“Is God a myth too?”

I take my title from our contributor, St. Joseph, who asked this (only to make a rhetorical point) when the subject of angels was being discussed. I am tempted to answer: yes and no.
We have never been afraid to go deep on this Blog, but I doubt if we will get much deeper than the subject I am now addressing.

My authority here is Moses Maimonides, the great twelfth century Jewish philosopher, who wrote the book The Guide for the Perplexed. He was so distinguished that it was said of him “From Moses to Moses, none arose as Moses.”

We can start in a relatively uncontroversial area. When the Bible speaks of God creating the earth in six days, we must remember that this is an accommodation. We actually have no idea of the process of change from nothingness to somethingness – it is outside our experience. So, quite simply, the description in the Bible is just a way of conveying a truth to our limited understanding of creation. Naturally the form this explanation took was suited to the knowledge of those for whom it was originally written. Argument about Genesis giving a literal description versus some modern scientific version are simply beside the point. Neither is remotely adequate to describe creation. Either is sufficient to tell us that it happened.

Similarly, what is written about God – for example, his greatness or other aspects of his reality – are equally accommodations. They give us no more than shadows of a reality we do not have the power to understand.

Maimonides deals directly with the angels. We might see them as marvellous beings, dressed in floaty white garments, and occasionally picking up a lyre to make heavenly music. Just an accomodation. The angels are spirits, they have no corporeal form. They exist as “intelligences” created by God. We are told that the angels have wings and that they fly. But these are just similes, pointing to aspects of their nature. When we read of Gabriel and the Annunciation, we actually know no more than that Mary became aware, I presume though Gabriel’s agency, that she was to be the mother of God, and that she assented to it. Did a figure appear? Was it an intellectual vision? We just don’t know. All we do know is that the Gospel story was given to teach our restricted understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation, and mankind’s acceptance of this through the choice of Mary.

God exists outside space and time. And that’s a problem because all human knowledge is framed within the concepts of space and time. We use the words “outside space and time” without any corresponding picture in our minds. We talk about eternity, we talk about a short or long stay in Purgatory, and the like. But these words about periods of time or places like heaven or purgatory do not have any meaning which corresponds to their reality.

We find ourselves describing God’s attributes. He is omniscient, we say – or omnipotent. Not so. God does not have attributes, he simply is. When Jesus most clearly describes his divine nature, he uses just two words: “I am”. Maimonides teaches that every time we deny an attribute to God, we get that bit nearer to his reality. Omniscience, for example, refers in our minds to human knowledge, extended infinitely. But that derogates from God’s knowledge which is not something he has, but something he infinitely is. We would do better, if we can’t escape such attributes, suggests Maimonides, to say that there is nothing God does not know, or that there is nothing that God cannot do. At least such negative statements are correct, even if they escape our minds as soon as we say them. We cannot even say that God is infinitely good – as if good were an attribute which he has. It is something which he is. It is of his essence. Even the word infinitely is a negative definition.

Maimonides is not telling us that we should avoid speaking of God and his works in very human ways. After all, this is how he communicates to us, how we communicate with others. And he accepts that many believers will never get beyond these simple descriptions. The ‘perplexed’ to whom he refers are those who, while using the simple explanations, realise their limited nature, and attempt to look beyond them, and so perhaps approach a little nearer to the wonder of God. It is in their perplexity, and in their acceptance that God is beyond their understanding, that they make progress.

I like to think of the users of this blog as the ‘perplexed’. That means that, although we needs must talk of God using our stunted human concepts, we know the whole time that his wonder infinitely exceeds our human attempts to describe him.

And that may be why the mystics tell us that the purest form of prayer is simply to open ourselves to God. It is through this emptiness that we make room for him.
This approach – defining God negatively – is known as apophatic. It is present in the Christian as well as the Jewish tradition. Its opposite – defining God by his positive characteristics – is called cataphatic.

Those who have not considered the apophatic approach may of course reject it. I can only speak for myself when I say that I am strongly attracted by it. The more thought I give to it the more true I perceive it to be. And the more questions I find that it answers. Nevertheless I am happy that I believe in the Incarnation (a belief not open to Maimonides) because Christ came to give us a way of approaching God which is immediately suited to our human nature.

So is God a myth? You must decide. My (Oxford Concise) dictionary tells me that a myth involves the imaginary or allegorical. But it describes metaphor as the application of a name to an object or an action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable. I’ll settle for that.

About Quentin

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164 Responses to “Is God a myth too?”

  1. Ignatius says:

    I have followed the apothatic way closer as the years pass. Once one was full of ‘knowledge’ of God and an ardent superficiality, strangely enough one did a lot yet had little peace. Latterly I find myself equable towards the possibility that it may all be an illusion ..yet fuller now of hope and certitude than ever. This is a fairly common experience I think. Truth to tell an enormous amount of dogma goes towards establishing the ring fence of God, we do not know what lies inside that fence we only know that setting it up helps us know what not believe about the Triune God.

    • Nektarios says:

      Today, some people view what is called apophatic theology as a philosophy influenced by the Neoplationists. There is no question that the terminology of the Neoplatonists is similar to the Church Fathers.
      There is however one crucial difference, Neoplatonism is characterized by ecstasy, an experience that the Church Fathers viewed as demonic.
      The release from the defects of human life and thought is the source of Neoplatonic apophatic theology. Such are trying to be not to be freed from the created universe, but the world of change.
      Those who follow the apophatic theology, don’t make the distinction between created and the uncreated.
      In contrast, the basic category of Christian thought is the clear distinction between the created and the uncreated together with the teaching that between the created and uncreated there is absolutely no similarity.
      This is fundamental Patristic tradition, but also of the Jewish tradition until today.

  2. milliganp says:

    It is perhaps interesting that scientists have to create a multiverse theory in order to deal with their dislike for a God outside of space-time.

    • RAHNER says:

      Why do you assume that the multiverse theory is incompatible with theistic belief?

      • milliganp says:

        I don’t. You’re concusion is not a logical consequence of my statement. The “challenge” atheists have to deal with in destroying the concept of design and ultimate cause is that our universe is exceptionally highly tuned.The mutiverse theory has to create billions of universes with different fundamental constants to make ours not seem exceptional.
        Obviously an omnipotent God can create an infinite number of universes but that God would be unlikely to be the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

  3. St.Joseph says:

    I asked this question to RAHNER when he said ‘ Clearly we cannot rule out the possible existence of non human created intelligent human beings,and if people find the idea of imaginary .
    of angels helpful OK. But they are largely just pious myths and metaphors’!
    I somehow got the idea that he thought when he said in his comment ‘it was an empty whisky bottle’!
    I know that believing in God does not mean one believes in everything,
    However we can believe that in Him ‘Every Thing is Possible’!

    I would like to know from him ;Why. and how and who ‘he’ believes is ‘God’?
    Thank you RAHNER.

  4. St.Joseph says:

    Interestingly you say ‘Once one was full of ‘knowledge’ and yet had no peace.and an ardent superficiality,.strangely enough one did a lot but had little peace’.

    Strangely enough how it is with me and that is.I find the peace when I am doing what I feel is what the Lord wants me to do ,the closer I get to Him the more restless I become..It is the needing to know what He wants me to do!
    I sat for an hour at Exposition this afternoon in a Monastery,it was so peaceful just in His Presence, no words necessary! Then when it is over I begin to feel restless -not in Him but in the world where there no peace in it
    Does that sound odd!.

  5. Ignatius says:

    No St Joseph it mirrors my experience exactly. Who was it, Augustine perhaps, who said our hearts are restless without God. Of course it may just imply we like sitting still gazing at attractive things but one would hope there is something a little deeper going on.

    • ionzone says:

      Ah, multiverse theory. People who don’t like the idea of God tend to make up arbitrary rules about God and then try to show how science as we currently understand it (which they always make out to be a perfect understanding, which is rubbish) contradicts this assumption. It’s like supposing that gravity runs on squirrels and then pretending you have proof it doesn’t in the vague hope that by doing so you will prove gravity doesn’t exist.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Yes it was St Augustine of Hippo,
      I am sure it is what you say!
      Is there something in the saying ‘. God speaks in crooked lines’ whatever that means.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Maybe that is ‘writes’- I know I heard it somewhere!

      • Vincent says:

        Is the disaster in the Philippines one of God’s crooked lines?

      • milliganp says:

        The disater in the Philippines is a direct result of the “laws of nature” which are God’s creation. However, One could add, in God’s mittigation, that the inequalities in our society force poor people to live in places that are dangerous. A major tropical storm hitting the East coast of the USA claims far fewer lives because the USA has the economic capacity to prepeare for it and clear up afterwards. This inequality is entirely man-made.

  6. St.Joseph says:

    I heard a sermon the other day which begs the question ‘where is God in all these disasters’
    All we know and it was said that is, ‘He is there right there in the middle of it’!
    Maybe that is the crooked line we don’t understand.
    Maybe man has the answer. to a lot of disasters.
    It is sad listening to the news this evening that they are running out of medicines only enough for a few hours. and yet millions of pounds are spent on space travel.
    We seem to be more knowledgeable with something’s,but still disasters happen.
    That is not Gods fault or do some believe it is?
    Maybe all these experiments could be the cause.!

