Saturday, 16 November 2013

The meaning of life and/or being alive

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Joseph Campbell - from The Power of Myth:

People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about. 

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Before I became a Christian I was a kind of New Agey, neo-Pagany kind of person - and I owned some thirty or more books by and about the Jungian mythologist Joseph Campbell. 

On the other side of conversion, I can see that although Campbell was anti-Christian (or rather, post-Christian: believing that Christianity was utterly discredited and exploded by modernity) he was importantly right about many things - but that, again and again, he fell down in his reasoning by creating artificial dichotomies - as with the above quotation.

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I would modify the above quote to read something like:  

People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. That is true; but it is not enough. 

What we are also seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and also with God (in other words with reality); so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive as well as knowing where our life should be aiming, and why.

That's what it's all finally about.

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I think Campbell was correct in recognizing that modern Western Christian life, perhaps especially church life, is often deficient in the experience: the resonance, the rapture, of being alive. 

But this is not a fault in Christianity as such - but in the partiality and biases of some denomination or groups of people - sometimes driven by motives of caution and fear about the possibility of demonic influences getting mixed-up with the rapture of being alive. 

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I personally find that Christianity has greatly amplified and enhanced my experiences of 'being alive' because now I know what to do with these experiences - I know that they are real (not illusions), objective (not subjective), permanent (not as evanescent as my memory), and significant (being the elements of Heaven). 

Whereas Campbell could only say that these things were a part of human psychology - at most a part of universal human psychology (the collective unconscious) - therefore just temporarily important for personal fulfillment and growth; and in terms of the universe as a whole: nothing.

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So, my opinion is that Joseph Campbell was right to highlight an important and debilitating deficiency of much modern Christianity, wrong to assume that his Jungian mythologizing solved it; and wrong to assume that Christianity was incapable of absorbing what was valid and good about his mythological insights. 

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