Monday, December 11, 2006

Markus Barth: on demythologization

Bultmann’s program of demythologization is based on a peculiar definition of myth which baffles the reader at the same time by its simplicity and by its disregard of the involved history, development, and scholarly discussion of the myth. According to him, myth is present wherever the unworldly is spoken of in a worldly way, where one speaks of the gods in a human way, where the transcendental is objectivized. It seems as if the whole problem of myth were narrowed down to a specific way of thinking and speaking.

—Markus Barth, “Introduction to Demythologizing,” The Journal of Religion 37:3 (1957), 148.
I think it is worth pointing out that, while Markus Barth is correct in criticizing Bultmann’s limited rather unusual understanding of myth, what Barth demonstrates is precisely why Bultmann should be taken much more seriously than he is. Bultmann is not simply a pawn of the scientific Enlightenment; he is concerned about proper speech about God. Myth is improper because it confines and objectifies God. Myth, in other words, is for Bultmann what metaphysics is to theologians post-Karl Barth. This is why Jüngel is quite right to see a deep correlation between Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity and Bultmann’s program of demythologization: both are concerned about proper talk of God.