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I'm trying to find an alternative term for "Christian mythology" that characterizes it as non-empirical, but isn't quite so caustic towards those sympathetic to Christian beliefs.

I've considered "cult mythology", since it's less specific, but that seems even more offensive. I've also considered just "mythology", but I need to make a distinction between works which were never intended to be taken seriously, and works that were. This last part is key, since the focus of my debate is cognitive dissonance.

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I don't think the delineator is "works which were never intended to be taken seriously", since almost everything we now consider a myth was both sincerely believed and bloodily defended by thousands of adherents at some point. – S. G. Feb 16 at 19:00

10 Answers 10

up vote 40 down vote accepted

Faith-based beliefs/belief systems” is used and contrasted with “science/evidence-based beliefs/belief systems” in the linked ‘Science 2.0’ article:

Belief systems are the stories we tell ourselves to define our personal sense of "reality". Every human being has a belief system that they utilize, and it is through this mechanism that we individually, "make sense" of the world around us.

There are two forms such belief systems can take; evidence-based or faith-based.

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You can simply refer to them as religious beliefs. No need for "system" or "faith-based", as they might or might not be systematized, and faith-based is redundant. "Cult mythology" is likely to be perceived as derogatory by some.

Also, you're misusing the word seriously. You probably mean literally.

...fictional works which were never intended to be taken seriously...

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You could use 'theist doctrine'

Theist - noun

1 - a person who believes in the doctrine of theism

2 - a person who believes in the existence of God or gods


Doctrine - noun

1 - a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government: Catholic doctrines; the Monroe Doctrine.

2 - something that is taught; teachings collectively: religious doctrine.

3 - a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject: the doctrine of the Catholic Church.


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This is probably the most objective term of those suggested here so far, which is useful if you don't want to appear biased and/or rude (and have people be more likely to ignore any valid points you might make as a result.) – reirab Feb 15 at 16:55
I think this is inaccurate. The word "doctrine" has a specific meaning, particularly within the Catholic church. (Essentially, stuff the church has decided on, as distinct from stuff that's in the Bible. For example, the church's stance on contraception is doctrine, based on interpretation of what the Bible says; the Bible doesn't explicitly say "No contraception." In contrast, the creation stories are not doctrine: they're scriptural text.) – David Richerby Feb 16 at 22:48
@DavidRicherby That would be the third of the three different meanings ascribed in the dictionary as relayed above. It does not preclude the use of the word for its other meanings and I particularly imply meanings #1 and #2 in my answer. – Marv Mills Feb 17 at 9:07
@DavidRicherby As far as I know, that use of the word 'doctrine' is unique to the Roman Catholic church. Outside of the RCC, the word is used exactly as it's used in this answer. – reirab Feb 17 at 15:49
@reirab Well, since the Catholic church contains around 50% of all Christians, I think my comment stands. – David Richerby Feb 17 at 18:46

If you're speaking specifically of the Biblical account of creation, I would use the term "Judeo-Christian creation story." The term "creation story" contextualizes it in the general category of myths about the origins of the world, but without using the loaded term "mythology." Even many believers don't take the Creation account as literal, so you're being more inclusive of those in that category by using this term.

If you're characterizing the entire range of religious belief as mythology, then why bother soft-pedalling it? In that case, those who aren't receptive to your point of view are probably at least perceptive enough to pick up on your attitude, no matter how you term it. With that said, PapaPoule's "belief system" is probably the most neutral, respectful term to use in that case, that still implies no endorsement of said belief system.

(As a bit of unasked-for advice, if you do want to actually reach people who don't already agree with you, you're probably better off with one targeted example, rather than a blanket dismissal.)

