Friday, September 21, 2007

If Joseph Campbell was alive today, he would be cheering on Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens

Debate on Religion with Christopher Hitchens @ BookTV by ~C4Chaos September 18, 2007 at 12:08 AM in Religion, Spirituality, chats Permalink I just finished watching a video of a debate on religion with Christopher Hitchens on BookTV. Check it out when you get the chance. The video quality is poor but the audio is crisp.
For the most part, the debate was civil and insightful. I've grown to like Hitchens' sharp tongue and wicked humor the more I watch him. But in this debate, I think Zachary Karabell displayed a more integral perspective among the panelists. Still, the discussion of religion was limited only to the monotheistic major religions, no mention of psycho-social development among "believers," and as usual, no mention of the mystical and transcendent role played by religion (though Zachary Karabell implied that in his comments).
However, as much as I want to cheer on Hitchens (I agree with a lot of his points against mythic religions, and I love his sick humor), his position is too much firmly planted on a rational level of either-or: either you believe in God or you don't. There's no room for "*as if* God is real" which some people believe so (including myself).
For example, I don't believe in a mythic God. For me, I equate the concept of God with Spirit, One Taste, The Divine, Brahman, Tao, Buddha-nature, the Kosmos. But there are times when I choose to address God *as if* He/She/It is a sentient Being so I can project my thoughts and intentions and access a deeper sense of reality more easily. This helps me get my bearing psychologically and spiritually. I think a lot of people do it the same way as I do. There are others who do it differently, e.g. I imagine that advance meditators and contemplatives in other wisdom traditions have access to a more stable level of consciousness where they can dissolve themselves into One Taste at will. To each his own, based on their level of consciousness, I guess.
I enjoy watching debates like this because it challenges our myths about society, culture and reality. Speaking of myths, I think that if Joseph Campbell was alive today, he would be cheering on Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. Why? I leave you with this quote:
"It's the most over-advertised book in the world. It's very pretentious to claim it to be the word of God, or accept it as such and perpetuate this tribal mythology, justifying all kinds of violence to people who are not members of the tribe.
"The thing I see about the Bible that's unfortunate is that it's a tribally circumscribed mythology. It deals with a certain people at a certain time. The Christians magnified it to include them. It then turns this society against all others, whereas the condition of the world today is that this particular society that's presented in the Bible isn't even the most important. This thing is like a dead weight. It's pulling us back because it belongs to an earlier period. We can't break loose and move into a modern theology.
"One of the great promises of mythology is, with what social group do you identify? How about the planet? To say that the members of this particular social group are the elite of God's world is a good way to keep that group together, but look at the consequences! I think that what might be called the sanctified chauvinism of the Bible is one of the curses of the planet today." --
Joseph Campbell on The Bible



    Myth works when you know what it is about, when it says something to you because it says something about you. We must become mythic as a species if we are to survive. The great individuation of cultures each based on their myths must lead, through an emphasis on their similarities, to a planetization of mankind. For all things are one; the hero has a thousand faces, a unity in diversity. Myth is like a force field; it unfolds and calls forth our own special genius and is the basis of our understanding of our world, ourselves and our own transformation through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations.-Robert Siegel discussing Joseph Campbell on "The Spirit of Things", ABC Radio National, 17 January 1999, 6:05-7:00 pm.

    You popularized an attitude, an understanding,

    of myth with a remarkable consistency

    with that universal myth

    that has captured my heart and mind

    in this post-war world1.

    I have been redesigning, retooling this protean self

    and losing myself, giving myself, expanding myself

    around this mythic base, this essence, this core,

    where a yearning, pathos, has produced a sweetness,

    dulce, settling in, an abundance scooped up, an updraft,

    scooped up, with a bliss quotient that is inestimable,

    indefinable. But there is always the work, the giving,

    always more, a doubling of effort, a fatigue, a mystery,

    a sadness, a tension, a working out of the myth in my

    own life, in its individuality and its collective identity.

    Ron Price

    17 January 1999

    1 Joseph Campbell is the great popularizer of myth in the post-war period, beginning with his first book The Hero With a Thousand Faces(1949). There are many similarities between Campbell and the Baha’i concept of myth, certainly a great deal that has been useful to me.

  2. I really wonder what Joseph Campbell would say to Hitchens and Dawkins and the like. It seems to me that those two are perpetrating a world view that considers myth as consisting entirely of fear-based nonsense which can only be taken literally and therefore must be rejected outright. They are representatives of a hyper-materialist ideology apparently pre-emptive of any capacity to digest symbolic material so as to manifest the mind state of one's native divinity. Instead they would have us all cling rigidly to the dogmatic worship of what is "evident" to a mind narrowly conditioned to believe that the little section of the psyche involved in linear, conceptual processing is somehow the one and only abode of a vague superstitious entity they call "truth". Religion, if you know what that word means, can never be harmful, but it so happens that it barely exists at all in the modern west. It was stamped out almost entirely by the early pseudo-christian church and the frankly rather stupid literal-minded scientism which replaced the intellectual supremacy of the church is having a go at putting the last nails in the coffin.

    Joseph Campbell would have us wake from our forgetful stupor to recall where these myths come from and what they are for, whereas our modern tunnel-visioned evangelists - whether those who take myths literally and believe them, or those who take them literally and reject them while proffering their own crippled fundamentalist ideologies - would have us all follow suit in the forfeiture of our own depth, transformed into shallow little drones running entirely on the paltry fumes of conceptual data.