Saving the marriage of science and myth

by B. T. Newberg, as originally appearing in: Humanistic Paganism


The marriage of science and myth, like that of Zeus and Hera, is a struggle.

Marriage is hard.  Zeus and Hera were constantly bickering.  Inanna banished her husband Dumuzi to the underworld.  Skadi and Njord couldn’t live together no matter how they tried.  Are all marriages doomed to failure?

Humanistic Paganism bills itself as a naturalistic “marriage” of science and myth.  It would be nice if it were a neat, sweet, picket-fence relationship.  But that’s not how most marriages go, is it?  Marriage is hard work, but it’s worth it.

This metaphor is particularly poignant to me since I’m two and a half months into a marriage of my own.  The honeymoon phase is over.  No one said marriage would be easy, whether it’s between two people or two cultural phenomena like science and myth.

By science I mean that modern method of empirical investigation which has given us everything from toasters to quantum physics, and which takes naturalism as a working principle.  By myth I mean the ancient stories that have given us the likes of Zeus, Thor, and the Morrígan, as well as the rituals, meditations, and other practices that go along with a living tradition of mythology.

Now that we know what we mean by science and myth, what does it take to make their marriage work?

Couples counseling

No marriage has much hope if the couple can’t learn to listen to each other.

It takes courage to hear hard criticism.  Science and myth have plenty of grievances, so they’d better find a way to air them in a safe space.  HP aspires to be just such a safe space.

It also takes patience.  We aren’t necessarily able to express our feelings coherently or all at once.  Each person must discover themselves in the process, while the other waits patiently for them to work out their issues.  On HP, we have folks more science-oriented and folks more myth-oriented, and both need the patience to let the other speak their truth.

Finally, it takes responsiveness.  It’s not enough just to listen, you also have to be willing to be persuaded.  On HP, we’ve been challenged by critical voices, and we have to recognize the value of that process.  Likewise, critics need to be open to having their challenges met.

As with couples counseling, we must find the courage and patience to talk through the tough issues, and the willingness to let the process change us.

The parent trap

It also takes creativity to make a marriage work.

Remember that old movie The Parent Trap?  Two teenage twins conspire to get their divorced parents back together.  Their cutesy antics may make you laugh or vomit, depending on your taste, but the point is they use creativity to re-ignite love.

Theology is a lot like that.  A recent term in religious studies is creative misunderstanding, whereby a tradition changes by re-interpreting the old in a new way.  This enables a community to meet the needs of the present while maintaining continuity with the past.

It may take some creative misunderstanding to keep science and myth together.  Like the twins in The Parent Trap, we may need ingenuity to rekindle their flame.

The languages of love

Gary Chapman has a book for couples called The Five Love Languages, which proposes you have to learn how the other expresses love, and learn to speak that language yourself.  Science and myth speak different languages, and they may need to learn the other’s in order to communicate.

HP is about learning to speak the languages of both science and myth.  Michael Dowd frames these in terms of day language and night language, respectively.  Science speaks of reality in the clear light of day.  Myth also speaks of reality, but in the strange imagery of dreams in the night.  Both have important things to say, and it takes learning the other’s language to achieve understanding.

Awesome make-up sex

Often the best love-making is after a fight.  When couples kiss and make up, they re-affirm they’d rather be together than apart, despite their differences.

Science and myth have had a rocky relationship, and currently stand facing away from each other with crossed arms.  Can HP turn them toward each other again?

If so, we’re looking forward to an awesome make-up.

It’ll be like Psyche and Eros, or Isis after finally recovering her lost husband Osiris.


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The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.

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