Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Joseph Campbell's Misunderstanding of the Eden Myth

A paper written for Dr. Dennis Slattery's Introduction to Joseph Campbell class at Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2010.


In this paper, I do not think I am saying anything that would surprise Joseph Campbell. I do not even propose that I accurately reflect his complex and sometimes contradictory thinking. Campbell intentionally epitomizes Walt Whitman's famous statement, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am complex, I contain multitudes" (Whitman ll, 1314–1316 ). Bill Moyers P.B.S. sponsored Power of Myth  interviews with Campbell  awakened me to the world of comparative mythology. He has become for me what James Hillman calls an "ideational vessel for making soul," a living alchemical retort that allows the psycho-poetic substances of my own soul to mix with his, and transmute through interaction. That is the function of every great teacher--not to form the student in the teacher's image, but to expose the student to materials that cause a sublimation (an improvement or refinement) of the personality.

When I first heard the Power of Myth interview in 1989, I noticed Campbell's enthusiasm for all things Eastern and Nature-based, and his sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, disparagement of Judeo-Christian religious ideas. At that time I was preparing to leave my position as an Evangelical Free Church minister and my part time teaching job at a Presbyterian seminary, and was very sympathetic with Campbell’s appraisal of Western religion. At that time my perception of the God of Christianity was of a deity that had become too distant from Nature and far too hard for me to get along with. The Bible was too literal and non-sensical. I left the Christian religion, traded in my Old and New Testaments for the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching and a bottle of Jack Daniels, and set out on a new path.

Now, many years later, having traversed much terrain, I find myself reacting to and interacting with Campbell in a different way. I would like to take issue with some of his comments regarding Western, specifically Christian, ideas. specifically in his observations regarding ‘literalism’ versus ‘metaphor’ and his frequent criticisms of biblical literalism or "facts". I have time to focus on one example primarily, though many could be cited:[i]

...the daunting biblical image of the flaming sword between the cherubim, turning every way at the gate of Eden to guard the way to the tree of eternal life, has kept separate the opposed powers of the two guardians , which in the image of the Navajo Pollen Path, no less than in that of the Indian sushumna, must be brought together if the middle way is ever to be opened. In this exceptional tradition, Eternity and Time, Heaven and Earth, are permanently apart. There can be no reading of the images of God and Satan as metaphors of any kind. They are invisible, supernatural facts. And the creatures of this visible earth are but dust, as is the earth itself. (Inner Reaches, 114-15) 

            Here Campbell makes an absolute judgment and statement regarding biblical mythology. He says that "there can be no reading of the images of God and Satan as metaphors of any kind," that they "are...supernatural facts," and the living creatures on the biblical earth "are but dust, as is the earth itself." Is this true?

            We must begin with the fact that metaphors always begin with and presume a
 culturally constructed concept, not language. One cannot cross-culturally pollinate
symbols without first understanding the literal concept beneath the non-literal
metaphor.  George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, in Metaphors We Live By, point this out:

…metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words…human thought processes are largely metaphorical…Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person’s conceptual system. Therefore, when we speak of metaphors…it should be understood that metaphor means metaphorical concept. (Lakoff, Metaphors 6)

Ignorance of the specific, local cultural construct that gives meaning to a metaphor jeopardizes a clear understanding and the subsequent interpretation of a linguistic statement from that culture:

…people with very different conceptual systems than our own may understand the world in a very different way than we do. Thus, they may have a very different body of truths than we have and even different criteria for truth and reality. (Lakoff, Metaphor 181)

