by Richard Pyle

Joseph Campbell, author of books about myths and subject of the

PBS series The Power of Myth, has influenced people's spiritual

views far beyond what one might imagine. Among his admirers is

George Lucas, producer of Star Wars, the movie that gave us the

line, "May the Force be with You." That sentence reflects as well

as any the New Age belief in God as an impersonal force.

Campbell, in his TV series and book of the same name, also

severely criticizes orthodox Christianity. Anyone who becomes a

critic is fair game for a critique himself and should be tested

to see whether his criticism is scholarly, honest and factually

accurate. Unfortunately, Campbell failed on all these counts. He

regularly misrepresented the Christian faith, calling a teaching

Christian that was unbiblical.

For example, Campbell says: "... good, standard Christian doc-

trine -- that at the end of the world there will be a general

supplement and those who have acted virtuously will be sent to

heaven, and those who have acted in an evil way to hell."<1> This

is not Christian doctrine. The Bible says no man is saved by his

own works. Instead salvation is found in Christ who lived a

perfect life and died to pay for mankind's sins.

Campbell misrepresents the proper Christian view of women: "...

Western subjugation of the female is a function of biblical

thinking."<2> "In the biblical tradition ... the female as the

epitome of sex is the corrupter."<3> The Bible says the female is

made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), that she is of equal

value with the male in God's sight, (Galatians 3:28) and that a

husband's proper duty toward his wife is to love her with a self-

sacrificial love (Ephesians 5:25). The woman is not pictured as

the corrupter, that's Satan's role. Adam did try to blame her

(Genesis 3:12), but God didn't accept that excuse. Some Chris-

tians have mistreated and abused women, but they have not done so

because the Bible commands or condones it.

His description of the Christian view of nature and natural

urges also is inaccurate. He says "In the biblical tradition ...

every natural impulse is sinful unless it has been baptized or

circumcised."<4> He also says "... nature is thought of as cor-

rupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and not to be yielded

to."<5> The biblical view of nature is that God created nature

and then pronounced it good. Man sinned and brought misery and

death on himself and to the creation over which he had dominion.

Creation has been marred, but still testifies to its creator in

all his divinity and power.

In the Christian view, natural human impulses are not in them-

selves sinful. God has created man with needs and appetites that

are acceptable in their proper context and proportion. Sex is

acceptable to God when it occurs within the confines of marriage

but unacceptable when it occurs during an adulterous affair that

destroys a family.

Campbell also erros in presenting his own unsubstantiated opin-

ions and assumptions as facts. For example, he says, "... there

is no physical heaven anywhere in the universe,"<6> which begs

the question, "Has he been all over the universe to verify that?"

Campbell says that for 20th century western man, the Bible "...

does not accord with our concept of the universe or of the digni-

ty of man,"<7> a statement that overlooks the millions of people

who find it acceptable.

Campbell says the Bible is mostly metaphoric, a collection of

myths and stories loosely woven around characters who may or may

not have existed. He regards Bible stories as being on a par with

American Indian legends, Eskimo myths and aborigine tales. Camp-

bell calls the virgin birth a symbolic event.<8> He regards

Christ's resurrection the same way. <9> He calls heaven a meta-

phor.<10> He says stories of Christ's miracles are poetry, not

factual accounts.<11> He considers all elements of Christian

belief to be metaphors, not facts.<12>

While dismissing much of the Bible as myth and metaphor, Camp-

bell sidesteps the literary difficulty of regarding the Bible as

such. There are portions of Scripture that are symbolic. Other

parts, however, are clearly not symbolic and shouldn't be inter-

preted as such. Biblical passages that are prose, straightforward

statements of fact or principle, some of which even contain

direct statements that the writer intends to be read that way,

cannot be interepreted otherwise. An example is Luke's introduc-

tion to his Gospel:

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that

have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us

by those who from the first werre eyewitnesses and servants of

the (word). Therefore since I myself have carefully investigated

everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write

an orderly account for you..." (Luke 1:1-3)

