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    Norms and Nobility: Story and Reason in Love

    April 20, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I just noticed that Cindy has begun blogging Chapter 2. Since I try to blog my own thoughts before reading what others have to say, I’m going to buckle down and blog Section 1 of the same chapter. Incidentally, for those of you who don’t have your own copy, Chapter 2 is called The Word is Truth.

    Before we go on, let’s note that the term logos {λόγος} has a meaning within our faith. The Greeks, used the term a little differently, but since the Bible uses it, we should probably talk about that first. Perhaps the most well-known passage of Scripture utilizing this term is from the beginning of John 1:

    In the beginning was the Word {λόγος}, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

    If you look at a Bible containing cross-references, you’ll find some other verses which flesh out this logos concept a bit more. Verses such as:

    And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

    Colossians 1:17

    And also:

    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word {λόγος} of life;

    I John 1:1

    Once upon a time I had a pastor {or was it a professor?} attempt to explain the concept of logos to me. I’m not sure I can reproduce what he said, but I’ll try. He told me that the logos was the something behind. It was the reality beyond what we see. The ancients, he said, were trying to discover a great unifier, an abstract concept which held all other things together. We do not really search for such a thing within our own culture, he said, so it is hard for us to wrap our minds around it. He told me that the ancients were searching in a Platonic sense–that the reality of the logos existed in the realm of ideas. It was real, but we couldn’t see it; it was only represented in a lesser sense upon the earth.

    However, Christianity took the concept and ran with it. Instead of searching for a concept, the concept was based upon, or was a person: Jesus the Logos. When you look at these passages, you can see the connection: He was in the Beginning {i.e., before Creation} and all things were made by Him and through Him.; He is the source of life and light; He is the great concept behind all other concepts, the great unifying idea.
    But this was scandalous because He was a person. And not just any person–He was a person who died a criminals’ death. While philosophers of the day so glorified an introspective life that they maintained servants to perform almost every physical task for them, Jesus was down on the ground washing the feet of His followers–being a servant.
    The logos, it seems, was not what had been expected.
    According to Hicks, this wasn’t the first time the logos was controversial. Back in the days of its birth, it was Socrates scandalizing those around him:

    Socrates shocked his contemporaries by arguing that virtue and vice are not the inherent properties of objects; they result instead from the rational or irrational use of objects. More incredibly, he taught that it is worse to wrong another than to wrong oneself. Such unorthodox notions seemed to contradict the evidence of human experience, especially as recorded in the myths. {emphasis mine}

    Hicks’ first section in this chapter discusses the effects of the ensuing “violent collision between Socrates’ dialectical logos and the dogmatic mythos.” Now is probably a good time to cover Hicks’ definitions.

    Logos: the word by which the inward thought is expressed {early def.}; the inward thought itself; the intrinsic-abstract-rational principle governing all things {later defs.}

    Mythos: the written mythology which represented man’s imaginative and spiritual effort to make this world intelligible

    How did Socrates begin some sort of epic battle between the logos and mythos? Quite simply, he juxtaposed them. He said things about the logos which directly contradicted the overt lessons of the written mythology of his day. Hicks illustrates this using an example from Plato’s Republic:

    Almost immediately…reasoning Athena began to criticize her mythological father–although not without a show of deference and a willingness to quote father whenever his authority assisted her argument.

    In other words, reason {and the search for the logos} stood in judgment over and above myth. Myth was still seen as useful if it could advance Reason’s arguments, but Reason became the ultimate authority.

    Or did it?

    Hicks hints that maybe the battle is not over when he writes:

    But…myth defies analysis, especially in instruction, and happily, usually survives it.

    However, Hicks insists the the division between mythos and logos is a Permanent Thing:

    It has become almost commonplace to divide ancient consciousness thus between the logos and the mythos, but when fully understood, this division is recognized as timeless–a precondition, as it were, of the human mind.

    I ask myself: is this so? I don’t think this must be so. I was considering the great stories {which Hicks calls myths} of our faith. Within Christianity, there is complete harmony between the stories {the myths} and the Logos {Christ}. Each myth anticipated the coming of the enfleshed Logos, the One who both preceded the stories {because He was present at and the Cause of Creation}, and also postdated them {they predicted His coming, and also predict His final coming}. Christ was and is a living, breathing Governing Principle, the ultimate good king.

    Unlike the Greeks, who had to struggle with the behavior of gods being completely irrational and in conflict with their conception of the logos, Christianity is able to flow nicely from the Logos to the stories and back again, with the stories teaching about the Logos and the Logos informing and deepening the stories. This is a treasure.

    At this point Hicks begins to extol the virtues of myths:

    A good myth, like a good map, enables the wanderer to survive, perhaps even to flourish, in the wilderness. To this end, classical education, like Hebrew education, carefully preserves the best myths within its tradition and insists that each new generation of students learn these myths, imprisoning them in their hearts.

    This is why Ambleside has my Year Two student reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, famous poems, and stories about heroes of the Christian faith. This is why our Circle Time this term is focusing on having the children internalize all of the major stories from the book of Genesis.

    Hicks writes:

    The mythos is the very skeleton of civilization. Remove it and watch all the flesh of political stability, scientific invention, and social sophistication collapse. Myths…remind man to think and to act out of a sense of responsibility toward the past…Myths inspire men to perform great and selfless deeds by assuring and warning them that their actions are not individual, but symbolic.

    Again, I am reminded of the Christian cohesiveness between the Logos and the mythos. God enfleshed all that the mythos was trying to tell us in the first place. Jesus was the Story walking among us, living out the Ideal Type. God did not send a philosopher to speak with kings, but rather He sent His Son to embody the virtues, live spotlessly, and to redeem the world. Within Christianity, the Logos Himself has a mythological component, in the sense that He is epic and iconic–even to the unbeliever. He was not an argument, but an embodiment. I’m not saying that Reason should be dispensed with because of this, but simply that Christ Himself showed us the value of story. It was how He taught, and ultimately how He lived His life. It is how we know Him today.

    To bring all of this back to one of the themes of this ongoing conversation, we currently have an educational system which ignores the mythology of Christendom in particular, and the West in general. The approach is pure Reason–isolated facts sans context. This is uninspiring on many levels. Today I am reminded of how powerful and motivating are the stories of the truly great. How many times have I felt motivated by Christian and Faithful, by Mrs. March and her daughters, and, naturally, by Christ. Many facts can be learned through story–they need not be mutually exclusive–but to the extent that the Good Book, good books, and the great books have been banished is the extent to which students are doomed to a type of mundane, unenlightened life.

    Further Reading:
    Morality, Myth, and the Imagination
    Cindy’s post on Chapter II, Section I

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Jami M. April 21, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Wow, Brandy. You have a gift for bringing clarity to ideas. There were sections of this chapter that I don’t think I understood until I read your thoughts here. And I’ve been wrestling with whether or not Hicks was allowing for a faith/reason dichotomy. The two-stories that Francis Schaeffer wrote about–reason and rationalism on the first floor, being the foundation for real knowledge and the less-necessary upstairs is faith and spiritual matters are relegated.

    Still processing…


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