Mythology and Ministry?

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 Goode1 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hello everyone. This is my first post here, and I thought I would use it to introduce the greatest struggle I am going through as my interest builds in Myth and Joseph Campbell.

I am currently finishing my undergraduate work with the intention to go on to seminary to become an ordained minister. My major is currently Religious Studies. I figured it would be good preparation for seminary, and that I would be introduced to the world religions. My main concern was to become familiar with other religions so that I could carry on inteligent dialogue with people from faiths different from my own.

I was introduced to Joseph Campbell last semester. I took a class called Myth, Meaning, and Self, mostly because I really liked the professor, and it fit in my schedule.

Now that I have read The Power of Myth been introduced to the work of Joseph Campbell, I feel like many of the answers that I have been searching for are now attainable.

My struggle right now is trying to figure out how compatable the study of comparative mythology can be with my Christian faith and with the vocation to which I am being called. At times I feel like Campbell's work helps to strengthen my faith. After all, if all religions are really talking about the same thing in the end, then I don't have to worry about another religion being more or less "right" than mine. On the other hand, it seems that preaching about the beliefs that are now stirring in me from the pulpit would be a fairly bad career move. I can't help but hear my pastor's warning when she heard that I was studying comparative religion ring out in my head. She said, "Don't let them corrupt you too much". I believe she was only kidding, but ironicly I feel quite corrupted.

I guess the main reason for this post is too see if anybody out there has struggled with this type of situation. I have to start thinking about applying to seminaries, and I feel like I am putting off the whole thing until I can sort out the thousands of different problems that are filling my head everyday as I am trying to follow my bliss.

Any feedback would be much appreciated.

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Post by David_Kudler » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Goode1--

Welcome to the JCF forums, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

I think you will find that many of us here applaud you for trying to find a way to reconcile the ideals of your faith with the perspective that can be gained through the study of comparative mythology. Knowing the history of the symbolism of the cross, for instance, or of the myths pertaining to virgin birth won't change how you and your parishioners feel about the Cross and the Virgin Birth, but it should help give you a wider and deeper view. Joseph Campbell--along with many other students of myth--believed that the mechanisms that create mythic symbols and stories are inherent in the human brain; they are what Jung called archetypes of the collective unconscious, a set of cerebral tools for exploring ideas that, finally, 'pass all understanding.' What neither Campbell nor Jung would have been so reckless as to tell you, however, was whether those structures exist in order to make us sensitive to God's presence, or whether they are the centers out of which we create systems that include a god or gods. Like any tool, the methods of comparative mythology are simply an aid to the researcher--they do not demand a set of beliefs on their own. Of course, they do tend to ask the student to look beyond his or her own horizon of belief--not to step beyond that horizon, but certainly to look.

I'm probably not the right person to help you in your search--I'm a dyed-in-the-wool humanist--but we have associates from just about every religious persuausion, including practicing Christians of many denominations. I know that some of them will be happy to compare experiences with you.
David Kudler<br>Publications<br>Joseph Campbell Foundation<br>publications at jcf dot org
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Post by Richard Arthur » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

>My struggle right now is trying to figure out how compatable the study of comparative mythology can be with my Christian faith and with the vocation to which I am being called.

Certainly the study of anything is compatible with the Christian faith.

Campbell's personal reaction to the study of mythology seems to have been an aversion to traditional monotheism, a conviction that acceptance of faith-claims as true amounted to a "kindergarten" understanding of the world.

As a Christian I can disagree with him about that (or anything) while still profiting from his insights and store of knowledge.

The harder question, I suppose, is whether you not only study him, but are persuaded by his assertions that traditional Christianity embodies a misunderstanding of the role and function of mythology.

You are entirely free to believe or conclude whatever you wish. As a clergyman, however, you are an agent, a spokesman, a confessor of the faith of the church which ordains you. There is then, wholly apart from what you might say from the pulpit, the serious question of whether you can in good faith hold yourself out as a clergyman in a church whose faith you don't share. I assume that people have done it, just as many have lost their faith after ordination. But it doesn't seem to me a road that holds the prospect of either happiness or integrity.

Much depends, of course, on the church or denomination. If you want to serve a Unitarian church, there's hardly an opinion I can think of that would be out of bounds. For other Churches there is going to be some definition of "the faith," probably the historic creeds and confessional standards of the denomination. If your study has led you to be unable to assent in good faith to those creeds or standards, those churches may not be a place for you.

