A Teaching Inspired by 9-11 and Joseph Campbell
Become “transparent to transcendence” as you find our common ground.
LIKE MANY Americans this day, I’ve turned my mind to contemplate this ninth anniversary of 9-11. It’s been a remarkably beautiful day in the Bay Area, and as I walked about earlier today and paused by a bench overlooking Richardson Bay, the scene simply pulled me into myself.
Among the musings – How can this 9-11 anniversary deepen our understanding of each other?
Recently, I’ve been re-reading some of the books of mythologist Joseph Campbell. The man had a remarkable insight into mankind because he spent his life studying what some of the greatest minds in the world had to say about what formed the context and content of our lives. His exceptional mind gathered it all in, including languages and world travel, and then he synthesized it all into his own insights.
In the end, he was one of those great minds.
If those who smashed the planes into the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania could have been free enough of their indoctrination to learn what a truly free mind like Campbell’s can conjure after a life time of learning, “9-11” would never have happened. Likewise, if those who demonize Islam, or any other religion, could be guided by Campbell, they too would desist.
For what Joseph Campbell makes evident through his wonderful scholarship is that we’re all from the same bundle of yarn.
Religion often separates us because it’s read literally rather than metaphorically. Thus the religious stories are not interpreted as mythology, but fact.
The results penetrate us: the Catholic world made in six days by an anthropomorphic deity who then has a serpent contrive to make all of us sinners; the Muslim world where woman are often viewed inferior to men and treated like objects (more covered than coveted); the Jewish world where ancestral land rights divinely promised in ancient texts are the pretext for them — once an abused, homeless people — to dominate and keep homeless another people.
You’re born and at some point along the way, someone you trust, or an authority figure, indoctrinates you about stories proffered by a religion, stories represented to be the Truth, literally, rather than myth, figuratively.
Campbell writes: “A mythology is an organization of symbolic narratives and images that are metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience and fulfillment in a given society at a given time.” (The Hero’s Journey, page 135)
Or, as he puts it more mystically: “[a myth] is a metaphor transparent to transcendence”. (The Hero’s Journey, page 40)
What Campbell means here, I think, is that we humans live out our lives in relation to the predominant themes, or myths of our culture or religion, whether recognized or not. When understood as metaphor, the religious stories become “transparent” and we become “transcendent”. Instead, if taken literally, the religious stories remain outside of ourselves and our own personal experience.
Go to the root of it, and you’ll observe no separation. That’s my 9-11 contemplation.
Your thoughts? Go to the Comments section below and type away.