    • milliganp says:

      St Joseph, it’s interesting you single out space travel rather than, for instance, building and maintaining neuclear submarines. Much of what is done in space increases human knowledge, if not humility, whereas arms spending seems only to increase human misery.

      • St.Joseph says:

        It is the only thing I could think of at the time. Like finding if there is a man on the Moon!
        You know as well as I do what I meant!! I have said it before.
        I could write a list of things that will cause disasters .
        We must know by now what affects the earth’s balance. Or at scientist do.
        If there was peace in the world there would be no need for nuclear weapons!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Tell me how the work in space increases human humility?
        Maybe man’s pride!.
        The money would be better spent on looking after the countries that cannot afford to make its buildings safer for those to live in and clean up afterwards.

        What causes the laws of nature to hit back the way that it does, other than man’s nature! Climate change is caused also by things we do on earth.
        A lot is to be said for not eating from the tree of knowledge-or at least knowing where to draw the line.
        Will the generations in time ‘look back in anger’ at how we did not look after the earth that the Lord placed man in charge of in the beginning.
        More money could be put in the direction of curing diseases and making this place a better place for many

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, my reply was in the spirit of challenge not contradiction or criticism. Those who remember the terrors of the two world wars will inevitably have a different attitude to defence spending than those who have been born since the 1960’s.
        Drug companies invest billions in medical research but they seem to do so not for the benefit of humanity but the persuit of profit. Similarly billions are being invested in creating video games consoles and the games that are played on them.

  7. John Nolan says:

    Well, we’ll all find out sooner or later. I find as I get older much solace in one of the greatest English poets who happened to be a Catholic.

    “Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
    Wait the great teacher, Death; and God adore.”

    • Peter Nyikos says:

      You are assuming, of course, that there is a life after death. Most atheists would disagree. In fact the only consolation atheism can give a suffering humanity is the one Epicurus gave: that there is no suffering beyond the grave. Unfortunately, the atheists have no good reason for believing this. The greatest dread imaginable is that of a person who disbelieves in God, but cannot allay the fear that perhaps there is an afterlife, but no God to keep it from being a literal hell.

      Miguel de Unamuno once had a peasant in his fiction say, “If there is no afterlife, of what use is God?” But the reverse is at least as true: if there is no God, of what use is an afterlife?

      • milliganp says:

        You raise an interesting consideration. Any eternity which was not perfect would inevitably be hell.

    • John Candido says:

      No offence John Nolan, but can you stop reminding us of death please? It is a little off-putting to say the least.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you , I was just wondering.

  8. Peter Nyikos says:

    Atheism never had any attraction for me, no matter how strong the arguments against the existence of God seemed at times. The vision of a world without purpose is so bleak, that it is downright perverse to actively campaign for it. And so, while I have often fallen into agnosticism, I have never completely fallen into atheism.

    Miguel de Unamuno put it very well: the Bible does NOT say that the fool has said in his MIND that there is no God.

    • John L says:

      Peter N.
      You put it well. Agnosticism is a respectable intellectual position – this discussion, after all, is about what we believe in the context of what we cannot know.Atheism has no more justification than its opposite – Faith, but to me Atheism is totally negative.

  9. Alan says:

    Shouldn’t argument stand on its own merits and evidence lead where it does, regardless of how unattractive or bleak the destination looks from afar?

    • Peter Nyikos says:

      Yes, Alan, and it has led me to a standoff between theism (with Catholicism as its most able proponent) and a multiverse with such a staggeringly large number of individual universes (most of them pure garbage) that it might as well be infinite. Nothing else is credible, thanks to the fine-tuning of our own little universe, to which the following is a fine introduction:

      Click to access Just6num.pdf

      This is an introduction to a book by Martin Rees, the Royal Astronomer of England and a professor at the University of Cambridge. He comes down on the side of the multiverse, essentially the way I describe it but makes it clear that this is his private opinion.

      My point was, given this standoff, which side would a sensible person want to be true? And to me this is no contest. In addition to the points I brought up, there is the following.

      As you say, there are morally upright atheists, perhaps as many percentagewise as among theists, but a person’s morality is not clear unless it is put to the test. And in the politically charged forums dealing with abortion and creationism, I see about half the atheists miserably failing the test of honesty. They find that against me, the only way they can clearly win almost any argument is to lie, and in some cases slander, and all too many of them succumb to the temptation.

      It’s not that I am especially great at argument, although a decade and a half of intense argument has certainly honed my abilities; it is that I very carefully choose what to argue about in the first place.

      • Peter Nyikos says:

        I should perhaps add two more remarks. One, I apologize for returning to this blog so late; I see that almost all posts to it were at least three days ago. And two, I am not a creationist, in fact I have been convinced of the reality of massive evolution for five and a half decades. The reason I get into big arguments with atheists on this issue is that so many of them grossly misrepresent Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer, both leaders in the Intelligent Design movement, and cling to their misrepresentations with a tenacity that borders on fanaticism, or falls into it.

        Part of the reason for their tenacity is that most of them not particularly knowledgeable about paleontology and biochemistry (the two most relevant disciplines to the debate), but are politically motivated. I believe most of them are implacable foes of traditional Christianity, and see that a widespread creationism is one of the weakest points of Christianity at the present time.

        The two remarks are interwoven: a number of these arguments entered a critical phase this past week, and all my spare time was taken up with them.

  10. Singalong says:

    Nevertheless I am happy that I believe in the Incarnation (a belief not open to Maimonides) because Christ came to give us a way of approaching God which is immediately suited to our human nature.

    Quentin, I am more than happy to concentrate on the Incarnation, as the way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. He tells us to call Him, Abba, Father, which I believe is better translated with a more familiar endearment such as Daddy. His immense divinity is totally beyond our comprehension. I can get very faint glimpses sometimes in the wonders of His creation, the physical grandeur of the world, the tremendous variety of life, music, colour, the achievements of His creatures, the human love I experience, but I am sure I will have to wait for the next life to see more.

    I think there are very few of us who do not at least sometimes echo the centurion`s prayer, Lord, help my unbelief.

    • Singalong says:

      I meant to emphasise that I think this is how God wants us to think of Him and relate to Him in this life.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Job 38. Is a beautiful telling of Creation by Our Lord to Job.
      And as you say the Incarnation also the Resurrection is proof of Gods existence.
      I wonder what atheists think when they hear of all the miracles that happen in the world, healing, appearances, unexplained visions of Our Lady, stigmata’s etc.
      They do have a soul, so they must be some enlightenment in it.
      We see God through our soul.
      Their life must be so ‘colourless’ and bland.

    • tim says:

      “Lord, help my unbelief.”

  11. ionzone says:

    “The disater in the Philippines is a direct result of the “laws of nature””

    My understanding was that that disaster was a result of global warming disrupting the environment, which makes it the West’s fault. The fact they have no defences or ability to cope is also our fault because we have been exploiting other parts of the world for centuries. Making natural phenomena all God’s fault is stupid, God never said that we were here to be waited on.

    • Vincent says:

      Ionzone, I am left unhappy by your answer. You cite global warming and exploitation. But it seems odd that it is the poor in the Philppines who are being punished for it.

    • twr57 says:

      “a result of global warming”? That’s a lot of people’s understanding, but there is no reason to believe it. IPCC 5 says there is ‘low confidence’ in increased CO2 causing extreme weather events, though this might happen in the longer term. Possibly another example of a myth, from a different field.
      Jesus was asked a question along these lines:
      “Lord, those on whom the tower in Siloam fell – did they sin, or their parents?”

      • ignatius says:

        Yes I think that is right. If the several thousand ‘innocent’ victims of Road traffic accidents each year in Britain were presented as an overall ‘disaster’ it would be much easier to see that no one is guaranteed safety on this earth but is liable to fall victim to prevailing local circumstance-famine, fire ,flood , insurrection are conditions of overall ‘life’ on the planet – partly as a result of fragile balance and partly as a result of human choices. As I remember Jesus did not impute sin or fault to the falling tower of Siloam.

      • tim says:

        Sorry, I conflated two stories. “did he sin, or his parents” is of the blind man, in St John Chapter 9 verse 2. ‘The tower in Siloam’ is Luke Chapter 13 verse 4 – those who died not more guilty than anyone else.

    • milliganp says:

      The worst tropical storm ever to hit the USA was in 1900, long before global warming was an issue or consideration. The fact is that there are a wide range of natural occurring events which are disastrous to humans, fires, floods, extreme weather, earthquakes and volcanos. All these are part of the dynamic of the earth which creates, sustains and sometimes extinguishes the processes of life.
      The fact that human exploitation of the earth is often destructive is part of what we call the fall but ignorance is also a contributory factor to human disasters.

  12. John Candido says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWpLfncliwU If you want to know if there is a God or not, why don’t you have a listen to a little 9 year old girl from Holland called Amira Willighagen sing opera, with no hint of ego or self-consciousness.