A couple of examples. I seriously considered going to seminary when in college, but thought myself too much a sceptic. Now, in late middle age, I am boringly orthodox. But, though I may regret the road not taken, I think it was the right thing to do, not to profess something I doubted, even if I later came to believe it.

A second. I have a friend who for years was a pastor in a moderate to liberal Protestant denomination. Over the years he came to doubt almost every tenet of his faith, but he hung on to his pastor's job, living, in a sense, a double life, until he had a nervous breakdown. Now he lives as a happy Buddhist, and though I disagree with him about whether the Buddha is preferable to the Christ, I am glad that he no longer bears the burden of daily publicly professing something at odds with his true convictions.
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Post by ALOberhoulser » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Welcome to the jcf forums Goode1!

You picked the perfect place to entertain your thoughts on comparative mythology and religion.

I hope you don't mind a few Philosophical questions...

Have you heard of Religious Pluralism in any of your Philosophy of Religion classes yet? Here's a link showing how diverse that temr can be: http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_plur1.htm

There are many philosophical questions that you'll have to wrestle with before you go through ordination. You wrote:
I guess the main reason for this post is too see if anybody out there has struggled with this type of situation. I have to start thinking about applying to seminaries, and I feel like I am putting off the whole thing until I can sort out the thousands of different problems that are filling my head everyday as I am trying to follow my bliss.
If folllowing your bliss involves the study of different faiths, both ancient and modern, (much like mine :grin: ) just steer clear of restrictions. I took a class last semester on Eastern Religions from a Catholic Minister who has a PhD in comparative religions, Dr. Thomas Ryba.

Also, on another note, there's a big movement within the religious community to further research bridging the gap between religion and science. Here's a great link for you to enjoy: http://www.metanexus.net/index.asp

Good Luck!

peace,
AL
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Post by Guest » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Dear Goode1,

The solution is simple, yet impossibly difficult for many:
Decide what you believe, and then find a religious institution that best reflects both your beliefs--and your doubts.
And then minister to them.
Such a place exists. You need only the courage to find it.

Good luck!
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Post by Goode1 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I thank you all for your quick responses. I can see that I am in a good place for insightful advice. I have also noticed that there are some pretty good debates going on, and I will be sure to make my voice known soon. For now however I would like to just process what you all have said to me and reflect on it for a short while.
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Post by Scarlett » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Dear Goode1,

Thank you for your post. It's funny how things seem to appear when you need them. What I mean by that is just 5 minutes before reading this post, my husband and I were discussing the type of Church we would like to join.

I was raised Catholic...however, like you and many others, my view of other religions and the role they play changed after reading Campbell.

I believe that at the the heart of most religions or faiths there is something there that is meant to help the person develop spirtually...(or develop into a good person...although the term 'good' may be debatable)

I feel like I am contradicting my beliefs when I go to the catholic church...yet I feel very much at home...since I was raised on those beliefs. As David menetioned earlier, reading Campbell has only increased the meaning of the symbols and metaphors that are dear to my heart.

On the other hand, my husband enjoys Baptist Churches. We have to work that out as well...he thinks the catholic services are very boring!

Goode1, I would love a minister like you with an open mind and heart. Please come to my town and start a church! Just kidding :smile:
Seriously, there must be some place out there that needs your ministery. It will take a lot of soul searching to decide if you want to preach in a place that is liberal...or if you want to stay with the religion you are currently involved in and model to your people what an open mind can accomplish.

Good Luck...the path may not be easy. Yet, the trials of our journey make us who we are.

I just want to find a Church that is open minded, so my son can have some kind of spiritual foundation.

Scarlett

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<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Scarlett on 2003-08-04 20:07 ]</font>
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Post by Calaf » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I think that, as long as your mind is pure, you can keep away the intrusion of beliefs that you don't, uh, believe in. I have used this quote elsewhere in these forums, and I would now use it to illustrate my idea that the Christian tenets all tell us not to pursue knowledge (unfortunately):
"Whosoever increases knowledge increases sorrow."
-King Solomon
"Dharma is the best thing for people, both in this life and in the next."<br>-The Buddha, from the Agganna Sutra
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Post by Richard Arthur » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

...the Christian tenets all tell us not to pursue knowledge (unfortunately):
"Whosoever increases knowledge increases sorrow."
-King Solomon
I rather doubt that even the melancholy Qoheleth is telling anyone not to pursue knowledge. Those who have studied, and spent long years in meditation on this world, can probably affirm that knowledge can increase sorrows. But I would not infer from that simple fact that knowledge is not to be pursued, or that the sorrow of experience is to be shunned at all costs, nor have I found that imperative in Christianity.

