Myth for the Masses

I’m re-reading The Power of Myth–Bill Moyer’s interviews with the mythologist Joseph Campbell. I’m fascinated with Campbell–who was brought up as a Catholic but left the faith. By the way, I met a fellow who gave good anecdotal witness that Campbell was reconciled with the church on his deathbed. I’m intrigued by Campbell for several reasons. First, because of his encyclopedic knowledge of world religions, myth and story. He really did master the subject. I’m also delighted that he went his own way and, like Russell Kirk, never really fit in with the academic establishment. They were both genuine intellectuals and scholars, but not academics. I’m also interested in the reason Campbell left the Catholic Church.

I don’t remember where I read it, but he said (and I paraphrase) that he was terrible excited by the power of myth and ritual. He understood how myth shows truth through a supernatural story and that religious ritual applies it to ordinary life. He then added that the Catholic Church was the only religion which still in any way kept this alive in the modern world, but at the Second Vatican Council he felt they had turned their back on the whole thing and turned the Catholic faith into an insipid religion of clericalized social workers. He was disappointed and disgusted. This one religion which had the power and history to re-live the great myths through ritual and liturgy had forgotten what it was for and turned itself into a troop of girl scouts selling cookies.

So Joseph Campbell–despite his lapse from the faith–remains one of my literary heroes. What Campbell never managed to do was to replicate what the Catholic Church did have to offer. In The Power of Myth he waxes on and on about the depth of myth, the power of myth to unlock the mysteries of life, the psychological depth of myth to reveal the meaning to human existence, but he never find any way to apply it to ordinary mortals. He never finds any way to make it work. It all remains an interesting intellectual and psychological theory.

Then as I was hearing confessions and saying the rosary and celebrating Mass in a very ordinary Catholic parish today in Louisiana I realized again that despite Campbell’s criticisms and disappointment, the Catholic Church is still there doing her job. Read More.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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