Campbell likewise does not address the difficulties archeology

presents to one who views the Bible as myth. William F. Albright,

noted archeologist and author, wrote of the Bible's historical

reliability, "Discovery after discovery has established the

accuracy of innumerable details and has brought increased recog-

nition to the value of the Bible as a source of history."<13>

Millar Burrows of Yale wrote, "...archeological work has unques-

tionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scrip-

tural record."<14>

Further testimony to the Bible's stature is found in its record

of fulfilled prophecy. There are numerous biblical prophecies of

events that already have taken place. In instances where they can

be checked, the prophecies have a record of 100% accuracy with

regard to specific events, places and people. Biblical prophecy

is more than primitive men sitting around campfires, making

upstories about where they came from, where they are going and

why life is the way it is.

Having critiqued Christianity's critic, let us move on to ana-

lyze what Campbell would set up in place of Christianity, a

belief system he defined in "The Power of Myth."

In Campbell's cosmology God is not a personal being, but rather

an impersonal force as energy. <15> He speaks of God as "...

transcendent ground or energy itself." <16>, or that a God is

"... a personification of a motivation, power or value system

that functions in human life and in the universe ..." <17>. For

Campbell, the creation or nature is an emanation from this imper-

sonal force <18>. Man, as a part of nature and thus one with the

divine force, is divine <19>. He says, "you are god, not in your

ego, but in your deepest being, where you are one with the non-

dual transcendent." <20>

In Campbell's view, because man is divine in his innermost

parts, man should look inward for truth, authority and guidance.

According to Campbell, we should listen to the demands of our

hearts <21>, follow our 'bliss <22>, "... rely on our intuitions,

our true being." <23>, and get in touch with our real selves

<24>. This inward journey leaves behind: fears, desires, and

duties <25>; thou shalt nots <26>; ego defined as "... what you

think you want, what you will to believe, what you think you can

afford, what you decide to love, what you regard yourself as

bound to" <27>; and rules derived from the historical needs and

tasks of society, once one is mature enough to have internalized

them to some extent <28>. In addition to these internalized

societal norms, the extent of man's inward or subjective authori-

ty is limited in Campbell's system by the requirement to be

compassionate, which he defines as seeing yourself in others <29>

and sharing their suffering <30>. Further, he indicates that

following our inward leading should not bring us into the pursuit

of bestial self-interest <31> or living to our animal nature


From the Christian perspective there are many difficulties with

Campbell's system. First, if God is an impersonal force, why is

the most complex and highly developed manifestation or emanation

of that force -- man -- distinctly personal? In Christian termi-

nology -- how can personal man be made in the image of impersonal

God? Indeed the unique diversity of all creation speaks of a

personal creator, not an impersonal force, being behind it all.

Why would an impersonal force emanate anything? Did this force

desire company or fellowship? Did it have a sense of creativity?

If so, doesn't that begin to make it personal, not impersonal?

One might ask about the poverty of life under an impersonal

force. Can it hear our prayers and pleadings? Is it moved with

compassion at our suffering? As an impersonal force does it have

any empathy with or identification with or understanding of the

fears and trials in the lives of us personal beings? Isn't it

much better to have life under the living God of the Bible, who

tells his people to boldly bring their prayers and petitions

before Him that they may "... receive mercy and find grace to

help us in our time of need"? (Heb. 4:16).

Campbell would have us believe that man's goal is getting in

touch with that divine force that spawned us all, being one with

it or "dissolved in identification" with it <33>. Is this desira-

ble? Is it a desirable thing to be dissolved in identification

with an impersonal force, balk into a great energy field, presum-

ably giving up those things that make one a personal being --

identity, individuality, and uniqueness? Isn't much better the

Christian's pursuit -- eternal life with God where individuality,

uniqueness, and identity are maintained but purified of that

which contaminates, purified of greed, hate, selfishness and


Campbell creation as being one with the force from which it

emanates. This makes him a pantheist. In the biblical view, God

the creator is distinct from his creation. While the creation

reflects God and we can learn something of Him by studying it,

creation is not God any more than a painting is the painter.

In Campbell's system, man is divine. However, human history and

experience testify that man is not divine but fallible and fi-

nite. The multiple failures and inabilities of individuals and

the corporate crimes and tragedies of society prove that man is

fallen and incapable of mounting God's throne.

