How Santa helps Christians love Jesus
by John Mark Reynolds
America should be proud of Santa Claus. He is an American myth and we don’t have that many.
Unbox an Apple product and you can glory in newness, but there is a different thrill in opening a box containing a very old clock.
In a recent walk from my hotel in London, I pass Roman ruins, remnants of the Middle Ages, and remains of an Enlightenment era church. A comparable walk from a motel in Los Angeles produces neon from the 1950’s, a knock out performing arts center, and a new exit to the 110.
Los Angeles can be beautiful, but it lacks depth. Our dreams are daydreams and little Oxford invokes more mythology in one spire than all the skyscrapers of New York. Human beings need the truth, but sometimes the truth is too much for our minds or too hard for our hearts.
At that moment a good myth, or a fairy tale, prepares our minds or our hearts for the truth. It is the way of all good education. When I was in eleventh grade, I discovered the “physics” of the atom they taught me in grade five was almost entirely false. My complaints were met with the just response that my fifth grade intellect could only handle the story they gave me. The description was as true as I could handle. My teacher pointed out that my eleventh grade physics was not really “state of the art” either, just the best that could be done with my limited mathematical language.
By the time I got to graduate school my friend in the physics department assured me that “real physics” was much more beautiful and involved than I could imagine. The stories in fifth grade, eleventh grade, and college prepared me to appreciate what little of that beauty I could grasp.
These teaching stories were what Plato would have called “myths.”
Sadly, most of us get stuck on one meaning of the term “myth:” stories about ancient gods that are false. Plato knew better. He knew that a good story could prepare the soul for the deeper truth that it was not yet ready to grasp.
As it is in physics for the youngster, so it is in ethics. Legends and myths are not true historically, and this matters, but they can be deeply true in other ways. A parable does not have to be history to have a good moral. Aesop’s fables stick in our minds when heard and change our attitudes in ways sermons fail to do…
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