What does it mean to respect someone? I’ve just finished a book that was important for me – – one that I missed in the distraction of high school. It is Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer’s discussion: The Power of Myth. I’ve heard of Campbell before. He was a respected scholar who taught at Sarah Lawrence college for 40 years. He met and married his bride there, staying married for 49 years until death did them part when he was 83. Through his writing and the limited, but reinforced stereotypes that I have of an urbane professor – – I like him. Not perfect, but likeable.
Bill Moyers liked him too. I remember Moyers mainly through his popularization of Campbell’s works, but he has done much more. He’s a (gasp) self-described liberal journalist who served as White House press secretary during the Johnson administration. He has been a stalwart on PBS over the years and is still active at the age of 80. He has also been married to one woman for 60 years in December.
Did they agree on much? Yes. Did they disagree on critical claims? Here’s one:
Moyers: And yet we all have lived a life that had a purpose. Do you believe that?
Campbell: I don’t believe that life has a purpose. Life is a lot of protoplasm with an urge to reproduce and continue in being.
Moyers: Not true – – not true.
–The Power of Myth, Anchor Books Paperback Edition, 1991, p. 284–
But through the course of the dialogue I could see that Moyers deeply respected and probably loved the man 30 years his senior. He cherished his intelligence, graciousness, and message – – even if he didn’t accept it wholesale. I wanted to read Campbell and critically assess my agreement or lack thereof with his basic thesis. I knew of this quote that I needed to contextualize:
Moyers: But people ask, isn’t a myth a lie?
Campbell: No, mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been said that mythology is the penultimate truth – – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. So this is the penultimate truth.
It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and of your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.
Moyers: The adventure of the hero?
Campbell: Yes, the adventure of the hero – – the adventure of being alive.
Ibid. p. 206
Respect requires listening. Campbell was not a Christian or even one who believed in a personal god. Moyers was complex, in some ways reminding me of our reader CC. His favorite New Testament scripture quoted Thomas, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Yet what a wonderful gift they gave us in this conversation. What a wonderful model to follow. Respect requires a departure from the echo chamber and a purposeful rapprochement with those who may even frustrate you.
Russell – – as our friendship continues, lets follow the model of Campbell and Moyers. Thank you so much for posting your resources on the sidebar. It helps us both to understand how the other thinks. It helps us to cross over and interpret the works of those we may disagree with, but still respect. It helps others who have befriended one with drastically different views, but a desire for fraternal love.