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Polytheisms are usually considered mythology (e.g. Greek mythology, Amerindian mythologies), while monotheisms are usually considered religion, or even "truth", and studied by theology alone. To me, however, both look very similar.

What are the philosophers, if any, who considers both to be the same thing (theology as a synonym for, or a kind of, mythology)?

EDIT after some comments:

I accept any definition of myth, since wide answers are usually more informative than narrow ones.

I know one can talk about "Christian mythology" (although "Pagan theology" is news to me). But my question is different: have any philosopher considered, for instance, "Christian theology" as being "Christian mythology", i.e. have any philosopher called the god from the Bible a myth, like Odin, Zeus or Huangdi?

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    Nietzsche comes to mind...? (What has your research uncovered so far?) – Joseph Weissman Aug 21 '17 at 20:54
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    I am afraid you are confused about the meaning of words, theology and mythology are two different aspects of any religion, Christian or pagan. It doesn't matter if one believes religion to be true or not, those two aspects would still be distinguishable. Here is Wikipedia on Christian mythology, and here it is on pagan theology. Mythology is a collection of legends and fables, while theology deals in more abstract and theoretical categories. – Conifold Aug 21 '17 at 23:57
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    I do not see how distinction between metaphorical and theoretical expression is specifically linked to monotheism, it certainly precedes it. One can find theistic discussions of Greek polytheism in Plato, etc. Even atheistic philosophers that reject any form of theism have no reason to "transcend" and "equalize" the difference between theology and mythology any more than the difference between bipeds and quadrupeds. What would be the point? Are you simply asking about atheistic critique of religion as an illusion, not specific to Christianity (a la Marx, Freud, etc.)? – Conifold Aug 22 '17 at 0:18
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    The question as worded doesn't make sense, because theology and mythology are two different approaches to religious phenomenon. As worded the question is roughly akin to "are there any people who do modern biology as a form of story-telling?" Do you mean something like are there people who see the Christian bible and its stories as myths in the same way as most people view stories about Odin and Zeus? – virmaior Aug 22 '17 at 1:21
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    (1) the question is: are they? is not the question you appear to be asking above. Here, you ask if any philosopher equates theology and mythology. (2) I think you're confused about what theology means based on your comment. For an (imagined) Amazon tribe, there's no difference between the stories they believe and their "mythology" (on a certain definition of myth taking mythology here to mean "myths" = stories), but generally a theology refers specifically to a systematization from story to doctrinal ideas that can stand apart from the stories. – virmaior Aug 22 '17 at 2:05
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Have any philosopher considered, for instance, "Christian theology" as being "Christian mythology", i.e. have any philosopher called the god from the Bible a myth, like Odin, Zeus or Huangdi?

Yes! I think it would be about right to say that the perennial philosophy treats Theology exactly as myth. It would have value and meaning but uses words to point beyond themselves, such that they should not be read naively.

In his Enneads Plotinus advises us when reading the words of the sages that it is best to always put 'It is as if...' in front of them, since words cannot do the job.

The God of the monotheists would be an approximation rather than a myth, on this view, but maybe this is about the same thing. There are a number of books out comparing Jesus with Dionysius, one that argues that the Jesus story was deliberately created as a myth so that the Jewish people would have a comparable figure to Dionysius conveying the same message.

I think it might be argued that any religious view that relies on the 'via negativa' is a mythological expression of truth but I'm still pondering this one. The important point would be that a myth is not true or false but just more or less useful, so to treat theology as mythology is not a denial of religion but may be to take a particular view of it.

If we make the 'East-West' distinction then for the most part Eastern thinkers would see theology as mythology where it is not actually wrong. It is as if God exists, and as if He has these attributes etc..., and the Jesus story would have the same value regardless of whether it is historically true or false. It would not even matter whether it is historically true or false since it would be mythologically correct and a good teaching story.