  13. Ignatius says:

    Of course Camus and many others would disagree with your view of a purposeless world being bleak. Personally I have a great regard for the cheerful atheist who yet sets himself towards the good. I do think though that this ‘atheist’ simply worships a different face of God. Shades of Pascal’s wager in your thoughts here – when in doubt bet on God , that way you can’t lose!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Has an atheist ever given ‘proof that their is no God!
      I don’t know any so I have never discussed it with them. But if I do I will ask them to show me more proof than we believers have.,because Who else is performing these miracles?

  14. Alan says:

    St. Joseph,

    “Has an atheist ever given ‘proof that their is no God!”

    I’ve got used to calling myself an atheist over the years because agnostic suggests to me someone relatively undecided about the issue or someone who thinks the question is impossible to resolve. That doesn’t describe my position very well. Weak or Negative atheism, which is the sort I find by far the most common, fits my view much better. I wouldn’t say that no gods exist, I would say that I don’t believe any gods exist. That’s more than agnosticism, but less than a claim that involves proof.

    My life is not bland. The everyday and the extraordinary interest and excite me as they do anyone. I love art, music, my wife, my cat, sport and discussing religion. That I think these things are only temporary doesn’t detract from them. If anything they might be more special for that quality.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I am sure you do enjoy all these things you mention
      I don’t know if you have read Andre Frossard Book, if not it is worth looking it up on the Web site.
      As stated in his obituary, was an atheist,a son of a Marxist family; his father held the same position in teh Communist Party of France.as Stalin did in the Communist Party of the USSR; General Secretary. A family so atheist, that they didn’t even the possible existence of God.
      So as a totally convince atheist, that having grown bored of waiting outside for a friend, 1935, he wandered haphazardly into the chapel of the Sisters of the Order of ‘L Adoration Reparatrice’ a chapel and Order founded shortly after 1871, dedicated to making perpetual reparation for the excesses committed during the Paris revolution of that year when the Communard Flourence stormed through the streets of that city raging that ‘Our enemy is God’- the hatred of God is the beginning of Wisdom.
      On entering the chaple, as M Frossard relates in his book ‘ God exists- I have seen Him’
      The revelation as he described was of a luminous nature and of irresistible force-I went into the church a sceptic and atheist of the extreme Left’ and came out a few minutes later , Catholic,Apostolic and Roman.
      The extensive writing of what happened to him is worth reading for those who have not read it

      A beautiful Eucharist Miracle during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
      Nothing on earth can compare to that experience!

      • Alan says:

        I haven’t read that book St. Joseph. The number of books I have read is shamefully few. I don’t doubt that the experience it describes is genuine and remarkable but I would find it difficult, I suspect, to attribute it to God – despite the setting and the connection made by the person whose experience it was. I think such seemingly miraculous (or at least rare) shifts in a person’s views are possible, but not limited to those leading to belief in God.

    • Vincent says:

      Welcome, Alan. I don’t remember us having an atheist/agnostic contributing regularly on the blog, Except for a gentleman who calls himself Advocatus Diaboli. And we don’t know what he believes. But, if you enjoy discussing religion you’ll enjoy the blog. And you’ll be a real gift if you take us to task when you need to.

      Talking of which, can you clarify your previous comment, please. I am not sure to which argument you are referring. Perhaps because you did not link your comment, using “reply” or otherwise identify.

      • Alan says:

        Sorry about that Vincent. I missed the reply button. My earlier post was in reference to the “arguments” Peter Nyikos mentioned just previously. He describes atheism as bleak and unattractive to him and suggested that this was the reason he hadn’t “fallen” into it. It doesn’t seem to me as if either the appeal or unattractiveness of the idea should be a factor in considering how valid a view it is.

      • Vincent says:

        Can’t argue with your logic here. A thing is not true because one wants to believe it. However, when you consider the rich life you clearly have, do you not sometimes wonder whether there is more to it than simply materialistic evolution? And so ultimately without significance or reason?

    • RAHNER says:

      There is a certain kind of fundamentalist Catholic who just cannot accept that any atheist does not lead a life immersed in despair and depravity…..

      • tyke says:

        That’s fine. I know plenty of Atheists that think the same thing about fundamentalist Catholics. (I’d better not say who I agree with)

  15. Horace says:

    While reading at Mass this morning I found myself thinking about this post. (Wisdom 13:1)
    “Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God . . . or by studying the works have failed to recognise the artificer.”
    Verse 9 “ . . if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?”.
    This could be an indictment of the scientific atheist community although it was written many hundreds of years before the modern notion of “Science” was even thought of!

    • tyke says:

      I think that the whole point of the original article is that no-one can ‘know God’. We don’t have the language, and our brains exist in a 4 dimensional space-time which is just too cramped to be able to understand God. Hence the apophatic way of thinking: I can’t say anything about God, but I can have some idea of what he isn’t. As far as I understand, that’s how far the Greeks got.

      And then we come into contact with Revelation. We might not be able to know much about God, but God can reveal Himself to us. What is revealed is not so much ‘who God is’, but ‘who _we_ are’… in terms of our relation with God. And, if I’m incapable of recognising the ‘artificer’ and ‘Master’, I’m content that He can recognise me.

      So I’m not in a hurry to indict the “scientific atheists”, and I certainly don’t question their integrity. But we’re not asking the same questions, and if we were then they’re looking in the wrong place.

      St. Joseph, are there any spare seats in that monastery of yours? Budge up!

  16. Iona says:

    When I read Alan’s first comment:

    Shouldn’t argument stand on its own merits and evidence lead where it does, regardless of how unattractive or bleak the destination looks from afar?

    I thought “hear hear!”
    We get nowhere by following paths just because we think they’re going to lead us somewhere pretty. We have to follow what seems true. Sometimes two ideas both seem true (considered separately) but also seem to be in conflict. In that case we have to pursue both lines of thought, and trust that eventually we will see how they can be reconciled.

  17. ignatius says:


    “…. Shouldn’t argument stand on its own merits and evidence lead where it does, regardless of how unattractive or bleak the destination looks from afar?….”

    I Iike this but there is something wrong with it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Rahner will no doubt exercise forensic clarity here but it seems to me that arguments about God cannot be full without some experience of God being had somewhere in the discussion. Argument about God must include God for it to be fully informed …or must it…duh!? ?

    Also I strongly agree that ‘atheism’ does not equal unhappiness. I didn’t become formally ‘religious’ till I was 35 or so and life still has its ups and downs of ‘happiness’ as before but ‘happiness’ is not a measure of the existence of God.

    The other thing is that people innately and relentlessly pursue happiness for its own sake and find happiness in many things and in many guises.The main thing humans seek is happiness on THIS earth. Religion partly suits us because we feel we get a helping hand from the boss or at least get to speak to whoever is in charge in the hope we might be understood. But a moments thought-or a glance at the news -tells us that religion does not spare us from the day to day trials of life in the Phillippines, in Auschwitz, whether under the tsunami or beneath the wheels of a lorry in London. We all face the same day – so religious belief is not a guarantor of happiness or freedom from pain. Formal religious belief often makes life more demanding than it was before! Alan I would like you to think about what you believe IN then tell us. I would bet that you believe in decency, fair play, kindness, love, compassion, justice, mercy , do as you would be done by,..all of those things?

    • Alan says:


      I have tried in the past to work out what tools I use to decide on the things I do believe in. I think it depends on the issue at hand.

      I think all of the things you mention – decency, fair play, kindness, and more – are worthwhile values to hold and encourage and protect. As most believers in a god would probably agree, the world would likely be a better place if these qualities held sway. That’s an earthly prospect I would look forward to as much as anyone … particularly since this earth is the only place I suspect I will ever be. So I try to be decent and kind and fair … perhaps for that reason alone.

      I’m not sure what else I can tell you about my beliefs that would be of interest.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Every human person is born with the Natural Law written in their soul with the ability to do good .
        Even those who believe in God can commit evil.

      • Vincent says:

        A believer would suggest that you may be in for a very pleasant surprise when the time comes. He would say that the source of goodness is found in God, and that someone who seeks to do good to himself or to others is on his way to God. He just hasn’t recognised it yet.

  18. St.Joseph says:

    Are the Gospels not enough any more.
    Surely those who witnessed Jesus’s Life and miracle’s, raising people from the dead,His own Resurrection. witnessing the wounds on His hands He showed to Thomas. etc;
    Surely they can not be all lies’
    Or who else do unbelievers think it was.It is not only by faith that we believe..We are not speaking about children’s stories..It may be in a book but it is history.

    • Ann says:

      The Gospels were written 2,000 yrs or so ago, in a very different world from the one we live in now. I believe God exists, but sometimes he seems to be so far away, that he has forgotten us, like he is stuck in the Gospels or we are stuck in the Gospels……

  19. ionzone says:

    “There is a certain kind of fundamentalist Catholic who just cannot accept that any atheist does not lead a life immersed in despair and depravity…..”

