Healthy religion and religious mythic stories

Religious myth provides people with enduring stories and metaphoric frameworks for making sense out of their lives and the world.

I believe that all religious myths have been created by human beings, as opposed to revealed by a deity to human beings. That doesn’t mean that I think myths have no spiritual truth. On the contrary, myths are deeply important to how we human beings seek to understand ourselves, the cosmos, and the meaning of life.  In fact, if we assume that we are intimately connected with the universe around us, then myth also holds the potential of being one  of the ways that we express or reflect deeper realities. Acknowledging that myths come from us, and not from “out there” somewhere, simply implies that the impulse and the creativity to see the world in a sacred way is embedded within us.  As Jean Houston writes:

“Myth remains closer than breathing, nearer than our hands and feet. I think it is built into our very being. … Myths serve as source patterns originating in the ground of our being. While they appear to exist solely in the transpersonal realms, they are the keys to our personal and historical existence, the DNA of the human psyche. These primal patterns unfold in our daily lives as culture, mythology, religion, art, architecture, drama, ritual, epic, social customs and even mental disorders.”

So what makes a religious myth more or less healthy?

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D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha & the Gaza Flotilla Crisis of 2010

This is a talk I gave at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, Oregon in 2010. Though it is now almost a decade later, and we continue to lurch from Gaza-Israel crisis to crisis, as I just re-read it, it seems very applicable to this time.

In this week’s Torah portion, called Shelach Lecha, we find the Israelites at a critical crossroads in their early history as a free people.  A little over a year has passed since they escaped slavery in Egypt, and they’ve arrived close to the border of their destination – the Promised Land.  God commands Moses to select a team of 12 leaders – one from each of the tribes – and assign them the mission of scouting out the Promised Land. They are to take a full tour of the land, and then return and make a report to Moses and the Israelites.  

carmel
Logo from an Israeli winery featuring the Israelite scouts carrying the ginormous grape cluster as told in the Torah story of this week’s parashah.

After spending 40 days scouting out the land, the team returned to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness of Paran.  They brought samples of the land’s produce, including a cluster of grapes so large it had to be attached to a large wooden pole and carried by two men.  

Continue reading “D’var Torah – Shelach Lecha & the Gaza Flotilla Crisis of 2010”