction between myth and religion or science and religion pales in comparison to a greater holistic comprehension of our subject matter and ourselves.
If religions were obsolete, time would have already devoured them and their many offspring (denominations). Why else would esteemed academic professors still be devout in their religious approach? Why hold to doctrine and tradition of let’s say the Biblical cosmogony, when you can scientifically prove that the world is much older and differently structured? On the other hand, how could Indian sages account for a much much more vast existence beyond the human gaze and conception (even today), if their understanding of scientific facts was “primitive”? Equally, if most of the world still holds near and dear to their religious roots and traditions, why is the mainstream geared more towards science?
Perhaps the best answer is that we need both science and religion to keep each other in check, in a sense maintaining balance by not allowing any mode of reasoning and being to become too pervasive and hegemonic. Succumbing to merely one point of view – no matter how truthful or factual it seems – denigrates the kaleidoscope of thought to absolutism and verges on doctrine (and I mean doctrine as stale dogma, not its original meaning of correct way). I tend to rave about the holistic approach (that I’m still piecing together), because it goes beyond ego and temporal ideology. At least in theory, because the amount of research needed to “master” numerous subjects can quickly verge on the palpable idea of parallel universes, when you’re paradoxically only occupying one. This isn’t meant as a self-deprecating excuse, because I would much rather be privy to parallel existence than not. Also, it’s not about perfection, because that’s as fabled as any divinity. It’s about rooting out unnecessary reductionism and narrowmindedness that set traps for us at every corner. Hello, google generation! Hell, from Nietzsche’s perspective, even liberal democracy presupposes its own dogma and ways of thinking and acting. To carry the analogy further, the democratic model has never been an ideal, neither from its original Athenian roots, deeply embedded in slavery, nor in its current representative form at the backdrop of institutional capitalism. Most of us are still living in the world of aristocracy
As mythologies in theory (unwillingly and unknowingly) depend on tricksters or trickster-like figures to stir the status-quo, we as humans depend on the imagination just as much as we do on hard scientific facts … and in both cases this “anarchy” is inevitable meant as advancement in one way or another. There is no science without imagination. You can’t just dream up the notion of a black hole or dark matter just by looking at movements of celestial bodies and the interplay of their shadows, you need foresight and insight in the same light. Inside or outside a religion, faith and belief are central to our being. In one way or another – even as children – we have to take things at face value (learning the rules) before discovering your own truth (breaking them). We have to let go of our ego and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to our lack of information and knowledge. Opening ourselves up to the world of science and religion (or what they represent) is not just the prerequisite, but rather the norm, the central doctrine we live by. Consequently, the interaction of the self and the world is ever-present.
Similarly to the perception of myth placed between extremes of a sacred and false story, we can observe two central processes that have (depending on one’s position) either driven or plagued (mis)understanding of faiths; namely, the paradoxical relationship between the conceptions of fear and love. Looking from the outside in, true religion is essentially marked more by fear than love, especially through the notion of awe. A profound reversal of the love-inspired Christian teachings of today (or perhaps professed by the mainstream). Historically we can see fear of hell (through institutional demands of the Church) as the first step towards knowledge, with love and thus wisdom as the final goal.
Either in the presence of an actual divine force or psychologically condensed state of implied sacrality, awe as the Kantian sublime refers to the presence of a very “scientific” force beyond human comprehension. The sacred must be by default extremely different from the known mundane world; the hero, priest, shaman or prophet must feel the presence or be in the presence of something unprecedented in order to make the relevance and magnitude of faith a worthy cause. Even to the point of overemphasizing the divine, since the followers can hardly internalize the same true power as the few chosen have been privy to. (How can you comprehend one or many infinities, if the core of your know perception is rooted in finiteness?) This is not a justification of charlatans or false prophets, but refers to the true revelation that goes beyond personal means. Further, this reflects the reality of our world, where the many follow the ruling of the few, whether or not the ideal of the philosopher king is justified. But the ideal should nevertheless always be perused, yet there’s a lot to be said that the Ideal is beyond the conception of what we currently are as humans.
The fear factor becomes a natural, instinctual response, as if marveling at the first sight of the lightning of the mighty Zeus. Awe essentially means nothing and is false if it can simply be “understood” and thus taken for granted, or is too personal, as if being uneasy about the divine out of fear of eternal damnation; akin to love as unwavering belief or blind faith that borders on brainwashing and can be both religiously and politically exploited.
All in all, the mundane society and the sacrality of myth are closely connected, just as much as the mind and the body need to coexist. Well, surely we’re not in the Matrix. Or at least if we do “live” in a simulated digital or spiritual reality, the details and believability of this program are quite extraordinary, especially if this sucker is running on high-settings … I’m just not sure if I wanna know what exactly I’m plugged into in through which orifice.
The mythic paradox is thus not a paradox, but a requirement of trying to understand different positions in themselves; a sort of “empathy”, if you will. Why else does the mundane world or the scientific sphere reject blind faith, yet still count the history of the world from the vantage point of the most famous religious martyr that may or may not have existed? (The simple answer is: because it’s easier.) Why are most celestial objects given mythic names? (Again, awe and tradition … plus, it’s easier to think of Venus than a combination of digits and letter.) The connection between society and religion is almost inseparable. In this context, the religious, imaginative, other-worldly position functions as the extra-perception, even the sixth sense. As it plays the role of art to the requirements of survival and reproduction, it is the expressive potential and the essential driving force of understanding and being. While science may in theory desire to understand everything objectively and beyond ideology, human ego and social constructs are the largest and most powerful tools that we unfortunately have perennially (or only) at our disposal, so we are always gradually tearing down the great mausoleums of old (beliefs) and building brick by brick not a new world, but a clearer world based on their majestic foundations that we owe everything that we are and … are yet to become.
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …