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Reply To: Themes in Joseph Campbell’s Thought

Toby Johnson

    The High Culture Form Theme:

    Fans and followers of Joseph Campbell’s–like Campbell himself–like stories. They like aphorisms like that of Eli Wiesel that “God created human beings because He loves stories.” Campbell liked to tell stories. His audiences liked to listen to him. And they probably went home and repeated those stories to other people.

    One theme then in Campbellian thought is that we ought to read and listen to and analyze the great treasury of mythological stories that come down to us from around the world because they’re great art in themselves. Religion and creative art are aspects of one another.

    In the same way you go to art museums to appreciate the high culture forms of past artisans and artists, so you might read the mythological stories from the past and even participate in the religious practices of those people who still practice religion (and believe in it as literal truth–“God’s own Truth”) but with your own enlightened perspective.

    This results in even more valorization of myth for its own sake. And further raises the spectre of the “pre/trans fallacy.” Just because you–as a modern, sophisticated, intelligent person well-read about religion–can see deep and profound meaning for you in the stories of the past, it doesn’t follow that the prophets and evangelists who composed the religions knew or intended such profound wisdom.