Modern Hero— Joseph Campbell Quote


Regarding the role of major religions today (or at least in 1949)

St. Francis of Assisi and the Wolf

“… they have become associated with the causes of the factions, as instruments of propaganda and self-congratulation. The universal triumph of the secular state has thrown all religious organizations into such a definitely secondary, and finally ineffectual, position that religious pantomime is hardly more today than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, whereas business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week. Such a monkey-holiness is not what the functioning world requires; rather, a transmutation of the whole social order is necessary, so that through every detail and act of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is actually immanent and effective in all of us may be somehow made known to consciousness”

“The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzche says, ‘as though the day were here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal– carries the cross of the redeemer– not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”    

-Joseph Campbell, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” (Bollingen Paperback 1973 edition), pp 389, 391.

It would be inaccurate to describe Campbell as a Christian, but the message here, I believe, is relevant to Christians today. Some of the Christian symbolism/terminology certainly helps make this clear. Christians (and corporately, the church) have tended to be transformed by the broader secular society and often become the willing pawn and justifier of that society. The one who breaks this cycle starts his quest breaking free from the vision of modern (or post-modern) society… and the modern church. If Christianity is true, it is true because revealed to it is a TRUTH higher, and better than the mundane truths surrounding us. A journey of cultural transformation and redemption will not be done hand-in-hand with society… but will be experienced in the difficult traverse of the hero-pilgrim.

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