on 8 October 2001
Unlike some other books that I've read that stick to 'proving' or 'disproving' the literal truth of the Bible--thus entirely missing the point, it seems to me--this book explores the spiritual meanings of the scriptures. From the opening, where Campbell points out that myth, which we have mis-defined as 'lie', really means metaphor, to the closing, which is a wonderful interview between Campbell and the editor of this posthumous work, Campbell offers a breathtaking redefinition of some of the stories and images we all take for granted.
SInce this book was drawn from his popular lectures, it isn't surprising that the style is more accessible and conversational than the dense, scholarly prose in some of his other books (The Hero with a 1000 Faces, Masks of God). It's much more like The Power of Myth. The editor asks the reader to imagine sitting in Campbell's library or a small lecture hall, and that is precisely the sense of intimacy that I felt in reading this wonderful work.
on 9 October 2001
as a religious person i've always been frustrated by the limited approach most theologians (not to say priests) approach the subject. i found that this book spoke to me on a level i really hadn't anticipated. it was thoughtful, inspiring and provocative in its "transforming" of "religious metaphor." or is that in its discussion of "transform[ative] religious metaphor"?
i loved this book--it was much less 'new age-y' than the power of myth and much less scholastic than some of the other campbell books i've read--the masks of god or the hero of a thousand faces. the editors took campbell's thoughts and lectures and created a wonderfully effective, compelling argument.
on 26 November 2003
THOU ART THAT is the first volume in THE COLLECTED WORKS OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL which contains materials gathered from previously uncollected essays, letters, diaries, articles and lectures. As such it represents a broad sampling of Campbell's work on mythology and the Western religions.
In one of the more interesting parts of the book Campbell describes the basic differences between the world religions of creed which are Buddhism, Christianity and Islam and the leading ethnic religions of birth which are Hinduism, Judaism and Shintoism.
Often Campbell points out that our ideas of the universe are being reordered by our experience in space. There are no horizons in space causing many people to retreat into fundamentalism.
For a small book THOU ART THAT is filled with much food for thought. I highly recommend it and am looking forward to reading future volumes in this series.
Before reading this book, you should realize that the ideas expressed in it cast fundamental doubt on the most common interpretations of Jewish and Christian religious testaments. If you will find this blasphemous or upsetting, perhaps this is not the right book for you. If you want to see a different interpretation of familiar Scripture, you will find the book to be interesting.
Joseph Campbell is well known to many for his work on mythology, especially The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He takes that same perspective to Judeo-Christian Scriptures and comes to different conclusions. Essentially, his point is that whatever the "fact" is of the original events described in the Holy writings, the stories that have come down to us are myths, that reflect a metaphorical interpretation of those events. His arguments for this perspective are two-fold: One, many of the stories have very similar kin in the writings of the civilizations that preceded the establishment of Judaism. Two, he finds the "facts" as described as being not persuasive. To him, the events described seem mythologized, recast from a truthful base into a more appealing form. Although he is certainly entitled to his opinion, few will be overwhelmed by these arguments.
Mr. Campbell goes on to argue for interpreting these Scriptures from the point of view of an internalized, individual experience, much like Buddhism does. He finds this form of religion to be more appealing, because he argues it brings the joys of religion more into daily existence. He also argues that formalized religion channels people away from religious experience, in favor of social rites. An example is that he preferred the Catholic Mass (he was a lapsed Catholic) when it was done in Latin since not being able to understand what was being said made the whole experience more meditative. He likes the idea of a transcendent God letting His worshippers experience transcendence as well. "Awe . . . is what moves us forward."
One problem with his argument is that Mr. Campbell feels that we cannot keep historical events current with us. So Christ's life is less powerful to us as an event, rather than as a metaphor for how each of us can find God. It seems to me that faith must certainly be able to turn any event into current reality for individuals.
As I read this book, Mr. Campbell seems to be describing a view of people as needing lots of emotional context and experience before they can have religious communion with God. To me, that seems to denigrate both God and people.
I find meditation and seeking transcendence very appealing personally, but those experiences seem different in kind and quality from my religious experiences. Of the two, the religious experiences are vastly more rewarding, real, and lasting. I suspect that one helps the other, but they do seem distinct to me.
As a result, although I was glad to read Mr. Campbell's ideas, ultimately I found little of value there. He is probably right that there's some literary license in the Scriptures, but thinking that way doesn't open up faith any more for me. I graded the book accordingly.
After you read this book, I suggest that you examine when you have felt closest to God. What other ways might also encourage that connection?
Look for God in all that you do!
Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution