05/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Revisionist Interpretation of Myths

"The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion."
--John Updike

Many conservatives and fundamentalists refer to people like me as revisionists, and I that that as a compliment, because I think stories need to be revised. They need to be seen and heard again with critical eyes and ears for the 21st century. We keep the stories alive when we re-interpret them for ourselves and ask questions about their relevance to our own lives. As it says in Proverbs, "Without vision, the people perish."

Despite my reputation as a liberal, I am pretty conservative in one area: I think we all ought to read the Bible, or whatever the sacred text or texts of our particular religion happens to be. You should read for yourself, instead of relying on secondhand interpretations that might be intended to serve some interest other than your own.

We place our religious resources in grave danger when we rely on so-called authorities to do the interpreting for us. The myths of the Bible, such as the creation myth of Adam and Eve, came out of the collective unconscious. But then, the male authorities of a very patriarchal culture edited the Bible, canonized it, and interpreted it for us. Men were put in charge of the myths and their patriarchal fingerprints contaminated them. That's why I recommend that we read the Bible for ourselves and become our own authorities.

You might be surprised that your experience with the stories may be far different from the first time you heard them, when somebody else interpreted them for you. These rich and varied stories are like diamonds that can be turned over and over, revealing very different facets that can be appreciated in varied lights. They are like literary kaleidoscopes, so that when you turn them in different ways you can see different formations.

If religion is about the business of helping us become human, then these sacred stories are about how to be human. That is what religion is. To me, the idea that these myths welled up out of the collective unconscious is a liberating and empowering realization.

For some, questioning the purported infallibility of the Bible is heretical. For others, it's liberating. I say take whatever train that will get you where you need to go. My own liberation train helps me become my own authority, granting myself the right to critique the self-appointed religious authorities and power brokers, both past and present. That's where the opportunity for growth is.

A large part of the human enterprise is for us to eventually, sometime in our lives, stand up and say, "I'm ready to live my life. I'm going to become my authority and act as the interpreting body for my own life. That's my responsibility - and privilege - and I can't or won't abdicate it to an external authority."

Claiming our autonomy and authority is the most exhilarating part of the human enterprise, and it's something we must do, despite the cost. While the cost is often dear, the cost of not doing so is even greater, for we deny ourselves entry into the kingdom of God. We must choose to start the journey.

My own journey was that I finally woke up one day and said, "I'm going to quit being afraid of this and quit avoiding it. I'm going to get myself to it. I want to get in it and live it. I may make mistakes and I may be criticized, and there will be those who don't like the way I'm doing it, but I'm going to do it."

This is what's commonly called a conversion experience, and when it comes in the form of claiming rather than abdicating authority, of deciding to seek truth and mystery at whatever cost, rather than trying to desperately fix the truth to a dead God image, then it is truly a liberating and life-affirming experience.

We can be liberated from the stringent fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible myths and begin to collaborate with our souls and God to embrace our own conversion in our very own distinct and individual fashion.