Eric Burns - excellent fellow, and creator of a fine new blog called Banter Latte - has written a post about the difference between the first two, and how it all relates to the way that Starbucks coffee, well, sucks. The story that he tells to explain the latter is a good one, and I enjoyed it greatly; it is also, alas, a demonstration why mythology is generally a disaster for humanity.
More after the fold.
Prior to the story of Starbuck - and I have to note that I am astounded by Eric's ability to avoid Battlestar Galactica puns - we have this commentary:
A successful mythologist, on the other hand, remembers the golden question always begins with “why.” Mythology, after all, has always sought to explain the unexplainable and to eff the ineffable. This is eternally the difference between mythology and religion, which seeks to explain nothing. When asking the question “why did my wife of five years get hit by a lightning bolt and killed,” mythology explains that Eltana of the Golden Ewe did look down from her mist covered mount and see the beauty of your wife. Growing sore jealous, she journeyed for eight days and nights until she found the Dwarven Smith Daedbot, who makes the golden lightnings on his forge of shining granite, and there did seduce him that her valet, trusty Bohem, could sneak into the forge and steal one shining bolt. Then, when next Eltana saw your wife, she did draw the bolt and fit it to her bow like an arrow, taking aim and letting fly, the bolt flying forth, sparks forking off it like the fletchings of an arrow and striking your wife down once and forevermore. But in so doing, the birds did weep and sing songs of lament, and therefore the Queen of the Heavens did lift your wife’s spirit up and set it in the sky, passing back through time to do so when the stars were set in their course.
Religion, on the other hand, answers “why did my wife of five years get hit by a lightning bolt and killed?” by telling you that by questioning the will of God you have condemned yourself to eternal hellfire. Or, if you are Jewish, an extra day and a half of Hellfire (not to exceed one year total) because you didn’t look up the answer in the Talmud to begin with — what, do I look like a reference librarian to you now?
Clever. Unfortunately, also wrong, on a deeper level. Mythology doesn't actually tell you 'why'; if it did, you'd be able to learn from it. Take the above example: if the real reason why your wife was struck by lightning was because some divine bimbo with an inferiority complex (note that this describes pretty much every pre-Christian European pantheon - male and female - that we know of) didn't like being shown up then you could prevent her death by lightning, or anybody else's, via fairly simple methods of appeasement. Shoot, 'losing' her razor would work. What mythology really does is tell you a story that will cause you to shut you up about the matter.
Religion doesn't tell you 'why', either (the examples that Eric used are themselves mythological, by the way: merely different stories than the ones told of the Divine Ewe and whatnot). Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that what Eric meant by 'religion' would either be: 1), the generally monotheistic, Abrahamic sects of Christianity / Judiasm / Islam; or 2), evolved animistic/polytheistic sects, such as Hinduism, Shinto and/or modern neopaganism (which, thankfully, has exceptionally little to do with the originals besides various proper nouns). We'll skip the thorny question of whether Buddhism is a religion, philosophy or something else, given that people glare about it so; and you can shoehorn Sikhism in 1) or 2) as you please. What are the characteristics of these religions?
Generally, there is a lack of personal Divine intervention in all of them. God may see a sparrow fall, but in most Christian denominations He has not devised a schedule that must be followed. Allah may have too much omniscience to permit free will, but He still deliberately lets us mess up on our own dime, lest we do nothing at all. There may be infinite incarnations of Vishnu, but none of them do much except maintain the universe by the existence. Even Wiccan belief structures are notably short on the entire concept of meddling, quarrelsome gods and goddesses mucking about in their worshippers' lives. In other words, they all generally have indifferent Deities running things.
This is not a bad thing. An indifferent Deity is a Deity that does not cause things to happen because He or She is having a bad day, or is fighting some other Deity, or is feeling slighted, or indeed, for any purely human reason. If things happen because they happen, you can perhaps work out a 'why' that might actually be true. And once that happens? You can possibly even start putting it together into a codified structure that will let you know what the Hell is really going on in the physical world.
And, as Robert Anton Wilson (may he rest in peace) once noted, we have a shorter word for that process. It's called 'science', and there's a reason why it was invented by Western Civilization - and why Western Civilization dominates the planet so profoundly that it's hard to remember a time when it didn't. It's also somewhat related to the reason why Christianity and Islam tore through most polytheisms like a hot knife through butter until they finally ran up against Hinduism, but that's another essay entirely*.
Now, this is not a perfect analysis by any measure. There are, after all, extensive mythologies attached to the above religions (your standard bitch-about-the-invisible-sky-god online enthusiast will agree, presuming that you can find one honest enough to admit that when he's doing the aforementioned bitching he's generally talking about the mythology of Christianity, with a little bit of dogma-hating tossed on as a garnish). I'm also oversimplifying a good deal, ignoring a good deal more and generally tossing off something more suited for a bar conversation than, say, a philosophy seminar. Not being paid for any of this, I feel no shame. But all of this does lead up to the real point:
I liked Eric's story a good deal, but the real reason why Starbucks drip coffee tastes like crotch is because their typical customer does not drink the stuff on a regular basis. Starbucks regulars are there for the triple grande mocha latte with a twist of lime, or whatever it is that people order there; people who want, say, a large decaf with two sugars will go instead to, say, a McDonalds (who make perfectly good drip coffee, by the way), which will also happily sell them an Egg McMuffin or an order of hotcakes for rather less than ten dollars. People who order regular coffee at Starbucks are generally people who got dragged along for the ride; they aren't regulars and probably aren't coming back unless they have to - and if they have to, they'll try something else anyway. That means that the drip coffee, once brewed, stays there longer until it's thrown out. That means that the oils build up, wrecking the taste. That means that the parts get dirtier. That means that the maintenance and upkeep of the drip coffee machines gets ignored in favor of the machines that actually makes the franchise money. That means the coffee ends up tasting like crotch. All of this is very prosaic, not very interesting and certainly not as majestic as Eric's (very entertaining) mythology.
However, my version has one small advantage: it tells you how to improve the coffee.
[UPDATE]: My hypothesis was disproved by data acquired by my colleagues in comments: I have adopted the alternate hypothesis that Starbucks Coffee tastes like crotch because they burn the beans. Thus is the cause of science advanced.
*Mostly involving how the former's miracles were mostly internal (strength against foes, dying well, self-control in difficult situations), while the latter's were external ("Deity, Smite the defilers!"). The distinct lack of effect from the latter won more than a few battles for monotheism - although the tech advantage never hurt matters, either.