Joseph Campbell is awful

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5 years 8 months ago - 5 years 8 months ago #320167 by
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I don't know where else to put this, but I do feel I might explode if I don't say something. I understand that when signing up with the TOTJO and to take the IP you are accepting the doctrine/viewpoints as officially put forth. I intend to go through the Campbell sections of the IP, as well as other potentially distressing portions such as Alan Watts, because that's how you get from Point A to B, and nobody said I have to be happy about it. But I simply must take a moment to point this out:

Joseph Campbell is awful.

I understand that in school you have to read things you don't like, but Campbell is a new level. Not only is he infuriatingly pompous and self-indulgent, there are far too many occasions where he's quite simply an idiot. He's like Dawkins but somehow even less honest about the fact that he clearly has no idea what he's talking about. While Campbell is doubtlessly well-informed about myths themselves the man is absolutely unqualified in any significant way to hold forth as the authority on mythology qua mythology -- his terminal degree was in Medieval Lit ffs and as far as I can tell had no formal training in mythology or the study of religion -- and demonstrates this time and time again. When he's not hamfisted-ly destroying contextual, historical, or theological nuances for the sake of his pet monomyth narrative he's busy continuously harping back to the 'Noble Savage' theme; and not only inflicting this on the Native Americans, who he rarely bothers to identify as anything other than a homogeneous mass, but also treating Buddhism (and Hinduism to a lesser extent, as he's clearly a Advaita Vedanta fanboy) in the same bland, watered-down Zen-centric way as yoga studios across America. A less-angry summation that I find useful was written by the Rev'd Andre Solo, a polytheist priest and initiated Vodouisant:

[T]here are a variety of problems with [Campbell's] work on mythology. Most of these aren’t new; they’ve been covered by plenty of scholars. Let’s get them out of the way quickly:

    All myths don’t tell a single story. There are motifs common to some (not all) hero myths, but that doesn’t mean they have the same lesson or meaning behind them. When you decide on a pattern that you’re sure is right it’s easy to ignore stories that don’t fit or reinterpret stories that just kinda-sorta fit. That’s exactly what Campbell did.

    The idea of a monomyth undermines what’s greatest about mythology. Myths carry a tremendous amount of cultural content. The entire worldview of a society, its values and highest aspirations, are encoded in myth. This value-content is unique to each culture’s mythology, and it’s what makes myth magical. Focusing on the things that are the same between all cultures means ignoring the heart of myth.

    When you universalize myth, you don’t. Any attempt to define the universal story of myth will end up defining the author’s own personal bias. In Campbell’s case, he focused primarily on male mythic figures and stories that agreed with his own theosophical views. The monomyth he tells resonates strongly with Western audiences because it was written by a Westerner.
If any of this seems too nitpicky or academic, let me put it this way:

In the 1940s a white American man wrote about the sacred myths of other cultures. He decided he knew what they meant better than those cultures themselves did. The problem with this should be self-evident.

I recognise that much of my antipathy toward Campbell probably stems from the fact that my 'background' insofar as I have one is theology; and even an armchair theologian is all-too-familiar with the attempts of people like Campbell to discredit theology in favour of a sanitised, prepackaged set of archetypes. If you can throw Christ and Osiris into the same shoddy 'dying god' category then you can feel free to disregard the deeply complex and nuanced things Christianity has to say about the significance of Christ's resurrection. If Moses is simply a Hero (TM) like all other Heroes (TM) then Judaism's continuing engagement with the theophany at Sinai can be swept to the side. If all human myths can be reduced to a handful of morals, theodicy and moral theology goes out the window. Etc etc etc. And that's fine, because nobody is putting a gun to my head and telling me to like Campbell, even if I am indeed obligated to read his work.

