Campbell and Rumors of Anti-semitism

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by Martin_Weyers » Thu Jan 08, 2004 5:20 am

Cranky Scientist has quoted Campbell before in this thread, with the following words from Thou art That:
[Buber] was lecturing at Columbia and I raised my hand and said, "There's a word being used here this evening that I don't understand."

He said, "What's the word?

I said, "God"

You don't understand what God means?" he replied.

I said, "I don't know what you mean by God. You've told us that God has hidden his face, that we are in exile. I've just come from India, where people are experincing God all the time."

And do you know what Buber said? "Do you mean to compare?"

There you have revealed two sides of looking at the idea of God. If you choose to have a God who is not comparable to any other God, then you must affirm and, as it were, stick with that God. When the God opens to transcendence, so does the believer. When the God closes, so does the believer.

But then you may be face to face with something you cannot handle. The best thing one can do with the Bible is to read it spiritually rather than historically. Read the Bible in your own way, and take the message because it says something special to each reader, based on his or her own experience.

The gift of God comes in your own terms. God, pure and in Himself, is too much.

Carl Jung said, "Religion is a system to defend us against the experience of God."

It may be a species of impudence to think that the way you understand God is the way God is.

~Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p 60.
Psychologically there's an obvious explanation for the addiction to dis people by calling them anti-Semite, Nazi, traitor to the fatherland or whatever. If someone is lacking arguments, it's a convenient method to boost one's own moral position by abasing the other one's.

Let us suppose, Campbell has kicked a guy out of one of his lectures, because that guy had accosted him or disturbed the lecture. Suppose the man is fortunate to belong to any suppressed minority; You can be sure, he will spread a rumor that Campbell had cut and dried opinions regarding that specific minority. It's just a common psychological phenomenon.





Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
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Post by Richard Arthur » Mon Jan 19, 2004 7:06 pm

Two points:

1) My understanding is that the common charge of antisemitism against Campbell is not based on his strong feelings about Judaism and the monotheistic religions deriving from it, but from personal remarks repeated by others allegedly betraying an antipathy to Jews as Jews.

It's a little hard to evaluate whether such remarks do add up to "antisemitism" since we don't know what they are. They are accessible, apparently, in a New York Review of Books article which none of us, myself included, apparently care enough about to put out even a modest amount of money for.

2) Whether Campbell was personally antisemitic is entirely irrelvant to the value of his ideas, which is the focus of these forums. I don't think the idea here is to canonize him, or found the First Church of Joseph, but to understand him.

Martin Heidegger wrote one of the most significant philosophical books of the twentieth century, Being and Time. In 1933 Heidegger joined the Nazi party. Except to the limited extent that one might want to argue that espousing Heidegger's philosophy doesn't insulate one from joining extremist political movements, Heidegger's political and moral failings have little or nothing to do with the ideas he expounded in Being and Time.

Or, take the case of Wagner, an open antisemite. What has that to do with his music? Nothing. And even his antisemitism had its limits. It irritated him to no end that the premier of his great Christian epic Parsifal was conducted by a Jew. He was even offensive enough to suggest that the man (I'm sorry, his name escapes me) be baptised for purpose of conducting. But, when push came to shove, Wagner preferred to have his great work conducted by the best conductor--even if he was a Jew. So, even for an admitted antisemite, sometimes antisemitism had to take a back seat.

Whether Campbell was an antisemite is an interesting aspect of his biography. Its relevance beyond that is questionable, even assuming, without any proof I've seen, that he did have such a character flaw.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Sat Jan 31, 2004 8:53 am

On 2003-07-08 10:30, Richard Arthur wrote:
Whether Campbell was personally antisemitic is entirely irrelvant to the value of his ideas, which is the focus of these forums. I don't think the idea here is to canonize him, or found the First Church of Joseph, but to understand him.
Campbell was no saint. The way he treated people who were annoying him was much different from the mode the Dalai Lama would suggest. Remember for instance the radio interview about metaphor in Thou art That (about "John the deer"). A Campbell church would be the most awful thing that could happen to his ideas. And a canonization would be the second-worst thing. On the other hand, I am grateful for what I've learned from Campbell. An author can become a kind of friend or mentor for the reader, and there's nothing wrong with it. I can not pay back what he has given to me, but I can try to protect him from defamation.

