Folklore, myth and religion

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This page is for discussion of w:folklore, w:religion, and w:mythology.

Use of the words 'Myth', 'Mythology', etc.Edit

The word 'Myth' has several meanings in the English language. Probably the best place to find out these meanings is to consult a dictionary. One meaning, roughly, has it that a myth is "a story that express the religion, beliefs and morals of a culture" and another meaning is roughly "a story that is false or made-up". The boundary between the two meanings is unclear.

Some argue that only relatively rarely is "myth" used in such a way as not to imply or suggest that the stories of a culture are in any way dubious. They argue that typically, the "myth" is used specifically to suggest that the stories are not to be relied upon as true, though, for all we know, they might be true. Other people disagree with this, and say that "myth" is frequently used without intending to make any judgement about the truth or falsehood of the myths, although sometimes the mistaken impression is given that such an intention exists.

In English, we normally reserve the terms "myth" and "mythology" for the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions (such as those of Greece or Rome), which have few or no followers today. Except in some academic and critical contexts, we generally do not call the stories of Judaism, Christianity or Islam "myths" or "mythologies." Many people, though maybe not all (e.g. Hegel seems to consider Christianity different because of its resemblance to "philosophy" and Nietzsche, especially in Birth of Tragedy, seems to consider Christianity worse or more degenerate; see also Words to avoid), think that from a religiously neutral point of view the stories of these extant religions are not a fundamentally different phenomenon from those stories that we do call myths.

Seven options have been proposed so far, by various people, for using the terms 'myth', 'mythology', etc., on Wikipedia:

Option 1Edit

Call the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions "myths" or "mythology"; do not use this term for the stories of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other extant religion of any significant size. (So we might continue to call Greek and Roman stories "myths" even if a tiny minority of neopagans claims to believe the stories are true.)

PROS:

  • This is the usage that most people will be expecting and familiar with; some people find calling the traditional stories of extant religions "myths" to be jarring.
  • Few people are likely to be offended by calling the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions "myths" or "mythology"; some people may be offended by the use of those terms to describe the stories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, even if we explain to them that we are using it in a neutral sense.
  • People will be expecting to find the stories of the ancient Greek and Roman religions under the name "mythology." (They won't expect to find Bible stories under "Christian mythology," for example.)

CONS:

  • This perpetuates bias in favour of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, against ancient polytheistic religions; perpetuating such bias would not appear to be NPOV
    • Reply: this seems to me a misunderstanding of what "neutral point of view" means. Writing from the NPOV means writing so as not to make the text suggest that any extant views might be any more likely than any others, or in other words, letting people make up their own minds as regards extant views. Who cares what people believed 2500 years ago, if no one has such beliefs now?
      • Reply: well, it appears to me that some modern Pagans do in fact believe in these myths. They generally don't mind calling them myths, but that is because: (a) for Pagans, the term 'myth' lacks a lot of the negative conontations that the term has for the wider community; and (b) most of them don't interpret the myths in a literal manner (though many ancient Pagans didn't interpret their myths in a literal manner either; and likewise many Christians have given non-literal interpretations to their myths.)
        • Reply: show me evidence that some neopagans actually believe the old myths. Frankly, I find the very suggestion very hard to swallow. Of course,
          • The Findhorn community in Scotland seems to preach the literal existence of Pan. Search for Findhorn or Ogilvie Crombie.

I could always be wrong. Moreover, I do not agree that there are any significant number of people who use "myth" with no connotations whatever of judgment about their veracity. The point of using "myth" (or "legend") rather than "story" is precisely to present a story as dubious at best. Give us evidence, please, that the word is ever used differently (other than by you).