    I was thinking the exact same thing about atheists but didn’t want to say it. Ultimately, the level of hopelessness, fear, and hate can be easily deduced by seeing how they react to contrary beliefs. In the case of atheists this is often violently and with huge anger.

  20. milliganp says:

    The OT reading at mass today was Wisdom 13:1-9 which starts:-

    Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God
    and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is,
    or, by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer.

    For those of us who believe and trust scipture this is a clear indication that God can be known.

    • St.Joseph says:

      We were somehow thinking a like at the same time.
      I was not at Mass this morning so I did not hear the reading-or see EWTN.
      Only you put it clearer than I did.

  21. Ignatius says:

    “..For those of us who believe and trust scipture this is a clear indication that God can be known…”

    But that’s not much use in the context of this discussion. Ample argument exists as to the ‘mythological’ basis of scripture and much of this argument is perfectly fair. Scripture only provides ‘proof’ to the converted; for the purposes of this conversation God is not a book.

  22. Ignatius says:

    ST Joseph,
    I’d best make this clear, this thread concerns the question ‘Is God a myth too?’ It is a very interesting question and a perfectly valid one. ‘Myth’ we need to remember can be defined as a story which carries the norms for a particular people group- truth carrying stories if you like but stories which show out a truth not circumscribed by fact. There is no one answer to the question but we do not need to be put on the defensive by the question being posed and nor do we need to go to knee jerk defensiveness mode. As I have said my own view is that ,for the Christian who must in the end walk by the light of faith, there is no proof only trust. There is an attitude -displayed in scripture too (e.g Habbakuk)- that says something like this:
    “I believe in you anyway, even though it do me no good, even if I may be shown a fool, even if in the eyes of the world I may be seen as a raving fantasist, I will believe in you and honour your name because in my heart I have met you and loved you and I frankly do not care what anyone else thinks or even what will happen to me because of my love for you.”
    That seems ,as I write it, rather like a love letter doesn’t it! There is utterly NO PROOF that God exists and there is certainly a mythological element in scripture or at least inn the way we handle them. CS Lewis understood the problem well when he named Christianity as the myth that was true.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I get your point.!
      However, by what name would call Him by then?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Now I am home from Mass I will give you some definitions to help you understand the proofs one may need.
        1. You are sitting at the computer communicating with the world.
        You tell me who you are , but I don’t know if you are a person or even a person that exists.
        No one has seen you only heard your words.
        I probably know that you are a good person by the words you speak!
        It was your words that introduced yourself to me. So therefore I believe.Common sense,fact

        In the beginning was the Word,the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
        He was with God in the beginning.
        Through Him all things came to be. Not one thing had its being but through Him.
        All that came to be had life in Him, and that life was the life of men, a light that shines in the dark. A light that darkness could not overpower.

        Beginning of History, we see the spoken WORD.

        Back to you now. I meet you in the flesh,and you are you,it does not mean that it wasn’t you the other end of the computer.

        What more proof would I need. The problem with unbelievers is that they are just not listening to the WORD.

        I am sure you will have a question- please do


  23. RAHNER says:

    I would suggest an understanding of “myth” in these terms : a myth is a narrative text (eg the infancy narratives) which express a theological or moral truth, often in anthropomorphic terms, and which also includes empirical descriptions/explanations which may be false but which are not in any case essential to the formulation or understanding of the theological or moral truth.

    • Vincent says:

      Rahner, if I have grasped your definition of myth correctly, then there is a distinction I would like to make in the context of our discussion. If I take the teutonic myths, as for instance in Wagner’s Ring, they certainly communicate truths about human nature. Much the same might be said about the participation of the Greek gods in the Trojan War. However people like Freia or Athene don’t actually exist. But when we speak of the angels we are using quasi human characteristics to describe actual entities. We believe (but maybe you don’t) that they exist, are created by God and have a place in the scheme of things. That seems to be a more literal grasp of truth than your definition would allow.

      • RAHNER says:

        I’m not sure what you mean by a “more literal grasp of truth”. The theological truths expressed in a myth can of course affirm the existence of entities in reality.

    • Ignatius says:

      Thanks for that Rahner, I like the bit about the empirical descriptions.

      • Singalong says:

        I hope that belief in the physical birth of Christ, the Son of God, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, is not considered to be anthropomorphic.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong, in mentioning the physical birth of Christ you indirectly hit another matter of some interest. What form did the birth of Christ take?

        From the earliest times, and confirmed by council, popes and the Fathers of the Church, the continuance of Mary’s virginity after the birth has been asserted. It is recorded as de fide by the standard authority, Ludwig Ott. What had been held by virtually all was that this required the actual passage of birth to have been miraculous. This was seen in terms of Christ’s escape from the sealed tomb, or a ray of light passing though glass. Ott tells us that more recently it has been understood that the continuance of virginity does not depend on the preservation of internal physical structures.

        All this must have been strengthened by Genesis, where the pangs of childbirth are specified as the result of Original sin.

        I have always assumed that Christ’s birth was quite normal, and normal birth is painful and can be lengthy. I have seen most of my own children born. And so I suppose that Mary’s acceptance of the effects of Original sin, without being subject to it, increases her merit.

        In the context of Mary, I have a young relative, whom I love dearly, who is going through a seriously difficult patch. It became clear to me at Mass this morning that Our Lady has the matter in hand. But a prayer would be helpful.

      • milliganp says:

        Quentin, it’s interesting that today we celebrate a feast “The presentation of the BVM” which is almost certainly a mythical event.

      • Quentin says:

        I am ashamed to say that I had never taken in the existence of this feast. Its reason is explained thus on the internet:

        “The presentation of the BVM

        In unity with Eastern Christianity, and commemorating the dedication in 543 of the New Basilica of Saint Mary, built next to the Temple at Jerusalem, this feast celebrates Mary’s “dedication” of herself to God from her infancy, inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose grace had filled her ever since her immaculate conception.”

        Notwithstanding its questionable historicity, I daresay it is valued by some. I am more concerned by titles such as “Mediatrix of All Graces” or “Co-Redemptrix. While not perhaps heretical in themselves, they are likely to leady the fuzzy-minded into error.

        If I had to choose another title for Our Lady I would go for Our Lady of Laughter. When Bernadette asked Mary for the nth time what her name was, she laughed. I have to say that I deeply cherish the thought of Our Lady laughing in Heaven. I think I’d really like to go there.

  24. St.Joseph says:

    Is there a simpler way of explaining what you have just written, I don’t know what you mean?

  25. St.Joseph says:

    My granddaughter is 16 yrs old and she gave me a very ‘simple’ answer-but then she is studying Philosophy!

  26. Nektarios says:

    Is God a myth? The answer is yes and no.
    Like a computer, if one puts rubbish in, one gets rubbish out.
    The descriptive of God can never be the actual. Our thoughts are so much lower than God’s, so our thoughts can only take us so far, same with the intellect. We all have our limitations. Thankfully,
    although we are bound by our limitations, God is not and He can and does communicate with us.
    It is a wonderful dynamic the spiritual life we have in Christ Jesus.

    There are different levels in Scripture that leads one ever closer to God. `Draw near to Me, and I will draw near to you.’ This takes us higher and closer to God, but we will need to have a heart for God, otherwise we descend into myths of God, of many gods and goddesses.

    I don’t blame atheists for holding their position considering they look for proof of God.
    But alas they don’t see they in part are the proof. For one human being to come into being, even at just a physical level, the communications going on is greater than all the greatest computers put together, and still they are not coming close to the billions of communications necessary going on that formse one baby in the womb. See previous posting some time ago on Conception to Birth
    by a NASA scientist.
    We have not started on the spiritual side that is knit together with the physical yet.

  27. johnbunting says:

    ‘Myth’ is a bit of a Humpty-Dumpty word: Whatever you want it to mean…..
    It’s a ‘tale told by ignorant bronze-age goatherds’ – as for some materialists.
    It’s a narrative about perceived quality or meaning, rather than about bare facts – as in Genesis: ‘..and God saw that it was good’.
    It’s a re-telling of an old story to suit modern presuppositions – as for C G Jung: ‘Flying Saucers – a Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies’. Jung saw them as projections of the religious impulse, taking a form acceptable in a technological age.
    Doesn’t a good novel or play, or visual art, have something of the quality of myth? The characters and events depicted may never have happened in real life, but they can show human nature in a way that we recognise as true from out own experience.

  28. Iona says:

    Christianity anchors itself firmly in history, with references to historical characters known about through other sources than the Gospels. To that extent it is not a myth.
    However, Quentin’s question was “Is God a myth?” which is a bit different.

