Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The spell of a story
Neil Gaiman said it perfectly: "It is never just dreams."
Just because something is not made up of the same things we could touch and see -- matter, in short -- doesn't mean they're not real nor unimportant. Wishes, hurts, laughter, longing, memories -- these are things that are just as real as wood and stones, and infinitely more powerful.
It's the same thing with stories, or myths. Most people dismiss them as frivolous, and these are mostly the same people you see who are always rushing on the highway because their precious reports are already late. "To see is to believe," we say; and if we can't touch something, then it's just in our heads.
We regard myths as something unworthy of devotion, even attention -- as if they lose their power just because we can't prove their accuracy. But that's not how we should look at it. Myths are pervasive dreams -- our specie's way of teaching important issues that will stand the test of time.
Think of the Creation account in Genesis. Most people stumble on the obvious scientific inconsistencies in that account. And because it doesn't agree with their notions of 'provable facts,' they deem the bible unworthy of belief. Because the story would not stand up to the scientific process, they judge it untrue.
It is unfair, I think, to subject the Creation account to the same validation process we employ on the things that we can observe in the present. For one, Genesis is not titled 'Genesis: A scientific treatise on how I made the Universe by God.' To require the same scientific elements on it would be like criticizing a dictionary for not having a plot. The times were different; the methodology was different.
I would not presume to know the mind of the Master of the Universe, but I would think that He didn't use scientific jargon precisely for our benefit. Considering that what we consider as 'truth' as science defines it has, is, and will probably still change in the future [remember when the brightest minds in the planet thought that the atom was the smallest unit ever? or that the earth was flat?], it is for our own sakes that He used a simple, dignified story about a man, a woman and a garden so that people in all of history can understand it. Can you imagine if God used science on how to explain creation? How could Galileo have understood quarks and black holes? How could we understand it if God explained Creation through concepts no scientist has thought of yet?
Myths and stories stand the test of time precisely because they go beyond the ever-changing and fickle trends of our standards. They can't be proven because they don't have to. They are the articulation of our hopes and dreams, they are the longings that we all share.
As Gaiman's Puck said in "A midsummer night's dream" -- the first (and only?) comic to receive the prestigious World Fantasy Award for Short Story -- "just because something didn't happen, doesn't make it untrue."