Similarly stated, James Hillman views metaphors "...less semantically as a figure of speech and more ontologically as a mode of being, or psychologically as a style of consciousness" (Re-Visioning 156, italics mine).
           As an illustration, imagine you are visiting a culture that had never heard of computers. Imagine sharing something you suddenly deem unimportant to someone in that culture, and exclaiming, “Oh, never mind, just delete my last comments from your mental hard drive.” They would have no idea of what you are talking about because they do not share the mental concept which precedes and informs your culturally conditioned metaphor.
Campbell does something like this when he says: “There can be no reading of the [biblical] images of God and Satan as metaphors of any kind” (Inner Reaches, 114-15). Campbell's critique of the Hebrew story assumes the Hindu construct of ultimate reality as being "all one," not allowing for the Hebrew cultural concept of the necessity of separation and alienation. He appears to forget that separation and unity are both archetypal and native to the human psyche. He is imposing the Hindu construct on the Hebrew narrative.  The conceptual construct of separation would have made no sense in the Hindu and Native American religious worlds in which Campbell stood. He and they view unity  as the ideal goal of spirituality, while the Hebrews incorporated the experience of separation into their spiritual paradigm. This makes Campbell's critique of the angels with the flaming swords not only irrelevant, but wrong--at least with regard to the biblical mythology.
          According to some Jewish, Christian and Jungian interpreters--this novel Hebrew notion of the necessity of separation and alienation introduced a radically new paradigm into Near Eastern religion and eventually the larger world. The animated dust-born human in Eden was neither wholly divine nor wholly animal, yet contained some elements of each while also evolving from both, toward what dialecticists like Hegel called Absolute Spirit, and the Jesuit priest and scientist Tielhard de Chardin called the Omega Point. Unlike the Eastern ego the biblical ego was not originally intended to be one with God. Their notion of the ego-self was imagined as a seed pod made in the image of God, yet separated from the originating "Divine Source" in order to morph into an entirely new Self by going through the various post-Edenic pathololgies (sufferings) of material and psychic existence--symbolized by pain in child birth and working by the sweat of the brow.[ii] The angels with flaming swords, keeping humans from the Tree of Life, is seen by some biblical interpreters as a metaphor indicating that the way to the spiritual life was forward, not backward. While the the Navajo Pollen Path and Indian sushumna way requires one to march through the fearful angels into the peaceful center, the Hebrew path requires the nascent soul to leave the nest and enter earth-life. There is room for both ideas in a soul-making world which requires one to first leave the peaceful center, journey through a world of pains and troubles, and 
eventually return to the peaceful center. In other words, Campbell's disparagement of the Edenic flaming-sword metaphor is mistakenly based on his Hindu presupposition of unity rather than the Hebrew presupposition of separation prior to reunion. Neither is wrong, but each is looking at the existential quest from a different angle.
          A soul-making view of Eden was developed by the second century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons when he appeals to the biblical phrase, “man was made in the image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26-27), pointing out that the Hebrew Bible used two different words distinguishing between ‘image’ (tselem) and ‘likeness’ (derooth). "Image" suggests potential while "likeness" suggests actual. The aim of human existence is to move over a period of time from potential to actual. Just as the seven earthly days of creation moved from chaos to orderly completion, so too does the human (the first Adam) develop over a period of years from the raw chaos of God's embryonic image into the completed form of God-likeness found in Christ (the last Adam--I Cor. 15:42-49). This Edenic Adam (human) was comprised of three elements: material dust, divine spiritual breath and a living soul. There was an intentional and purposeful distinction between the divine spiritual nature, the material nature and the animated or soulful human. Irenaeus imagined that the Hebrew mythology viewed human existence as a comingling of these disparate or separate elements over a lifetime with a view to making something entirely new--a completed Human.[iii] Irenaeus put it like this:

Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the human, but certainly not the completed human; for the mature human consists in the commingling and the union of the soul with the spirit and both of these with the material nature which was made after the image of God. (Against Heresies, Book V Chapter 6)[iv]