          • C.S. Lewis springs to mind. Look for a book of essays that bears the title God in the Dock if you want a specific reference. --Dan
          • You want evidence? Try a dictionary: "a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon" (Merriam-Websters Online, myth, sense 1a). If my usage is in the dictionary, it has to be used by someone other than me? And compare that definition to "story" -- "story" is clearly a much more general term. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a story, but it isn't a myth. Why? Because its not traditional, and it has never been claimed to be historical, and it does not "unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon". The point of using "myth" rather than "story" is precisely to present a story which is traditional, obstensibly historical, and expresses the worldview, practices, beliefs, morality, etc., of a people.
            • Reply: I'm not very impressed with your dictionary definition even as support for your case. Just look at the definition you cite! You seem to have missed the word "ostensibly": myths are ostensibly historical, but (the implication is) they very well might not actually be historical. Moreover, interpreting dictionary definitions is not an exact science; often, to fully understand the meaning of a word in use, you must examine several of the senses listed. Also, you can ape me all you like re the point of myth, but that doesn't make your case any stronger: the inclusion of the word "ostensible" undermines your attempted cleverness. :-)
              • The word "ostensibly" does not mean "apparently but not really". It means simply "apparently". Something can be both obstensibly true and in fact true. In order for something to be classified as a "myth", it must have been claimed or presumed to be historical. It may or may not in fact be so. You may say the implication is being made, but no such implication is contained in the definition of "ostensible". Yes, to fully understand the way a word is used, you must look at several senses; but a sense is a separable meaning -- when a word has multiple senses, it can (and most of the time is) used in only one or some of its senses. Finally, I admit dictionary definitions are not an exact science, but do you have any better proposal for determining what the word means, other than your own opinions or impressions?
  • Calling the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions "myths" may be interpreted as a judgement on our part that these stories are false or ought not be believed; whatever our individual views on their truth or falsehood, it is not the job of an encyclopedia to tell people which religious tales they are to believe or disbelieve
    • Reply: this seems to be another misunderstanding of the meaning of "NPOV." Since no one does, in fact, believe those old religious tales, it is ;totally uncontroversial to let Wikipedia say imply, by the unqualified, straightforward use of the word "myth," that they're false.
      • Reply: Can you be certain that not one person today believes them? And it is not "totally uncontroversial" to imply them to be false -- I, for one, am strongly opposed to doing so, and I'm sure several other people are as well. An encyclopedia should not be in the business of telling people which religious beliefs are true and false -- that applies both to currently popular religious beliefs, like Christianity, and no longer popular religious beliefs, like the ancient Greek and Roman religions. And an encyclopedia should treat all religions equally -- it should not imply that Christianity is more likely to be true than any other religion. Calling ancient Pagan stories myths, but refusing to call Christian stories myths, implies that Christian stories are more likely to be true or somehow more valid than Pagan stories, which is something a lot of people would disagree with doing.
        • Reply: Sure, we should make sure that people who think that Christian stories are no more than myths are registered as "myths" in the opinion of people like you and me. I agree, that's very important to state, in some appropriate place. But we should not title articles so as to reflect this view, when (1) there's no evidence that anyone (or any significant minority of people) still believes old Roman myths, while (2) we know that there are quite a few Biblical literalists. Listing Bible stories as "stories" is the most neutral way to bill the Biblical stories, because it allows us to maintain the stories are false while some others (a very small number, granted) can maintain the stories are true. It's not prejudicial in the least to make a distinction between extant religious stories and extinct religious stories. It's insulting and biased to pretend that the distinction doesn't exist, though.
          • Reply: First of all, I never said they are "no more than myths". I said they are myths, and that they may well be true myths. Personally, I think some of the stories are true, others are false -- but even the ones I believe to be true I would still call myths. And how is it insulting and biased to treat all religions equally, regardless of whether they are currently popular or not? If anything, I think it is insulting and biased to give the implication that some religions are more likely to be true than others. Wikipedia should remain religiously neutral, and avoid wherever possible implying any religion is more likely to be true than any other, even if that religion is currently more popular.
            • With your point that you maintain the stories may be true myths, you are missing my point. My point is that by using the word "myth," most people (contrary to what you think) will understand you to mean "traditional story of dubious provenance." That's what "myth" means. So you can maintain all you like that you believe in true myths, but that doesn't alter the fact that when you use such phrase--without qualification--as "Christian myth," you imply for most people that Wikipedia's official view is that Christian traditional stories are of dubious provenance. That is insulting and biased. There aren't any ancient Greeks around left to be insulted about their own religions! You keep missing this point about the meaning of "neutral": "neutral" does not mean "taking no stand on anything at all." If that were the case, no one could be neutral about anything. "Neutral" means something closer to "taking no stand on anything that is currently controversial." Something that was neutral 2000 years ago can be quite biased today, and vice-versa.
