Alternative creation myths

So far, we’ve talked mostly about the conservative version of the creation story. God created a literal man from the dust, a woman was thrown in as a bonus, they ate the fruit, the human race continues to spend its days toiling for food and etc.

There are also alternative visions. When I was talking yesterday about the ways in which more liberal thinkers can expand upon the traditional myths, I had a couple of examples in mind.

First is a short novel I read a few years back called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The novel is a strange dialog between a teacher and his pupil (who also happens to be a telepathic ape). The text explores some different interpretations of the Garden Myth. It is a quick read, and I found it pretty good — thought provoking at least. I read it during a time when I was first coming to grips with the idea that I didn’t really believe a literal telling of the early biblical stories (the Garden, the Flood, etc.). It helped me through that rather unsettling time.

Second is a play that I just recently read called “The Plan” by Eric Samuelson (which I found through this blog). The play begins as a conversation between Lucifer (who has not yet become Satan) and Gaia (who has not yet become Eve). They talk through the nature of choice and the purpose of the Plan (themes I’ve talked about before).

This particular genre (mythic fan-fiction? allusive fiction?) makes the most sense when both the author and the reader share some common point of reference. I think both of the works I mention above can stand on their own, but to really engage with them requires a lot of common ground. Without a sense of rootedness in the tradition, the twists and spins that the most talented of the authors in this genre cast on seemingly familiar tales and characters lose some of their punch. The stories borrow much of their power from the effect of shocking the reader out of their usual ways of thinking.

Now for something completely different

Apart from elaborating upon our own tradition, I think it is useful to try to see the value in the myths and creation stories of other peoples and cultures.

I haven’t talked about mysticism for a while, so maybe my few readers will forgive a quick return. In The History of God, Karen Armstrong spends a lot of time on the mystic tradition in Islam. She relates a creation myth from the Sufi tradition that I find absolutely beautiful:

Ibn al-Arabi imagined the solitary God sighing with longing, but this sigh (nafas rahmani) was not an expression of maudlin self-pity. It had an active, creative force which brought the whole of our cosmos into existence; it also exhaled human beings, who became logoi, words that express God to himself. It follows that each human being is a unique epiphany of the Hidden God, manifesting him in a particular and unrepeatable manner.

Each one of these divine logoi are the names that God has called himself, making himself totally present in each one of his epiphanies. God cannot be summed up in one human expression since the divine reality is inexhaustible. It also follows that the revelation that God has made in each one of us is unique, different from the God known by the other innumerable men and women who are also his logoi. We will only know our own ‘God’ since we cannot experience him objectively; it is impossible to know him in the same way as other people. As Ibn al-Arabi says: ‘Each being has as his god only his particular Lord; he cannot possibly have the whole.’ He liked to quote the hadith: ‘Meditate upon God’s blessings, but not upon his essence (al-Dhat}.’ The whole reality of God is unknowable; we must concentrate on the particular Word spoken in our own being. Ibn al-Arabi also liked to call God al-Ama, ‘the Cloud’ or ‘The Blindness’ to emphasise his inaccessibility. But these human logoi also reveal the Hidden God to himself. It is a two-way process: God sighs to become known and is delivered from his solitude by the people in whom he reveals himself. The sorrow of the Unknown God is assuaged by the Revealed God in each human being who makes him known to himself; it is also true that the Revealed God in every individual yearns to return to its source with a divine nostalgia that inspires our own longing.

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About Brad

I am a rather typical — or perhaps just not atypical — example of a 21st century, “uncorrelated” Mormon. My “Mormon Story” is (I have learned) rather cliche. I was raised by goodly parents, we went to church, followed the letter of the word of wisdom, abstained from the baser elements of the culture, etc. I served an honorable mission, enrolled at BYU, got married in the temple, and never seriously doubted until beginning a PhD program far beyond the Mormon corridor.

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