Before the Enlightenment, all of Western society was based on the Fall and Redemption of man. Medieval society began to fracture when ancient Greek and Roman texts were discovered in monastic libraries and basements, and these texts undermined the theme, the story, the myths, that held that society together.
Before anyone gets in a huff about my use of the word myth, realize that “myths” are always other people’s religions, not your own. I jest.
But myth/story/theme are interchangeable in this context. If you prefer the word “truths” go ahead.
A poem by the Roman poet Lucretius, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) was found in one of these libraries. Its ideas on the happiness of the individual contributed greatly to the slow death of the Medieval Church and royal power that held Europe in their grasp for over a millennium.
The idea of the “individual” was just too strong to hold back once it was unleashed upon the world.
What If You Have No Religion, no God to Believe In?
To people living before the Enlightenment, the idea that there was no God was inconceivable. It simply wouldn’t have been considered. And there was great comfort in that belief. Life on earth was anything but easy, it was a struggle. Plague, famine, war, and crippling taxes were ever present in Medieval life
Beyond the threat to life itself, society was static. You had no real choices. Your station in life was set at birth.
Aspirations? You had none. You couldn’t read. You didn’t travel. You knew nothing but your village and what you were taught at Church. Unless you were recruited to fight for the the King. Then maybe you’d travel.
Life wasn’t about being happy. Life on earth was just a brief layover before arriving at your final destination. The great resort in the sky.
Thus, belief in an eternal afterlife made earthly existence bearable. Tragedy may befall you, but comfort could be obtained through knowing your loved ones were with God, and you would be too, someday.
Many people still hold these beliefs today. Others don’t. Other have some doubt. In Europe, religion has withered away. The US is more religious, at least in the number of people who profess to believe in God. But belief in God doesn’t mean everyone believes all of religion’s teachings.
So what if the Fall and Redemption theme doesn’t do it for you?
What holds you together when disaster strikes and all your carefully constructed plans fall apart?
If your entire family was wiped out, what would you live for?
If you lost your job, what would get you out of bed in the morning?
What do you have that prevents life from feeling entirely empty?
When doubt and anxiety pops up, as it inevitably will, how do you talk yourself down from the ledge? How do you slay those annoying voices in your head, the unceasing dialogue in your brain?
What’s your myth?
Currently, I’m 37, single, and childless. I’m at the age that people start wondering why. I wonder why. I wonder if it even matters.
I ponder these things. But they don’t consume me.
I enjoy my life and am under no illusion that being married and having kids will make it substantially better. If it happens, it happens. My myth is that helping people is the only thing that brings any lasting contentment. So that’s what I do. I help people through teaching them to dance and help them improve their health. I also love talking about life and the pursuit of happiness. That’s my bliss. It keeps me going.
Because my myth sustains me, because I’m following my bliss, I tend not to judge my life’s success on whether I have a family or not. I judge success by how many people I help, how many people I bring good cheer to.
That’s my myth that holds me together.