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Forgiving Joseph Campbell

In one sense, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung cannot honestly be classed among the great intellectuals. One quickly realizes this after moving on to the real philosophers, the real theologians. Campbell and Jung are often amateurish, hopelessly dated, and once a man has read Remi Brague or Dante, it is hard to return to Campbell and think him someone who understood the human being.

At the same time, Campbell and Jung fire the imaginations of a young student like no other. They are like the pseudo-scientists of the 18th century who were “reanimating” dead animals. They are probably to be forgotten in the annals of their disciplines, but they have played a significant role in creating desire for deeper things, and so they must be forgiven for their sloppiness and occasional idiocies. They said what they did out of intrigue, wonder, and they are capable of exciting the same in others. Campbell and Jung are the intellectual training wheels which guide the otherwise-uninspired student into great speeds of thought. A good teacher handing over a copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces need not hedge his bets, or explain the disdain with which “the real intellectuals” regard Campbell. The student will figure this out, but only because Campbell has created a longing in the student to know.

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