In another of the Mythos lectures, Campbell asserts that there are two concepts of God. The first kind of God, the kind he approves of, believed in mainly by dark-skinned people in the Olden Days, is the one which purports merely to be a symbol.
The Indian spirits (we are told) were symbols of and things which pointed to the Final Incomprehensible Mystery – but not the F.I.M itself. Indians (we are assured) would sometimes point to a physical place and say that this was the mountain on which God made the world, but they knew quite well that it wasn't. They knew quite well (says Campbell) that someone from a different village would have pointed to a different mountain, but that all the mountains were just symbols for the F.I.M. Was this really part of the timeless wisdom of the ancients, I ask myself? Or did it merely show that a process of "demythologisation" had fairly recently, occurred?
Or again. A dead Egyptian dude named Ahknaton (father of the more famous Tutankhamen) tried to set up a new religion in which the myriad gods of Egyptian polytheism were replaced by a single figure called Aten. Freud got very excited about this, particularly since Ahknaton married his own mother (almost definitely). Even C.S. Lewis acknowledged that it's quite...interesting...that there was a monotheist movement in Egypt at about the same time as Moses is meant to have been leading the monotheistic Jews out of, er, Egypt. But according to Campbell, although Ahknaton replaced the pantheon with Aten, he was quite clear that Aten was not the F.I.M. Aten was merely a symbol which could point you towards the F.I.M.
Again, maybe. People who know about this stuff seem more inclined to think that what Ahknaton really said was "Aten is the name of the old Sun God; and it's still OK to use the Sun as a symbol of Aten; but we ought to remember that Aten is not the Sun but merely the being who created the Sun". In other words, he was a bog standard monotheist who thought that you should take care when fooling about with graven images.
Now, the other kind of God, the bad kind, believed in by modern, light-skinned people and especially Jews, says that He Himself is the F.I.M and is therefore the only possible God. This bad religion is described as being "closed"; the good kind is described as being "open".
Now, that fella Jesus, dont'ya'know: he believed in the good, "open" version of God. That's why he said "I and my father are one." That's why the Big Bad Jew crucified him. Well, naturally: Joseph Campbell believes in a Jesus who agrees with Joseph Campbell about everything, in the same way that Elton John believes in a Jesus who agrees with Elton John and Tony Blair believes in a Jesus who agrees with Tony Blair. (Don't mention Philip Pullman. It will only upset me.) The trouble is that the line "I and my father are one" is embedded in a text, the Gospel of John, which is pretty clearly a literary creation with an argument running through it. It's true that John says that when Jesus said "I and my father are one" the Jews threw stones at him. But you could not possibly take John's Gospel to be saying "They threw stones at him because they thought that he was saying that the YHWH of the Old Testament was only a symbol for God, not God himself; and that YHWH was in any case not a personal being but an abstract symbol for the final incomprehensible wassissname." John thinks that the Jews threw stones at Jesus because they thought Jesus was, blasphemously, claiming to be YHWH, which, according to John, was precisely what Jesus was in fact claiming. From the opening paragraphs where John tells us that "the Word was God", through the passages where Jesus applies the divine Name to himself, to the scene where Jesus asks God to "glorify me with thine own self... with the glory I had with thee before the world was" John is highly committed to the doctrine of the Trinity. You can't rip a particular phrase out of a philosophical dialogue and use it to claim that John thought Jesus was a pantheist.
Unless, of course, Campbell is playing a Jesus Seminar game. He may think that "John's Gospel" is a text without value but that, by accident and without understanding it, "John" preserved a fragment of what The Historical Christ really said, and from this fragment, he, Joseph Campbell, can reconstruct T.H.C's true teaching which, very conveniently, is in complete agreement with the historical Joseph Campbell. But a position as subtle as that surely needs to be argued for, not taken for granted?
This kind of thing happens over and over again in Campbell's writing. A phrase, and incident, a story, a symbol seems to have an intrinsic, built in, essential meaning regardless of what it is doing in the story where you found it. It doesn't seem to matter what a story means to the person who told it; or to the people who heard it; or to the people who repeated it. The story, or the components of the story, have their own meaning. Don't go to Jews, or Christians, or Indians or Eskimos to find out what Jewish, Christian, Indian or Eskimo mythology means. Go to Joseph Campbell.
The Greeks had a god of wine, and the cult of the wine god involved drinking wine. And get this: when the Greek wine-worshipping dudes drank wine, they used, get this, a cup. And, get this, when a Catholic Priest celebrates Mass in a Cathedral, he also uses a cup. So a picture of a Dionysian mystery on the side of a Grecian Urn [*] looks a bit like a Mass, inasmuch as they both involve cups. And wine. And human beings. So you can point to Grecian Urn and say "Oh, look! A Eucharist!" or even "Oh look! A Western Grail Tradition."
What does drinking wine mean to a catholic at Mass? What did it mean to an initiate of the Dionysian mysteries? It would, of course, be extremely interesting if we could show that the Very Early Christians borrowed some of their ceremonies from the Mystery Cults. It would show, for example, that some of the Very Early Christians knew what those ceremonies were. It would show that some early Christians thought it was already to borrow ceremonies from pagan temples. It wouldn't show that Catholics were really Dionysians or that Dionysians were really Catholics. "They both involved cups" doesn't seem to be very strong evidence one way or another. Neither does "If we study different mythologies, we will be able to intuit a picture language in which cups always and irreducibly mean the same thing, even when that irreducible meaning wasn't apparent to the people who were actually participating in the cup-ceremony." Paintings of mothers with babies are very likely to look like paintings of mothers with babies regardless of who paints them. This doesn't mean that any picture of a mother with a baby is a Madonna and that all Madonnas have a hidden meaning which Campbell knows and the Pope doesn't.
Have you ever been at a church service when a little Brownie [=Girl Scout] has carried a little flag with a picture of a fairy on it down the aisle and handed it to the Vicar, who put it in the place where the alter would be if we hadn't had a Reformation? It doesn't take any vast insight to spot that this ceremony is based on a military church parade. We can work out why flags were an important part of military communication in the olden days and why they continued to be an important part of military symbolism even when they stopped being useful. But I think it would be reckless to say that the little eight year old is "really" performing a military ceremony and that the Brownies are "really" a paramilitary movement. (Or that the Marines are "really" interested in baking cookies and taking baskets of fruit to old ladies, come to that.) I think its more likely that some person in authority, very likely Lady Baden-Powell, thought it would be nice for little girls to have some ceremony to perform on the first Sunday of the month excluding school holidays and invented one based on military church parades because she remembered them from the last War.
Just because two things look the same it doesn't follow that they are the same.
[*] Not as much as he did before the global economic meltdown.
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