The importance of myth

Howard Jacobson defends “Creation”

When I began blogging on religion and unbelief for the New Statesman, I introduced the strand on our website with an article in which I lamented that debate in this area had ceased to be a conversation and had become dominated instead by aggressive assertion. After watching Howard Jacobson's excellent programme on Creation in Channel 4's new series The Bible: a History, I feel that I have found an ally.

"Let's confront the absolutists: those who absolutely believe, and those who don't," said Jacobson. "Blind faith is fatuous. So is blind doubt." It was touching to hear the novelist and columnist, who is not a believer, admit that he still feels strongly drawn to the poetry and mystery of religion, both in its texts and in its practice. "There is something there that is not negligible," he said. "I want to honour that."

His strongest message, however, was that science is too reluctant to allow for any mystery about our existence and purpose. I noted down this exchange with the moral philosopher Mary Midgley, still feisty at 90:

MM: Science's purpose is the search for certainty.
HJ: Like religion?
MM: Oh yes, but not so nutritious.

I thought that a delightful -- and mischievous -- way of putting it. Jacobson argued that one thing which infuriated him was the suggestion that mankind had been mired in stupidity for thousands of years until science came along to enlighten us all. I agree with him: that's surely wrong, as well as astoundingly arrogant. As Jacobson said towards the end of the programme: "A myth does not shrivel at the first dry touch of science."

We can debate their truth and we can even debate if they're provable (though that's really to miss their point), but those myths have provided us human beings with meat and drink for the soul throughout our history. Such nutrition should not lightly be cast aside.

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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Tony Blair won't endorse the Labour leader - Jeremy Corbyn's fans are celebrating

The thrice-elected Prime Minister is no fan of the new Labour leader. 

Labour heavyweights usually support each other - at least in public. But the former Prime Minister Tony Blair couldn't bring himself to do so when asked on Sky News.

He dodged the question of whether the current Labour leader was the best person to lead the country, instead urging voters not to give Theresa May a "blank cheque". 

If this seems shocking, it's worth remembering that Corbyn refused to say whether he would pick "Trotskyism or Blairism" during the Labour leadership campaign. Corbyn was after all behind the Stop the War Coalition, which opposed Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq. 

For some Corbyn supporters, it seems that there couldn't be a greater boon than the thrice-elected PM witholding his endorsement in a critical general election. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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