“For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.” — Albert Einstein
When is a religion not a religion but an “incarnation of the most childish superstitions”? This question might be answered if we can shed some light on what is myth? with the given that myth is often the foundation of religion. Putting this together, I found these words in a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien written to Milton Waldman, in 1951, to be helpful. Tolkien wrote the following:
“I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.”
To repeat what Tolkien said in different words, myths are the composition of truth. Using the words of the poet Tennyson, a myth we could say is, “truth embodied in a tale”—but then, not every tale is a myth if it does not contain truth.
Judging the current state of religion these days, many who practice religion have no interest in the truth—call them nihilists. As a result, religion—even if it is made from truth—becomes just another tale or a story for such people, like something found in a Superman comic, for example. Buddhism is in this situation, despite the fact that all of it is made from truth: the Buddha’s awakening to the transcendent. But even most Buddhists these days can't see that.
For those who see the way Tolkien sees, one cannot help but read, for example, the Lalitavistara Sutra, and not see a myth made from truth.