                • I'm not saying neutral means "take no stand on anything at all". I am in favour though of being "religiously neutral", which means taking no stand on matters of religious belief. Telling people what religious beliefs they should or shouldn't have is not the job of an encyclopedia. That includes telling people not to have religious beliefs that no one alive today has. (And, you have so far provided no evidence that no one alive today does have these beliefs -- there are plenty of neopagans out there, many of whom would say they believe the myths of some ancient civilization or another.)
              • Do you recall that the original article which started this dispute explicity qualified that the word "myth" was being used in a completely neutral sense, with no implication about whether the story was true or false? If we explicitly state in the article that we are using it in this way, then no reasonable person should be offended. If they are still offended, it must be because they are not reading what we have said the word "myth" means. So, if we provide clear and appropriate qualification as to how we will use the word myth, then no reasonable person should interpret it as any judgement on our part that the mytth is dubious. That is not insulting and not biased.
  • Using different terms for the stories of ancient polytheistic religions on the one hand, and the stories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (to say nothing of Hinduism or Buddhism) on the other, may obscure the similarities between the two phenomena, and makes a distinction which may not have any basis in the features of the stories themselves
    • Reply: the notion that there are such similarities is bound to be somewhat controversial for some. In any case, it's exceedingly obvious that the way to point out such similarities is not simply to use the word "myth" to describe both sets of stories, and let it go at that. It would be to investigate and report about what research has been done on "the mythology of extant religions." Surely there's no reason to oppose formulating the point about the similarities in such a fashion? Won't that make everyone happy? (Still waiting for an answer to this.)
      • Reply: well of course there are some very basic similarities. They all involve religious entities (gods, angels, demons, heroes, prophets, etc.), miracles, supernatural occurences. They all are used by their followers as inspiration for their religious practice. They express the religious beliefs of the people who originated them. They express moral teaching. And they all fit the definiton of myth contained in sense 1a of Merriam-Websters Online. You'd have to be blind to deny that these similarities exist. And these basic similarities can be pointed out very well by calling them "myths" (in sense 1a), since sense 1a of Merriam-Webster's captures reasonably well what the most fundamental similarities between them are.
        • Reply: you completely missed the point. Please re-read what I wrote. I was not simply (or even at all) saying that there are not very basic similarities between extinct and extant religions' traditional stories.
  • Presumably this option should be referring to any present-day religion, not just Judaism, Christianity or Islam? Probably practically any "myth" ever invented is still believed by somebody.
    • Reply: yes, it should be referring to any extant religion. What evidence do you have to believe that "practically any 'myth' ever invented is still believed by somebody"? That sounds very unlikely indeed to me.
      • Reply: well, what about the stories of Hinduism? They are frequently called myths, and the whole body is often called "Hindu Mythology" and "Indian Mythology". And in fact Hindu stories are very similar to Greek, Roman or Egyptian stories.
        • Reply: I would say that, if the vast majority of Hindus do not in fact have any problem calling them "myths," with all of the baggage of that word (and I can understand how modern Hindus might indeed not have any problem with doing that)--then we might as well call them "myths." In any case, we try to be respectful of their beliefs. Why is that so difficult? If they do have a problem with it, then that problem is easily solved by our having a traditional Hindu stories page, with some sentences, high up in the article, explaining that the stories are usually referred to as "myths" in English discussions of them.
  • There would be difficulties when the myths from "ancient polytheistic religions" have been incorporated into a present day religion, e.g., would the idea of the "great flood" need to be omitted from Sumerian mythology article to avoid offending somebody who didn't want it described as a myth?
    • Reply: I don't see what difficulty there would be with referring to the stories of extinct religion R as "myths" even if there are similar stories in extant religions. Why should anyone complain?
      • No way am I an expert, but there seems to be a great deal of reuse of old material in "new" religions. If Judaism became extinct tomorrow, we'd move their bible to mythology, but guess what, somebody's still using it. Religion R may start out with "there is one all-powerful God" (or whatever) and members of extant religion S may say "religion R saw a small part of the truth. why do you class it as mythology?"
        • Reply: well, I think we need more data from "new" religions here: what do those people actually believe, and in fact are there enough of them for us to really care? (I'm not sure how many is "enough," no...) But, yes, polite people generally do not refer to other people's religions as myth. If you can find me a person who objects to our calling Greek, Roman, etc. myth as "myth," on grounds that extant religions have some similar stories, I'll be very impressed. -- Hey, Simon, you can have the last word. I think I have made my point as well as I can make it.

