Convert’s Zeal

I think I’ve discussed the meaning of the word “myth” on this blog before.  Despite the common contemporary usage of the word “myth” to mean “something that is not true”, as folklorists use the term it kind of means the opposite.  We define “myth” roughly as a narrative which is believed a particular group to be sacred and true.  And we don’t really go further than that.  We don’t get into discussions of whether a particular story actually is true—we leave that to theologists, philosophers and scientists.  All we care about is what people believe is true and what that tells us about their culture.

So I teach introductory folklore courses and we do a small unit on myth.  The big assignment from this unit consists of giving the students a packet of creation myths and making them analyze two of them in terms of what they suggests about a particular folk group’s worldview.  This packet includes, among other myths, the Genesis creation story and a telling of the Big Bang Theory. Every semester I wait for the Christian and Jewish students to freak out about us calling the Genesis creation story a myth.  But it’s never happened.  Apparently they are actually getting the message that just calling the story a myth is not challenging its validity.  Maybe they privately resent it, but they don’t bring that attitude into class and they don’t express it in their papers.  It’s a big relief.

Who causes the problems with this assignment?  The atheists.  First, there’s contention over whether the Big Bang Theory can be classified as a myth.  As we discuss in class, I freely admit it doesn’t necessarily fit nicely into the rubric we generally set for myths.  On the other hand, it does fit a lot of the characteristics.  And if we really believed things could be easily sorted into set categories we’d be anthropologists.  We put the Big Bang Theory into the packet of myths deliberately to problematize that rubric.  And upon analysis, it becomes immediately clear that it does reveal a lot about contemporary secular worldview in much the same way as myths.  At any rate, discussion I’m fine with.  Debate I encourage.

Using a person’s lack of religious belief as an excuse to write a crappy analysis?  That will result in a crappy grade.

To be fair, I don’t poll my students on their religious affiliations, but I’m sure I have many atheist and agnostic students who write wonderful analyses.  But without fail, every semester, I get a handful of analyses from out and proud atheists whose analyses consist of “This myth reveals that the worldview of X people is ignorant.  This is clear because believing in myths is stupid.”  In what world is this a college level analysis?  It’s annoying.

I’ve spent years arguing that religious parents who don’t want their children exposed to concepts such as evolution or the Big Bang Theory in science class should find an alternative to public schools.  The job of science classes is to teach science and anyone who is that against learning should simply get out.  I suppose perhaps the same is true for courses that cover mythology.  If you can’t handle hearing about myths and discussing them in an analytical fashion, perhaps you should find another course to take.

To be fair, I think this is at least as attributable to my students’ age as it is to their religious creed/lack of creed.  I do realize that a lot of college aged atheists are either newly out as atheists or have only recently discovered atheism.  I do think in some ways this is just a matter of convert’s zeal.  It seems new atheists are subject to many of the same foibles as new Christians.  And in my class it can be just as detrimental to their grades.

Coffee with Ælfric of Eynsham

Would we drink coffee with Ælfric of Eynsham?

Kristy:  Yes.  For starters, I just don’t think I can turn down coffee with someone who is known as Ælfric the Grammarian.  It’s definitely up there on the list of awesome Old English names.  I also kind of feel like with him being one of the most prolific Old English writers, at this point in my academic career I kind of have to.  I’ve always had a fascination with hagiography, and he’s kind of the go-to guy for early English hagiography, so there’s that too.  And you know… I just always figured medieval monks were probably interesting guys to talk to.  They were basically the nerds of their day.  I’m also entertained that his reluctance for translating the Bible into vernacular (although he did translate parts of the Old Testament long before people tend to realize anyone was doing it) was that he was concerned without someone to explain the contextual issues to them, people would read it and think they could live like the patriarchs of old.  You know, all those concubines and such.  Had nothing to do with the political position of the church.  And I’m interested on his views on a whole bunch of things, mostly related to education and the position of the Christian church today.

