What does it mean to believe a myth? I just finished Jealous Gods and Chosen People: The Mythology of the Middle East (Oxford, 2004), a mercifully short treatment at 132 pages, about as much myth as I can handle. All the Middle East cultures had mythology, and these powerful and often violent myths still have power to shape modern minds and events for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This disturbs author David Leeming, who calls this a "devastating influence," contrasting myth-inspired fundamentalist violence with the peaceful counsels of the respective religions. He continues:
Fundamentalists see their way as the only way. They forget that myths--themselves in all likelihood factually untrue--represent truths that are spiritual and philosophical. Myths help to build and to identify functional communities; they are not historical events that can reasonably be used to justify acts of violence and dominance. (italics in original)
Why does this happen? I think we are hard-wired to think mythically. It takes discipline and practice to think historically, philosophically, or scientifically, but myth grows to suit our own biases and desires, and is malleable enough to easily fit the needs of the moment. No wonder mythical thinking is so prevalent. For more on myth, go read Wikipedia's brief entry on Mythology, which includes a paragraph on modern mythology a la Star Trek, Tarzan, or Lord of the Rings.
This all leads up to the title of my post: So what are the uses and abuses of Mormon mythology? What's your favorite Mormon myth?