David is still not happy with the answers he got to his problems with "the faith thing," and I have to admit I'm not entirely happy either, although for a slightly different reason. I understand the distinction Kynn is drawing between factual belief and mythic truth, and I tend to agree that believing that parts of the Bible are myth isn't incompatible with being a Christian. But, for reasons I alluded to in my comment on Kynn's post, I can't agree that faith has nothing to do with what you believe to be factual truth. Even a myth describes reality as you experience it, or it has no resonance. That's why I'm not completely buying the line from Kynn, Rob, James etc. that factual issues don't matter, you can just look at the Gospels and recognize them as Truth.
I seem to be ventriloquizing a lot for Telford lately, as he has no time to blog these days, but I think his point of view is instructive here. As in most things, he's in between the fundamentalists and the liberals when it comes to the factuality of the Bible. He's perfectly happy to call large parts of the Bible myths -- the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, and so on. He's also happy to admit to the mythologizing of Jesus, and that certain events described in the Gospels probably didn't literally happen. Yet last spring, he got on my case to research the historical evidence for Jesus, in particular the resurrection. Because as far as he's concerned, if the resurrection didn't literally, factually happen, Christianity has no foundation at all.
I haven't been impressed with what I've seen of the evidence so far, but I understand why he felt this matters. Because, far from expressing eternal truth, the resurrection turned life as we know it upside down. In a way, it brought to the extreme the inversions of the natural order that Jesus preached during life: the last shall be first, the exalted shall be humbled, and slaughtered idealists will turn out to be immortal. Just how radical an idea this is I think was expressed well by Will of the late, lamented blog Mysterium Crucis. He explained why he disagreed with efforts to downplay the divinity of Jesus and see him simply as a moral philosopher:
Because, let's be honest, if He's not God, then Jesus is a pretty crummy philosopher.
Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Render unto Caesar. If you read the teachings of Jesus divorced from the context of his Godhood and divine mission, it's all pretty impractical. At its worse, it's self-evident nonsense. Take this little gem: the meek shall inherit the earth. Sure Jesus, whatever you say. Now if Jesus is God, and he can personally back up those words, I'll believe it. Barring that, the meek ain't gonna inherit jack sh!t.
Or consider other mythologies. The ancient Greeks left a body of myths that resonates with us to this day, but the cosmos they describe is very different from the Christian one. The gods are petty and selfish, with no great love for humanity, and all are subject to the whims of Fate. Buddha's view was in a way even darker: life is suffering, the material world is an evil illusion, and you can only escape by total detachment. There is no loving Creator in Buddhist mythology; so rather than embrace God, Buddhists literally embrace nothing. Jung was right that there are common threads in all mythologies, but there are also significant differences.
Indeed, that there could be an all-good God ruling the universe is far from self-evident, and was far from self-evident even to the ancients. The Psalms and the Book of Job show how even the writers of the Bible struggled with the idea. And it's something I'm constantly struggling with myself. I thought of this especially lately when I was dealing with a person who's been intermittently harassing me, and was trying to figure out how to deal with it in a way commensurate with loving your enemies. Telford, trying to buck me up in an email, told me to "... take comfort in knowing it is God loving through you."
But that's exactly the problem: I don't know that. And this is where believing that there's actually an external being out there, as opposed to a cool myth or archetype or whatever, makes a difference. I have to answer the voice in my head that tells me I'm a chump, a weakling, a masochistic moron, if I try to love people who clearly want to hurt me. I have to say why Ayn Rand and Nietzsche had it all wrong. My favorite line from the Methodist sermon that I never blogged was when the pastor was explaining what the Holy Spirit gives to a person: the ability "to love even when it hurts; to love when all is darkness and all is black."
The earliest Christians, after all, had to deal with darkness and persecution 1,000 times worse than I do. I very much doubt that their willingness to be imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith came from their belief that the resurrection was a really cool myth. They had to believe that Jesus wasn't just a good guy but that he was a victor, a conqueror of sin and death. Otherwise, their martyrdom would just leave them in the same dust heap as other dead idealists.
So really, the question, "Why should I believe the Gospels are true?" isn't answered by recasting them as myth and metaphor. You still have to explain why you believe in them even as myth and metaphor. You have to explain what truth they tell. And you have to explain why we should follow them, even when they can lead to death or worse.