    • St.Joseph says:

      You are right in what you.say!.I am pleased you noticed!! Quentin mentioned that in his opening comment!
      The very point I was making to RAHNER, where by that has been over looked
      John Bunting has grasped the point and Iona.
      It is quite easy to confuse the question and turn it around to move away from the answer.
      to the original comment in the last post, where this discussion was supposed to answer.
      Is God a myth too?.as he presumed Angels were. We all know they are not dressed like fairies but if the Lord wanted them to be they could.!
      We are not that ignorant ‘not to know what a myth is’!!
      I have a book I have had for years about Irish Myths and fairies, I am too old in the tooth not to know the difference..!
      Come on RAHNER answer the question I asked!Or are you struggling to know what a myth is..And God knows what Angels are. He made them! With a free will. Hence the fallen ones!!!
      Perhaps if someone can explain what a myth is,it will become clearer to them what God isn’t,!

  29. milliganp says:

    I’ve not read every post, so if I’m mirroring someone else I apologise.
    One of the novelties of early 21st century western society is that many people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. Similarly we have all sorts of “new age spirituality”. Both of these, I believe, reflect a rejection of the idea that life is ultimately purposeless.
    The three (pace Monty Python’s Jesuits) great questions of existence are:-
    1) Does life have a purpose?
    2) Is there anything after death?
    3) Why does evil prosper?
    There is an argument that God and the afterlife are a human, anthropomorphic, response to these questions.
    I woud suggest that despite the claims of atheists, the modern acceptance of spirituality (old or new age) argues for a belief that life has some ultimate purpose which point to an ultimate cause or being. Very few people are true atheists, most are agnostic at best or resting theists.

  30. Nektarios says:

    Story-telling, plays, comedy, history by the victors are all usually a mixture of truisms about society,
    human beings and soon are usually myths. When it comes to God, or gods or goddesses or angels or demons however, these super human beings of early times are called myths, or fables, tales.
    In modern times, myth relates to a fictitious or unproven person. In modern literature, myth is
    a theme or character type embodying an idea.
    From Plato we see myth as a allegory or parable. OCD.

    If we come to the descriptive of God or gods as myth, then obviously what we land up with is God is a myth. Like I said earlier if we put rubbish into our brains we will get rubbish out – the same with computers.
    If God is not myth, then he is other, he is Truth, Creator, Lord of All, I am.
    If God is not myth, then we have to discover what kind of a God is He? Our definitions are never the actual nor ever can be.

    • tyke says:

      Why do we _have_ to discover what kind of God He is? Does that even make sense if, as the article points out, we can’t attach any attributes to God?

      Myth and truth aren’t necessarily contradictory. In so far as we tell stories about God that cast light on the origin of our society, then those stories are mythic. But it has already been pointed out that we have to use stories because we don’t have anything else. That doesn’t mean that the stories don’t carry truth. In the same way as modern stories we read in scientific text books or in the newspapers, can also carry truth (I hope). [But do we understand the same thing by ‘myth’.]

      I’m happy to confess that ‘God is’ and let him take care of the rest. At some point I just need to get back to earth, and to the people around me that are created in His image.

      • Nektarios says:

        I sense a strong Jewish connection in your thinking.
        Yes, it does make sense. God has His communicable attributes as well as in non – communicable attributes.
        I think one of the problems is the modern usage of the word myth. Generally it is used in a derogatory way meaning, that which is a nonsense and unbelievable and one is less than sane to believe it – yet people believe lies so easily? Others, use it in the classical sense,
        that is just a clear myth, story-telling, making man himself into a God by his own exploits and that is pagan and rather silly.
        However, there is a great truth, man is indeed made in the image of God… but how that image of God is perceived in oneself, in others and creation is a matter of seeing of God in such matters is a work of God.
        We become so arrogant at times, that all can be explained; our disorder in which man lives is capable of seeing that which is above our thoughts… yet That, is closer to us than our breathing; our very life is in His hands and our Salvation is of God too.
        I sometimes feel it would be better to say I don’t know, far better in a sense to put aside all that we have be conditioned by, and look for oneself, for then love, attention, looking, seeing come into being.

      • tyke says:

        @Nektarios “I sense a strong Jewish connection in your thinking.”
        And there was me recently accused of being incorrigibly protestant.:)

        “We become so arrogant at times, that all can be explained; our disorder in which man lives is capable of seeing that which is above our thoughts… yet That, is closer to us than our breathing; our very life is in His hands and our Salvation is of God too. I sometimes feel it would be better to say I don’t know, far better in a sense to put aside all that we have be conditioned by, and look for oneself, for then love, attention, looking, seeing come into being.”
        I get the impression that we’re both getting to the same place by different paths (or at least different language) … first one there gets the beer in?

  31. Ignatius says:

    “..There is an argument that God and the afterlife are a human, anthropomorphic, response to these questions.
    I woud suggest that despite the claims of atheists, the modern acceptance of spirituality (old or new age) argues for a belief that life has some ultimate purpose which point to an ultimate cause or being. Very few people are true atheists, most are agnostic at best or resting theists…”

    This thread is really worth persevering with a little and keeping our eye to the ball on. Paul Milligan states the argument well here and Rahners definition of myth seems to me a good one because it covers the fact that so called factual (empirical) accounts may be innacurate without detracting from the overall truth carried within the myth. This means for example that even though the exodus may not be empirically verifiable the truth of Gods rescuing is still valid. This is helpful I think.
    Years ago I spent time on archaeological digs in Israel and realised that, if the exodus was a single big migration across the desert then it should have left an archaeological trail-but it has not. I wouldn’t entirely agree with Iona that the Christian faith is rooted in history quite as firmly as we would like. For example we have Josephus the historian validating the life of Jesus but as far as I am aware the validation of his resurrection comes entirely from within the myth not from without it. I think this thread is important because there is a need to understand what ‘myth’ actually means in this kind of discussion and to understand that Jesus said “If you love me you will do my will” he did not say “If you prove me you will do my will”

    We must not be afraid of the word ‘myth’ because if we tame it and understand it then we do have a powerful way into the thoughts of unbelievers and, better stil,l a way of understanding them.

  32. St.Joseph says:

    You say ‘ We must not be afraid of the word ‘myth’ because if we tame it and understand it then we do have a powerful way into the thoughts of unbelievers and, better still a way of understanding them.
    Would you say Transubstantiation is a ‘myth’. That is something that is happening now’ not years ago in the desert !

  33. Ignatius says:

    St Joseph,
    I wouldn’t say that any of it is or is not myth but it certainly could be understood that way-also that the evident power of eucharist is based on the status it is given by believers and not on anything ‘outside’ . Clearly the more a catholic believed this the further they would go from the beating heart of the faith and from the possibility of miraculous and mysterious encounter with the God whose we believe ourselves to be. Since I bow the knee, adore, carry to others and consume the host myself with reverence and with a clear sense of the presence of Christ then I am a believer in the actual presence -I would not for example bow before a novel because I know it to be a story and nor do I believe that News readers and weather forecasters live inside the telly! But ask ‘proof’ and it will not be provided. It does seem to me that God is simply present as the I am – asking for proof is a superfluous thing in the same way that when Moses saw the bush burning he did not jump into it to see if it was hot! Transubstantiation as a doctrine is I should think quite capable of being to a degree mythological in the way we have defined it (Rahners version) most certainly it is mysterious!!
    As I say the understanding that any religion, ours included, is carried by the medium of myth is only really to state the obvious. As Iona says the question of Is God a myth is a slightly different one. When we say that religious values are transmitted and borne in the womb of myth that’s no big deal. When we say though that GOD is a myth that is a different story -see MilliganP above on anthropomorphism.

  34. Ignatius says:

    PS “..The descriptive of God can never be the actual. Our thoughts are so much lower than God’s, so our thoughts can only take us so far, same with the intellect. We all have our limitations. Thankfully….”

    It seems to me that the above statement by Nektarios would be a good place to begin thinking about God as a ‘myth’. It echo’s St Paul who would say unashamedly that we see for now as through a glass darkly.

    • Nektarios says:

      `Seeing through a glass darkly’ as St Paul said, is not the same thing as myth or making a Myth out of God or myth about God. To see changes everything.

      Many thanks for including a website for St. Ignatius spirituality. My wife wanted to go on a series of retreats on Ignatian Spirituality, but unfortunately her health is too poor to go.
      She will enjoy going through this website I am sure…..and bad Orthodox that I am, I will probably dip into it too. Many thanks.

      • Ignatius says:


        The reason sent it was that on that site there is a good discussion of the apothatic way contrasted with the kataphatic ( of which ignatian prayer is an example) but th link I sent you only brings up the site as a whole. If you go on google and put in apothatic way you will see it come up on the ignatian site. There is also an online retreat which your wife can do if she wishes. I spent several years immersed in ignatian prayer and the retreat in daily life (otherwise known as the 19th annotation) is marvellous. It is normally done with a prayer guide but sometimes you can find one who will visit for an hour a fortnight. The apothatic way has sort of crept up on me and seems to gradually invade my whole life somehow, I find it most welcome but its not for everyone – often seeming like a kind of creeping atheism as things fall away .

  35. St.Joseph says:

    Ignatius OK then
    How would you explain the Eucharist miracles to someone who asked you. There are plenty to be see..
    Would you call them a myth. a miracle or what?