  • @Rodrigo Well, some of this is a matter of interpretation and the words are difficult to define. I suppose one could say that the mythological and the literal readings of the teachings are the two principle approaches to religion, where the mythological is the esoteric and the literal is the exoteric, such that the perennial philosophy would be the former (advaita, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism etc.) and theology (usually) the latter. The Christian doctrine of Divine Simplicity transcends theology for the nonduality of the Upanishads so brings these approaches together. – PeterJ Aug 22 '17 at 16:16
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I think Joseph Weissman has already given one possible answer, Nietzsche. If the only Christian died on the cross, where does that leave Christianity? As myth. And not just as a Christian myth, but as already parasitical of Greek myth. Jesus is clearly acting out the part of Dionysus. The plot-scheme of the four Gospels is soaked in wine, and Jesus himself is connected with wine over and over again. Jesus acts out other parts as well (see Isaiah).

Nietzsche says God is dead, but for Nietzsche there was never a real God, the myth of God was dead. But maybe Nietzsche was too pessimistic and he didn't take into account mankind's love of a good story, but that can't be right, because he proceeded to write his own stories, his own myth!

We are dealing with myths inside of myths as the new religions dig into the past for material. Look at some of the New Age stuff. But the real possibilities of these myths (some may say stories) are in filmmaking now. Surely there will be a New Age Batman , but only after there is a Christian superhero film first. Maybe there has already been one. "Jesus Christ Superstar", (1973)?

Broadly speaking, it appears that in our history we have gone from having religions, to having myths, to having mere stories. But the relationship between religion and myth seems very complicated to me. I have read that the region of Mesopotamia was where many religions got their start. As far as religion and myth go, they seem to exist in a circular relationship with each other.

First the religion comes, then it dies or fades out, and the religion then fades into myth. The myth then becomes a source of themes and material for the making of the next religion. It's also possible for one religion to spawn another one, and Judaism has been a rich source of material in this regard. It seems that mankind needs some sort of larger-than-life narrative to keep himself going.

Over the long stretch of history, we have become thoroughly desacralized and demythologized as we have begun to "see through" the religion-myth circular interaction. We have become jaded, but we still crave the narrative. Nietzsche himself has become a source of "new"myth,Overman, Zarathustra, which is no great surprise as he had been a professor of classics, or philology, at Bern. And who is Zarathustra but Zoroaster!? Is there anything new under the sun?

Nietzsche, who supposedly wiped away metaphysics, and religion-myth created his own text or myth as a lense through which to see our world. This is the text as Derrida described it: our approach to the world is through a grand text. A massive piece of art.

But isn't this text, that tells us how "to be" just a new metaphysics? Because the largest part of a metaphysics is its ontological scheme.

  • Could you link the Joseph Weissman answer you mention? I do not see how Nietzsche, one of whose main themes was criticism of Christian morality and metaphysics, is supposed to confuse that with mythology, Christian or Dionysian. – Conifold Aug 23 '17 at 0:33
  • I was just acknowledging the fact that JW made the first comment to Rodrigo's question in which he put forth Nietzsche as a possible answer. I don't know, of course, but I suspect that this came to JW's mind instantly, as a kind of intuition, or maybe JW had had this thought for some time, but I would guess it first arose as an instant insight. – Gordon Aug 23 '17 at 1:56
  • @conifold I am interested in using Nietzsche for my own purposes. Nietzsche in Zarathustra "One repays a teacher badly if one remains nothing but a pupil." Jesus, Nietzsche, and Heidegger all did this. The material they were working with was complete plastic for them. They didn't care. Richtel (sic) Nietzsche's doctoral advisor essentially criticized Nietzsche's first book, I forget the name, for being loose with the facts and interpretations (my words). See Heidegger's treatment of the Anaximander fragment e.g. – Gordon Aug 23 '17 at 2:13
  • @conifold so I am feeling myself along here. I think Nietzsche admired Jesus himself as Dionysian figure. What Jesus thought himself is hard to know. The Gospel of Judas paints an interesting picture of Jesus' project, maybe it's right, or maybe not. I don't even reach Christian morality in my answer. I am interested in what Jesus did with in writing his own narrative. Use of the material, just like Nietzsche did with his own myth making. – Gordon Aug 23 '17 at 2:31
  • @conifold I was trying to get at the what I thought was the essence of Rodrigo's question. Religion, myth, what's the difference? I would say, Religion, myth, metaphysics, the grand text...the grand mediator between us and the world, and also a power play, an exercise of power. (Levinas, Foucault). The grand text also answers our aesthetic need for the narrative. We don't mind the exercise of power perhaps we need the story to deal with the world. – Gordon Aug 23 '17 at 2:59

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