Monday, June 20, 2011

"Glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate"

Joseph Campbell's The Hero wwith a Thousand Faces was published in 1949. Here is an excerpt from the section entitled Apotheosis, which rings with contemporary relevance:

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense. The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which many have been glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children. Such comparatively trivial matters as the remaining details of the credo, the techniques of worship, and the devices of episcopal organization (which have so absorbed the interest of Occidental theologians that they are today seriously discussed as the principal questions of religion), are merely pedantic snares, unless kept ancillary to the major teaching. Indeed, where not so kept, they have a regressive effect: they reduce the father image back again to the dimensions of the totem. And this, of course, is what has happened throughout the Christian world. One would think that we had been called upon to decide or to know whom, of all of us, the Father prefers. Whereas, the teaching is much less flattering: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." The World Savior's cross, despite the behavior of its professed priests, is a vastly more democratic symbol than the local flag.

The understanding of the final -- and critical -- implications of the world-redemptive words and symbols of the tradition of Christendom has been so disarranged during the tumultuous centuries that have elapsed since St. Augustine's declaration of the holy war of the Civitas Dei against the Civitas Diaboli, that the modern thinker wishing to know the meaning of a world religion (i.e., of a doctrine of universal love) must turn his mind to the other great (and much older) universal communion: that of the Buddha, where the primary word still is peace -- peace to all beings.
While it is not necessary that those of us who are disenchanted with the "pedantic snares" and the "disarranged world-redemptive words and symbols" of the contemporary Church become Buddhists, we might like to reflect on the fact that our brother Jesus (as fellow blogger Michael Bayly so aptly and touchingly refers to him) was neither theologian nor cleric, neither pope nor bishop; he was simply called "Rabbi" - teacher. He was not concerned with creeds, liturgy, or "the devices of episcopal organization." His only concern was love.