    • Ignatius says:

      St Joseph “… How would you explain the Eucharist miracles to someone who asked you. There are plenty to be see..
      Would you call them a myth. a miracle or what? ”

      You would have to give an example of what you mean by ‘Eucharistic miracle’ But it does seem to me St Joseph that you are putting me ‘on trial’ rather when all we are doing is discussing the use and meaning of the term ‘myth’ That there are miracles in the bible tells me that God can if God wishes cause things to happen which apparently invert the laws of nature…no big deal because actually the sacrament of Eucharist seems to do the same thing -after all, what happens at Mass IS A MIRACLE!!!!

      I’ve seen healings and inexplicable events happen around my life which I would say verge on the miraculous-particularly in the field of healing, deliverance and direct intervention for Christians in difficult situations. I don’t want to get combatitive about this discussion though because, for me’ it isn’t about who is right or who is wrong nor is it about true versus false. You may find the discussions of myth difficult to handle personally and you may see them as a threat to your faith, in which case best not bother with the discussion because that’s all it is…a discussion! If you mean by Eucharistic miracles things happening around the Eucharist then as I said I already regard Eucharist itself as a miracle! Events which occur to people around Eucharist are phenomena some of which may appear to be divine intervention.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Let us go back to the original comment .by RAHNER.

        ‘and if people find the imagery of angels helpful OK.( and the crunch here is as he says)
        ‘But they are largely just pious myths and metaphors!

        Now if angels are largely just pious myths and metaphors when they are a large part of scripture and the experiences of the Apostles. It make me wonder if his thinking
        of God is also a pious myth and metaphor.
        He is implying that we can pick and choose what we believe .
        A simple answer was required not only for me but for those who are struggling with their faith as it is and statements like that will not help the atheist,even if RAHNER believes its to be more in their line of thinking.
        We belong to the Mystical Bod of Christ and we believe that with God all things are possible.

        I don’t see discussions like this as a threat to my faith it would take more than RAHNERS convictions to make me lose it!!as you ask
        The development into discussion came to the point of unexplained miracle.
        The Eucharist Miracles are recorded in a book and can be read , the Guadalupe miracles in the Tilma etc are happening, I don’t need miracles to convince me, but they are not always pious myths, but explained as supernatural miracles.
        So what is the big deal about Angels if one wants to call them that. But the Arch Angels do have a name!! And deserve our respect!!

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph
        We all know here I think what Eucharist has come to mean, but the actual word simple means `blessing’

    • milliganp says:

      It is important to note that the Catholic Church does not require the assent of faith for any of these miracles. The position of the church is that these miracles are personal revelations to those for whom they were intended. We cannot use them as a stick to beat those who find them difficult to accept.

  36. RAHNER says:

    Consider Genesis 2:21- the creation of Eve from the body of Adam. The classical theologians (eg Aquinas) clearly accepted this as an explanation of the origin of the first woman. However, today, only a fundamentalist would regard it as a correct explanation of human origins. Instead we can see it as a mythical account that expresses the unity of the human race before God and the closeness between man and woman.
    Moreover, given the disparity between God and any created reality it seems likely that our theology will, in order to express the truth, have to include elements of anthropomorphism, mythical expression, metaphor and parable etc.

    • Nektarios says:

      But the Reality that is God and one’s relationship with Him goes beyond all that and operates differently. If it doesn’t, then the strong possibility of myth-making comes into being with a grasping imagination and building an image of God that is not real or God.
      It truly was a catastrophic situation for man to find himself, with his mind darkened and being alienated from the source of life.
      So man invents a god, or gods and goddesses and often in moments of madness saw themselves as gods.
      Words are not enough to describe God it will not do. Faith being swallowed up by sight does.
      Theology has it’s good points and its limits, but does not draw one actually any closer to God, only a heart and seeks finds. it will take all you have to find God. And yet, In ones heart if we move toward God, we find God drawing near to us – it is simple, but simplicity is not so easily arrived at, as you know.

  37. St.Joseph says:

    We are not living in times now of myths and metaphors,
    Jesus came to teach the Truth, as He said to His Apostles ‘Have I been with with you all this time and you still don’t understand?
    Just because we have a godless society, we do not have to go backwards ourselves as Christians .
    I would hope that the expression of the ‘back of an beautiful carpet looks obscure until one turns it around and sees the real beauty and the work of the maker’
    We live in the Truth now as children of God- and not ‘Childish’.

  38. St.Joseph says:

    Truth was always truth before Jesus showed His wounds to Thomas.The bread and wine was changed into His Body and Blood at the Last Supper- then the promises to Abraham fulfilled by His Sacrifice on the Cross.. No more prophets He was the last.
    We do not need all this obscurity-it only confuses our faith-which we could as Jesus said ‘move mountains’ if we had enough of it.
    The only answer I asked you to give was a YES or a NO. No need to muddy the waters!

  39. Ann says:

    Is God a myth? Might depend on which God/deity we are talking about. To me it seems we have a different God for each religion, even though most relate back to the God of genesis. Since we could write hasn’t the human race always spoken of a God, Goddess, Angels etc. We even have giants and fairies, which some people believe do exist. Granted people were different in the biblical times, but were they better at being spiritual in those times compared to our time, which is full of distractions to keep our minds busy, therefore we don’t need to think of a God anymore?

    • St.Joseph says:

      I am the Lord thy God ‘thou shalt not have strange God,s before ME
      Written in stone and given to Moses Although Jesus gave us a new Commandment.
      Unless that’s a myth too.

      • Ann says:

        Yep agree with the 1st commandment. What i meant was many people believe which ever religion they feel is right for them, they believe what they want about a creator of our world. Its an interesting question, but to find an answer would be difficult, because God exists only if a person believes he does. Maybe we are the myth! ha 🙂

  40. St.Joseph says:

    No of course not,- however they are there to see The Eucharist Miracle are the truth in the Real Presence-.in line with Church teaching..
    Jesus showed Thomas His wounds, so God would not be against showing these supernatural events.

  41. Iona says:

    Milliganp – “resting theists” – I like that! That’s how I shall think of my children from now on (5 of them, all lapsed).

    Ignatius – (today, at 11.15 a.m.) – when I said that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life were “firmly anchored in history” I didn’t mean that every event could be verified by reference to other historical accounts, but that the intention of whoever wrote Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels was to anchor at least some events (such as Jesus’s birth) in history, by linking them to well-known events and personages, – who was in power where, for example.

    • ionzone says:

      “And of course believers are never violent or angry……”

      You are putting words in my mouth. You’ll notice I didn’t say that. Of course, if you want to know who the title of ‘most violent ever’ goes to, the winner is Marxist atheists with 95-120 million dead. This is followed by Nazi supremacists, who also hated Christianity but weren’t specifically atheists, at a total of around 25million. I’m not sure who would come next but Christianity doesn’t figure in the equation. Especially not since Christianity is what built Europe and is now building Africa and rebuilding China and Russia, to name a couple of places. Christians certainly have a couple of black marks, but the weight is very firmly on us being a force for good.

      Before you bring up the Crusades I’d like to point out that they were defensive force aimed at repelling an Arab invasion. They had already invaded Spain, Italy and India when we started fighting back. And those are just the countries we got back. You want to know why Egypt and places like the Middle East are such a hell hole right now? It’s because we let the Arabs keep them after they stole them off us.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I would like to say something about Angels, and and the Catholic Church,

        In 1851 Pope Pius 1X approved the Chaplet of St Michael the Archangel – I believe after a vision in the Vatican, ‘that the Smoke of Satan was in the Vatican’.
        It is recited each morning by Mother Angelica on EWTN.(not the Prayer to St Michael)although that is said too.

        In 1986 Pope Paul 2nd emphasized the role of Angels in Catholic teachings in his 1986 address
        ‘Angel’s Participation History Salvation’in which he suggested that modern mortality should come to see the importance of Angels (42)
        There is no mention in the Bible of Angels having ‘wings’!! That may be a myth.
        Just for RAHNER’s information.

      • Quentin says:

        St Joseph, the seraphim have six wings. Try Isiah chap 6.

      • tim says:

        Seraphim – wings

        “with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” (Authorised version, on which I was brought up).
        Thomas Huxley (was it?) went to a great deal of mistaken trouble to prove that angels wouldn’t have enough muscle to get themselves airborne. One mistake he made was to assume Earth gravity, which need not apply in Heaven. ‘Feet’ in the Old Testament can have a special meaning, slightly unexpected here. I would suppose that the wings with which angels are credited arise from seeing that God’s messengers need to be able to get around pretty quickly, and wings seem to be an obvious way of doing this.

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, Maimonides’ comment on the angels was based on your thinking. It was an apt characteristic.

  42. Singalong says:

    Thank you Quentin, Nov 17th 10.53, yes of course, and a lovely phrase, that Our Lady has the matter in hand, and the thought that she can make this clear to you.

    Early beliefs about the birth of Christ are rather puzzling, because He could not have developped in His Mother`s womb without changing internal physical structures, though of course a miraculous birth process would be no harder to accept than His miraculous conception.

