Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Campbell, Collective Unconscious, and Clippers

The following post was taken directly from an email sent to me by my friend, Jon. Jon is a brilliant writer and thinker from DC (I know Ralph is a big fan of his work). I thought it was interesting that Jon sent me an email about Joe Campbell on the same day that Ralph mentioned the collective unconscious and the LA Clippers. Anyway, we'd like to have Jon submit regularly to Ralph's Place. Consider this his first entry. Doc.

I’ve recently been on something of a Joseph Campbell binge. I almost have to laugh now thinking back to my initial reaction upon hearing of Campbell and his work, which was – to me now – surprisingly negative. I don’t know what I must’ve been smoking. It’s like something inside me triggered this false “intruder alert” reflex as though my core values were suddenly under siege and the only thing I could think to do was to quickly erect some strong defenses.

And that’s a testament, I suppose, to the power of what Campbell was putting out – that exposure to it could elicit that kind of response. Surely that confirms he was onto something pretty potent.

I was just telling a friend the other day that my finally coming around to Campbell just shows you how there’s a proper time for everything, and to not respect that can lead to frustration. I guess what I’m saying is that when DokTorDee first approached me – with such excitement, I remember – with this wonderful new thing that he’d discovered, I was just not in a place where I could receive it.

Or, I should say, I could not receive it without subjecting it to all sorts of judgments. It’s taken me this long, I guess, to finally arrive at a place where I can experience Campbell’s teachings with openness.

I recently re-read “Thou Art That,” read for the first time parts of “The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology,” and just started reading “Myths to Live By.” The experience has me seeing the world quite differently. I’m not sure where it’s all headed but I’m enjoying the ride.

I almost feel like I want to affiliate myself with a Campbell study group or something. There must be such a thing out there (in DC at least).

Here’s an radical question: Do you think the study and experience of myth can or should REPLACE religion in one’s life? Because lately I’ve been feeling a deeper experience of the divine through what I’m learning about mythology than anything I’ve ever felt as a participant in organized religion.

I’m starting to feel like cultivating a deep understanding of mythology – studying and musing on it regularly – makes the need for religion seem almost beside the point.

What do you think?

3 comments:

DocTorDee said...

Jon's question: Do you think the study and experience of myth can or should REPLACE religion in one’s life? Because lately I’ve been feeling a deeper experience of the divine through what I’m learning about mythology than anything I’ve ever felt as a participant in organized religion.

Doc: I tend to see Campbell's teachings as a unifying force among religions. Akin to his thesis in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," I think we're all worshiping the same God---we simply worship in different ways, depending on socio-political attitudes and rules.

So, should the study of myth replace religion in one's life? We're into semantics now.

What do you mean by religion? Does that mean weekly participation in an organized church? If so, then yes, there is a risk that the transcendent elements in Campbell will take a person out of a particular religious practice, because, suddenly, that person realizes that his existing mythology cannot contain the Godhead.

But none of them can. No religion can contain god. Instead, they are methods for understanding and communicating with God.

At the same time, recognizing the transcendent can also add to a person's religous life. For example, if I am a Catholic and I suddenly recognize that the sacrament of communion is actually an act of cannibalism that connects me to not only my community, but also to communities that worshiped at other times and places, then I have a deeper appreciation for the aspects of my religion---aspects that I can no practice with increased intensity.

Personally, my study of Campbell has increased my sense of spirituality and my appreciation of religion. In the case of the latter, thanks to Campbell, I am able to look at a particular religious practice an connect it to other practices, enabling me to appreciate "religion" in a greater sense.

I hope at least some of this response makes sense ;-)

DOC

Ralph said...

doctordee and Jon:

I agree with doc's point about education about myth and religion enabling you to practice is more intensely because of a greater understanding of what it's about. I think the natural first reaction to Campbell (and other types of mythological/religious) education will be an intellectual detachment from the rabble that is its practice in real life. But gradually, a committment to your community will likely draw you back in... It's like the old Budha story about his need to come down from the mountain and his mediations so he could drink beer and converse with the butchers...

Stan Langerhaus said...

I have heard that some people who are more attuned to a religious-type life are genetically hard-wired for that mind set. Some people purportedly are not so hard-wired.

When people talk about losing their religion, I wonder if they ever had it at all.