Cammy:  Wow, in case we all needed more proof that Kristy’s been spending more time with the medievalists…. 🙂  Sure, what the heck.  Like Kristy said, he was known as “The Grammarian” which is promising (side note:  I support the revival of naming people “The Such and Such”  Not sure what I’d be, but I am open to suggestions….).  I think we could get up a fairly heated conversation about the importance of Bible translations into the vernacular (my Lutheran-ness strikes again).  I’m sure listening to Kristy and ol’ Ælfric talk saints will be interesting, too.  I’m fairly saint-ignorant myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy hearing the stories (again, with the Lutheran thing, the whole saint stories?  All new literature for me).  And of course this coffee get-together has the no-fail entertainment of seeing Kristy geek out like the nerdy fangirl she is.

An Obsure Bit of Bible for You

For starters, I know that I was supposed to post on Thursday and neglected to do so.   In my defense, I did remember at 3am, but since I had to be up at 7am, I decided that the post would just get written later.  Not sure I could have stayed up long enough to write it at that point anyway.  I will do a makeup post soon.

Moving on…

We’re back to my highly intermittent series:  People who Got Screwed Over by History

Tonight’s subject might be a little controversial because a) When I say “History” I’m referring to someone who as far as I know is only recorded in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and b) said scriptures are largely what do the screwing over.  But let me be clear—this is not meant to be a theological discussion; we’re looking more at the social biases which have governed interpretation of the scriptures.

I’m talking about Michal, daughter of Saul.

When we first meet Michal she’s got all the makings of a heroine.  Daughter of the king, she falls in love with the young upstart David (who had been anointed by God to overthrow her dad.  Oops!)  Saul married Michal to David, hoping the distraction would cause him to get killed on the battlefield (from this we can assume Michal was a hottie).  When that didn’t work Saul finally decided he was going to have to do the killing himself, but Michal defied daddy dear by smuggling David out of town, thereby guaranteeing awkward holiday dinners for years to come.

Here’s where things get messy (no, they weren’t messy yet).  While on the run for his life, David found time to marry a couple other women.  What?  He’s a man on a journey to achieve his divine destiny.  He has needs!  Saul meanwhile decided he no longer liked the idea of a son-in-law who was going to bring about the destruction of his royal line, and decided to marry Michal to some other guy.  We have nothing to tell us how she felt about this.

We can assume, however, that her husband must have had some strong feelings for her.  Years later, after achieving some degree of power, David demanded that Michal’s brother (who had become king after daddy’s death) give her back.  Presumably along with a stack of CDs he’d left at her place.  Michal’s new hubby followed her procession back to David, weeping over her.

David, meanwhile, seems to have gotten over her.  We don’t get a sweet, happy reunion.  Instead we get a weird scene where David, overjoyed at having rescued the Arc of the Covenant, dances half naked in the streets (some scholars think the half he was wearing was the top half).  Then he goes inside and procedes to have the biblical equivalent of this conversation:

Michal:  My, aren’t we a big man, dancing naked for all those peasant women.

David:  Oh yeah!  Well why don’t I go prove what a man I am with some peasant women?

Michal:  Whatevs, as long as it’s not in my bed.

David:  Yeah, and God liked me more than your Dad!

Michal:  Ugh.  Sometimes I hate that guy.

Evidently she was punished with barrenness over this.  One has to wonder if the lack of babies actually came out of a refusal to let David near her after all those peasant women.

And somehow this adds up to her being an example of what NOT to be.  My study bible tells me the lesson I’m supposed to take from this is to not let circumstances make me better.  Can I be honest?  Those circumstances would totally make me bitter.  As with Malinche, I submit to you, she was a young woman in really sucky circumstances.  She chose a guy who was constantly getting into battles to the death with her family members and then he took off.  Then he came back.  With a bunch of other wives.

For me the real lesson to get out of her life is:  Don’t fall for a guy on a mission from God.