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As a creationist: it's not uncommon for creationists themselves to refer to the relevant events as the "creation story," in the same way as the grander scheme of evolutionary history is often referred to as the "story of evolution" without implying that it's fictional. So I agree it's non-offensive, but I'm not sure whether it clearly implies that the speaker regards it as fictional. Also, AFAIK OP did not limit the discussion to creationism, but to the Christian religion generally. – Wolfie Inu Feb 17 at 10:29
"Story" does not imply fiction, that is just a misconception born of many fictional stories existing. A "Story" is an account of something, real OR fictional. It in fact more commonly refers to that which is known to be true. Definition: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/story – Anton Feb 17 at 14:50
@WolfieInu, Anton, I picked "story" precisely because of the ambiguity of meaning. It doesn't necessarily imply belief or unbelief in the truth of the story. With that said, the phrase "creation story" is weighted towards the unbelief side, because it is commonly used as a general term for the beliefs of many different traditions (all of which cannot simultaneously be literally true). – Chris Sunami Feb 17 at 15:56
@ChrisSunami I agree that it's a non-confrontational term, but OP's requirements do clearly state that the non-empirical nature of the "mythology" must be clearly implied, not up to interpretation. Since "creation story" is used by proponents of creationism without implying that they don't mean it to be taken seriously, and in fact "story of evolution" is often used in popular science when referring to the evolutionary timeline as reconstructed from the geological record, I contend that that requirement is not met. – Wolfie Inu Feb 18 at 7:38

Officially it would be legend, but I don't think that's what you aim at. I'd say biblical mythology if I were you. Maybe even better would be to note in the beginning that you’re an atheist and then just refer to it as biblical events. Otherwise, people might still feel attacked (at least I would as a Christian) and stop reasoning normally.

Biblical mythology is the term used by Jean-Marie Husser in Dreams and Dream Narratives in the Biblical World:

The diversity of these references, drawing on Greek, Persian, Mesopotamian, and biblical mythology and historiography and the subtlety with which they blend and combine, speaks eloquently of the art and erudition of their authors.

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+1 for biblical. Depending on which side you're on, this word means to you, either every great truth on this green Earth or the greatest lie ever told. – Mazura Feb 15 at 18:32
Can you standardize your spelling and capitalization? Can you offer any references to where others have used the term "biblical mythology?" – jejorda2 Feb 15 at 20:01
@jejorda2 I think this is a fairly common locution. See Dreams and Dream Narratives in the Biblical World by Jean-Marie Husser. – deadrat Feb 16 at 5:21
@deadrat Thanks- I added a reference from that work to the answer. – jejorda2 Feb 16 at 13:22
@Mazura - to be fair, most Christians I know fall somewhere in the middle. Very few take it all literally. – Omegacron Feb 16 at 19:09

You could consider using non-scientific belief if you are referring to Christian Mythology in terms of their non-empirical characteristics.


Not involving or relating to science or scientific methods.

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

The phrase is used three times in the link about Science as a Belief System published by Cambridge Philosophy Classics.

...Whether it is the predictions of Nostradamus or the prophecies of the Bible, it is often asserted that these bold claims show that something beyond science’s explanation is going on...

... A basic rule of thumb in science is that bold predictions are unlikely to come true unless there is some element of truth behind a theory. One of the most often used arguments for defending a non-scientific world view is that of prophecies and coincidences...

...Non-scientific belief models are not held accountable for their failures, only their successes. Often, non-scientific belief models must be defended to absurd lengths...

I don't want to get involved in the argument about the relationship between science and religion. I am suggesting this phrase from only English Language and Usage point of view.

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This is good, though contextually you should be aware of the audience. It may still be received as critical (if the audience infers that you mean non-scientific = bad). – SuperBiasedMan Feb 15 at 17:56
@SuperBiasedMan Thanks for your comment. I was really reluctant to post this answer because I was worried about the issue you raised. – Rathony Feb 15 at 18:26
I think it's a relevant issue but doesn't detract from the validity of the phrase. This question particularly benefits from multiple answers so people can choose one appropriate to a situation. – SuperBiasedMan Feb 15 at 18:27
I would prefer unscientific; it just sounds more precise to my ears. This could lead to a definition of scientific and thus of the scientific method. A problem with this as an answer to the OP's question is that questions of ethics are inherently unscientific (except questions of descriptive ethics), and the OP is hoping to discriminate between his unscientific ethics and those implicit in contemporary Christian mythology. – Alan Feb 15 at 19:43

I think you want to steer away from the word "Christian", because a) there are fundamentalist followers of other religions to whom the same sort of cognitive dissonance applies, and b) singling them out feeds into the persecution portion of their mythology and is a sure way to get them to tune out.