Option 2Edit

Call the stories of both the ancient polytheistic religions, and of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, "myth". Explain clearly that we are using "myth" here

PROS:

  • Does not discriminate between ancient polytheistic religions, and Judaism, Christianity and Islam, nor show bias towards the latter
  • Shows clearly the similarities, and allows easy comparison, between stories of the different religions, both polytheistic and monotheistic
  • People will be expecting to find the stories of the ancient Greek and Roman religions under the name "mythology"

CONS:

  • Some people may be offended by calling the Jewish, Christian and Islamic stories "myth". Even if we explain that we are using "myth" in a neutral sense, without intending to say anything about the truth or falsehood of the stories, or the rationality of the people who believe these stories, the word "myth" still has connontations of falsehood in most people's minds, connontations that may be impossible to avoid

Option 3Edit

Avoid use of the words 'myth' and 'mythology' altogether. Refer to the stories of both groups of religions as simply 'religious stories' or some other term.

PROS:

  • Does not discriminate between ancient polytheistic religions, and Judaism, Christianity and Islam, nor show bias towards the latter
  • Does not suffer from any unavoidable negative connontations that the word 'myth' may have, when applied to the stories of either set of religions

CONS:

  • People will be expecting the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions to be listed under 'myths'. The use of non-standard terminology may confuse people, and may make it hard for people to find what they are looking for.
  • English lacks a simple, clear, and easy to use alternative to the word 'myth'. 'Religious stories' is a mouthful, and does not clearly refer to what we are talking about (many Christian novels, for instance, could be called 'Christian religious stories', but only literature like the Bible, and some other sources, is really comparable to polytheistic mythology)

Option 4Edit

Call the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions "myths" or "mythology"; do NOT apply the words "myth" and "mythology" to the sacred texts of modern religions; DO apply the words "myth" and "mythology" to certain relevant non-sacred stories that are linked to religious themes or traditions. For example, compare Christian mythology and Bible stories.

PROS:

  • Few people are likely to be offended by calling the stories of the ancient polytheistic religions "myths" or "mythology".
  • People will be expecting to find the stories of the ancient Greek and Roman religions under the name "mythology".
  • Does not apply negative connotations to anyone's current religious beliefs.
  • Still allows consideration of non-sacred stories as myth.

CONS:

  • Treats ancient religions and modern religions slightly differently.
  • Some people may be offended by the implications of any word structure that puts "Mythology" next to "Christian."

NOTE: This option is a variation on option 1 above; maybe we could we merge the two?

Option 5Edit

Call the stories / myths "legends." This word has almost the same denotation as the first definition of "myth" listed above, but does not have the negative connotation.

PROS:

  • The word mostly lacks the negative qualities of "myth."

CONS:

  • Possible difficulty for people looking for "myths," although redirects could be used.
  • Although the negative conontations for this word are not as strong as for "myth", it still has some negative conontations, and thus some people might still be offended if we apply it to their religion. Huh? I've never heard of "Legend" being used in a negative way. Ever.
Calling something a 'legend' or 'legendary' can also give an implication that it is false, although the implication is not as strong as it is for 'myth'. Legend in some usages is a synonym for 'myth': see e.g. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, sense 3 "Any wonderful story coming down from the past, but not verifiable by historical record; a myth; a fable." [1]
Right, but a synonym does not necessarily carry the connotation of the original word, as in the case of legend. The whole point of the word "legend" is to be something upon which people can agree, provided they have no axe to grind (i.e. that they are not dedicated to using the word "myth" to imply falsehood and that they are not dedicated to the word in question implying absolute veracity) --Alex Kennedy

Option 6Edit

Call the stories "Fooism Mythology and <Religious> Stories", and include both stories Fooism believe to be true and stories Fooism believes to be false. Let the reader decide which they think are false and which are true. Do not include stories directly from scripture unless there are mythological beliefs as well, outside the scripture itself, and then discuss the mythological aspects. IOW, consider scripture outside of mythology (as in 4 above).

PROS:

  • No implication is made about any individual story's truth or falsity. Few people are likely to be offended by acknowledging that all religions have some "mythology" in the pejorative sense, as long as we don't call any particular story a myth.
  • Usage is true to convention for Greek Mythology, etc., with two extra words added.
  • Does not perpetuate bias against any group.
  • Allows you to compare and contrast the stories on their historical and literary qualities without involving their truth except as side notes as to who believes them, staying npov.

