Atheist Ramblings - 3.2

From approximately - October 1999

The Growth of Legends...

...A fascinating phenomena of literature and society is the growth of tall tales. From Paul Bunyan, to King Arthur, sometimes the stories are based on real people, sometimes they are built from a combination of people, but in all cases, the stories involve people bigger than life who do amazing things.

...Interestingly enough, when the topic turns to religious figures from Mohammed to David to Jesus, the idea that these figures could somehow be a tall tales is antithetical. Despite the fact that these characters are always demonstrated as larger than life people who do amazing or miraculous things.

How tall can you go?...

...How do tall tales grow so much? Two factors are involved.

...The first is the people who spread the story are rarely the ones involved with the original events. Whether deliberately or not, when they retell the story, they alter some of the events. Each of us mentally edits stories and events when we remember them. This makes lots of sense when you think about how memory works. How likely are you to remember an event that doesn't fit with your overall world-view vice a story that fits perfectly in with the way you expect things to be?

...The second is the human desire to find meaning, especially in tragedies. We want to search for patterns so may attribute a link to events that are unrelated. Those links eventually become part of the story and our memories, to the point where we cannot discriminate them ever being separated.

She said what?...

...A great example is the Cassie Bernall story. Cassie was killed in the tragedy at Columbine. Within hours of the tragedy, we knew she had been shot dead, for reasons unknown. A few days later, a story started circulating about how she was asked if she believed in god, according to the story, her faith in god was such that she said yes, even though she knew it meant death. The gunman then killed her because she said yes (later stories even added the gunman saying something to the effect of "Well, you are about to go meet him").

...This heart wrenching story of faith surely makes Cassie a great martyr and proof of the positive effects of faith (especially when the story is also told of how Cassie's life was miraculously turned around by the church just a few months earlier). Her story was retold any number of times, with her own mother even writing a best selling book. The gunmen have been painted as perfect examples of why we need prayer in school and how evil non-xtians can be.

...But she didn't say yes. The accounts that had her speaking to the gunman didn't match with the crime investigators study of the clues. To make matters worse, a friend of her who was there confirms that she did not say yes.

...In fact, it may be the oposite. It seems that not only did they not ask Cassie if she believed (accounts now indicate they just shot her without even speaking), but that the gunmen spared the life of a girl who did indicate she believed.

...But the story is already out. Cassie's name is already commonly known as the girl who said yes, the modern xtian martyr. People have latched onto her story and have used it to strengthen their own feelings and faith. They have integrated her into their world views, and dismiss contrary stories as false or revisionism. Attempts to put the genie back in the bottle are failing.

...The truth will be known to many, but to the layman, the story of her saying yes will remain. And likely in churches out in the fringes, her story will be retold time and time again, each time with a few new details added. We already see the new details being added just a few months later, how much more dramatic will her death be in a few years. What can we expect? A holy light? Witnesses seeing her soul being lifted by angels? I don't doubt we will...

To what then faith?

...If these stories can be altered in just a few months in a world of information flow and data, how much more so can a story be changed in years by peoples who don't have the advantages of media as we do?

...Perhaps some of the larger than life figures we read of in holy books had the same thing happen to their stories? If it happens to Cassie, how much more so David?