    Our Lady may not have been subject to Original Sin, but there does not seem to be any reason why she would be shielded from its effects on childbirth, when she was given and accepted so much other suffering during the rest of her life, the swords of sorrow which were to pierce her heart so keenly.

    I hope other parts of Christ`s life are not considered to be myths by the Church, I believe interpretation of the account of His Ascension is varied, and heaven is not up in the sky, but as far as I know, His Resurrection with a glorified physical body is fundamental to Christianity even if it cannot be historically verified.

  43. St.Joseph says:

    Thank you for your reply above.It may be of interest to you as you say you have not read many books and I am not trying to convince you one way or another.
    However, Pope Paul 2nd as I mentioned above may interest you.
    It is on the web. as ‘Catechism on the Angels Pope John Paul 2nd given at 6 General Audiences from 9th July to the 20th August.
    A really beautiful read if even it does not convince anyone.to be read over and over again.1986.

    • St.Joseph says:

      The Catechises on Angels also may also interest you as you did mention in a [post that you needed the knowledge to answer questions when you teach on evolution in the future, and I suggested you start at the beginning with the Fallen Angels which started all this up..you made it clear in a comment that I was putting some in the defensive ,by mentioning things which I know is our faith to be told. especially the Eucharist.and just to make it clear Angels are mentioned in the Liturgy!
      I will say this and get it off my chest ‘comparing Angels and not believing in the tooth fairy -and Rahners comment to an empty bottle of whisky,is not appropriate.

      • Ignatius says:

        Hi St Joseph,
        Sometimes its just easier to ask if a statement on a blog was intended as serious or not rather than get in a stew about things! Whatever you as appropriate or otherwise there was only in fun.

  44. St.Joseph says:

    I read it somewhere, I think the CCC, but don’t take that as right I will look it you.

  45. St.Joseph says:

    Ignatius, I have a keen sense of humour ,I don’t get into a stew, I have mentioned one of the comments a couple of times however it was ignored.
    Maybe not intended but I don’t like to see God mocked
    Perhaps I am getting past all this now!

    • Ignatius says:

      St Joseph,

      Generally speaking when people don’t respond its because they don’t want to! Also the theme of this thread was different, if we don’t ever move on then we just stay in one place!! As to mocking God, what on earth makes you think any of us have such a thought in our minds!!!!!!!!!!????

      • St.Joseph says:

        When you speak of moving on.
        The Post was related to my question. To which I was not satisfied with. When I am not satisfied with an explanation and ask for one, I would expect some answers.
        As far as I was concerned mocking Angels in the tone that was used to me seemed to be mocking the Creator.
        There are certain things in life that need respect meaning the Lord.
        Obviously you were ignorant to that fact or I assume you would have mentioned it when I did..
        I treat you the same as one of my own children or grandchildren.Maybe that is why I am proud of them!
        It is still not acceptable.
        We are not speaking about something out of a soap programme!

  46. Ignatius says:

    “…….So is God a myth? You must decide. My (Oxford Concise) dictionary tells me that a myth involves the imaginary or allegorical. But it describes metaphor as the application of a name to an object or an action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable. I’ll settle for that….”

    Looks like we going to have to give up with any sustained discussion subject of ‘myth’ From what we have discussed though it seems that the mere mention of the word still makes us draw breath and lower our visors. We cannot of course subscribe to the notion that God is a myth where this means that ‘God’ is only imagined as per Quentins definition. But we can surely see that Catholics live within the ‘myth’ of the Church in that we imbibe the story of our ancestors, which we call tradition, and then imbue this tradition ourselves with life by putting faith in it. When you think about it all believers from the 1st century onward have done precisely the same thing…this thing called faith.
    Of course it is also the case that we as believers sense the fountain of life gushing strongly up and of course we all place different levels of emphasis on the story we have been caught up in but since this is the 21st century and not the 1st one A.D it would be odd not to see that we to a large degree are formed by the teaching of ancients-Jesus teaching is 2000 years ‘old’ after all and none of us were on the boat, at the wedding or present at the transfiguration! I know the Word of God is the Word of God (believe me I do!!) but I am also vividly aware that the responding heart leaps toward that which it trusts in as authentic but can only hope to be true; that IS faith is it not, to be assured of the things we hope for?

    • St.Joseph says:

      If that comment is for my benefit. .You are really missing the point !!

    • RAHNER says:

      “Looks like we going to have to give up with any sustained discussion subject of ‘myth’ From what we have discussed though it seems that the mere mention of the word still makes us draw breath and lower our visors.”

      I think you are probably right.
      But in conclusion I would just say that the idea that belief in the reality Angels is central to the Faith is really quite absurd……

      • milliganp says:

        I presume you’re not Catholic since CCC 328 reads ..”The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.”. All the major bible-centred Christian denominations accept the witness of scripture.

  47. St.Joseph says:

    RAHNER ‘Oh Hello !!!!!’.
    You may speak or discuss as much as you like about anything you like-just don’t bring it down to a ‘drunk’ or fairy tales- when one makes a comment on their beliefs;We are speaking about Sacred and mystical things whether you believe it or not.
    It is as I said before not acceptable or appropriate! The Word of God in Scripture is due respect!.
    I will say no more on this subject’

  48. Iona says:

    I don’t have any problem with angels. As they’re non-corporeal I don’t have to visualise them as anything in particular (large or small, winged or otherwise). The Church has a day for celebrating the archangels, and another for celebrating guardian angels.

    Is the problem with “myth” that we haven’t got an agreed definition? Some people say “myth” dismissively, implying “no more than a story”. Others imply that a “myth” has real power, though not describing a literal truth.
    I suppose you might say that “God is a myth” meaning that God is so far beyond the power of imagination that if we imagine Him as anything at all, what we are imagining is a myth.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Would it help to define a myth as, say, “A fiction conveying an important concept”?

      • Nektarios says:

        Peter D. Wilson
        I cannot imagine God using myth – mere fiction to convey any Truth. Man does!
        My question, I would like to pose is, if there is so myth-making about God, making a fiction out of God and causing confusion, how can we bring myth about God in ourselves to an end?

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Nektarios – do you mean (with brackets in the algebraic sense) “(myth about God) in ourselves” or “myth about (God in ourselves)”?
        “Myth about God” is probably the closest to reality that the human mind can grasp, as in the advice of Jesus to address God as Our Father. It can of course go wildly astray, as in the Greek or Germanic myths that endowed the concept with human faults vastly magnified by power. I wonder how far people actually believed those as anything but metaphors.
        “God in ourselves”, as more than the “divine spark” that the poets claim, is an even more dangerous idea, but I imagine discredited by history except perhaps among obvious megalomaniacs.

  49. Nektarios says:

    Sorry about the error above, line should read:
    My question, I would like to pose if there is so much myth-making…

  50. Nektarios says:

    Peter D. Wilson
    By way of reply to your posting above, see my reple to `tyke’ today.

    • St.Joseph says:

      In answer to you’r comment above. on ‘Eucharist means blessing’..
      The CCC say;s so much about Eucharist far to much to mention’ In one point it mentions and I think it important to remember.1328 in the CCC ‘ The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different name we give it.. Each name evokes certain aspects of it.

      Eucharist because it is an action of thanksgiving to God, The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim-especially during a meal Gods works;creation.redemption and sanctification.
      However because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with His disciples on the eve of His Passion. and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in Heavenly Jerusalem.
      Just to show ( which I expect you know) that it did not just happen.
      It is more meaningful as the ‘Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’ Not just a meal!

      The Eucharistic Miracles I speak about are the ones recorded in a book in the’ Lives of the Saints’ to have happened in the Consecrated Host and Chalice.by Joan Carroll Cruz. With a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.
      Of course as Millignap rightly says, one can believe it or not however they are still to be seen ,and it would be no surprise to me as I believe in transubstantiation!
      As it says in the Creed We believe’ All things seen and unseen’. which used to say ‘visible and invisible

  51. Quentin says:

    Given our splendid discussion, I thought we might like a quotation from St John of the Cross, as he speaks of the person in contemplation:

    The higher he ascends
    the less he understands
    Because the cloud is dark
    which lit up the night,
    whoever knows this
    remains always in unknowing
    transcending all knowledge…
    And if you should want to know,
    the highest knowledge lies
    in the loftiest sense
    of the essence of God;
    this is a work of his mercy,
    to leave one without
    transcending all knowledge.

  52. Ignatius says:

    “..Is the problem with “myth” that we haven’t got an agreed definition? Some people say “myth” dismissively, implying “no more than a story”. Others imply that a “myth” has real power, though not describing a literal truth.
    I suppose you might say that “God is a myth” meaning that God is so far beyond the power of imagination that if we imagine Him as anything at all, what we are imagining is a myth….”