I'd go for a a term similar to those used for some jurists. You hear of the phrase "strict constitutionalist" in the US to refer to judges for whom the literal text of the constitution is all they can see - not even considering nuance in the ancillary writings of the founding fathers to guide them in interpretation.

So maybe introduce the term "strict theologist approach" or something similar. It implies a diligence of study that is not inherently alienating, but also implies having blinders on to wider areas of study besides the chosen text of their faith.

After all, the bible doesn't give much guidance on quadratic equations, and "let there be light" could have been God initiating the Big Bang. After all, what are the seven days of creation according to God's timeline?

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"Let there be light" was not the very first thing, so it doesn't equate to the big bang. And the text is clear that literal days are what was meant. – JDługosz Feb 15 at 16:57
My understanding is that "Let there be light" was the first step in creating our universe, and don't see in Genesis anywhere that states that a day to God equates to a literal day as measured on one planet in His universe - especially prior to that planet's existence. But then again, I don't subscribe to a "Strict theological approach" to the universe, nor do I can to argue either for or against it out of respect for your beliefs, and for those of others. Peace. – Michael Broughton Feb 15 at 17:02
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." That's the KJ translation which is not as clear as modern translations. But (1) stuff created, (2) then wind (spirit) blows, (3) then light. – JDługosz Feb 15 at 17:09
See English Translation notes on Wikipedia. – JDługosz Feb 15 at 17:19

I've heard the term "Judeo-Christian History" used quite well. It keeps religious folks happy because from their perspective it doesn't denounce their faith as mythology, while for non-religious (or alternatively religious) folks, it qualifies the term "history" as being an interpretation of that religion. Look at the two examples from both sides, and see which sounds less offensive.

According to the Scientological History, Xenu, the dictator of the galactic confederacy had a key role in the establishment of the human condition on earth.

According to the Scientological Mythology, Xenu, the dictator of the galactic confederacy had a key role in the establishment of the human condition on earth.

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I think this is a good topic to avoid if you can, given your audience, and your beliefs. There is literally no way you are going to be able to sand in front of any group of orthodox religious people, and get away with even implying that their religion is in any way incorrect.

In much the same way you will not be able to have a conversation with a group hardcore imperial scientists and not offend them by suggesting that a religion might be correct.

Obviously your addressing an audience and this is the exact schism that your trying to probe, but your doing so will offend.

If you insist, then stay away from words that imply fiction or myth, and address commonly accepted scientific fact, with high level, commonly accepted christian belief. You should stay away from any of the common mearicales, while avoiding any scientific theory. For example, to contrast, you could use Jonah being swallowed by a whale and the fact that it would result in death as so;

In the bible is the story of Jonah, he is swallowed by a whale. Some people have a problem with this story because they believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but also believe that being swallowed by a whale, would be a lethal event. Explore cognitive dissonance here.

By exploring a single story and not addressing one group of people or another, you don't insult one group or another. In addition you allow the audience members, to exclude themselves from the group. The most fervent believer of the story will exclude him self, because he doesn't believe that this case if whale swallowing was leather. On the other end of the spectrum, the people that believe that it's not true, will continue to believe being swallowed by a whale is lethal. The people in the middle are not offended either, because you didn't call the story a lie, you just pointed out that there is some discomfort in the fact that they believe the story and believe that being swallowed by a whale is lethal.

In summary, your not going to find a word or phrase that allows you to please everyone in this context. Instead use an example or select a less divided topic.

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I think this is decent advice, but it doesn't actually answer the language question, which is seeking a term. – Chris Sunami Feb 15 at 20:12
I agree, but I'm not sure how to answer with "There is no answer". But I am open to suggestions on how to improve the answer. If need be I will delete it as it true that it doesn't provide a term. – coteyr Feb 15 at 20:16
If it doesn't (try to) answer the question, it should be posted as a comment, or moved to chat. Discussion of the querent's aims or attitudes without answering the question are off-topic here on the main SE. – Chris Sunami Feb 15 at 20:45

There are words for the narrative aspect like allegory and parable and for the visual aspect like ikon, symbol and symbolism. I don't know a term that covers them in general but I'm pretty sure theologians have one. Think of these things as teaching aids.

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