Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thou Art That

Thou Art That, a small book, one of Joseph Campbell's last , and arguably best works, introduces the reader to the critical concept for reading and understanding the Bible. To give you a bird's eye view of this valuable biblical resource I can only quote here his words at some length, in the shape of an intimate, personal confession:

"I was born and grew up as a Catholic, and I was a very devoted Catholic, My beliefs however fell apart because the Church read and then presented its symbols in concrete terms. For a long time I had a terrible resentment against the Church .... then through my own study of mythology.. I began to understand what had really happened, ....that organized religion must present itself in one way to children and in another to adults. What I had rejected was the literal, concrete, historical forms that were appropriate when I was young....but when the child grows up and realizes who Santa Claus is (Daddy), so too we must grow in the same way in learning about God".

This is only one of many gems that were eye openers to me. Thou Art That seems to me the distilled essence of what Campbell in his long creative life learned about God and man.

Many years ago I read, and was vividly impressed by Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces. I read it several times. Then I discovered that Campbell had written and written and written-- mythology, Western Mythology, Eastern Mythology, you name it. (None of them measured up IMO to The Hero.)

I had ambivalent feelings about Joseph Campbell: I realized he had a genius for giving us an encyclopedic grasp of World Mythology, but I also realized that he carried a lot of resentment toward the Catholic Church. He always seemed to have glowing feelings about every mythology except Christian.

Reading the above confession gave me a sense of relief (he's long dead of course): He understood his problem and confessed it, which made it easy for me to forgive him. In fact I found in this latest (posthumous) work that he was dealing fairly and creatively with the mythology of the Bible.

More than that I came to see it as a very effectual primer for introducing metaphoric thought re the Bible to a lot of people badly in need of that kind of enlightenment. I highly recommend the book, both books in fact.


Twyla said...

Wonderful. I have Hero With A Thousand Faces on hold at the library...been waiting a couple of months for it and am now next in line. That says something about the book, doesn't it?

I really want to read Thou Art That. Thanks for the appetizer!

kiznath said...

Hi Larry -
Thanks for the info on Campbell - I always think everything I'm reading is the first time someone thought of a particular idea. :) Case in point: Velvet Elvis. It's a new book causing a bit of controversy because the author writes that his faith is not so much like a brick wall, which crumbles if one absolute is called into question, but more like a trampoline, where his major tenets of faith are like springs that can be stretched.

A lot of people have a hard time accepting the mysticism of the Bible and have come down hard on the author's critique of what he calls "brickianity."

Personally, I breathed a giant sigh of relief when I realized the Bible isn't in concrete terms, or bricks. It suddenly has much more depth, and freedom.

Larry said...

Kathy, for years I've been telling people that the Bible is poetry, every word of it. There's nothing hard and fast about poetry; it speaks to your condition whatever that may be.

With the Living Bible God speaks to our condition, whatever it may be.

That means IMO that I'm very likely to see something entirely different in any verse than someone else might.

It also means that our fellowship is essential, because studying the Bible together, discussing the Bible with trusted friends, we will constantly get a new, and different, and often better idea of the passage.

Jon said...

I especially like the phrase you bolded: the church presents its ideas in concrete terms. That's the rub.

And in Asia, among the uneducated, the high-minded Eastern philosophies we find so abstract in the way they're presented to us Westerners are similarly concretized.

Larry said...