Myth Magic Religion and Survival

Belief in myth and magic is as old as sentient humanity. Many scholars have argued that some form of mythmaking is as integral to "being human'' as are sex and food. Yet, the market for myth—most particularly the demand side of the market—is nebulous and complex. Although the economic approach espoused here does not require a complete comprehension of the characteristics of particular myths or magic, it is important to understand some fundamentals in order to arrive at a conception of demand for particular forms of religion.

The ambiguity and complexity of the demand for religion suggest that we rely on insights from many different fields of human behavior. Psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and psychiatry have all contributed to our understanding of the demand for religion. In developing the concept of demand for religion, at least in its earliest manifestations, it is difficult to distinguish among myth, magic, and religion. Over time, myth tends to morph into magic and magic into religion. Whether this is a kind of natural progression or evolution of ideas is beyond the scope of our analysis. We agree, however, with Stark and Finke that anthropologists have made key contributions to our understanding of primitive forms of myth, magic, and religion.4

The anthropologic view is that humans have a self-induced demand for myth that springs from the vagaries of human life and the persis tent uncertainty about human origins and destinations. Cultural historian Joseph Campbell presents a natural history of gods and myths in which he ascribes myth to the human condition, strongly suggesting that belief in myth is "a primary, spontaneous device of childhood,'' whose "inevitability ...is one of those universal characteristics of man that unite us in one family.''5 Campbell and many cultural anthropologists identify recurring themes and subjects in mythmaking such as creation, death and resurrection, virgin birth, and spiritual or dreamlike existence in another world. Anthropology, in sum, has established a long and involved history of the evolution of myth to magic to highly organized religions—a history that is important for understanding contemporary problems and analyses of religion.

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