CONS:

  • Some people still might be offended by the use of "mythology" in reference to *any* stories, but this seems unlikely as long as we make sure the set of stories includes some they consider false or legendary (e.g., Holy Grail myths for Christians).
  • It's a bit wordy

Option 7Edit

Sometimes there is a well-defined English standard. Greek mythology is called Greek mythology by pretty much everyone, and in fact Greek religion means something somewhat broader. Further the term is not inaccurate in anyone's book, since myth doesn't necessarily imply falsehood (Tolkien, a devout Christian and linguist, had no problems with calling the resurrection a myth). We shouldn't be in the business of revising the language, we should be in the business of informing people about the topic, so when such a standard exists we should simply adopt it.

Tolkien never called the resurrection "a myth". He called it "the true myth" unique amoung mythology (Tolkien saw all mythology as having "shards" of truth) in that it actually happened in history -- Asa Winstanley - Yeah, I know. Being the true myth makes you a myth.

CONS:

  • This option seems a bit ambiguous. It doesn't seem to clearly answer the question "What should we call the stories of the Bible? Should we call them myths or not?"

DiscussionEdit

Option 4 provided by Cayzle (By the way, thanks, Simon, for making this page!)

My preference is also for option 2; this encyclopedia isn't supposed to be written "for" any particular cultural group, and that includes Christians. I see no reason to give their myths special treatment compared to other equivalent stories and/or beliefs just because there are more of them online at the moment. Failing that, I'd accept option 4. I don't like option 3 but I could live with it if the alternative is endless edit-wars, and I really don't like option 1. - BD

My preference is obviously for option 5, since I wrote it. I disagree that using "myths" for everything religious would make the 'pedia NPOV. I think this would promote an atheist point of view (which is not the same as a neutral point of view) --Alex Kennedy

Heh. English is an enormous and akward Frankenstein's monster of a language, but every once and a while that huge lump of vocabulary comes in handy. "Greek Legends" sounds reasonable to me. - BD

My preference is six, since I just added it. Failing that, 2, 3, 4. --Dmerrill

My first preference is still option 2. I'd be okay with option 5 if it involved calling both polytheistic and Jewish/Christian/Islamic stories "legends" -- I'm concerned though that calling Christian stories legends may still offend people, for the term has some negative conontations, although they are not as bad as the word 'myth'. My next choice, after 2 and 5, would be option 3. Options 1, 4 and 6 would be for me my last choice -- I think the three options are fundamentally identical; the only difference is that options 4 and 6 recognizes that there are some Christian stories, (e.g. King Arthur, St. George and the Dragon, etc.), which are probably safe to call 'myths', since few people believe them today. Also, option 6 seeks to separate myth from scripture, but how can we do that in the case of the Greeks or Romans? They didn't have what I would call scripture, so then option 6 isn't really different from option 4, it just has slightly different terminology. Alternatively, maybe we can consider the works of Homer, Hesiod, Vergil, etc., to be scripture -- but in that case many of the stories we commonly call mythology would fall under scripture, not mythology. I'm not exactly sure what option 7 involves (the wording of the option above doesn't clearly answer the question "should we call the stories of the Bible myth or not?"). The main principle that I think ought to be followed in this is: being NPOV is a more fundamental value for an encyclopedia than either clarity or avoiding offense.

I think its a good thing that people have added options in addition to the three I originally provided, but I think we should try to prune the options available down from 7 to a more manageable number, to help us decide more clearly. I would propose merging options 1 and 4 together, and removing option 7 (unless its author wants to try to make clearer exactly what it proposes.) -- SJK

Option 7 was actually intended more as a constraint on what our options are, then an option in and of itself. The whole stories from the Greek religion thing was silly, firstly because there were several Greek religions, but more particularly because Greek mythology is the almost universal name for those. Whatever are standards end up as, we want to call them myths, because that is what they are called - even to the point of inconsistency, I'd say.

I'm a Christian and I kinda favour 6. But i would prefer scriptures are refered to as stories, extra scriptual as myths and polytheistic stuff as myths (i understand this in the Tolkien way - containing elements of truth, that are ultimately looking forwards to the "true myth" - the life death and ressurection of Jesus Christ.). Failing those, 1. There is a huge difference between (e.g.) the Iiliad and (e.g.) the Bible. Hmm.. maybe merging 1&4 will producing something good. We'll see - Asa Winstanley

Asa, I can see how there is a huge difference between the Iliad and the Bible from the point of view of your personal religious beliefs -- but can you point to any huge and relevant religiously neutral differences (i.e. major differences, which are relevant to what we should call them, and which both a Christian and an ancient Greek who believed the Iliad could agree on)? -- SJK
Some people may be concerned that the term "greek mythology" is nothing more than Christian propoganda against polytheistic religions. What is the origin of the term, anyway? -- hagedis

