“A myth is just a religion that has fallen into disrepute.”
Myths are the way a people explained their origin, nature and history. It’s how we make sense of the world around them. We admit a metaphorical element in the stories, but essentially—and that’s the whole point, the “essence”—they are true. They explain what nature is, who we are, and how and why things works as they do.
They are also separable from religion in that myths generally have no fixed structure to determine and enforce orthodoxy. Religions have sacred texts, gatekeepers, evangelists and inquisitors, even the secular religions which deny religion. Myths operate at a more subliminal level. The very act of codifying myths marks their transformation into religions.
Myths explain the unexplainable. It is the primordial soup of religion, yes, but also of culture, science, history and literature. Its power is in explaining, regardless of truth and falseness.
As such myths are still with us. Historical and political myths explain who we are and how we function in society. They help us define “us” and “them,” the most important activity of most folks over age two. They help us filter the avalanche of data which threatens to bury us.
Mythology is as much a part of our lives today as in ancient Greece or Norway. Today’s myths undergird the self-evident truths of our lives.
As Harris observes, “The stories we tell say more about us than we know.”