            In this view, the ontological aim of the biblical metaphor of the Edenic separation from God is not at all like the Hindu or Buddhist notion of separation-as-illusion to be eradicated in order to free the deluded mind, or to free the imprisoned ego trapped in an unnecessary duality. The Hebrew idea is not to clear away maya in order to transcend or escape the prison of the material realm in order to return to Divine unity as taught in the Hindu Sankhya Philosophy, or the various Gnostic mythologies.[v] The biblical view is imagined more like an alchemical transmutation and recombination of the three confused ingredients of body, soul and spirit through an interactive comingling in the mixing bowl of this world of problems and challenges--a world John Keats called the ‘vale of soul-making’.
          The Judeo-Christian myth is radically different than most Eastern mythologies, allowing for what today is called a dialectical, developmental and teleological process. The aim is not to return to God, but to evolve into divine of mature beings or selves. This innately human structural dialectic is what Levi-Strauss discovered in the worlds mythologies, a dialectic that attempts to make sense of psychological and relational conflict. The Hebrew metaphors of God and Satan, contrary to Campbell's assertion, attempt to explain existential duality as real and purposeful. The necessity of this basic human conflictual phenomenon was recognized by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus when he said that “Strife is the Father of all”[vi] (BKB53), and by William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Without contraries is no progression” (Proverbs of Hell). This is one reason the Genesis myth uses the metaphor of separation. So when Campbell says, “There can be no reading of the images of God and Satan as metaphors of any kind. They are invisible, supernatural facts,” he seems to be forcing the biblical myth into an Eastern conceptual construct of unity and return to a lost union. For Campbell there is "no reading"  of the biblical ideas of Satan and God as metaphors. I beg to differ, and suggest that he is likely having a compensatory reaction to his Catholic upbringing, and wrongly forcing the Hindu cultural construct onto the Hebrew myth.

          The Hebrew noun JHWH is derived from a verb that means “I am” and the Hebrew verb shatan derives from a verb that means "to block." When viewed through the lens of daily human experience, these two ideas might be psychologically understood as the common experiences of "I am" (JHWH) and "I am not" (shatan). The Hebrews understood what all humans have known--there are two opposing  forces within--one compelling us to consciousness and purpose, and another compeling us to unconsciousness and despair. One force says "yes" to life and meaning and the other says "no". Renee Girard points out that the Hebrew word Satan is often translated as "the accuser," suggesting that it is juxtaposed to the New Testament idea of Goda s the Holy "paraclete" which means "advocate" or '"lawyer for the defense" (John 14:16; 14: 26; 15:26; 16:7). This courtroom analogy reminds us of the trial of the biblical priest Joshua being accused by The Satan (adversary) and defended by the Messenger of the LORD (advocate): "Then he [the LORD] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him" (Zechariah 3). Freud, from a strictly non-religious stance, discovered a similar human psychology comprised of the Pleasure Principle and the Death Drive.
          For Irenaeus and many early Christians, God and Satan are archetypal Presences conspiring in the human soul-making process. For example, in the Gospel of Luke Jesus displays a standard Jewish attitude which sees The Satan (adversarial situations in life) as needing permission from a higher authrority to bring tests (as in The Book of in Job) with a soul-making telos. Jesus says: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). This statement refers to Peter's denial of Christ and cowardly failure, yet it was a transformative experience for Peter, making him a great leader and teacher. The aim of all dualities is to move individual humans from image to likeness through each of life's experiences--what I shall refer to as four kinds of necessary experience--also known as four basic stages and modes of consciousness. Jung called this goal individuation, Jewish mystics call it the Adam Kadmon and Hillman calls it soul-making. Jesus alluded to this process as well in a much neglected canonical parable:

Jesus said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Gospel of Mark 4:26-29

For many Jews and Christians, separation and dualism are a necessary condition for transformation into what the Eastern Orthodox Church calls theois—becoming divine. That is why Process Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, "The Old Testament is the story of the evolution of consciousness without equal in the literature of the world"  (Religion in the Making).

         In all fairness Campbell elsewhere recognizes that: “Every myth…whether or not by intention, is psychologically symbolic. Its narratives and images are to be read, therefore, not literally, but as metaphors” (Inner 55). By writing this he seems to be agreeing with the various authorities on mythology who make clear that it is impossible to separate fact from fiction or myth from history, especially when the "myth" is one’s own:[viii] As with all religious symbolism, there is no attempt to justify mythic narratives or even to render them plausible. Every myth presents itself as an authoritative, factual account, no matter how much the narrated events are at variance with natural law or ordinary experience. (Online Britannica).
Clifford Geertz includes facticity in his general definition of religions when he says,

