Some recent discussions about overly-literal readings of Greek mythology, discussions I’ve had about the danger of ossification and text-worship in reconstructionist method, thoughts about overly-literal interpretations of Christian mythology (and that nasty word “sola scriptura” ) have led to this: “Are Tradition and Practice the Epigenetics of Religion?”
See, in biology, you can’t just read off the DNA in the genome and expect to get an organism. It just doesn’t work that way. The path from raw DNA goes through various steps of transcription and translation, as well as processes of genes being expressed and genes being silenced.
If you just naively read the following string of letters, you’d get gibberish:
But if I cross out some letters, and boldface others, and add a space, in the right way (using instructions not contained in the original string of letters,mind you!)
ASD BHXU LLNA YPOH MNBA YT XCLH WREO DFGR
DUA HATHOR… you get something that makes sense.
It seems like something broadly similar happens with religion. If you only go by the myths or primary texts (or secondary texts), you get an incomplete, nonsensical, and distorted picture of a religion as how it was/actually is practiced. If you try to base a religion on this, it will be deformed and rigid, some sort of creaky freaky undead thing. (And will probably unwittingly import incompatible assumptions from one’s previous religion,to boot)
Based on this, the project of using only scriptures (or texts, whether ancient primary sources or scholarly secondary sources) is like using only the DNA and then expecting a viable organism to result.
This is very much relevant to those of us in revivalist-type religions, or practice reconstructionism as a methodology. In a sense, we are left with only the DNA. It’s up to us to practice, and allow new traditions to form from this practice, and marry to the old traditions, to grow a new tree from a cutting of the old.
I doubt I’m the first to say something like this, but it came to mind tonight, the way it did, so I’ve written it down.
Apologies if I’ve done any violence to biology here. This is more about religion than biology, but the biological concept gave me a useful (IMHO) way to look at something.