Our new contributor, No Man’s Land, took a certain amount of heat on his post the other day for stating that the Genesis account of creation is a myth. He didn’t, if fact, say it’s a false myth, or a true myth, just that it is a myth, which it inarguably is.
It can’t be history, there was no one to write it down, except God, and He didn’t, and so it’s a myth, a legend. It’s become part of how the Judeo-Christian world sees itself. NML put this into comments, “First, by myth I don’t mean something that is false. I mean an organizing story that allows a culture, religion, and so forth, to explain itself to itself.” I think he’s exactly correct.
Perhaps if we take another myth to explain what he means (assuming I understand).
In John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, we saw Ransom Stoddard. (Jimmy Stewart) the lawyer and effete easterner gets the girl because he manned up and shot Liberty Valance, and it carried him to a distinguished (and prosperous) career as well.
But all wasn’t as it seemed, was it? Tom Doniphan (John Wayne), a representative of the old way, do it yourself justice , so to speak, saved Stoddard‘s life before he ever got to town, and provided enough support structure to get him started.
All the while Doniphan spouted words about how hopeless anything but the rule of the gun was but, his actions spoke a different story didn’t they? He actively promoted the school, the move to statehood, and anything else that would help to civilize the country, and in addition taught Stoddard a bit about how to defend himself.
And if fact when the confrontation comes, Doniphan is there, in the shadows, backstopping the man of the law, with the man of the gun. And so Doniphan shot Liberty Valance but leaves Stoddard the credit.
And in so doing, we could say, it cost him everything he cared about, the girl, the respect of his society, a decent living. We see this in the meanness of his coffin a plain pine box with his possessions, mostly a broken down old pair of boots, and a gun, which without Stoddard would have been stolen as well.
It’s a sad story and a great western. It’s not a true story, It never happened in Shinbone or anywhere else, the way Ford tells the story. But you know, it happened everywhere in America in the last 350 or so years. We won this country (and hard fought it was) with the gun, and the knife, and the hard men who won it, mostly (but not always) gracefully, gave way to what we are pleased to call civilization.
And that’s why the movie is part of the American myth, it’s not literally true, but it tells a greater story about who and what we are, and there are timeless lessons in it, if we pay attention. And it not only speaks to us; it tells the world something of what it means to be an American, and how we got here.
Genesis is like that too. It may or may not be literally true, in this world we’ll never know, but it tells us much of God, and man, and how they relate to each other. It’s part of the myth of Judeo-Christian society.