religion is "…a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and  long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general      
order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" (Hale, Part 1). In other words, “authoritative factual accounts” and an “aura of ‘factuality” do not contradict myth or necessarily contaminate metaphors, especially when the cultural conceptual metaphor is not fully understood. Myths most often present themselves as factual and authoritative. That is why James Hillman can refer to the "fiction of science" as well as "science fiction."
          That being said, Campbell still seems to prefer the Eastern mythologies over the Western, deeming them better metaphors since he understands divinity as primarily a notion of union. It is understandable. Campbell was raised a strict Catholic. Jung noted that cultures with long standing religious and mythological systems often produce people who become so familiar with their rites and symbols that they cannot ‘see through them,’ or they have been hurt or disappointed so badly by the religious teachings that they want some ‘greener’ mytho-ritual grass. I would add that the needs of the soul compell one to "other" perspectives in order to satisfy the individual or collective archetypal-itch, a kind of soul-making complementary perspective. This point will be important for our look at the stages and modes of developing consciousness in the soul-making process.
          Finally, from an archetypal perspective, ‘literal facts’ are just as necessary, and perhaps symbolical, as ‘metaphors.’ If hard religious facts are dogma, then these dogmatic kernels are the solidified seed pods of the wilting and wilted mythical flower which contains the next myth. Dogma is the seed of myth, the dead husk of the new emerging idea (archetypal pattern of consciousness). Dogma and fact are as necessary to myth as metaphor. The ‘nonsense’ is just as necessary as the ‘sense.’ Campbell was a genius in detecting the old husks, cracking them open and stripping away the old shards, and releasing the new seed ideas into a cultural soil ready for new images of soul.
Postscript:  In addition, the biblical notion of separation provided a new metaphor or archetypal image for interacting differently with Nature. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian Nature religions, and Hindu and Chinese, essentially worshipped Nature. The Jews and Christians, ideally, respectfully used it[ix]. Clearly, at some level all humans used Nature, making tools and weapons, etc. However, Religious Sociologist Rodney Stark[x] suggests that there was a radical difference between the two views of Narture/nature. Stark’s research concludes that the reason the West developed and excelled in ‘modern science’ and technology was due to a philosophy that separated spirit and matter, or God and Nature, while giving them ontological equivalence. The Hebrew Bible calls the creation ‘good and very good,’ and the Apostle Paul writes, ‘God is for the body’ (I Corinthians 6:13). Humans are made in the image and likeness of God, giving rational thought or logos high value.
On this point Eliade writes,

Compared with the archaic and palaeo-oriental religions, as well as with the mythic-philosophical conceptions of the eternal return, as they were elaborated in India and Greece, Judaism presents an innovation of the first importance. For Judaism, time has a beginning and will have an end. The idea of cyclic time is left behind. Yahweh no longer manifests himself in cosmic time (like the gods of other religions) but in a historical time, which is irreversible (The Sacred and Profane 110). Campbell also recognizes this when he writes, “For already in the Old Testament, as in post-Galilean sciences, there is in nature itself no divinity [MDB1] . There is no god in all the earth but in Israel (II Kings 5:15)…”[xi] (Inner Reaches 114) He sees that the Catholic scientists held this inanimate view of nature. Stark and Tulane University mathematical physicist Frank Tippler[xii] would argue that de-divinized nature is the reason why these men made their discoveries.

