In reading other works by Karen Armstrong, a recurrent theme is the dichotomy between mythos and logos. Mythos implies myth and wonderment. Logos, on the other hand, seeks to make sense of reality through scientific and historic reason. In "A History of God," Armstrong, by examining the development of the three major Western religions, shows the progression from mythos to logos. In that book, it was unclear to me whether Ms. Armstrong, a former nun, believes that this progression is ultimately a good or a bad development. However, here, in "A Short History of Myth," it is clear that Ms. Armstrong decries the disappearance of mythos.
Throughout the ages, myth has developed appropriate to the society of that time, whether it be early hunting societies, later agricultural societies, urban societies or modern society. The early mythology was understood to be mythology. Mythology is a way to get at the truth. I had the opportunity to speak briefly to Ms. Armstrong at a booksigning when I purchased this book. I told her that I believe in God but, I do not view God anthropomorphically. I related to her that God is unimaginable to me but that I nonetheless pray to anthropomorphic mythological images of God because I cannot pray to an abstraction. Ms. Armstrong (to my great pride and delight)heartily endorsed my viewpoint. The tragedy today is that so many people have no appreciation for myth. They either do not believe in any sort of divinity and only accept what can be proven logically, historically, and scientifically or they take an opposite view which also denies myth. This opposite view is that everything in the Bible actually happened and can be proven through reason; that everything is scientifically and historically true and not a myth. A religion that states that you must accept certain doctrines as historically true and accurate or you will not be saved is an example of this type of denial of myth. The view is that the doctrine is historically true and verifiable and that to think otherwise is a sin.
Ms. Armstrong notes that mythology was never meant to be historically and scientifically accurate. Rather, in combination with logos, it is a legitimate way to understand the world around us. Ms. Armstrong notes that in the arts, there are secular myths that have arisen. Nonetheless, she believes that spititual mythology is healthy and necessary. She states, "We must disabuse ourselves of the ninetheenth century fallacy that myth is false or that it represents an inferior mode of thought." She states that we "need myths that will help us identify with all our fellow human beings, not simply those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe." I highly recommend this book as a fine, succinct history of the development of mythology throughout the ages and as a cogent defense of importance that myth holds in a healthy society.