The biblical position is that though man is made in the image of

God and has been given dominion over the Earth, man is not God.

As God said through Ezekiel: "In the pride of your heart you say,

'I am a God; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the

seas! But you are a man and not a God, though you think you are

as wise as a god." (Ezekiel 28:18-20)

Satan said to Eve in the garden of Eden, "You will be like God"

(Gen. 3:5). He used the prospect of attaining divinity as an

inducement to disobey God.

In Campbell's system, where each man is divine and looks to

himself for truth, authority and direction, there is no basis for

judging the morality of another's actions, even actions as hei-

nous as Adolph Hitler's. Under Campbell's system, one can say

that in murdering 6 million Jews that he was following his own

inner leading, doing what he thought was right.

Campbell does try to set limits on where one's inner leadings

may lead, but the limits are flawed. The requirement that one

must not act in base self-interest, for example, does not pass

the "Hitler test." Hitler may have believed he ordered the murder

of concentration camp victims not in his own interest but in the

interest of the world. Campbell's requirement that we internalize

societal norms is valueless. To what extent do we internalize

society's norms? If each man is God, what societal norm can bind


Campbell also requires that behavior be circumscribed by compas-

sion. He defines compassion as seeing one's self in others and

sharing in their suffering. Neither aspect of this definition of

compassion requires that one do anything about the suffering of

his fellowman, instead it would seem that it would be enough in

Campbell's system to mearly empathize and sympathize with

another's pain. Much better is the Christian definition of com-

passion, which requires that one love his fellow man with the

same devotion with which he loves himself and that he express

this love by satisfying others' needs.

Campbell's limits on the extent of one's inner leading then are

too vague and can't prevent harmful behavior.

The biblical records contains the history of a time when men

looked within for truth. It was one of the most sorrowful and

chaotic times in the history of Israel. It was the period covered

by the book of Judges, a time of war and turmoil and moral lax-

ity. Much of these troubles resulted from the fact that it was a

time when "... every man did that which was right in is own

eyes." (Judges 21:25).


1. Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, Edited

by Betty Sue Flowers, Doubleday, New York, 1988, pg. 226.

2. The Power of Myth, pg. 172.

3. Ibid, pg. 47.

4. Ibid,.

5. Ibid, pg. 99.

6. Ibid, pg. 56.

7. Ibid, pg. 31.

8. Ibid, pg. 176.

9. Ibid, pg. 57.

10. Ibid,.

11. Ibid, pg. 142.

12. Ibid, pg. 219.

13. Albright, William F., The Archaeology of Palestine, Revised

edition, Harmondsworth, Middlesex; Pelican Books, 1960; ppg. 127-

128, quoted in Evidence Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell,

Campus Crusade for Christ, San Bernadino, Calif., 1972, pg. 68.

14. Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? Meridian Books, New

York, 1956; pg. 1 quoted in Evidence Demands a Verdict, pg. 69.

15. The Power of Myth, pg. 207, 54.

16. Ibid, pg. 213.

17. Ibid, pg. 22.

18. Ibid, pp. 53, 54.

19. Ibid, pg. 210.

20. Ibid, pg. 211.

21. Ibid, pg. 147.

22. Ibid, pp. 229, 148.

23. Ibid, pg. 14 of the Introduction.

24. Ibid, pg. 143.

25. Ibid, pg. 162.

26. Ibid, pg. 154.

27. Ibid, pg. 149.

28. Ibid, pg. 154.

29. Ibid, pg. 214.

30. Ibid, pg. 174.

31. Ibid, pg. 160.

32. Ibid, pg. 174.

33. Ibid, pg. 210.

(c) 1990, PFO - All rights reserved by Personal Freedom Outreach.

Reproduction is prohibited except for portions intended for personal

use and noncommercial purposes. For reproduction permission, please

contact: Personal Freedom Outreach, P.O. Box 26026, Saint Louis,

Missouri 63136, (314) 388-2648.

These documents are free from , providing free webcontent for websites around the world!. copy freely with this link intact.