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2.25 Bultmann and myth
Rudolf Bultmann (Germany, 1884-1976) was a professor of theology, of Protestant religion. He therefore believed in God, but not in a metaphysical sense; on the contrary, in his thinking, this is precisely the error from which it is necessary to purify the faith. Believers have attributed physical characteristics to contents of faith that must instead be understood and lived in an existential sense. According to Bultmann, when believers describe the contents of faith within worldly coordinates, that is, belonging to the physical world, then they create myth. For example, if the transcendence, that is the superiority of God that goes beyond everything, is expressed in terms of height or spatial distance (we can think, for example, of the of the prayer that, if literally translated from Greek, is “Our Father who are in the skies”), then it happens that a faith content is clothed in a mythical, or mythological, form. So, according to Bultmann, if we want to grasp, for example, the truth of the messages present in the New Testament stories, we must first free them from the mythical covering in which they were incorporated, that is, strip them from their references to physical reality (one can think, for example, at the resurrection of Jesus imagined as a physical exit from the tomb), in one word demitize them, so as to bring out the meaning of those stories that can enrich the existence of man in this world with meaning, authenticity and perspectives (Bultmann takes the concepts of “existential” and “authenticity” from Heidegger, which we will consider shortly). At this point it is easy to understand that Bultmann’s thought was usually rejected by the Catholic sphere, as seen as bringing about an emptying of the contents of the Christian faith and the Bible from any reference to concrete reality.
If, from an anti-metaphysical point of view, Bultmann’s thought can be appreciated today, it must be added that over time the positive value of the mythological tale has gradually recovered. If for Bultmann the mythological contents were like a bark from which to free the existential sense present in the stories, now, after we have learned from Freud the importance of the symbolic languages with which the unconscious expresses itself in dreams, it will be easy to understand that the myth, rather than a peel to be thrown away, should be considered as a precious tool to grasp the sensitivity and many profound characteristics of the human soul. Just as the bizarre and colorful course of a dream can allow the individual to better know who and what he is, in the same way many ancient mythological tales allow us to touch certain characteristics that dwell in the heart of men of all the world and of all times. We can think, for example, of the story of the serpent with Adam and Eve, or that of the universal flood, stories that are not exclusive to the Bible, but, on the contrary, are found with great similarities in the ancient cultures of the whole planet. So the myth, if is appreciated as a language that expresses the depth of the human soul, is an irreplaceable tool to better know who we are, both as individuals and as a whole humanity, in the same way that certain fantasies, phrases, behaviors or drawings made by children, which may seem strange to us, incomprehensible or meaningless at first sight, actually can represent an irreplaceable door of access to understand their soul and to establish with them a more conscious and rich dialogue.