Mankind has always attempted through fable, myth, legend, folklore and consequently religious stories, to present life situations which mankind considers essential to the human experience. Ones which can provide examples of the characteristics and attributes which we consider to be shining examples of our better selves. And, as an adjunct to this, they necessitate examples of our none too pleasant natures as well. They are essentially "how to survive stories." So, the stories are full of self-sacrifice, strength through adversity, courage, determination and quests for truth in what are presented to be virually hopeless combats against the opposite of these characteristics.
They depict the model, or what is considered to be the desirable model, of human interaction and behaviours within a cultural and societal chronological reference. That many of these desired human attributes stand the test of time, that is, that they are found throughout history, indicates that mankind, has seen life as a struggle. And it is. Life is tenuous, unpredible, and inevitably fatal. So, human success stories provide hope of success and the comfort of knowing that success is possible. (By success I mean survival.)
All well and good. We like to hear how great we can be if we only set our minds to it. We like to believe that we can share some of those attributes of our heroes, religious or otherwise, by emulating their lives, deeds and works. Still all well and good. Now for the "but" and that was inevtiable too, wasn't it.. When, how and under what circumstances do we decide that a story is legend, myth, folklore, fable, or a false religion?
Answer: - When we decide that it isn't literally true. The majority of people on the planet have little or no problem with ascertaining that it isn't literally true that Achilles was immortal except for a spot on his ankle which wasn't immersed in the river Styx. People have little difficulty in deciding that Hercules didn't literally kill a 3 bodied monster called, Geryon. People have little difficulty in recognizing that Perseus did not slay a a creature called Medusa who supposedly had thousands of snakes as hair and whose gaze could turn a man to stone. Millions of people, do, however have great difficulty in assessing whether or not a man called muhammad rode a winged horse into the sky, or whether a man called jesus was born without the addition of sperm.
This is not to say that religious stories cannot fulfill a positive function, as all stories of human struggle can do that, but it is to say that we appear to have great difficulty in assessing and evaluating the literal truth of extraordinary claims if we choose one hero and their heroic accounts over all others. That is, we have difficulty in assessing the literal truth of extraordinary claims once we choose to use them as the guidebook to life, the universe and everything. (Obviously, my guide book is "Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and I do not require or demand that everyone else has to consider the book the literal truth.)
The other "but" I have with the stories of good and evil is that they present a "black and white world." - A false dichotomy or dilemma of either this or that. Heaven or hell, good or evil and right or wrong. Unfortunately these concepts are only ever viewed within the narrow context of "what would MY hero do", rather than what would be a rational, reasonable or logical course of action under many or most circumstances. They also suggest that the just or righteous person has only ever one course of action to take under all circumstances. A one size fits all mentality and that to stray outside the "one size fits all mentality" is an act of evil in itself.
They are NOT pluralistic, in the sense that they recognize that all of these stories contain instances of human adventure from which lessons could be learnt, they are dictatorial. They do not see others in themselves, they see others as those who must submit to the "obvious truth" of their specific heroic creed of choice. They essentially devolve into, (when accepted as literal truth), 'believe in the one and only true hero or die'. This will either occur at the hands or will of the hero, or at the hands or will of those who follow the hero.
Eartha Kitt - 'I Want To Be Evil'