Thursday, November 20, 2003

Ever since Monday, I have been creeping into bed at the hour of nine o'clock pm, turning on the radio and listening to Thomas King speak about The Truth About Stories. It's a strange thing, reclining by the radio and doing nothing but listening. I wish I knew how to knit.

The first lecture was dedicated to the notion of the creation story and in it, Thomas King openly speculates about what a culture's creation story betrays about a culture. In the lecture, he compares the judeo-christian story of eden (a punitive creation story) with a native creation story that he told, the story of Charm - The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (a creation story of humour and cooperation).

And in my bed I wondered. What are the creation stories of atheists? Should we be telling the stories that we believe in - creating wonderous stories of superstrings and the big bang(s) to our children? Or should we choose the creation story that is the best as a story but is not the one that we believe in.

(On a slightly related note, some time ago I briefly contributed to an online discussion on science and creation stories. )

A related question: it is essential that one literally believes a creation story?

I don't think so - in fact, to read a creation story as a literal fact will cause you to lose the meaning of the story. It was Joseph Campbell's Power of Myth where I first learned of this idea. He uses the example of the fall of Adam and Eve as an example. If you think of the forbidden "Tree of Knowledge" as a just a tree, you are unable to read the story in a broader sense - that Eden was not a place, but an idea of life without death and that the Tree of Knowledge bequeathed death to Adam and Eve and with it, a sense of impermanance - a sense, it is said that separates us from the animals.

In native creation stories, there was a time in which the animals used to talk to us. They don't any more and this is like a banishment from Eden in a way. That was the larger premise that was popularized by Joseph Campbell (I don't know if he was the "first" to come up with the idea) - that humanity's creation stories and other myths are more alike than not - because all cultures share a common humanity.

Is it the choice of what creation story to tell is, in one small part, what defines a culture?

I think it is - but here is where I get very unsure - can you pick and chose stories to tell from all different cultures? I'm afraid of taking a "shopping" approach to culture - taking only the parts of culture of others' that I want and leaving out the portions that I may need. "I may take the worship but not the sacrifice"

And yet, during his Massey Lectures, Thomas King explicitly gives us the story of Charm. He says this: (I'm paraphrasing here) "The story is now yours. Do with it what you will. Tell it to others. Turn it into a TV special. Or just ignore it. But don't say that you would live your life differently if you had only heard the story of Charm. You've heard it now"

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