Marlowe's Faustus, as he is dragged to hell, gasps out, almost his last words, "I'll burn my books!" But the offer is not taken up. It's not his knowledge that damns him, but his use of it. We have considerably more knowledge that Faustus could have dreamt of; but, to the extent that we use it to make, say, more execrable weapons, our knowledge condemns us.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that there are no bad things, only bad uses of things. The same is true of knowledge. There is none that is bad in itself. But how we use it is the important question.
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Post by JR » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

The road out of the garden is the same road we must take to go back.

If thinking causes suffering, then knowledge allows release.
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Post by SkiaOura » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Whoa, JR.. do you really mean that?
Do you suppose that the adult can suckle at the breast of hir mother again, happily, or that the path to the garden lies in getting naked and frolicking around?
Your post took me by surprise. I do agree with you though that knowledge is an indispensable tool on the road of transcendence. We can not be rid of the knowledge of good and evil, but we can use it in ways to get back to the garden, so to speak.
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Post by JR » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

In love making, doesn't the adult suck in reverence at the brest of <i><b>a</b></i> mother? And "getting naked and frolicking around" wasn't the path out of the garden; as I recall it was the fruit of dualistic thought, rationalism. Campbell has said it before, that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is the same tree as the tree of imortal life, Holy Rud, from which hangs "the fruit of Christ".

You said it yourself
We can not be rid of the knowledge of good and evil, but we can use it in ways to get back to the garden
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Post by SkiaOura » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ok, I think that I misunderstood you, JR.

Where did Campbell write that about the tree in the garden? I must have missed it somehow.
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Post by Molly J » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Thanks, Goode1, for your posts. Forgive the length of this post, but I have been through such a similar struggle as yours. I'm a lifelong Baptist. My problem has always been thinking too much about things that other people just didn't want to talk about, like why is God going to send people to hell if he loves everyone, or if He made us and everything, why doesn't He just "come on down" and talk to us and clear up all the crazy ideas we have? I've never felt comfortable with a literal translation of the Bible, or with the pat answers to the difficult questions -- but was raised to participate in the life of the church.As an adult,I now look on the church work as a kind of community service, (vacation bible schools, sunday school, carrying food to bereaved families, etc.)But now, in my 40's, I have come to the realization that I cannot continue to fool myself that I am a believer in the sense my church requires. I feel guilt on "glossing over" the creed of the church, singing "there is power in the blood" when I don't in my heart believe their was power in anybody's actual blood, etc. I can rationalize that, just because I see the symbols as metaphors and not fact, doesn't mean that I don't believe in what's good about our religion. But our minister and many others believe that there was a Garden of Eden, and man is born in sin, and only through belief in Christ can you be saved, and all the rest. Now I have to make a very serious decision about continuing as a member of the church without truly being in sync with the creed. I lead a group of girls (GA's) 1st - 6th grade. I've always enjoyed the Wednesday night meetings, helping them learn about different countries and cultures. This was the fun stuff, but the literature the church supplies focuses on missionaries and their work in evangelism. Especially this past year, I found myself giving very little attention to that part of the lessons. I think I am doing an injustice to these girls and the other people in church who think I am 100% in agreement with the program. I used to think I was, but have no doubt now that I disagree with evangelism and don't want people being told what they should believe, or that they will go to hell if they don't believe the a,b,c's of my church. I'm torn over loving the people in the church and not wanting to hurt those whose emotional stability might depend upon their foundation in the church. I wish I had come to a better understanding of religions when I was much younger, but was too busy being a working mom and wife to even think about the deep stuff. Now the kids are almost grown and gone, and I'm doing more reading and contemplation about what life is really about. Joseph Campbell's interviews on television and later his books woke up that part of my brain and started the journey in earnest. Those who participate in this forum have been encouraging and helpful. (Strange that all of you know more about my thoughts than most of my family members). I look forward to hearing more from you about your own struggle and the decisions you make.
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Post by Scarlett » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Thanks Molly J for sharing that.

My mother asked me to teach CCD classes at the church I grew up with...which is Catholic. I turned the opportunity down. Just like you said I feel I might be teaching the children something their parents do not want them to know.

You know there are other ways to reach children with parent approval. Check into your local library for storytime or related events. Also, if you live in a place with museums, they may have similar events that take place...perhaps they need volunteers.

Outside of a religious context...people may be willing to expose their children to stories and events that are different from the ones that they are familiar with...sometimes that is :smile:

Scarlett
For all men live by truth and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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