As a general rule we have little difficulty living by the fictions we invent. Fictions are things "made up." We recognize that they are not actually true, but we act "as if" they were. The difficulty, however, is that some fictions harden into myths.
For example, we sometimes fudge the truth by creating conscious fictions about ourselves to put things in a better light rather than the harsh light of actuality, and think of them as only slight "exaggerations." Often we end up believing our own fictions, and even include them in our personal resumes. Thus have we consciously imposed a fictional pattern on our personal reality, which becomes a datum in our personal story. Over time some forget that it was once only a fiction.
Society also creates fictions to live by. In the recent court case of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby et al. Justice Alito cited the dictionary as part of the justification for regarding corporations as "persons," when they concluded corporations can have religious beliefs. Corporations are fictional legal entities that can conduct business, acquire property, and sue or be sued, etc. As legal entities they serve as shields for Boards of Directors. Even the most naïve among us, however, know that legal entities are not persons, for the first dictionary definition of person is "human being." Corporations, do not have physical bodies and hence can neither make love, nor perform other human bodily functions. They cannot think, feel, worship, or pray. Therefore corporations cannot have "personal" religious beliefs as people do, even though the members of the Board of Directors of a corporation doubtless do have religious scruples. Nevertheless the fiction that corporations are "persons" is now the law which governs our entire society. The Supreme Court simply forgot that only Mother Nature can make a person. What mischief this legal fiction will lead to in the future remains to be seen.
Even scholars create fictions. A good example is the collection of literary material shared by Matthew and Luke but is not found in Mark. The source for this literary material is believed to be a hypothetical (fictional) gospel source, which is called Q (i.e., Quelle, i.e., Source). Most New Testament scholars subscribe to the fiction that this collection of material comes from an actual written text that is no longer extant. Degrees have been awarded, careers established, and money made on Q articles, commentaries, and theologies—forgetting, it seems, that Q is only a convenient fiction for explaining gospel relationships.
Even church folk create religious fictions, forgetting in time that they are only fictions. In a brief essay in the Springfield News-Leader on July 6, 2014 Rev. Cliff Rawley argued that Scripture "if used correctly" is a "proven resource of positive transformation…a guide to a peaceful life." Rawley recognizes, however, that the Bible contains both positive and negative ideas, and used incorrectly it can be exploited for purposes detrimental and destructive to society. He recites a litany of many who have misused the Bible for destructive ends. But if the Bible is subject to exploitation by those who use it incorrectly, whence comes the idea that the Bible is an infallible guide? The answer is that the infallibility of the Bible is a church fiction that has become doctrinal truth. If the Bible can be misused by anyone who chooses to do so, it cannot be "infallible," since it has an inherent potential for misuse.
Here is an example of a religious fiction turning into a myth. Pausanias (2nd century A. D.), a Greek traveler and geographer, wrote a description of Greece, noting religious customs and traditions. He described the beginning of the Hero cult of Theagenes of Thasos. Theagenes was actually a famous athlete, a boxer, wrestler, and runner in fifth century B. C. Greece, who won awards in the Olympic Games in 480 and 476 B. C. It was rumored that he was actually the son of the divine Herakles, rather than the priest Timosthenes. By the second century B. C., however, Theagenes was credited with curing diseases, and receiving divine honors as a God at cult centers in different parts of Greece (Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book VI [Elis II]. 11.1-9). The fiction that great achievers in life have an affinity with the Gods, in time became the myth that the Divine Theagenes cures diseases and deserves to be worshipped.
What are your thoughts?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending. Studies in the Theory of Fiction (Oxford: University Press, 1967), 39.
Hans Vahinger, The Philosophy of "As If": A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind (C. K. Ogden trans; New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1925).