In 1996 Sacred Myths: Stories of World Religions was published to mostly positive reviews. None of the professional reviews that I was able to find seemed to take issue with the inclusion of Judeo-Christian stories next to those associated with Paganism, Native Traditions, or other religions. A couple of reviews mentioned the reteller’s introduction in which she defines the way she is using the word “myth” but none seemed upset by its use.
Fast forward to the present. Sacred Myths has been out of print for a few years, and people have been debating the use of the word “myth” to refer to religious stories thanks to Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality. So I guess it makes sense that when a new publisher decided to bring McFarlane’s book back in print, they didn’t just update the design. They changed the title to Sacred Stories: Wisdom from World Religions.
The message of tolerance and understanding between faiths remains the same, and the introductory remarks contain the same wording regarding myths vs. stories.
“To say a story is a myth does not mean it is a lie. It may not be literal fact, but it tells a story that is deeper than fact because it holds an important truth about life. We put the truth into story form because humans use stories and pictures to understand what cannot be seen and touched.”
No matter what one believes about their historicity, these stories have value. For children, they can be a way of talking about big topics that can be hard to bring up, or they can be a lesson on other cultures–there is a teaching guide, after all. Story–true and false–is more than escape. It can provide meaning, cultivate empathy, and encourage creativity. I have yet to read more than the excerpt available on the author’s web site, but The Storytelling Animal looks to be a fascinating examination of the ways that stories shape our lives. He writes:
“Tens of thousands of years ago, when the human mind was young and our numbers were few, we were telling one another stories. And now, tens of thousands of years later, when our species teems across the globe, most of us still hew strongly to myths about the origins of things, and we still thrill to an astonishing multitude of fictions on pages, on stages, and on screens—murder stories, sex stories, war stories, conspiracy stories, true stories and false. We are, as a species, addicted to story.”
Here are those words in animated form:
I obviously value stories of all sorts, and I hope to encourage my daughter to do the same. We’ll save Sacred Stories for when she’s older, but we’ll keep Bible stories, folk tales, and fairy tales in picture book form for all that they have to offer.
For more about religions and science, see my Secular Thursday page.
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