People with different backgrounds may -- and judging from many Journal entries, presumably do -- find great meaning in his work and that's wonderful. But Campbell himself, and his work, is problematic. It's insanely generalist and reductionist and quite often, at least in the case of The Power of Myth, lapses into inconsistency at best and incoherence at worse. I don't want to step on any toes here because, as I believe I've said elsewhere, I'm fond of the TOTJO and it's wide diversity of beliefs and hope to find a home here; but at the same time I wanted to clear the air instead of posting increasingly passive-aggressive journal entries.
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5 years 8 months ago #320172 by Br. John
Replied by Br. John on topic Joseph Campbell is awful
I'm not aware of anyone saying you need to agree with anything in The IP and if anyone is - they're wrong. I don't know anyone who agrees with everything or disagrees with all of it. If you find something wrong or flawed, fine.
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5 years 8 months ago - 5 years 8 months ago #320176 by Carlos.Martinez3
One of the many difrent reasons for the ip is to see somemone else’s idea in practice. To see how it is up and running or even dare I say another way to see the same story’s. During the ip you will find many difrent ideas . Here it’s not that we supply your thought but attempt to allow the individual to choose their own faith and their own stance. It is good you dislike JC.
It is good you have a stand. Please don’t think the IP is for telling you directly
how we all believe and how we all see the world. That’s here -

What we believe. When we say we believe in the inherit worth of all - that’s not a Jedi ist thing, it’s kind of a whole world type of thing. Some where every one has some type of same beliefs . JC says the “human potential” in his other works. Every human has a song and potential to do- to accomplish. I appreciate a great effort. Don’t feel like you have to like anything. Don’t feel like you have to align with anything. That’s not the point friend. If you feel like this is a place and a group you can sit and share with them by all means sit and have some tea or cofffee ! Two creams and two pink sugars for me . We don’t bite and we don’t say “ you must “ anything . This is a open place to learn and share. If you like , feel free to pm me directly or even via Skype or whatsapp or anything like that. May the force be with you and may your time here be a benifit.
Last edit: 5 years 8 months ago by Carlos.Martinez3.

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5 years 8 months ago #320183 by Alethea Thompson
I'm actually not fond of JC's stuff- but I see it's merit. For years I've mentioned that the IP needs to be updated and one of those updates needs to take what is good from JC and write original content ON it, and then throw out the rest.

So, you're not alone.

Also, I think Alan Watts is the worst between the two XD. And almost 2 1/2 hours of a drive from Clarksville, TN to a Jedi Gathering in Hocking, OH was nothing more than me and my friend Andy complaining about Alan Watts. XD
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5 years 8 months ago - 5 years 8 months ago #320184 by
Replied by on topic Joseph Campbell is awful

PaschalVehicle wrote: It's insanely generalist and reductionist and quite often, at least in the case of The Power of Myth, lapses into inconsistency at best and incoherence at worse.

I am also not a fan of joseph Campbell, I elude to as much in my own journal. Plenty of things that I did not like about it and quite honestly find pointless in a introduction-ary training program. Its dull, dry, boring as all heck and just over rides the soul of it's pointed use.


I think perhaps if one is to step back and look at it beyond just the written word. It could be easy to see why it is the way it is. The interview for example is just that....and if you think about how interview's work....its not really meant to be consistant and's just one guy asking questions an the other guy going "Oh umm..humm...I guess its kind of like...."

I have been writing short stories since 2002-ish.... I think I have gotten rather good at story telling. But if you were to judge me based on casual conversation and discussion topics you might think I am absolutely horrible at communication (everyone else sure says so - I say as much too....i suck XD)

So it's easy to take that experience and jump into the shoes of Joseph Campbells works. He had one super, great, fantastic, inspirational idea when he created the Monomyth's Hero's Journey. It really was quite brilliant and you can find it in practice in nearly every book and movie you pick up. The rest is just word know? A ton of ideas incoherently trying to find solid ground to explain the soul of the monomyth. And to be honest I think everyone is like that. Look at all the actors and famous speakers....They all have one solid great thing....and everything else is just an attempt to draw out the simplicity.

In my story writing circles we call that "Flower Writing" its where you fill in empty space with a bunch of flowery words and ideas to make a small plot appear bigger.

Thats how I generally view Joseph Campbells works...and really even Alan Watts and the other philosophers....They all have one or two solid ideas that they "Flower Up"

Just my thoughts on the matter.

My advice is to just determine YOUR Priorities. Why do you want to get from Point A to Point B as you described it? Why is that important to you? If your answer is satisfactory then you can deal with some flowers on the way :) Coz I while I have my opinions, I know this temple wont remove it.
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5 years 8 months ago #320197 by steamboat28
Campbell's not awful, he's just wrong. Just like Freud and Darwin were wildly mistaken, but what they got right still laid foundations for the next waves of research.
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