Religion as Urban Legend

“. . . And when the sun came up, they got out of the car and there was a bloody hook hanging from the door handle!”

Where do such legends originate? Often, they are a moral warning. In this case, ‘Don’t go out parking at night because it’s dangerous.’ Ironically, much of the entertainment world uses a similar moral framework, if it can be said to be moral at all – at least it’s someone’s idea of what morality is. Often, if someone is having sex at the beginning of a movie, they will be somehow punished for it. This isn’t always because the writer thinks that sex is immoral, but sometimes because of the need to show a deep sense of caring for the person about to be killed (kidnapped, tortured, or other harm). One enlists the audience’s support for the protagonist by eliciting strong feelings of protection, caring, and honor.

Mythology (read: religion) has a number of common elements that can be found common to many of the myths. Legend tells us that Krishna was hidden as a child, in a convoluted attempt to save him from an evil ruler. The stories say that he was born 30 centuries before the Common Era. It’s a great way to gain sympathy, claiming that even as a child this marvelous person was threatened but already had the power or the will to be saved.

So, too, Jesus is saved from certain death in the infamous Slaughter of the Innocents that never happened. This is a good example of how a myth is boilerplated with elements from previous mythologies. After all, religions always borrow from other, earlier religions. If you are wondering why someone would add such an element to a new religion without remorse, it would probably be easier to understand that it wasn’t necessarily with evil intent.

Beliefs can be quite amorphous, blending and weaving together in the minds of the believers. These are not church fathers planning to rake in the dough, but credulous people who simply can’t see why a mythology should retain some purity of story. On the other hand, one should never suppose that mythologies are never created for gain. It’s just that there is no hard or fast rule regarding how to make a myth.

And ancient myths are seldom made by a single group, but by a collective effort. In Christianity, many sects and beliefs came together to form what became the Catholic Church around the fourth century C.E., but the earliest versions of this “church” would not be recognizable by modern Christians. It would be impossible for anyone to know what the earliest followers of Jesus really did. If Jesus indeed healed the sick and raised the dead, he was no different from the thousands of traveling charlatans doing exactly the same act everywhere they went.

As Christianity grew, so did the stories. Here’s an example: Jesus is on the cross and says to a neighboring victim, “This day thou wilt be with me in Paradise.” The problem with this is that it isn’t something a Jew would have been likely to have said. Jews lived for the world, not for an eternal reward. They had a vague concept of an afterlife not much different from that to be found in the works of Homer. Had Jesus been real and a Jew, he would not have said such a thing.

As a messiah, or even as THE messiah, Jesus should have lived into old age and fathered children. In fact, his being unmarried at 33 would have been looked upon as unnatural. So, even from his own point of view, unless he was completely insane, he could not have considered himself to be the messiah, unless he knew nothing about Jewish prophecy.

We know that many little stories appeared about Jesus. There were those who believed that revelation was the source of knowledge and who thought that more recent revelation was even better than the older stuff. You can’t have it both ways, Christians, either there is some history to the story and a sound basis for belief in it, or it’s all revealed and that works for you. Once you strip away the stories that are either unlikely or impossible, not much is left of the “real” Jesus.

Anyone who has read series of stories written over a period of years can see how characters were added over time and often once incorporated returned for the rest of the stories, unless something untoward happened to them. It’s considered to be an improvement to the series, to make it richer and more real. The Jesus story seems real to some because there is talk of relatives and events, but how many of those are part of the original stories, how many of them inventions? After all, it wouldn’t even take a year to add such details, given the number of people and the lack of serious historical revue.

The conclusion, then, is that these stories develop in very much the same way as the urban legends. One person wants to tell a story, another finds themselves believing in it, and emotions play a big part in the reason for that belief.

Have you heard the one about the two kids who were out parking and heard some tapping on the roof of the car during the night? They fell asleep and when they woke up in the morning and got out of the car, there was a bloody hand hanging on the door handle with a hole through it . . .

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About herkblog

I'm an atheist. Although that's just a part of my life, I consider it to be important enough to me to be the main theme of this personal screed. I am self-employed in a service business and I live in Idaho, a place not known for its liberal qualities.
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