Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Indoctrinations in Myth

I suppose the first myths to which I was exposed must have been the Christianones my family heard and read about every week at Sunday school and church services, and occasionally on a Wednesday as well, and sometimes on still other days of the week, for example during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter, the myths of God and Jesus and Satan, of angels and Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Moses. I believed what I heard in church for a while, and as far as I can tell, my mother and father still do. Our church's version of things was correct, of course, and so I started to notice early that there were other Christians who were getting a lot of things wrong. For example, they referred to the fruit which Eve ate in the Garden of Eden at Satan's urging, the one that got her and Adam banished from Paradise, as an apple. Clearly, though, the Bible did not specify what type of fruit it was. In our church we knew nobody knew what kind of fruit it was. We speculated that it might have been a pomegranate.

More serious than this, but symptomatic of the same sort of error, the same inattention to the Bible, which was not unambiguous about these and many other matters, was that fact that many Christians served in the military. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Jesus clearly taught that Christians were supposed to be pacifists. The men in our church were conscientious objectors. One of my uncles, one of my Dad's brothers, had broken with the family and with the church and joined the Navy. We were all quite shocked by this. We still loved him, of course, but what he had done was very strange. We seldom saw him any more; we were in the Midwest and after his Navy hitch he had settled in California.

But it wasn't only people outside of our denomination who didn't seem to always be paying attention. I remember once there was a business meeting of the church, all and sundry welcome to attend, where the issue of buying a new organ was debated. The earnest little pain in the ass that I was, I stood up in this meeting and angrily lectured everybody for even considering such a thing, because in the Bible Jesus clearly said to give everything to the poor and follow him, and last I checked there were still poor people in the world. Quite an angry ten-year-old, I was that afternoon. Nobody contradicted me at the business meeting. But they still bought that new organ.

As a child the only mythologies to which I was exposed in-depth were Christianty and the American mythology which featured tales such as overcoming the dangers of Indiansand the treacherous English,of George Washingtonchopping down that cherry tree, for some reason, and then refusing to lie about it, and then, for some reason, throwing a dollar across the Potomac River. When I was eight or ten my family went to Washington, DC and environs for vacation, and we saw the spot where George, as a teenager or very young man, had allegedly thrown that dollar. The river looked very wide at that spot to me. Too wide by far, in my young judgement, for anybody to have thrown a coin across it. I think it was there and then, on the bank of the Potomac, that I began to wonder if I had been lied to about certain events in our nation's history.

I wasn't reading ancient Latin and Greek as a first grader like Steven Runciamn.However, about the time I started kindergarten or a little before, I was a faithful watcher of a TV show about Hercules. I remember very little about the show: Hercules was a big muscleman who vanquished all and sundry, and if I remember correctly, part of the theme song went something like this: "Hercules!/DadadaDaaa-da-da-da, Hercules!/With the strength of ten/Ordinary men/Hercules!" For many years after that, as I began hear and there to learn little snippets of Graeco-Roman pagan mythology, Hercules remained the character on the TV show who ten times as strong as normal, and I was quite surprised to learn of his connections with Zeus/Jupiter and the Oracle of Delphi and that whole bunch.

My interest in Classical literature didn't become very pronounced until after I was full-grown. In my early adolescence, after I had stopped believing in Christianity, the closest thing I had to a religion was rock 'n roll, as expounded bu such rock 'n roll theologians as Dave Marsh, Greil Marcusand Robert Christgau.It was very important to refer to it as "rock 'n roll" and not "rock," which might refer to this or that wimpy heresy. In retrospect it all seems very silly and embarrassing. Especially Marsh. Bruce Springsteen definitely replaced Jesus in my mind for a while. Not only did I buy Springsteen's records and go to his concerts, I also bought Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story,the biography written by Dave Marsh, and read it very carefully several times. Yes. When I was starting to read Pynchonand Gaddis,I was also reading Marsh.

The interest in Marsh gradually passed, and, to a lesser degree, the interest in Springsteen, as punk rock and new wave became more interesting. My interest in Bob Dylan, with quasi-religious beliefs in the revelatory qualities of his work, was more tenacious. There was a biography of Bobas there had been a biography of Bruce.

The aforementioned growing interest in Classical mythology is not of a part with these other interests of mine, in that I do not believe in the Olympians. Never have I thought that Hermes or Athena was going to solve some problem for me.

I cannot claim that my political interests have remained equally free of such superstition. For some reason, before he took office as POTUS I thought Barack Obamawas a reforming firebrand who was going to be as forceful in his us of the Presidential office as Theodore Rooseveltor his cousin Franklin Delano,and not the cautious centrist he clearly is. (Not that I'm one of the those leftists who regrets voting for Obama, who wishes he had instead wasted his vote on someone like Nader and helped the Republicans stay in power. What are those guys thinking? Anyhoo --)

Come to think of it, my image of the Roosevelts may also be significantly colored by the same Messianic longing.

The literal belief in salvation through Jesus Christ vanished from my mind long before I was full-grown, but it seems that mental habits associated with that belief, learned along with that belief, have persisted, and continued to cloud my perception of reality. What were Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie really talking about in that NYC hospital room, shortly before Woody died and Bob got his first record contract? Was it all business and image? Was "Dylan" Woody's idea? Was that Newsweek cover story about Bruce in the fall of '75 right all along? Was FDR's wheelchair a prop? Did Teddy intentionally throw the Presidency to Wilson? Did Hercules have pec implants? Did Hermes take the subway like that woman who cheated in the Boston Marathon? Am I nothing but one continual lifelong chump?

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