This blog post (which Andrew Sullivan linked to this morning) says succinctly what I've been thinking, what I've been trying to put in words, regarding the billboard that some atheist group put up near the Lincoln Tunnel ("You Know It's a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason") and the counter-billboard put up by some Catholics: "You Know it's Real. This Season Celebrate Jesus":
"Myth" is not the same as "falsehood." Myth is a narrative structure used to convey some of the deepest truths we humans can glean. Myths are not believed in but unpacked and lived.
I get irritated to no end by the asinine "Jesus is the reason for the season" garbage we have to listen to this time of year. But I am just as irritated by a lot of the public atheists' responses, which are every bit as asinine. Though this organized atheist effort to rid the public sphere of Christian propaganda is inspired by writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, I don't like how Dawkins' and Hitchens' more distilled, acerbic statements along the lines of "Christians are stupid" get pulled out to support the exasperated atheists -- because both writers obviously are much subtler thinkers and have a lot more than that to say.
Which is to say that I find it unfortunate that the atheist statements in response to the literalist Christmas stupidity are often just as thick-headed. It's ridiculous to justify your Christian faith by insisting that all those stories relate events that really happened. It's just as thick-headed, in this context, to use the word "myth" to mean "lie."
The heart of my objection to this argument is that it cheapens, it disregards, it erases the value of what, as an artist, I do. Artists are myth-makers. Artists are storytellers. The work of an artist lives in that realm where a standard of literal truth or falsehood makes no sense, does not apply. Where the whole point is to be truthful, to say what is real, yet where stories are constantly told which are not objectively verifiably true. The story of Jesus's birth is no more actual than the story of Dorothea and Casaubon's marriage or the story of Mary Richards' job interview, but they all have the power to transform at the molecular level one's very being in this world.