Thursday, 23 November 2017

Joseph Campbell and RUP (Residual Unresolved Positivism)

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands? 

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. 
From The Power of Myth - interviews with Jospeh Campbell by Bill Moyers - book and PBS documentary, 1988.

Owen Barfield described a common phenomenon among spiritual people he named  RUP - Residual Unresolved Positivism. In essence, he meant that such people suppose that they have transcended materialism and become spiritual, but have not really done so. It is the difference between theory and practice, or between explicit belief and implicit habits - in theory they believe that spirit is primary but in practice they continue habitually to depend on materialist metaphysical explanations.

In the passage quoted above, Joseph Campbell reveals a failure to follow-through his beliefs to their conclusions. (I can confirm that this is true of the whole span of his writings, not just this particular passage). He describes how, when a person follows his Bliss (by which he means his deepest inner convictions - get translates the term from a Hindu doctrine of five 'sheaths' of the person - Bliss is the most fundamental sheath)... then Life will arrange-itself around the fulfilment of this need.

Campbell was known as a spiritual writer on the subject of mythology; but his bottom line explanations were derived and adapted from Carl Gustav Jung (e.g Campbell edited a popular anthology The Portable Jung, he attended conferences and met Jung and some of his early books were issued by Jung's publishing house).

For Jung, and for Campbell, spirituality and myth were ultimately a matter of psychology, and psychology was ultimately about human gratification during mortal life. The difference between Jung and other psychologists and psychiatrists is that the mainstream were aimed at therapy (alleviation of pathology) while Jung aimed at positive enhancement of a person's sense of meaning and purpose in Life... however, in the end this meaning-purpose were simply feelings.

For whatever reason, Jung and Campbell both stopped short of a religious metaphysical basis for their beliefs. So, in the passage quoted above, Campbell defensively refers to his belief as a 'superstition' even though he believed it and based his life upon it. He regarded living for Bliss as better than living for money or status, but could not justify this except in terms of making people feel better (overall and in the long term).

Campbell felt that a person living for and from their Bliss would experience meeting important people and having doors-open for their destiny - but presented this as an empirical observation, merely; and did not explain why or how this should happen - why, specifically, 'the world' should arrange-itself (in multiple extremely complex and interacting ways ) to enable a person to follow their Bliss, or destined 'track'...

One of Campbell's problems was a deeply rooted anti-Christianity, in reaction to his upbringing in a very literalistic, exclusive and hard-line (all-or-nothing) Irish Roman Catholicism. Yet if Campbell had responded to Christianity with the depth and flexibility he allowed for other religions, he might have seen that Bliss could coherently be regarded as God-within-us (God immanent). And Campbell might have seen that if indeed Life does arrange itself around the true destiny of an individual human being, then this implies a personal God of great power, who loves each person as an individual and intervenes in the world to help them follow their proper 'track'.

Much the same applies to Jung's concept of synchronicity - which is what Campbell is rephrasing here. If indeed reality arranges for individual people to have 'meaningful coincidences', then it also implies a personal God who is doing the immense job of arranging multiple factors, for the good of specific persons.

In the case of Jung and Campbell, I think we can see that their unresolved positivism is quite extreme - since they lack even a spiritual metaphysics; hence they both end-up making thoroughly materialist and this-worldly analyses and recommendations.

But for those of us who try-to live by a genuinely spiritual and Christian metaphysics, there is still a major problem of RUP - since we live in a world with a materialist and this-worldly metaphysics; and it is this modern world that socialises, trains, educates and entrains our habits of thinking.

In the end and under such circumstances; we all find that a thorough-going, 100-percent spiritual Christianity is impossible; and we can only manage a partial and intermittent consistency between our metaphysics and our habitual thinking.

Our need, then, is to repent our failures; and to take seriously, learn from, and try to amplify our successes at transcending positivism and fully-living-by what we theoretically believe.

 

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