A reading from Truth in Religion by Adler.
Posted: 09 June 2005 07:19 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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The following is a passage from “Truth in Religion”, by Mortimer J. Adler. I would enjoy hearing some thoughts about the content of the passage, as well as arguments for or against what Adler is labeling, “monoistic materialism” as being dogmatic. There are some questions I would like the reader to keep in mind when reading this passage.

1. Is Adler’s assessment of Campbell’s view unfair? If so why?
2. If Adler is correct in his assessment then what errors has Campbell made in his critic of religions as being “misunderstood myths?”
3. What implication does this have on Secularist views about religions as a whole, or the notion that religions are untrue myths that have kept mankind in the Dark ages?

The following can be found in chapter three “The Study of Religion and Mythology” pg. 58-60.

“ Professor Joseph Campbell, however, goes much further (when defining the mythology and religion) in his book The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, subtitled Metaphor as Myth and as Religion.
Campbell identified religions with mythologies that are incorrectly believed to be true. The faithful members of any one religious community, subscribing to its own orthodoxy, dismiss other religions as having no truth because they are regarded by them as other peoples’ mythologies. In Campbell’s view, they are correct in that view of other people’s religion, as compared with their own. Since in his term all religions are “misunderstood mythologies,” they are incorrect in the view that they hold of their own religion, which they misunderstand in exactly the same way. Those whose belief in myths consists in regarding their superstitions, not their religious faith.

{I should note that Adler sees Campbell’s attack on religions as being “misunderstood mythologies” is akin to Plato’s real reason for throwing the poets out of the Republic.}

The misunderstanding, according to Campbell, consists in “the interpretation of mythic metaphors as reference to hard fact: the Virgin Birth, for example, as a biological anomaly, or the Promised Land as a portion of the Near East to be claimed and settled by a people chosen of God, the term ‘God’ here to be understood as denoting an actual, though invisible, masculine personality, who created the universe and is now resident in an invisible, though actual, heaven to which the ‘justified’ will go when they die, there to be joined at the end of time by their resurrected bodies,” to which Campbell adds the question: “What, in the name of Reason or Truth, is a modern mind to make of such evident nonsense?”

(You can find this passage in Campbell’s book on pg. 55; see also 21, 28, 43, 57, 59-61, 99-100, 111-112, 115. These passages contain other statements to the same effect; namely that no modern mind, instructed by the natural sciences, and especially by the social sciences, could possibly give any credence to the religious beliefs of Orthodox Jews or to the articles of Christian faith summarized by the Nicene Creed.)

“Campbell’s reference to God as masculine, to the resurrection of the body as if that resurrection were physical not spiritual, to heaven as an actual though invisible place, and so on, reveals his lack of understanding of Jewish and Christian theology. In all three of the great religions of Western origin, God is conceived as a purely spiritual being. Not having a body, God cannot have gender. The conception of God as a person is not anthropomorphic. Angels are also conceived as persons, and man as having the lowest degree of personality; yet Campbell uses the word “personal” as if it had anthropomorphic connotations.

As for heaven, Campbell obviously is not cognizant of Augustine’s interpretation of the opening words of Genesis: “In Augustine, the word “heaven” in this statement does not mean a physical place of any kind whatsoever, but the realm of purely spiritual creatures as opposed to "earth," the domain of corporeal or material things. Heaven is an invisible realm, not a place, in which God and the angels have their existence.

Professor Campbell was undoubtedly a very good social scientist in the field of cultural anthropology. But his competence in dealing with philosophical matters, especially in the field of philosophical theology, is highly questionable. His judgment is this area reflects the dogmatic materialism that is so prevalent in contemporary science, especially in the behavioral science. Monoistic materialism is dogmatic precisely because it is as unprovable as any article of religious faith.”

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Posted: 10 June 2005 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I would certainly say that Adler’s assessment of Campbell is unfair, for a number of reasons. First, he objects to Campbell’s reading of the Bible - a reading that is very close to that of Biblical inerrantists. It isn’t just Campbell who refers to bodily resurrection, or heaven as an actual, but invisible place. Given the multiplicity of Biblical interpretations, it is ridiculous to accuse Campbell of not interpreting correctly. Smacks of the No True Scotsman defence, really.

Second, in the last reference, Adler uses almost a reverse appeal to authority, the idea that Campbell’s ideas about philosophical matters are questionable because he isn’t an expert. Are people who have specialized in philosophical theology the only ones allowed to make assertions about it?

