Unfortunately in our 'scientific' age myths are often seen as fairy tales which we need to dispense with in order to complete our transition from our barbaric and primitive past and take up our glorious future ruled by science and technology. The negative attitude towards myth and creativity in the artistic sense which often doesn't follow the rules of logic and empirical scientific investigation which often comes from scientists, analytical philosophers and others has in many ways had a dark and crushing effect on an essential human capacity, that to make art.
Armstrong in this book aims to redress this imbalance between the 'mythos' and the 'logos' in our culture. Armstrong rightly argues that in pre-modern societies, myth and logic were seen as essential and also complementary to human existence. Myth, often involving the combining of religion, story, creative dramas (which re-enact some primordial event or process which often takes place in a more perfect archetypal world) and ritual, gave humans a sense of the sacred in life and also put them in touch with their unconcious selves and allowed them to deal with psychic imbalances or traumas which would otherwise result in mental breakdown. (The modern forms of psychotherapy seem to play a similar role to myth). The function of logos was to approach reality in a rational and discursive manner, analysing and breaking down reality into simpler parts and making practical decisions about a problem. Ancient science, philosophy, economics and politics all used logos to arrive at truth.
Both in Armstrong's view helped humans keep balanced and sane in an often painful and terrifying world where the conditions of existence were difficult and precarious at best, and humans often lived between existence and annihalation, and helped them deal with mysteries such as birth, aging and death.
However, myth was devalued and discarded when the rise of capitalism and the scientific revolution, which enshrined logos as the surest and only path to reliable truth, about the world and ourselves. This is exemplified in the physics of Newton and the rationalist philosophy of Descartes, which expelled the irrational as valid forms of knowledge in favour of empiricism, mathematical logic and science. This project reached its zenith with the Enlightenment and with logical positivism in the 20th century, which aimed to clear away all metaphysical and mythical accretions from all knowledge.
However, this imbalance had a dark side, as the collapse of mythos also led in a large extent to the collapse of organised religion in the West as well as the repression of the emotions and also leaving a dark vacuum in human life, crying out for a sense of meaning in a seemingly pointless and empty universe. The triumph of science and technology also brought its own problems, from environmental pollution to nuclear weapons.
In Armstrong's view it is imperative humanity regain a sense of mythos to balance logos. While it may not be realistic to resurrect some myths from our past, Armstrong feels creative artists will in the future help restore mythos by delving into their unconcious selves which are the roots of creativity, and in so doing transform civilisation through providing a renewed sense of transcendance. While I don't agree entirely with this argument, it does have its merits and in many ways religion needs to be approached not as a dogmatic set of truths about things as they are, but rather as a work of creative art which gives us a sense of purpose and value in our lives and the world. Certainly a lot of valuable work in religion and theology is recovering the creative aspect to religion and myth, and is showing religion is very much an artistic process of creation.
The future will need both scientists and artists to develop a deeper sense of the unity between ourselves and nature. Certainly science indicates we are deeply rooted in the natural world and to other creatures by virtue of evolution, but also mystics and theologians sense our sacred connection to all in the sense of sharing in Being. The task is for a bridge to be formed between these, which is not made easy by dogmatists in all areas fighting to keep religion/science/art/theology 'pure' from anything which may 'taint' their fundamental truths. We will need to learn to be more balanced in our approach to reality than we have been, and Armstrong points in a positive direction as to how we might bring this about.