MythBusters is one of The Discovery Channel’s most popular shows. It ran 15 seasons and still finds success in reruns.
Each episode focuses on a couple of popular beliefs or rumors, like “Can drinking Diet Coke and swallowing Mentos make your stomach explode?” or “Is running better than walking if you want to keep dry in the rain?” The hosts then test the beliefs through a number of experiments, to see if the idea holds up under scientific study.
MythBusters is a show that is comical and educational. It takes a common idea in society and shows how the myth gets “busted” from the scientific standpoint.
But you’ll never see a MythBusters episode about the purpose of life. You won’t find the hosts tackling the question, “What happens to us when we die?” Or “Is there a divine presence in the world?” These questions go beyond the stuff of scientific study. They are common and contested.
The Bigger Myths
As Christians, we recognize that not every question can be reduced to science. There are bigger myths—common ideas in our society—that cannot be proven or disproved by the scientific method.
The subtitle for This Is Our Time is “everyday myths in light of the gospel.” The kind of myth I have in view goes beyond the “five-second rule” that says food remains uncontaminated for a moment after it falls to the ground. I’m writing about the myths that undergird our lives, the ideas that give shape to our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
Brian Godawa quotes mythologist Joseph Campbell as saying that a myth is a metaphor for a mystery beyond human comprehension. We seek truth by telling stories as a way of understanding ourselves in the world.
Likewise, psychoanalyst Bruno Bettleheim writes:
“Myths and fairy stories both answer the eternal questions: What is the world really like? How am I to live my life in it? How can I truly be myself?”
“A story incarnates the myths and values of a culture with the intent of perpetuating them.”
Christians believe in the importance of stories. We don’t believe that we are here through the blind chance of evolutionary forces. We don’t believe that morality is useful, but not universal. We see ourselves within a story told by a Divine Author who has put into motion a plan of redemption. We believe, as J. R. R. Tolkien told C. S. Lewis, that the Christian myth—the story of the Son of God dying and rising again— happens to be true. The myth became fact, as Lewis would later write.
The Everyday Myths
But what about “everyday myths”? What about the idea that money buys happiness, or that the good life is the social life represented by constant connection through a smartphone, or that the purpose of life is to discover and express yourself? These are ideas—myths that cannot be proved or disproved on an episode of MythBusters. And yet, they give shape and order to the lives of people all around us.
Christians ought to be the best myth busters. That is, we ought to be able to recognize the stories that affect society and all the people in it, ourselves included. And we ought to recognize both the longings and the lies in the stories we tell ourselves.
It’s one thing to “bust” a myth, to simply contrast the Christian worldview with the false stories on display in the world. But it’s another thing to listen carefully to the people around us, so that we observe the yearning that may be expressed in that common belief.
For example, it would be easy for a Christian to chastise people who believe the purpose of life is to “look inside yourself and be true to whoever you find,” right? It’s the stuff of Disney and Oprah. It’s shallow. It’s impossible. It’s contradictory. It’s easy to mock.
But it’s essential to do the harder work of recognizing why this view of life is appealing in the first place. What do people hope to discover when they look inside themselves? What longing for happiness and joy lies at the root of this view of life?
Listen first. Then, when we play the role of myth busters, we won’t ever make people feel inferior or stupid. No, the gospel ought to make people feel relieved. We have good news in that the exhausting, never-ending search for joy in the caverns of one’s own self is actually available through the selfless sacrifice of Someone outside of ourselves.
Listen for the Longing
Christian myth busters don’t just point out what’s wrong in the worldviews of others; they embody what’s true, and good, and beautiful in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So that others want the gospel to be true.
Francis Schaeffer was once asked what he would say if he had an hour to present the gospel to someone. He said he’d listen for 55 minutes and then spend the last five minutes sharing the gospel. Now that’s a myth buster—someone who listens carefully in order to bring the light of the gospel to the longings and lies expressed in a sinner’s heart. And that’s what we need if we are to be faithful in the 21st century.