As far as I can gather, Campbell asserts that the accounts of events in the Bible are ultimately the same as mythological accounts in other cultures - accounts which Christians, and most of the rest of us, uniformly reject. Essentially, he’s talking about a double standard, which is understandable. It’s a human tendency to value our own beliefs more highly than the beliefs of others.

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Posted: 13 June 2005 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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“I would certainly say that Adler’s assessment of Campbell is unfair, for a number of reasons. First, he objects to Campbell’s reading of the Bible - a reading that is very close to that of Biblical inerrantists. It isn’t just Campbell who refers to bodily resurrection, or heaven as an actual, but invisible place. Given the multiplicity of Biblical interpretations, it is ridiculous to accuse Campbell of not interpreting correctly. Smacks of the No True Scotsman defense, really.”

The notion that that there are many biblical opinions does not excuses Campbell from the fact that he got his facts about Christian wrong. Adler gave good evidence why Campbell’s assumptions was mistaken and they are easily verified. I was of the opinion that if a person is going to discuss the basic teachings of a theology that you needed to know what that theology teaches. Not make something up by disregarding that theology and adding in other themes and theologies from other systems.

“Second, in the last reference, Adler uses almost a reverse appeal to authority, the idea that Campbell’s ideas about philosophical matters are questionable because he isn’t an expert. Are people who have specialized in philosophical theology the only ones allowed to make assertions about it?”

Anyone can talk about philosophy just like anyone can discuss nuclear physics. But if I was talking to a nuclear physicist about nuclear and said something that was inaccurate, and then have that physicist give reasons and evidence as to why I was mistaken,  I would not take that mean I can’t talk about nuclear physics it just means I need to get my ideas and facts straight. Whether a person is an expert or not evidence is needed to back up the claim.

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Posted: 13 June 2005 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“J. S. Dubreuil”]The notion that that there are many biblical opinions does not excuses Campbell from the fact that he got his facts about Christian wrong. Adler gave good evidence why Campbell’s assumptions was mistaken and they are easily verified. I was of the opinion that if a person is going to discuss the basic teachings of a theology that you needed to know what that theology teaches. Not make something up by disregarding that theology and adding in other themes and theologies from other systems.

Ok, let me rephrase. There are plenty of Christians who claim exactly the same sorts of things that Adler says Campbell references. If there was only one interpretation of the Bible that was accepted by all the Christians in the world, then Adler would have a point, but that isn’t the case. If you can tell me that there is a true interpretation of scripture that only true Christians believe, and NOT have it sound exactly like the No True Scotsman fallacy, I will give up any belief I have in the usefulness of logic. Otherwise, I stand by my criticism.

Anyone can talk about philosophy just like anyone can discuss nuclear physics. But if I was talking to a nuclear physicist about nuclear and said something that was inaccurate, and then have that physicist give reasons and evidence as to why I was mistaken,  I would not take that mean I can’t talk about nuclear physics it just means I need to get my ideas and facts straight. Whether a person is an expert or not evidence is needed to back up the claim.

First of all, I have not read the Campbell original, nor the entirety of Adler’s piece - just the passages you selected. I cannot comment on the quality of Campbell’s documentation, nor can I comment on the validity of his sources. I have to assume that Campbell sourced his piece correctly, since Campbell wrote scholarly works and not newspaper opinion pieces, and proper documentation is de rigeur in that sphere.

All that aside, the truth value of beliefs is predicated on whether people actually hold them. If Campbell says Christians believe something, and some of them actually DO, then he is in no way inaccurate. Perhaps saying it of all Christians is a bit of a hasty generalization, but he is still accurate in that things like the bodily resurrection and heaven as an actual, yet invisible, place are beliefs that real people hold. I mean, some people living in America, a rather vocal chunk of them, actually do believe in a literal Virgin Birth.

Please explain how I’m wrong here.

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Posted: 13 June 2005 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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J. S. Dubreuil, men write all kinds of things and they are pretty much forgotten. Only the Word of God stands the test of time and it is at the forefront of every generation.

After you and I are gone, which is very soon when you classify time (for what is your life, it is a vapor that appeareth for a short time and then disappears). The next generation and the next (if the Lord tarries and the second coming doesn’t happen yet) will have its believers and unbelievers. And they’ll be discussing the merits of the word, then the next generation and the next. The Word of God is always at the center of the debate, not the words of men.

Think about it…..

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