[i] Other references: “For already in the Old Testament, as in post-Galilean sciences, there is in nature itself no divinity. There is no god in all the earth but in Israel (II Kings 5:15)… Such uninspired literalism in the understanding of mythological metaphors is difficult to match in the whole great field of the history of religions.”  Inner Reaches, 114; “…the misunderstanding consisting in the interpretation of mythic metaphors as reference to hard facts: the virgin birth, for example, as a biological anomaly…What, in the name of Reason or Truth, is a modern mind to make of such evident nonsense?” (Inner Reaches 55); referencing the biblical wars, Campbell writes, “The popular nightmare of history… comes of misreading metaphors…and dismissing the metaphors as lies.” (Inner Reaches, p. 58); "Monotheism is idolatry in that it imagines its god to be the God for which you leave this one. ...Hindu...Gods are all metaphors of this ultimate mystery, the mystery of your own being. So God is not 'out there'; but is in here." (Mythic Dimension 188); "So then when you are studying mythology to find what the rules of nature are, avoid the Bible (V 184);
[ii] When I teach my Introduction to the Bible course, I teach it as "Stages of Consciousness" moving from self centered stage one as ego in Genesis, to stage two ego-expanded in Exodus-I Samuel under formal union with the larger legal community (romance stage), to stage three ego-questioned or personal individuation from Samuel, the controversial poetic and prophetic books, to stage four in the New Testament of ego-surrendered which is now similar to Hindu notion of union.
[iii] Heraclitus writes, " The logos of the soul is increasing itself." DKB115
[iv] A fuller quotation from Irenaeus says, "[For] the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was, made in the image of and likeness of God. But if the Spirit be lacking to the soul, he who is such is indeed of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image [of God] in his formation, but not receiving the likeness through the Spirit… For that flesh which has been molded is not a perfect man in itself, but the body of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man."
[v] Irenaeus' refutation of the various so called "Gnostic" heresies makes no sense until one sees that the underlying philosophical presupposition was equality yet separation between matter (Nature), spirit and soul. The Gnostics were relegating spirit to a higher value on the ontological scale, diminishing the nature and role of matter.
[vi] "What opposes unites, and the finest attunement stems from things bearing in opposite directions, and all things come about by strife." (Fragment DKB8); " God is day night, winter summer, war peace, satiety hunger . . .” (Fragment DK22B67)
[vii] "Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose (SHATAN) him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road." nUMBER 22:21-23
[viii] Anthropologist Michael Jackson says that to examine a myth or ritual apart from living and acting in it is absurd: ' investigate beliefs or 'belief systems' apart from actual human activity is absurd...Verbal responses [doctrines] are poor indices of inner states, and beliefs are more like metaphors than they dare imagine...the 'truth' of science or divination in terms of some notion that the systems correspond to external reality is not necessary in order for these systems to help us cope with life and make it meaningful. The lesson I take from my experience of consulting Kuranko diviners is that one does not have to believe in the truth claims of the system for it to work in a practical and psychological sense."  Paths Toward a Clearing, Michael Jackson, p. 66 Beliefs are more than cold, hard facts about the ontological nature of reality. Even if apparently 'literal,' they are still metaphors that provide practical and psycho-emotional benefits, even though they are not fully understood. There is significance to the fact that the word 'belief' is etymologically related to the German word 'beloved'. Our beliefs are those ideas and practices which we love for their ability to turn an otherwise meaningless, terrifying and confusing cosmos into some semblance of order. Irenaeus, following the Jewish and Pauline ideas of the 'literal' flesh, made sense of physical disease, pains, death and corruption in general. They knew it was not 'flesh' as we know it. They always qualified the transforming substance of flesh by adding qualifiers--'from corruptible to incorruptiuble' flesh, 'spiritual' body, resurrected body, glorified body, etc. Paul said even the whole physical creation will be redeemed and become new, presumably incorruptible. The stuff is as much part of God as the non-stuff, or Spirit (cf. with Hindu Purusha and Prakriti).
[ix] Granted, not all espousing a Judeo-Christian dominion perspective respectfully use the material world, but not all who worship Nature are humane. Whether one rapes the land under the umbrella of dominion, or allows divine rats to eat the grain while people are starving, something shadowy is being done. Every archetypal perspective has a light and shadow side.
[x] Starks book The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, explores the philosophical and theological differences between the various religions, concluding that modern science, capitalist economics and the vast technological advances in the past two centuries are directly related to world views.
[xi] Joseph Campbell, writing about Oriental mythologies, displays his conceptual metaphor when he recognizes
“There is therefore nothing to be gained, either for the universe or for man, through individual originality and effort. Those who have identified themselves with the body and its affections will necessarily find that all is painful, since everything—for them—must end. But for those who have found the still point of eternity, around which all—including themselves—revolves, everything is glorious and wonderful just as it is. The first duty of man, consequently, is to play his given role—as do the sun, the moon, the various animal and plant species, the waters, the rocks, and the stars—without fault; and then if possible, so to order his mind as to identify it with the inhabiting essence of the whole.” (Campbell, The Mythic Dimension 20, bold print mine)




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