When I started teaching comparative mythology, I was afraid I might destroy my students’ religious beliefs, but what I found was just the opposite. Religious traditions, which didn’t mean very much to them, but which were the ones their parents had given them, suddenly became illuminated in a new way when we compared them with other traditions, where similar images had been given a more inward or spiritual interpretation.
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Jung, the famous psychologist, says that one of the most powerful religious symbols is the circle. He says that the circle is one of the great primordial images of mankind and that, in considering the symbol of the circle, we are analyzing the self.
The word “religion” means religio, linking back. If we say it is the one life in both of us, then my separate life has been linked to the one life, religio, linked back. This has become symbolized in the images of religion, which represent that connecting link.
Most days I wake up with a sense of fatigue, dread and a profound sadness. If you were to ask me why, I don’t really know. I feel like I was born…
CAMPBELL: That is in fact what we had better do. But my notion of the real horror today is what you see in Beirut. There you have the three great Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and because the three of them have three different names for the same biblical god, they can’t get on together. They are stuck with their metaphor and don’t realize its reference. They haven’t allowed the circle that surrounds them to open. It is a closed circle. Each group says, “We are the chosen group, and we have God.” Look at Ireland. A group of Protestants was moved to Ireland in the seventeenth century by Cromwell, and it never has opened up to the Catholic majority there. The Catholics and Protestants represent two totally different social systems, two different ideals. MOYERS: Each needs a new myth. CAMPBELL: Each needs its own myth, all the way. Love thine enemy. Open up. Don’t judge. All things are Buddha things. It is there in the myth. It is already there.
In the period of the Old Testament, the world was a little three-layer cake, consisting of a few hundred miles around the Near Eastern centers. No one had ever heard of the Aztecs, or even of the Chinese. When the world changes, then the religion has to be transformed.
You must understand that each religion is a kind of software that has its own set of signals and will work. If a person is really involved in a religion and really building his life on it, he better stay with the software that he has got. But a chap like myself, who likes to play with the software—well, I can run around, but I probably will never have an experience comparable to that of a saint.