Thanks to the now famous interviews of Dr. Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers on PBS, the world is once again coming to appreciate the power and validity of myth.
Dr. Campbell is the pioneer in the worldwide study of the collective dreams and stories of the human race. These dreams, stories and beliefs, called myth, enable people to get their bearings in life, find meaning in what they do and discover ways to ritualize the various stages and passages of their lives.
As a student of myth myself, I vigorously applaud what is happening. People are beginning to see the connection between myth, religion, ritual and mental health. A healing of the alienation that many people feel towards their depths is only one of the many benefits that will come out of this development.
But this posting is written to make a point that is often overlooked: not all myths are valid. Some universal beliefs, adopted by millions as truth, are, at best, neurotic and unhealthy. In other words, just because many people have believed something deeply for many centuries does not mean that it is true.
As people insert themselves into a way of thinking, healthy or unhealthy, they get into a groove. As one accepts the reality of the groove over centuries, the groove is carved deeper and deeper. Sometimes the grooves, like those in a bowling alley, become ruts, trapping us and detouring us from freedom of movement and belief.
Such is the case with unhealthy myths that many people believe in very deeply. For example, one common myth is that, “If I do such and such, God will punish me.” Many sincere believers, perhaps even the majority, still look upon God as a judge, as a vengeful parent, as the great scorekeeper in the sky. When life throws a curve ball to such individuals, they immediately assume that they are being punished for something that they did.
If they cannot think of anything consciously that they did wrong, their chagrin is even greater. “I live a good life, I don’t hurt anybody, I go to Church on Sundays… Why did God do this to me?” Implicit in their question is the deeply held belief that when something “bad” happens to them, it must be because they have done something wrong.
The truth, of course, is that nowhere is it written that spiritual are people promised freedom from pain and suffering. What we are offered, instead, is a way to find meaning in what happens to us, a way for the phoenix to continually rise from the ashes.
There are many such unhealthy beliefs that people still adopt as Gospel truth. One that comes to mind is that “people are no good.” Another one is that “If I desire sex, then I am bad and should feel guilty.”
It was Carl Jung who pointed out that we are deluded if we think that everything found in the
unconscious is healthy. What I am suggesting here is that, in our newfound discovery of the positive role of myths in our lives, we don’t uncritically accept every collective dream and belief of the human race. Yes, the masses can still be wrong and being right is still the majority of one.
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