On December 23, the New York Times published a provocative essay headlined "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?" Paul Elie argued that literature had, sadly, become post-Christian. Readers, including the editor of the Paris Review, disagreed.
The Wall Street Journal published a response to the piece as well. Which was great. Except the sub-headline was:
The myth of secularism triumphant in the arts is just that—a myth.
A friend (who is Lutheran and an artist) and I had been discussing the topic of Christianity in the arts over email. He wrote that he despised this use of myth:
Unfortunately it is now commonplace to use of the word "myth" as something untrue. I am "old school" with the Dictionary of World Literature:
MYTH is essentially a religious term: it is something said, as distinct from ritual, something done. Regardless of its appearance in modern idiom, no proper myth is meaningless, ridiculous, or obscene. It is metaphysic in its primary and purest form, the closest verbal approach to an immediate intuition of reality. It is antecedent to theology, as the terms and statements of a myth are prior to their exegesis. As a product of the poetic faculty, myth is a thing in itself, single, whole, complete, and without ulterior purpose.
It's one thing to slightly change the definition of something but some modern usage is inverting it and that's just confusing, at best.
Myth does not mean "something conventionally held that is untrue" as many journalists seem to think. Seriously, look at today's headlines with the word "myth" in them. You can learn about a happy hour urban myth, the myth of the conservative monolith, the Iraq War 'surge' myth and the myth of the perfect mother.
Perhaps we could help reporters with a way to phrase what they're trying to say.