Let’s start with a myth common to both Judaism and Christianity: The Garden of Eden. The garden was an ideal world where everything was perfect until a serpent tempts Eve who then tempts her man to eat a fruit forbidden by God and after their disobedience everything then falls apart.
How do we look at myths? Religious folks fall across a spectrum of belief about their myths: at one end are those who believe that their myths are totally true and probably shouldn’t ever be called “myths” at all, but at the other end are liberal believers of that faith that feel the myths are total fiction but still useful in their faith for inspiration and/or bonding identity.
But as I said, there is a spectrum, with most believers not really thinking about the issue much because they know it serves as inspiration and identity, so they don’t really care about the fiction vs. non-fiction issue.
My belief, of course, is that these are fictional tales. And I actually think that the people who originally told these stories intended them to be fiction and not taken literal but over time, many began to take them as literal.
I am reading “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” (2018) by Jason Stanley, Yale Philosophy professor. Stanley has told me something surprising about fascist mythology that I never knew before and which addresses the paragraphs above about religious myths.
The definition of ‘Fascism/Fascist” is very controversial as it is certainly a word used almost always with huge political bias. And indeed, as I read Stanley, I can feel that already. But I think we can safely ignore that and still have some of his observations be very helpful for this story.
Stanley contends that
“Fascist politics invokes a pure mythic past tragically destroyed. Depending on how the nation is defined, the mythic past may be religiously pure, racially pure, culturally pure, or all of the above.”
The Garden of Eden myth, like fascist and other political myths, falsely paints their past as pure and better. Americans live with their own myths of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Manifest Destiny and much much more. But this is not the fascinating information — what is fascinating is that apparently some politicians intend their stories to be fictional myths.
Mussolini, in a 1922 speech at the Fascist Congress in Naples said about the political myth he created:
“We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality …. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! And to this myth, this greatness, which we want to translate into a total reality, we subordinate everything.”
Mussolini confesses that his myth is contrived, intentionally fictional. And it appears that confessions of intentionally fabricating fiction in politics is not as rare as I imagined.
Stanley again tells us:
“The leading Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, editor of the prominent Nazi newspaper the Völkischer Beobachter, writes in 1924, ‘the understanding of the respect for our own mythological past and our own history will form the first condition for more firmly anchoring the coming generation in the soil of Europe’s original homeland.'”
Stanley points out that those originally spinning these myths care not about the factual historical accuracy but instead about how they can serve the future.
Interestingly, Stanley then tells a story how those fascist regimes later insist on the literal truth of their myths and punish those who disbelieve.
Judeo-Christian myths like The Garden of Eden, Abraham, Moses and more are also deliberate fabrication meant as inspiration for the future. Both politician and religious folks create intentional fictions (myths) which then slowly morphing into doctrinal truths that are not meant to be questioned. The process is universal.