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Post by David_Kudler » Mon Feb 23, 2004 12:26 pm

At the Joseph Campbell Mythology Group, an online group dedicated to exploring myth and Campbell that includes a Yahoo! discussion group, there has been a discussion of this very issue. Richard Wallach, who was an associate of Campbell's, contributed several posts that I though would be germaine. I'll quote the thread, with his permission:
Message: 19 Date: Mon, 02 Jun 2003 14:48:33 -0000 From: "rwallach1" Subject: Re: That Troublesome Topic: Campbell's Politics

--- In [email protected], falderol1 wrote: I learned what Campbell's politics was, down deep, when I attended a two day public symposium sponsored by the SF Jung Institute. It sheds a lot of light on his love of "German culture." He went into a five minute anti-Semitic diatribe, beginning with a his reaction to a comment by Martin Buber, that wound up with him expressing exactly the same things about Judaism as Louis Farrakhan.

rwallach replies:

Um -- this is a pretty broad and vague statement. It'd help if you could be a little more precise about what it was he said, or that you think he said. It would surely help me understand why, in that case, he appointed me -- at the time still a practicing Jew, as he was perfectly aware -- director of his seminar series schedule, among other things, back in 1975, and/or why we were able to have frequent conversations comparing the John Woodruffe illustrations of the kundalini yoga to a series of classic representations of the sefirotic tree in several kabbalistic traditions without him bursting into "anti semitic diatribes." I want to be sure this isn't one of those responses wherein virtually any disagreement with or criticism of any aspect of Judaic culture (including, for example, bulldozing Arab houses to make way for Jewish settlements on the West Bank) elicits hysterical charges of anti-semitism.

I never received anything but complete respect from Joe, and in several years of close association with him that included travelling with him and attending programs and talks he gave all over the country, I often heard him take very strong positions against inclusive/exclusive, us-versus-them forms of sectarianism and the toxic effects of such sectarian thinking throughout all levels of social and political life. But he felt that way about any such system, including the more extreme Hindu and Buddhist sects, 'untouchability' in all its rancid forms, and so on. I never heard anything that even remotely approached an "anti semitic" diatribe.

Message: 24 Date: Mon, 02 Jun 2003 15:04:24 -0000 From: "rwallach1" Ah, and a quick followup to my last post:

(1) I recall that in the months after Campbell's death, this issue of his presumed "anti semitism" came up on a number of occasions, and on each, the examples offered for it were pretty farfetched. I don't recall a single concrete citation of a comment he had made, nor, certainly, of anything he had ever written, that you could call "anti semitic" in the mindless sense of the term. I do recall one prominent New York rabbi being interviewed about it -- I believe he was a ranking official of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, though I don't remember his name anymore. He was asked if Campbell was anti-semitic and he replied -- and this is verbatim, it stuck in my mind -- "Yes, in the sense that he was anti-sectarian."

Good grief - what a slovenly standard for imposing such a vicious pejorative on someone's reputation. It's as if that clown was already working for a Rupert Murdoch news channel.

(2) What Campbell loved about German culture (which until 1938 included an immense Jewish contribution, of which he was well aware and of which he was appropriately appreciative) was its passion for precision, its curiosity, its creative richness and its singular capacity to acknowledge and keep in balance the dark side of the human psyche. One of the questions that drove his own curiosity was how such a culture could, finally, collapse into such a nightmare. "The Masks of God" was in no small part and attempt to answer that question, and the introduction to the series, as I've noted elsewhere on this forum, is a pretty clear and forthright attack upon bigotry justified by myth, and a tonic exposition of the dangerous forces operating within mythological systems, especially sectarian ones. I think your reference to his love of classic Germania in the context you used it was unjustifiable, and such transparent rhetorical ploys aren't going to shepherd a useful discussion in any direction.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Sat Mar 06, 2004 2:13 am

Excellent bottom line. Rumours and calumniations, as is generally known, prevalently live on a lack of factual information.




