Thursday, October 14, 2010

Joseph Campbell, 1.1

This is a modification of the yesterday’s post, worth reading even if you read it yesterday.

I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, Doubleday, 1988. It is so clear and useful, I want to share some of it with you. As with the Course in Miracles, I will be quoting and re-arranging quotes, but the work is all fundamentally, Campbell.

Myth is the “commonality of themes pointing to a constant requirement in the human psyche for centering in terms of deep principles, for having an interior road map of experience,” that gives it meaning and allows us to live day-to-day and know we are part of an ultimate, mysterious Reality that transcends language and art. “Myth is a mask of God, a metaphor for what lies beyond the visible world.”

At its best, myth enables us to be healthy, viable individuals, group members and world citizens. At its worst, it is contradictory and exclusionary. “For example, the ten commandments say, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Then the next chapter says, ‘Go into Canaan and kill everybody in it.’ (Here) the myths of participation and love only pertain to the in-group, the out-group is totally other.”

Though the dictionary defines myth as stories about god, with god being a personification of a motivating power or a value system that functions in human life and in the universe – powers in our own bodies and nature, metaphorical spiritual potentialities of human beings, with the same powers animating our lives that animate the world, there are two totally different orders of mythology. One relates us to the natural world, the other is strictly sociological, linking us to a particular society.

The biblical tradition is socially oriented mythology. Nature is condemned. In the Bible, eternity withdraws, and nature is corrupt, nature has fallen. In biblical thinking, we live in exile. Nature religions, on the other hand, are not attempts to control nature but to help us put ourselves in accord with it. But if nature is thought of as evil, as it is in the Bible, you don’t put yourself in accord with it, you control it, or try to, and hence the tension, the anxiety, the cutting down of forests, the annihilation of native people, the separation from nature. We have contempt for nature, subjugate and dominate it because the Bible says it is merely something to serve us. We “don’t know how to apply religious ideas to contemporary life. It’s the failure of religion to meet the modern world.”

We need a new myth, one that will identify the individual not with his local, sociological group, but with the planet. A model for that is the United States. Here we see thirteen different little colony nations that decided to act in the mutual interest, without disregarding the individual interests of any one of them.

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