CarolynC, in her excellent post titled The Daily Show as Cultural Criticism, focusing on a TDS bit (God Smacked, by Jason Jones) lampooning the antics of macho men busting bricks for Jesus, has highlighted a symptom of what ails us today. Why are we so effed in the head? It’s the mythology!
There’s a good reason for what CarolynC and TDS have observed. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read much Joseph Campbell. This is an excerpt from one of my favs.
Joseph Campbel, Thou Art That: transforming religious metaphors, pp.25-26. San Anselmo, CA: New World Library. Copyright © Joseph Campbell Foundation.
Thou Art That is a compilation of previously uncollected essays and lectures by Joseph Campbell that focus on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Here Campbell explores common religious symbols, reexamining and reinterpreting them in the context of his remarkable knowledge of world mythology. According to Campbell, society often confuses the literal and metaphorical interpretations of religious stories and symbols.
In this collection, he eloquently reestablishes these metaphors as a means to enhance spiritual understanding and mystical revelation. With characteristic verve, he ranges from rich storytelling to insightful comparative scholarship. Included is editor Eugene Kennedy’s classic interview with Campbell in The New York Times Magazine, which brought the scholar to the public’s attention for the first time.
A basic methodological principle, to be regarded when mythology is being interpreted in psychological terms, tells us that what is referred to in myth as "other world" is to be understood psychologically as inner world ("the Kingdom of Heaven is within you"), and that what is spoken of as "future" is now. At an Anglican wedding ceremony, I once overheard the minister instruct the couple before him to live their life in such a way as to merit in the next, eternal life. Well yes, I thought, but that is not quite correctly phrased. He really should have said, "Live your life, your marriage, in such a way that in it you may experience eternal life." Eternity is neither future, nor past, but now. It is not of the nature of time at all, in fact, but a dimension, so to say, of now and forever, a dimension of the consciousness of being that is to be found and experienced within, upon which, when found, one may ride through time and through the whole length of one’s days. What leads to the knowledge of this transpersonal, trans-historical dimension of one’s being and life experience are the mythological archetypes, those eternal symbols that are known to all mythologies and have been forever the support and models of human life.
One of the most interesting things about the Bible is that every one of the major Old Testament mythological themes has been found by our modern scholars in the earlier Sumero-Babylonian complex: The serpent-god, the tree in the garden of immortal life, the fashioning of mankind from clay, the deluge, and many others. I think, however, of what has happened as a result: Myths that originally had pointed to the goddess as the ultimate source are now pointing to a god!
This change is highly significant, and it is one of the most baffling things about our tradition. Symbols speak directly to the psyche. One spontaneously knows what they are saying, even if the person presenting and interpreting them may be speaking a different language. He is saying, "This story is telling us of the Father," while one’s heart is saying, "No, it is of the Mother." All of our religious symbols are thus speaking to us in double-talk. Since, as even Saint Thomas states in his Summa contra gentiles (book I, chapter 5), "Then alone do we know God truly, when we believe that He is far above all that man can possibly think of God," it can surely not be proper to think of that which surpasses all human thought either as a male or a female. In our tradition, the problem is further compounded by the image of a male God minus a wife, so that we cannot even think of
divinity as transcending and subsuming sexual opposites. This image of the divine is all very psychologically and socially important. As we now well know, this emphatically lopsided representation of the mystery of God was primarily contrived to support the claim of the superiority of the patriarchal conquerors over their matriarchal victims.
I think this alarming discovery, that the myths intended to harmonize humanity and nature have been perverted into a mythology of a war-god who conquers Mother Nature, is at the root of much of what ails us today.
Why are we effed in the head? Why do we make war on everything under the sun–and even under the sea? It’s the mythology!
The only way for these believers to get to their heaven is by standing in the proper relationship to the proper authorities of the proper dogma as preached by the proper church. That’s why closeted Republicans end up in denial of mythic proportions about their own true nature.
God is imaged as a man, the biggest baddest man in the universe. To be god-like is to be man-like, and vice versa. Yes, astute readers: I’m saying, it’s a dick thing. Dicking with Mother Nature is the very epitome of the good life, to these believers in half a cosmos.
How do we achieve, however, the required relationship to Jesus Through baptism and thereby membership in his Church—that is to say within and by means of a sanctified social context stressing certain exclusive claims. These claims depend for validation upon the historicity of certain specific miracles. The Jewish tradition depends on the notion of special revelation to a singular "chosen" people, in a certain place, and a these circumstances in historical time. The documentation, however, is questionable. Likewise, the Christian tradition is based on the idea of single incarnation, the authentication of which is in the evidence of certain miracles, followed by the founding of a Church and the continuity of this Church through time: every bit of this dogma is also historical.
That is why our symbols have all been so consistently and persistently interpreted as referring not primarily to our inner selves but to supposed outer historical events. This emphasis may be good for the institution of the Church or the prosperity of the synagogue, but may not at all contribute to the spiritual health of the unconvinced individual.
Our mythologies have been historicized (and falsely at that, chiefly by misreading poetry as prose; though both may be true, myths and news are not the same kind of truth, right?); the earth, murdered and mechanized; and us along with them. That’s why I say, reclaiming our unalienable humanity is the first step to humanizing our affairs.
We’re not the toy soldiers of someone else’s god. We’re not slaves on the plantations of god’s own landlords here on earth. Nor are we mere automata, either, we’re not just voting machines on two legs. What are we?
Kin, baby, kin!