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Post by Felicity » Wed Mar 17, 2004 4:00 pm

If he's "tarred with the brush", maybe the purpose of those who do the tarring is to keep the next generation from being interested in reading his books. Reading Joseph Campbell is enough to make a lot of young people break out of the paddock, so to speak; and forget about being observant Jews. It's a weapon being used these days to keep everyone on side; Peter Ustinov writes about what he went through when he was both labelled anti-Semitic, and described by Jews as a Jew, when he is actually neither.

We're experiencing - since 911 the fact of being labelled anti-Semitic if we disagree with the warlike policies of Israel. I've found myself explaining to at least a couple of Jewish friends that because I disagree with Sharon doesn't make me an anti-Semite. Separation of religion, state, and race seems to be a problem.
One of our past Prime Ministers, Brian Mulroney -- spoke out about it finally and said publicly that disagreeing with Israel does not make you an anti-Semite.
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Post by Painted Owl » Mon Mar 29, 2004 5:46 am



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Post by JR » Fri Apr 09, 2004 7:33 pm

Fanaticism has its place, I mean after all Christ himself required a certain degree of devotion that could certainly be considered fanatical; any soldier in an army is required to be fanatically loyal in order to simply do their job; even in parenthood, fanaticism is almost necessary to produce a well adjusted child. I think the problem in our society (notthat it's a new one) is that the blind energy of modern religious fanaticism is being used in such a way as to benefit something that is not concordant with the best interests of society, let alone the faithful whose belief is being used against them.

Olive brings the point up that some people who might even consider Campbell to be insightful also consider his focus on the criticism of monotheism to be out of alignment with the weight of his consideration for other religions and philosophies.

This perspective is, I think missing a point which Campbell took somewhat for granted; the major religions of the western world, no less than the basis of thought for the entire western mindset, have been corrupted for the vast majority of their histories by the very same literal interpretations and machinations of power that Judeo-Christian institutions today like the orthodox church, militant Islam, Israeli orthodox Judaism, and the myriad of evangelical movements suffer from today.

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Post by OliveBranch » Wed Apr 21, 2004 9:20 am

[this posting was in its own thread, but I moved it here on the suggestion of JR]

I have just read a review of 'Myths and Masks of God' from the Barnes and Noble site - here. To quote Steven E. Steinbock:
Campbell's rambling style and abstract content can be overwhelming for some listeners, and his anti-Judeo-Christian prejudice off-putting.
I have searched the web and found a Steven E. Steinbock who writes books on Judaism. I haven't listened to these lectures yet. Has anyone heard these lectures ? If so, did you hear Campbell suffering from anti-Judeo-Christian prejudice?

I also found the same review on Amazon.
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Post by Clemsy » Sun May 02, 2004 11:06 pm

OB,
Haven't heard such lectures, but Campbell's tendency toward... well impatience, with literal interpretations of scripture, in this day and age, elicit such sentiments from those whose faith runs in that direction.

I mean really. Only the very devil would disagree with God. :wink:

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Post by OliveBranch » Fri May 14, 2004 12:53 pm

On 2004-02-03 04:47, Clemsy wrote:
I mean really. Only the very devil would disagree with God. :wink:
Perhaps you are right Clemsy. Let's not forget 'The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose'!
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Post by Clemsy » Wed May 26, 2004 2:40 am

LOL! Isn't isn't his name Jerry Fallwell?
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Post by Clemsy » Sun Jun 06, 2004 4:26 pm

JR, that was very well said, indeed. As for fanaticism... there are fanatics, the true and righteous variety, then there are the power mongers, of which I believe Falwell and his ilk represent. There may be a place for the former, but the only place I can think of for the latter would have them stewing in their own juices.

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Post by OliveBranch » Fri Jun 18, 2004 6:13 am

On 2004-02-04 18:44, Clemsy wrote:
As for fanaticism... there are fanatics, the true and righteous variety, then there are the power mongers, of which I believe Falwell and his ilk represent.
You have just given me an awakening Clemsy! I now see a new religion! Power as Religion! And it seems, as I study this religion with new eyes, that it can use spiritualism, patriotism, nationalism, socialism, communism and other -isms as its vehicle. I will have to give this all some more thought!
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