J. R. R. Tolkein once said that myths, “At the very least… allow us to catch a fleeting, but all so powerful glimpse at the beauty that lies beyond the walls [of our material existence]. Myths show us a fleeting glimpse of truth itself.”
There is an archaic primacy to this argument. If one stretched out the whole of human history and plucked at random stories that have survived the test of time, in each we discover a powerful morality, a hidden lesson beyond the words that intrinsically strikes us as true.
Commonalities can be traced between myths like an endless song.
Consider Achilles: told that he was going to die if he went to war. Compare to Thomas Grey’s Elegy: “the paths of glory lead but to the grave”. Compare to the real story of General Wolfe, who, surveying Quebec’s hills quoted Grey, before he himself entered battle: to glory, to death.
Does seeking pride and glory ever lead to any less than precipitous demise?
Cherry picking is the beauty of human history. For you can make an argument for every human virtue and every moral law, and with the abundance of texts before you, trace the evolution of that law through time, culture and country and come to a conclusion that this one thought, this one ultimate moral, is something that humanity has come to collectively recognise.
There is no reason why this process cannot be extrapolated to apply to morality just as it has been applied to the international legal order. To find and trace the common wisdom of humanity and thereby come to a certain and justifiable conclusion that ‘this is what we believe’ is easy, if trite and deceptive. And yet, perhaps this process is crucial if we are to learn from each other, and learn from time itself.
It is stories that delve into the core of humanity’s collective imagination, and in doing so; discover the key to human morality.
It is the human capacity, above that of animals, to reason and imagine; to create with our mind, our words and our writing another place, another time and another world that, although different, bears the similar scents, sounds and truths of our own. It is in these imaginings, and imagination itself, that we can see in our minds eye that glimpse of truth. And these truths are not just Christian teachings, nor that of any religion, but rather teachings that span the world. They are lessons imbued in the heart of Eastern and Western Literature spanning millennia before the birth of Christ and spanning millennia to come, after the death of religion. The primacy and truth in these stories and myths is not a reason to believe in God, but rather a reason to believe in the truth itself.
We have evolved to our current state not because of a disregard of what came before, but because of a hunger for that knowledge and wisdom. A hunger to share those stories. A need, an inbuilt craving and desire for memories and histories. We have a hunger to share the truth through time, an objective unattainable truth that exists in stories and poems in between the lines.
It is a truth that tells us what it is to be human. A truth that taps at the tip of the tongue and tip toes down, to be spoken.
We search everywhere for this truth. And we are often lost at that precise moment we find it. We are lost within ourselves as often as we are lost in others.
The Search for Truth and Meaning
We can answer the question together with a newfound morality or we can turn inwards and breed a culture of selfishness, cynicism and pride. We can trade love for hatred and destroy the world with violence, racism and disgust. We can yell at our TVs in our isolated boxes about ‘disgusting’ refugees, foreigners and other classes of society.
We can ignore every single person who walks passed us on the street. We can ignore them if they’re crying, if they’re fighting, if they’re broken inside; and silently so.
We can alienate ourselves and lock ourselves away.
Worse, we can alienate the world itself with indifference and a culture of “I don’t give a shit.”
Or we can try.
There is no force. There is no God to set karma against you, ‘balance the scales’ or damn you in fire and torture.
There is simply you. And there is simply me. All we have is humanity. And accordingly, all we can do is try.
The lack of a God does not lessen morality, but rather, it strengthens it. Without a God there is no guiding hand behind the creation of morality itself. It is rather a pure evolutionary instinct for us to live together peacefully.
And like our evolutionary urges for love, hunger and joy, it is not something to wistfully toss aside, but something to nurture, cherish and trust.