Joseph Campbell was once my hero

Photo of Joseph Campbell by Joan Halifax, from Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0.

He used to be my hero. I used to go exploring in my little Datsun, listening to Joseph Campbell tapes over and over until I had them memorized. I had a large collection of his writings. But years later I realized that whatever else he understood, Joseph Campbell did not understand Catholicism. Raised in a Catholic family, he left the Church as a young man. For all his obvious erudition, and his engaging wit and style notwithstanding, Campbell wrote and spoke of the Church as the outsider he had become. In my own experience I have found it difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand a religion from without. One runs the risk of seeing only the externals and missing deeper significances. Leaving the Church is not the best way to understand it; studying other religions does not necessarily help one understand one’s own. Giving in to that sort of intellectual curiosity is tempting but it rarely results in increased wisdom.

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