    Ok, lets have another go. Firstly, we have to ditch the general pejorative meaning which is simply a fairy story or fantastic legend – forget it completely here. Perhaps a good way might be by analogy. The newspapers are full of stories at the moment entitled ‘the myth of democracy’ This means the claim that the whole edifice of democratic government -from voting systems to ideas about freedom, fairness and the right to choose and its claim to be legitimate-is in fact a myth, The reality being that so called democratic systems are governed by elites in a similar manner to say China. Myth here then means a whole system of thought and practice based on a philosophy and certain principles built around a conviction about how human beings should act with one another and what should be seen as ‘sacred’
    So ‘myth’ in its complete and modern sense is not to do with empty stories but with governing systems of thought and practice bolstered by particular practices -voting for example. Science too has its myths because the so called ‘objective’ pursuit of knowledge and information always comes dressed up in culture.’ Global warming’ for example is rapidly attaining mythological status in that all sorts of suppositions, stories and opinions are being mixed into a heady cocktail of conviction ‘evidence’ preference, interest, politics, and economics. Personally I would say that the theory of evolution-in its totality- is a myth-in other words a powerful belief system containing within it empirical data, ideology, passionate belief , money, status, theism etc etc.(PLEASE, this is only an example don’t get side tracked on it!!) Myths then are belief systems which take shape over time. It is worth noting that no one invents myths, they gather to themselves the opinions, tastes, beliefs, desires and needs of whole societies- a bit like whirlwinds gathering up the dust.

    Along this line, if we say religion- any religion is a myth then we are being fairly accurate in terms of describing the process by which human beings deal with the unknown and make of it a tangible system. Large parts of Christianity are mythological in this sense -the rites and rituals, the laws and norms, the shaping of beliefs over time and through political history – they are not all taken from Leviticus as if given. The really interesting point though is what does it actually mean to say that God is a myth? Its a waste of time to pursue the idea that God is simply a fantasy that the human race has to keep out the cold but as has been hinted here and there it is possible that Gods self revelation is partly mythological in nature and that theology is the attempt to rationalise something that is a deep and profound mystery hidden from view…a bit like Jesus spoke in parables to try and get a meaning across which could not be simply explained. Remember that the catholic definition of ‘mystery’ is of a truth too profound for the human mind to read. I would say that God is God but He comes clothed in myths because we apprehend him through time, space and our own fallibility-I don’t think we can clearly separate reality from myth because -going back to the apothatic issue-God cannot be said. (Sorry Quentin for the length-feel free to cut it if you want )

    • St.Joseph says:

      Perhaps you would like to begin with the Incarnation, Life, Death Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ second Person of the Blessed Trinity, then taking it a bit further to The Holy Spirit, then on to the Catholic Church.. forgetting about the bits in between!

  53. St.Joseph says:

    Did I say that! Explain please.?

  54. Singalong says:

    By coincidence, I have just seen a TV programme on Wells Cathedral, BBC4, which includes very moving encounters with Sue, a guide, and lifelong Christian reflecting on the battles in her life . . . She finds language quite inadequate to communicate her experience of God and religion, but the cathedral is at the heart of it . . . “whatever it is, this thing I can`t find words for, includes Him and probably includes the word `God`, But there is still this more, and what happens to me when I come in here is that I get that part of more in here. Part of the more is here.”

    This is a link to the programme, I had to click on See More to read it all.

    • Nektarios says:


      Thank you for the link. I enjoyed the programme to Wells Cathedral immensely.
      Everyone has a story. It was great to hear something of the story of the lay Reader and the chap who lost his daughter. Something intense and yet ordinary. The Presence of God is something experienced which no words can describe.
      It was a beautiful Cathedral and a wonderful straightforward presentation. Thank you again for placing it on the blog.

  55. St.Joseph says:

    Thank you I saw the clip.I will see the rest tomorrow. I felt the beauty of it though.
    That is the ‘mystery’ of our faith which lifts our souls close to the Lord! In a Spiritual sense.
    Not the ‘myth ical imaginary- not really existent which some confuse for Truth!.

  56. Ignatius says:

    That thing called Death

    How Gaudi and Pugin
    Must have loved
    Being as it is
    The vestibule of winter,
    Cathedral skies
    that rise
    Up and away,,
    Starkly vaulted
    To the giddying leap
    Across that thing called Death,
    Spanning to infinity
    And singing eloquent
    Of heaven and its hope.

    • St.Joseph says:

      The Beatific Vision!
      Eyes Hath not seen, nor ears heard, the wonders God has prepared has for those that love him.!
      My 20yr old grandson took a trip to Venice on his summer vocation from Uni this year,
      He likes visiting Churches a every where he goes he brings me back Icons, Just like my son (his uncle.)
      He sent me photo’s on his phone this year and they were absolutely beautiful.I pray for him that he will find in the Blessed Sacrament the beauty that he looks for, and in Holy Mass,I know he is very devotional ,
      However we do look beyond the works of Gods gifts to man, As Jesus said ‘I can destroy this Temple and in three days time build it up again!
      Ignatius ‘A myth or not’?

    • Quentin says:

      I think that this exceptional poem goes very well with John of the Cross (above). The two stand together as a kind of summary of this discussion.

      I am running a group on poetry in a couple of weeks with the University of the Third Age. I think I can use “That thing called death” there very effectively.

  57. Iona says:

    Ignatius – I very much appreciate your long post of yesterday (9.28) and am glad Quentin didn’t cut it (assuming he didn’t).

    As to the poem, – please give us the reference?

    St. Joseph – I don’t feel “myth” is equivalent to “fiction” or “just a made-up story”, which I think perhaps you do, as you ask:
    Do you not ‘really’ know the difference between a myth and TRUTH YET..

    How about defining myth as something that expresses or demonstrates truth, but not literal and practical truth.

    • Singalong says:

      Iona, I wonder where myth becomes fable, or if they are much the same, perhaps fables have more of a teaching element.

      The poem is very expressive, and I will remember it now whenever I visit an inspiring cathedral. I think it more than likely we shall find that Ignatius composed it himself . .

      • St.Joseph says:

        The question to Ignatius will have to do-before I go brain dead.
        Perhaps you and he would be interested in reading. ‘The reliability of the Bible’ by Frederick W Marks You will find it on the web if you type in the name.!. 1996 I have it since then but too long to post.

  58. St.Joseph says:

    I have thought of another one if it is the kind of thing you are looking for.

    Jesus said ‘You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church and I will give to you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.’.!
    I am not too bothered with fairy tales, myths, fables. stories or what ever ones like too call them only which is applicable to Truth with a capital T.
    There are 3 persons in God and to pick or choose, disect everything He said to make a discussion about,when it could be answered in one. the only answer I asked for and I will say it again was ‘NO’
    I really am leaving this subject alone now. and leave everyone to figure it out for themselves.
    However I will be interested to read the comments. as always…..

  59. Ignatius says:


    Yes indeed… such temerity! I wrote this poem a week or two ago for an American poet friend of mine who died recently.
    We are probably near the end of things on this topic which I at least have found very interesting and helpful. Slowly and painfully we have come to the notion that God is objective but we, our imagination, intellect and reason are not. This is I think a kind of restatement of something known as ‘transcendental’ thinking which goes a bit like this:

    “Although unobjective knowledge of God is the condition of possibility for every act of human understanding, God himself can never be understood by any finite mind. He must therefore always remain the Holy Mystery even to the blessed souls in Heaven. The Beautific Vision consists in the immediate proximity of the Infinite Mystery not in the understanding of it”
    (The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology – A Rahner Reader p108)

    This means roughly that we grasp God as best we can through the veil of our senses. I can see we have stirred up troubled waters in this thread yet this need not be. I think of Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration- rambling inanely on about building shelters while at the same time overcome by awe in the numinous cloud. Also of the doxologies of Paul one of which is quoted above.

    Finally let me use an analogy say something about myths symbols and images. You go into a cathedral and the stained window is so illumined by the light that you fall to your knees and weep. What has made you weep? Is it the light? Is it the window? Is it the outlined image in the glass? Or is it that all these together have spoken to something which already existed deep within your soul which you had come unknowingly to love – and the intensity of that love is suddenly revealed to you?
    Then let us assume that you visit the cathedral again and again. Gradually you become familiar with the window and begin to examine it, read about its design and its history, find out a little about the artist who made it and how they were impelled, perhaps even research a bit of colour theory. What has happened? has your original experience been deadened or deepened? do you know more or less?

  60. Iona says:

    Ignatius – I like that analogy very much.
    Somebody asked about the difference between fables and myths.
    I think a fable is a story intentionally invented to demonstrate or illustrate a point of view.
    A myth is more like a story, or cluster of stories, which is not so much deliberately invented as which grows out of us because it answers to, or corresponds with, part of our nature.

  61. Mwigan says:

    As a well trained Jesuit pupil I know the theology, but find the basis fir the belief more one of anthropology and sociology than religion, given that the recursive process of testing faith as new perspectives become salient. This makes me examine the undeclared assumed common assumptions in any such debate as the one presented here. A lifetime of such careful testing of thought and belief as a basic demand of intellectual integrity has led me now to study applied ethics at a university. The canons of virtue ethics .. Taught brilliantly by Raimond Gaita of KCL.. Allows a different way of dealing with the issues raised here. Interesting. Stimulating.

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