Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & K & lt;/span & aren Armstrong is best known for two deep and systematic books. A History of God explains the life spans of the three great monotheistic religions. The War for God tries to account for why adherents of those religions are always trying to kill each other.


Her new book takes an opposite path, dealing with 22,000 years of human history in just 150 pages. That's fine, because specificity isn't what she's going for. Armstrong tries valiantly to make a case for the importance of myth by showing how similar all world myths are, how they conform to strict archetypes and how they tend to shift dramatically with dramatic changes in culture (moving from hunting to farming, for example). We use them universally, she says, and in similar ways, therefore we must need them. Interesting, but the point seems moot.


If people have tended to tell the same kinds of stories over and over, given a particular point in our evolution (as hunter/gatherers, farmers, city-dwellers, colonizers, etc.), isn't it just as likely to say that we cannot escape them? Armstrong spends the whole book suggesting that myth grows up and around humanity's changing circumstances, reacting to our changing sense of identity, only to implore us not to forsake myth. "Our modern alienation from myth is unprecedented," she says. If it's always been with us, how could we forsake it? If it's stuck with us this long, why would we think we could kill our dependence on myth now, when all previous efforts to kill our gods have failed?"


The big disconnect in Armstrong's analysis, then, is that she doesn't think we've had a big shift since the 1600s. Not the Industrial Revolution, not the Information Age, nothing has forced a shift since the move toward colonialism. Absent a huge shift like that, she's not inclined to go looking for any new myths. It seems, though, that a shift has occurred, whether it coincided with the Industrial Revolution, with the Information Age, or somewhere else. It's obvious that the colonial myths are no longer with us -- Armstrong's right about that -- but she fails to see the new myths that have grown up around and in the wake of our new factitious, globalized, hypertasked culture. They exist less in our synagogues and churches than in the secular forces we ascribe to the market economy, in the belief that technology will make us immortal, and in the way our president acts as if he has a conduit to God. No, Ms. Armstrong, the myths haven't gone away. They're just different.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Game Changer
  • Game Changer

    Since Condon became mayor, Jan Quintrall has been responsible for some of the biggest changes in the city of Spokane — and some of its biggest controversies
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • In Contempt
  • In Contempt

    A Spokane judge rules that the mental health system has willfully failed to follow evaluation deadlines
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • Never Again
  • Never Again

    Washington state lawmakers push reforms after last July's murder-suicide; plus, Spokane's police ombudsman is leaving
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Hosted Eagle Viewing

Hosted Eagle Viewing @ Coeur d'Alene

Sat., Dec. 20, 8-11 a.m. and Sun., Dec. 21, 8-11 a.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Let Us Breathe

    Spokane joins national protests over the failure to indict white officers for killing black civilians
    • Dec 10, 2014
  • Screw Big Cities

    A mid-sized manifesto
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • More »

© 2014 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation