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Reply To: Why I Disagree with Joe Campbell


Well, Nandu, looks like at the next meeting of the Cult of Campbell there is going to be an excommunication as you are “cast into outer darkness, where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth” (do forgive the biblical phrasing – not sure what the corresponding Hindu condemnation would be).

This, by the way, would be one of the few times when one of those laughing emoticons would come in handy, so anyone new stumbling across this thread who is new to the forums would realize I’m not being serious. Kidding aside, I think this post would be better titled “Where I Disagree with Joe Campbell,” rather than “Why I Disagree . . .,” as seems there remain at least  a few areas of agreement.

Even though I am not from India, your criticism of Campbell’s depiction of Hinduism rings true to me, at least to a degree. There is a tendency for outsiders to view other cultures’ beliefs, whether that other culture is Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity, as monolithic in nature (e.g., “Hindus believe this,” or “Christians believe that,” etc.), ignoring the wide range of variations within those belief systems. Indeed, given hundreds of denominations, there are ever so many Christian sects that other Christian sects view as not exactly Christian (indeed, many evangelical churches consider Catholicism as paganism wearing a clerical collar, while the Catholic Church has quite a history of condemning, persecuting, torturing, immolating, or making war on other Christians – and then the majority of Protestants think the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witnesses churches aren’t Christian at all – but still, those of non-Christian faiths, as well as many scholars who do believe in Jesus, tend to refer to Christianity in general terms).

At the same time, whether or not Hinduism was created “after the fact” to carry the water for the Vedic religion, are you suggesting no one whom we think of as Hindus either now, or centuries or millennia in the past, has ever actually believed in a “philosophy of self-realization leading to identification with the Brahman, the ground of all being”? That doesn’t quite ring true to me.

Along that line, I am curious whether you are suggesting many of the core myths we think of as belonging to Hinduism were later creations formed all at once by Vedic practitioners and projected backwards in time? That, too, doesn’t seem compatible with the way mythologies  emerge and shift shape over time. I have no doubt many of these myths were co-opted and stitched together, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, by adherents to the Vedic religion, in the same way Christianity has emerged out of and “borrowed” from multiple pre-Christian traditions, but that doesn’t mean the origins of these myths aren’t genuine. Similarly, Arthurian lore consists primarily of tales of gods and heroes in the Celtic tradition updated and given a make-over compatible with the dominant Christian belief system – sometimes consciously, but often note (indeed, some versions present more-or-less subversive disruptions of Christian dogma).

Those caveats notwithstanding, your disagreement with Campbell on this point does strike a chord – and I’m not certain that Joe would completely disagree with your criticism. Indeed,  in 1954 while visiting India, Campbell certainly bumped up against the difference between idealized interpretations of Hinduism presented by Schopenhauer, Zimmer, and even himself, versus the reality of how it is actually practiced (which really comes through in his personal observations of his trip, recorded in his Asian Journals – specifically, Baksheesh & Brahman; Campbell at times seems at least a bit peeved at the difference between theory and his actual experience).

Time is a bit of a constraint at the moment, so a little bit later I’ll play a bit with your thoughts about Campbell and mysticism (of course he and Jung are mystics, though I wouldn’t exactly say atheism and mysticism – and certainly not science and mysticism – are mutually exclusive).

And at some point I will contribute a post or two about areas where I disagree with Campbell.

Thanks, Nandu, for pioneering this topic. That’s what the current iteration of Conversations of a Higher Order has been missing – controversy and conflict!

Namaste (whether you like it or not)