Monday, August 24, 2009

Does Evolutionary Psychology Support Joseph Campbell's Belief In The Need For A World Mythology?

The mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero With A Thousand Faces which inspired George Lucas to make the Star Wars movies. Campbell often talked about the need for a new world mythology. This issue came up in a fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times called a “A Grand Bargain Over Evolution” by Robert Wright. It discusses how “religion and science are actually compatible” because “evolutionary psychologists have developed a plausible account of the moral sense.” The part of the article that reminded me of Campbell is below. Then that is followed by quotes from him that are very similar. He died in 1987, so his remarks were very prophetic.

Here is the NY Times quote:

“Clearly, this evolutionary narrative could fit into a theology with some classic elements: a divinely imparted purpose that involves a struggle toward the good, a struggle that even leads to a kind of climax of history. Such a theology could actually abet the good, increase the chances of a happy ending. A more evolved religion could do what religion has often done in the past: use an awe-inspiring story to foster social cohesion — except this time on a global scale.

Of course, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on awe and inspiration. The story that science tells, the story of nature, is awesome, and some people get plenty of inspiration from it, without needing the religious kind. What’s more, science has its own role to play in knitting the world together. The scientific enterprise has long been on the frontiers of international community, fostering an inclusive, cosmopolitan ethic — the kind of ethic that any religion worthy of this moment in history must also foster.”

Now what Campbell had to say. From page 112 of the book An Open Life: Joseph Campbell In Conversation With Michael Toms.

Michael Toms often interviewed Campbell at KQED in San Francisco for the radio program New Dimensions. Here they discussed social fragmentation. The following two paragraphs are from Campbell.

“And there's going to be [social fragmentation] for a long time. Unfortunately, many of the new mystically motivated movements are reactionary against other peoples. We have this "Power" and that "Power" and the other "Power." These are delaying actions. People are afraid to move into the free fall of a totally new way of looking at others. So the new mythology to come must be a global mythology, and it's got to solve the problem of the in-group by showing that there's no out-group. We're all members of a society of the planet, not of one particular place, and the fact that the three main religions of the Western world-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-can't live together in Beruit is a refutation of all three in terms of their value for the contemporary world. They're monstrous! We must begin to realize that each is saying in his own language what the other is trying to say in his. There must be brotherhood and cooperation. Because unless that comes, we're going to blow ourselves to smithereens.

Every single one of the old horizon-bound mythologies reserved love for the in-group, and aggression and denigration were reserved for the out-group. Now, something's got to break that. And when we see that picture of our planet taken from the moon, the question arises: What are we going to do with our aggression? How is it going to be absorbed into love and transmuted from gross matter to gold? I think teaching "I-thou" relationships, rather than the "I-it" relationships, which [theologian Martin] Buber spoke about, is the first step. The teaching of humanity rather than the teaching of in-group appreciations is what's important.”

I think that Campbell clearly talked about the same thing as what Robert Wright did in the Times article. He mentioned narrative and awe-inspiring story as something that could foster social cohesion. This is the mythology that Campbell discussed.

If you are wondering why an economist is discussing this, click on the link above which explains the name of this blog. It has to with entrepreneurs being like heroes from mythology. Campbell thought so, too and you can read about that at Joseph Campbell on Entrepreneurship


Anonymous said...

An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

Karim - Positive thinking

Cyril Morong said...


Glad you liked it. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.


Anonymous said...

Very thoughtfull post on belief .It should be very much helpfull.

Karim - Creating Power