was a dorm presenation, probably in 1994 or thereabouts]
MEN, WOMEN, AND OTHER MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURES
In one chapter of
C.S. Lewis' The Lion the Witch
and the Wardrobe, Lucy is looking at the books in Tumnus the Faun's
library. She runs across a book with the title, Men, Monks,
Gamekeepers: or, Is Man a Myth? I really like the title, and
I always thought there should be a real book called Is Man a
Of course, the problem with such a book is that the question is too
answered. It's quite clear that Man is a myth. In fact,
men and women are essentially mythological creatures.
Now by this I don't mean that men and women
real--just the opposite. I tell the students in my world
classes that a myth isn't an untrue story, but a story that expresses
people consider to be the ultimate truth about man and the
Probably, I should be just a bit more careful in explaining the word
to students, because (really) academics use the word in two different
We primarily use the term "myth" for stories that describe what a
feels to be true about the universe (what I should probably call "true
myth"). But we sometimes also use "myth" in a pejorative sense to
describe deceptions (what I should probably call "lying myth"). Both
of myth, true myth and lying myth, are exceedingly important, and if
want to understand any society, one of the best ways is to look at the
myths that society tells.
My academic specialty is eschatology, the
of ideas, stories, and myths about the last times. What's
about these end-time myths is how important they really are. The
a society tells itself about the life-after-death, resurrection and
and heaven and hell affect conduct in all sorts of different
Islamic eschatology, for instance, promises men that, if they die
a holy war, they go immediately to a paradise where dozens of beautiful
women are ready to make them eternally happy. This is one reason
why Moslems make such effective soldiers.
In my classes, I usually concentrate on the
societies tell about the beginnings of things (their creation myths)
the end of things (their eschatological myths). But these are not
the only kinds of myths societies tell. Societies also tell myths
about human relationships, and (particularly important) myths about men
and women and their relationships.
Now as for me, the male-female myth I like
is the romantic fairy tale, stories like "The White Cat," and "Beauty
the Beast." While I don't particularly like what Disney did to
the latter story, it does get one thing right. The title song
the words, "a tale as old as time," and, while the story of "Beauty and
the Beast" itself doesn't go back that far, the basic elements of the
fairy tale do. There's something pretty universal about the
idea that there is one special person one ought to give one's heart to,
that one ought to risk everything for that person, that love will
overcome all obstacles, and that, once married to that special person,
one lives happily ever after. One finds such stories in Medieval
poetry, in the Arabian Nights, in Vedic literature--and even in the
Now until the early 1960's, it seems to me
what most American young men and women aimed for in their real lives
something like the romantic fairy tale--and what probably would amaze
young people today is how much of the time they made their dreams
a reality. Even into the 1970's, many of us were able to
those "happily ever after" relationships, and for those who are/were
the romantic fairy tale seems unquestionably "true myth," as clear an
of our marital relationship as one can find.
But it seems to me that couples
tend to be much less successful in achieving this "happily ever after"
sort of joy in their relationships, and many have rejected the
model as a lying myth. Feminist types in particular tend to
the old-fashioned fairy tale, maintaining that it leads us to expect
never was and never can be. Few women, they argue, are fairy tale
princesses and no men are Prince Charmings. But they are
A man can make a woman feel like a princess, or like a queen. A
woman can make
a man feel like a prince, or like a king. And the reason is,
deep down, there is something of the princess in every woman, and
of the prince in every man--or at least there can be.
So if the fairy tale myth is true myth, why
there more "happily ever after" type relationships, where the man makes
his wife feel like a queen, and the woman makes her husband feel like a
king? Because a key factor in maintaining such a relationship is
exclusivity--particularly sexual exclusivity. We've accustomed
to thinking of sex as recreational, a thing done primarily for physical
pleasure. But physical pleasure is only a part of what goes on in
sexual relationship--and not the most important part.
It's interesting that some of the clearest
of what the sexual relationship is all about come from celibate men,
John Paul II and the Apostle Paul. Particularly interesting are
Apostle Paul's comments in I Corinthians. Paul warns the
against visiting temple prostitutes, telling them not to "make
one flesh" with a prostitute. Now this sounds like Paul is
simply about physical union. But "flesh" and "body" are not
for Paul. Flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma) are warring principles
within the body (soma). When Paul talks about "the flesh," he has
in mind pride, what we think of ourselves. And what's at stake in
a sexual relationship really has more to do with pride than it does
physical pleasure. The sexual submission of a woman is a big ego
for a man: when she submits to him, he has become her god--for a few
minutes. Sex is
a big ego thing for a woman too. When a man desires her, he can
of nothing else. All of his attention focuses on her. She
has become his goddess--for a few minutes. It's no accident that
ancient world (and in places like India even today) prostitution is so
closely associated with religion.
The problem is that it's all a cheat.
of marriage, and without the affirmation of a permanent commitment, the
apparent affirmation of the sex act is nothing more than a lie--and a
particularly destructive lie.
Now where did this lie come from? Well,
where do all lies come from? The father of lies. William
Clinton? [Got a lot of laughs
with that line in the 1990's.] Nope. From Satan himself.
Now many of you probably think Satan is a
Well, you're right. Satan is a myth. But what kind of myth:
true myth or lying myth? Jeffery Burton Russell, a first rate
did a series of books on Satan, exploring devil-mythology from the
of history to the present day. Russell argues essentially that
devil is true myth: a personification of the radical evil that clearly
existed in human society throughout all history. If nothing else,
Satan is a useful short-hand way of representing the temptation to evil
that confronts every one of us, and, in particular, our temptation to
the truth for a lie.
Now it seems to me that one of the main things
that is destroying our marital relationships is the fact that Satan has
convinced us to adopt some lying myths.
To a certain extent, the main lie is the old
in the garden of Eden. Satan promised Adam and Eve that, through
disobeying God, they would be as gods themselves, knowing good and
evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that the temptation is
you will decide what's good and evil for yourself. The fruit was
good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and to be desired to make one
wise. It seemed good to Eve, despite what God had said. So
she became as a god, "beyond good and evil," deciding right and wrong
herself. And Adam did likewise.
And, of course, this is what we are constantly
told we ought to be doing today. Everyone ought to decide for
what is right and wrong. No one, not even God apparently, has any
right to set up moral standards for anyone else. And the
Just look at Hebrew society during the time of the Judges, a time ,
"everyone did that which was right in his own eyes."
In addition to the universal lie ("you shall be as
Satan has a special lie for women only. The lie: you shall be
Now this doesn't seem to me to be nearly as good as
Satan's original promise, but, for some reason, women today seem to be
extraordinarily receptive to that particular lie, and many of them are
doing their best to be just like men.
Now if what women were imitating were men's
traits, this wouldn't be a great problem. But what women end up
imitating (often just to prove to
themselves that they really are just men with different plumbing) is
is worst in men. Ladies didn't used to swear. So women
it's a man thing, and they begin using all sorts of foul
Men seemed to be able to have casual sexual relationships with no
A one night stand with a stranger? Great. And so women
that, if they have birth control and abortion to back it up, they can
just as irresponsibly as men without any bad consequences. Men
tend to put careers and hobbies before families, neglecting their kids
and spouses to go out fishing or hunting with the boys. So women
think they're doing just great when they can leave the kids in a day
center and start climbing the corporate ladder--just like the
The result is a mess--and that's the problem with lying myth. It
just doesn't make you happy, even if you follow the story line exactly.
Now I've talked about Satan's lying myth for
woman. He's got an even better deal for today's man. Not,
shall be as gods." But "You shall be as dogs." As far as
sexual nature is concerned, Satan has turned a great many of us into
already. Consider: A dog will mount any receptive female he can
(A dog will mount almost anything that moves, for that matter.
Dogs impregnate bitches and then go merrily on their way, leaving all
for the next generation to the females.
Diogenes, of course, advocated leading a dog's
life. But when we behave like dogs sexually, there's a high price
to be paid. Women think men can get away with promiscuous sex:
they can't. When one treats another human being badly, and
when one exploits them sexually, it puts a blot on one's soul--and if
does it often enough, the soul all but disappears. One ceases to
be a human being at all. True enough, promiscuous men don't have
much in the way of responsibility: but they don't have any joy
And as their senses become jaded, they end up seeking out more and more
perverted forms of sexuality, just to be able to feel something.
And finally--well, often enough the end of this particular lying myth
"unhappily ever after."
Now why has Satan chosen these particular
Why is Satan so intent on destroying traditional romantic
There seem to me two main reasons. One, destroying the love
between men and women destroys the family. The prophet Malachi
"Did not He make one? And wherefore one? That He might seek a
seed." In other words, the unity of husband and wife produces
children, and Satan knows that if he destroys marriages he's got a
start on winning the next generation.
But there's another, maybe more important,
Satan is trying to destroy our romantic relationships.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is
21, the chapter that describes the New Jerusalem coming from heaven as
a bride adorned for her husband. The passage reminds me of my
and especially of watching my wife walk down the aisle to meet
It was one of the most joyful moments of my life.
I used to
the Beach Boys' song "Wouldn't it Be Nice?" And now--well, Donna
and I were going to be able to "say good night and stay together,"
kiss would be never ending." We were married. We were going to be
happy. And you know what? Married life was even better than
I thought. [Said that 20 years
ago. It's even more true today.]
But what's most important of all about married
life is that it points us to a higher joy: the joy being part of the
of Christ. You see, we don't understand the love of God so
Married love gives us a hint of it. In some ways, it's a kind of
a magic mirror, showing us, at least dimly, what we otherwise could
really see. And it's no wonder that Satan is doing his best to
the mirror--it's not just our earthly marriages he is trying to break
but our ultimate love relationship, the one with God.
The moral of the story: just watch your
Be as exclusive as you can be. Be loving. Be joyful.
Get married. And prepare yourself for the wedding supper of the