I guess you already know what I think about this. I think most of these options are obvious nonstarters. --LMS

I have added "replies" under three points above. I hope no one minds. Feel free to reply to the replies, of course (that'd only be fair). --LMS

Someone added to my point about some saying that "myth" is used without the intention of implying falsehood that the some was "a minority of English speakers". You missed the point. Pick up a book about Greek myths. Is the message of the book going to be "These are all made up stories and you shouldn't believe in them unless you are stupid or irrational"? I don't think so. So even if the reader, when they hear the word "myth", may get the impression that we are saying "you are a fool if you believe them", most of the time that is not our intention -- our intention is to talk about the content of the myths. -- SJK

However, part of the point is also that you will be a fool if you don't think that these stories have something serious to say (why we use the word "myth" rather than "fable", "folktale", "silly story", etc.)
Simon, if you're going to attempt to make a Wikipedia policy page, be prepared for it to be generally edited; you don't control it. I think you're misunderstanding the point. The point is not that some people believe "myth" means "false story," pure and simple. Notice that the definition says myths "are not to be relied upon as true, though, for all we know, they might be true." This doesn't imply that people are fools to believe myths, but they certainly would be gullible to believe anything simply handed down by tradition, without further evidence. Again, I am firmly persuaded that this is how most people understand what "myth" means.
I don't own this page -- everyone has the right to edit it. But, IIRC, I originally wrote that sentence, and the addition of "a minority of English speakers" makes it say something different from what I was trying to say. I was trying to say that, in most serious discussions of ancient myths (as opposed to other uses of the word "myth"), the primary point of using the word "myth" is not to convey the idea that they are false or ought not be believed or are probably not true, but rather that they are stories with certain features. It is not a usage; it is an opinion about most people's usage in that particular context. Adding "a minority of English speakers" seems to me to be a misunderstanding that this represents a usage rather than an opinion about most people's usages -- SJK

Some may consider what I'm about to say non-contributory, but I think this whole discussion is a bit silly. Setting policy on acceptable word-use to avoid offending people is, in my mind, dopey. Anything that is written will offend somebody. Instead of worrying about what readers will think (since if they have a strong opinion, they can just edit the entries), just write what you think. Standards of this kind are, in my mind, unnecessary, misguided, and stifling. --TheCunctator

Actually, I think now I agree with you Cunctator. I was so concerned about how this should be done, I didn't stop to consider if it should be done. Its not really needed. AW
Well, we certainly don't need a "Wikipedia Religion and Mythology standards" page to discuss this tiny issue. I'm insisting on the point mainly because I think it's very important what our joint understanding of what the neutral point of view policy entails--but also, indeed, because we shouldn't offend large important classes of Wikipedia writers and readers simply because we think it's sophisticated and clever to refer to Christian traditional stories as "myth." My impression is that some people (not just Simon or the original author of Christian Mythology) are adamant about not going out of their way to accommodate views with which they disagree. I am trying to encourage the view that we should do this as much as we can. Even though I am not a Christian, I think it is extremely important that we do our best not to trivialize their opinions, and I think I've got excellent reason to believe that using the phrase "Christian mythology" uncritically, without deep discussion of the very meaning and import of the phrase, does trivialize their opinions. Moreover, I am firmly persuaded that we can avoid trivializing their opinions without ignoring what happens to be my own opinion, that in fact, very many traditional Christian stories are little more than myths. --LMS
I created a "Wikipedia Religion and Mythology standards" page because I thought this sort of discussion belongs on some form of meta page, not any particular article's Talk page, since it could touch several different articles. The inspiration for the name came from "Wikipedia History standards" -- possibly if we had this page here, people might be inspired to add other standards/guidelines/proposals/whatever to it. Secondly, calling Christian stories myths should not offend anyone if we make clear what definition of "myth" we are using when we do so. (Of course, some people may still be offended after this, but people like that aren't using their noggins.) I'm not trying to trivalize the opinions of Christians -- I'm an on and off Christian myself. This dispute has absolutely nothing to do with people's views about religion, it is about what meaning should we attach to the word "myth", a word which is used in two different senses (however much most people fail to clearly distinguish them). And I'm not too sure what deep discussion you need here -- explaining that "when we call a story a myth, we are not saying it is false or dubious or unlikely to be true: despite the popular usage to the contrary, we are merely saying that it is a story about events that it claims happened in the past, and which express the beliefs, morals, etc" of the people who believe it. Isn't that deep enough? -- SJK



From a lurker...

