Krishna’s dictum: The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself
by Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard, contributing writer
Joseph Campbell has been dead for twenty years. I know, I’m the last person on earth not to have heard of him. But, what a time to rediscover him.
Indeed, in a Post-Modern, nihilistic world where “Islamo-fascists” and “Global Climate Change” wrest the truth from the discourse, how good it has been to revisit Campbell’s unifying concepts of divinity found in everyman and the everyday, and an emphasis on cross-cultural shared human experience—no matter the race, religion or gender. I highly recommend it.
If more people thought in terms of Campbell’s “recognizing the Thou”, we could not demonize what we perceive as the other—be it a person or the environment—because in each we would see ourselves and our shared humanity. Undoubtedly, this would throw political and commercial propaganda and greed on its head. So much for environmental disregard, war, poverty, genocide, terrorism and fear-mongering.
If that’s not enough, what’s more Campbell’s books might serve as an overdue introduction to Humanism 101. Writing as a professor who teaches Art History to college students, I’ve noticed a marked shift over the last decade from a general cultural knowledge to what I would term a “studied ignorance”. (Is this a reflection of the values of our political leadership?)
I can’t help believing that a good dose of art, comparative religion, world history, psychology and myth-making would give currently morose, navel-gazing (does this explain all the piercings?) teens a positive moral compass with which to set sail for uncharted waters. But, even in writing this I can’t help feeling that this will never become an item on the national education agenda precisely because it runs counter to the goals of those in Washington. To the point, such a grounding would “unfortunately” result in growing awakening consciousness and philosophical self-examination—not particularly good for supporting the status-quo. “No solipsistic child left without an iPod and Gamecube.”
Already in 1988, in the now famous Power of Myth series Campbell noted that our Post-Modern American society was a culture curiously devoid of myths; and, this was new, not necessarily positive territory. Campbell believed that the myths center or anchor our children, showing them (and us) the way forward, keeping us in-tune with the past, present and infinite. Without them he speculated that we’d begun living in a socially and spiritually-debilitating digital age. I’ve personally seen this lack of both cosmic affirmation and self-esteem seated in almost every classroom chair for a decade now.
Lamentably, in listening to “Fresh Air” on NPR the other day I was reminded that such a positivistic worldview is now absurdly lauded by some as the only “sane” one as they interviewed Richard Dawkins on his new best-selling book, The God Delusion (Bantam Books, 2006). In his view, this scientist pities anyone who believes in a higher being because Darwinian and Einsteinian science has (and of course will) fail to find evidence of one. He believes that Atheists such as himself are intellectually superior and can lead perfectly happy, fulfilling lives of intellectual rigor.
My first question is: if this is so, why do spiritually-attuned people suffer less from illness, and why do they live longer? Is that not proof-enough to a Darwinist that the spiritual serves an evolutionary purpose? Just because science cannot quantify the metaphysical with their tools, this does not eliminate it from reality. As Campbell himself might put it: Post-Modern man often mistakes the light bulb for the light—which is to say, the medium of conveyance for the divine spark. Isn’t it the radiance of our being, including our human imagination, that makes life such a rich pageant? In my opinion, such over-reliance on science and technology (in popular culture, the market and the classroom) has robbed many, if not most Post-Modern people of their great inner-life and beauty.
Experiment: Ask a teenager what “beauty” means, or ask them what it means to judge something as beautiful. I did. My entire class sat in uncomfortable silence for several minutes, not one venturing an answer, as if beauty was unspeakable—or, worse—irrelevant.
We would do well to teach our kids to find their beauty and the beauty in others. This would change the whole world and “find our bliss” at the same time.
Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard, Ph. D., is an Independent Scholar of Art History, Specializing in Northern Renaissance and Baroque. Click here to send her email.