By Amy Huber, Editor –
A recent panel discussion featuring three MCC faculty and a local pastor focused on mythology and religion. This symposium was one of the last events from the October Arts and Humanities Festival, AhFest.
Moderator Andy Wible, chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities, opened the discussion by projecting the definition of a myth was projected on the overhead: “A traditional story especially one concerning the early history of people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.”
The symposium focused on the role that mythology plays, and the role it should play in our lives. Michael Johnson, who teaches mythology at MCC, likened modern day mythology to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Johnson referred to Star Wars as “the myth that lies behind my generation.”
Johnson explained that all myths have “a good guy, and a bad guy.” An
example he gave is Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, adding that throughout history, it has always been that way. He also noted Jesus vs. Satan as another example.
The group also discussed myths as common to all cultures, historically as a way to explain what the people did not understand – origins, life, death – as well as the struggle between good and evil and chaos and order.
Alfredo Hernandez, instructor of world religions at MCC, stated that history, culture and values make us what we are today.
“Myths help us understand our culture and the culture of our times,” he said.
When explaining why people like myths so much, Hernandez said “A book of history is informative, but not as good as historical fiction.”
Bill Ultrecht, pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Muskegon, discussed the importance of myth in religion.
“Our lives are stories,” he said. “Life cannot be described by flat language, but larger than life stores about larger than life characters.”
Hernandez, said that when he steps outside of his own interpretation of reality, he finds common themes with different religions. He compared two mythological figures, a Shinto goddess who came from an eye to Eve who came from a rib.
One issue talked about was how myth relates to children, when it comes to such things as Halloween, the tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus.
“Myths are important to children, because it helps them to embrace the
ideas of super powers,” Hernandez said. “It would be cool if it makes adults strive to be role models and an inspiration for kids to look up to.”
Utrecht added, “Children are small in stature and myths are larger than life, and fun.”
“This stuff [myth] gets kids ready for adulthood,” Johnson said. “Myths are like poetry. They’re not literal; they’re figurative.”
In closing comments, Johnson summed up the importance of myth in Western culture today.
“Reading fantasy, myth or fairy tales is like looking at the world through a fun house mirror.”