I think Option 4 makes the most sense, with one modification. I would take stories like St. George and the dragon, etc., as "legendary". Why? precisely because of the nuance that "legend" gives...i.e., maybe just a little more rooted in something historical. By the same token, I'd want to put Gilgamesh under legend rather than myth...maybe. It's a fuzzy area. Back to the main point, though -- It's perfectly sensible to discuss ancient myth vs. sacred texts. First, there is a rich tradition in English-language scholarship that supports it. Second, ancient religion, at least for the Greeks and Romans (and I think for the Celts and Germans, from what we actually can prove) was about worship, NOT BELIEF. Belief was not required, just the proper observation of ritual. Third, one of the old standards of myth still holds -- most, if not all, myths, explain natural phenomena within the context of actions of gods and heroes. With the exception of the creation story and the flood in the Bible, most of it doesn't fit that definition of myth. --My $.05

I'd be interested in some more detail on this "rich tradition" of scholarship that supports "ancient myth vs. sacred texts". Secondly, belief was, at least in some cases, required -- remember Socrates' trial on charges of atheism? Third, I admit that is a difference between most ancient myths and most Bible stories (but there are some differences), but even if that is true, and we shouldn't call those bible stories myths, stories like the Creation, Fall and the Flood are myths, and have a lot of analogs in other cultures (countless creation myths; lots of flood myths in that area as well; also quite a few cultures have explanations of how evil entered the world, e.g. Pandora's box). -- SJK

A lot of the problem has to do with word connotations.

Story

Can easily be made clear through context whether it's a traditional tale, a modern composition by a named author; intended as fiction, history, etc.

Legend

Works for old stories like Robin Hood.

Myth (a) old story or (b) false story

It's hard to apply myth to widely held current beliefs, especially religious beliefs. This usage offends or bewilders the faithful (like me). Exception: "creation myth" seems okay somehow (don't ask me why, it just does).

If anyone is worried about the wikipedia inadvertently endorsing a particular religious view (or even religion in general), we already have a way with dealing with that. There are many NOPV phrases such as:

widely held
no longer generally believed
according to some
hotly contested

Ed Poor


I wouldn't characterize those as NPOV phrases, but as vaguely qualifying phrases.

... or as they're known in marketing circles, weasel words.

I have the answer, and it is simple. 'Saga' can be used instead of myth (which does have certain connotations). I don't find the same one with saga.

Maybe it is just that the ancients preferred alegory? A true myth: Wheat grows best if the sower is nude! This may be because a compassionate (but maybe not omnipotent) God sees the sower as too poor to buy clothes, as originally proposed, or perhaps it is because it is not very convenient to be walking naked on either wet or baked land, or when the wind blows, or the weather is unpleasant? Now, guess what conditions are ideal for seed germination?


Of all the options I support Option 4 best. I think the King Arthur stories are certainly okay to be called 'legend' or 'myth.' However, texts like the Bible or the Torah should be treated with respect and to label it as a 'myth' sounds as if there is no proof that it is real, and that it's sort of a fairy tale. Things that aren't directly in the Bible, for instance, wouldn't offend nearly as many people as calling things actually in the Bible a 'myth.' For instance, calling the flood in the Bible the deluge myth could be pretty painful to people who truly believe in it. Calling those things a 'myth' might not be neutral, actually - it could be writing from the side of unbelievers.

If Option 4 is really disliked, then, okay, Option 3. It's not as good as Option 4, because stuff like Greek mythology so few people believe, and so little proof exists that any of it is true, that to term it a myth would be just fine. For some religions, like Judaism, or Christianity, not calling them a myth might be offensive.

So, I think Option 4 is the best. It would be much less offensive to most people.

And by the bye, I do not think the 'legend' option is very good, if you will allow me to say so. Legend still implies that the belief is false, and this can still be offensive. Though it's a little better than myth there isn't enough difference to make it a good solution. Classical Esther 07:05, 20 December 2009 (UTC)


I support Option 3. It allows for remaining neutral about religion, without making any distinction. Another option suggested redirects, and I think they could be applied so people can still find what they are looking for. Aroni125 20:47, 4 January 2010 (UTC)