Bill Moyers: Christian Atheist
How the PBS Icon, a Professing Christian, Has Used the Work of Atheist Mythologist Joseph Campbell to Undermine the Faith of Young Christians and Mislead Millions of Other Students
By Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.
Each year, millions of young people in our high schools, colleges, and universities are attracted to the study of mythology. Many of them are Christians. Mythology is an intriguing subject. However, the literature that rules this field today springs from an atheistic standpoint which skulks beneath the thinnest possible veneer of honest scholarship. The works of Jane Ellen Harrison, Joseph Campbell, and the many other authors who have bought into their erroneous assumptions are treated as insightful and brilliant. They presume to teach the meaning of mythology and its relationship to the history of humanity; however, the reality is that their theories make little or no sense, and their pseudo-intellectual pride renders them blind to the obvious.
The serpent convinced Eve that what God had said was not worth considering, and this same serpents viewpoint is what characterizes and unites these writings into a single dominating and deluding literary genre. Some of their facts are correct, but as they demean the truth of the Book of Genesis, they shun the only context into which the facts sensibly fit.
No matter how overt or substantial the evidence, atheist scholars, by definition, cannot conclude that the Book of Genesis is a valid historical document. That is because validation of the truth of Genesis leads inevitably to validation of the reality of the God of Genesis. Thus, atheists must develop their own subjective, ambiguous, and convoluted explanations for the abundant ancient evidence that points toward the characters and events of Eden. As such, there is no cohesive foundation to their thinking. They are dogmatic, as opposed to being open-minded; sentimental, as opposed to being objective; and blind to truth, as opposed to being truly enlightened.
As surprising as it sounds, the world-famous Joseph Campbell had very little understanding of ancient myths - he called them all "metaphors." Myths thus mean anything and everything, and therefore, nothing. The term "metaphor" sounds very erudite and intellectual, but there is no substance beneath it. Campbell used the term to cover up his ignorance, and his ardent interviewer and promoter, Bill Moyers, went along with Campbell's shallow pretense.
Lets take a look at the notions and influence of the atheist mythologists who are revered today, and at Bill Moyers' self-serving and hypocritical promotion of the fundamentally flawed works of atheist Joseph Campbell.
Jane Ellen Harrison
Jane Ellen Harrison (18501928) was an avowed atheist and author of Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis. She made a name for herself in the fields of Greek mythology and anthropology by projecting her own brand of feminism onto the ancient world. Her work is especially revered in liberal arts colleges today. Joseph Campbell based his knowledge of Greek myth largely on her work.
Ignoring Eve, Harrison wrote that the various mother-goddess images in Greek art pointed to an ideal and peaceful matrifocal (female-centered) society which preceded the Greek patriarchal system. Patriarchy, Harrison wrote, "would fain dominate all things, would invade even the ancient prerogative of the mother, the right to rear the child she bore
[it] usurps the function of the mother
".1 As an example of this male usurpation, she cited the birth of Athena who emerged full-grown from her father, Zeus.2 As one who takes the book of Genesis seriously, I have no difficulty in seeing the full-grown birth of Athena out of a male god as a picture of Eves full-grown birth out of Adam. Harrisons atheism blinded her to that possibility.
The facts do not support a time when idyllic matriarchal cultures ruled. While there is plenty of evidence for goddess worship in the ancient world, there is next to none pointing to matrifocal societies, peaceful or otherwise. Harrisons mother died shortly after she was born. Sadly, in her personal life, tragedy (repeating her own words) "invade[d] even the ancient prerogative of the mother, the right to rear the child she bore." Thus, her yearning for a lost nurturing system ruled by women speaks more to what she missed in her own childhood than to any historical reality.
It took a number of decades, but Barbara G. Walker finally carried Harrisons thinking to its logical limits with the publication of her 1,124-page The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets in 1983. In her book, Walker proposes that women once owned all the land, governed its cultivation, and at their discretion made and unmade their sexual attachments.3 Thats why the patriarchal movement made up the myth of Edenso that men would have an excuse to blame and disenfranchise women. And, not surprisingly, "Christianity itself was an offshoot of Middle-Eastern Goddess worship."4
After Harrison but before Walker came another atheist, Joseph Campbell, (19041987), who built a large part of his thinking on the weak foundations laid out by Harrison. As an American author, editor, and teacher known primarily for his writings on myths, Campbell used his own unique forms of sophistry to undermine and deny the ancient evidence that points to the events recounted in the early chapters of Genesis. Bill Moyers (see below) made Campbell famous by promoting his work on a PBS series entitled Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth in 1988. An estimated thirty million people viewed the original presentation and it has been re-aired often as part of PBS fundraising efforts. In 1991, Dr Tom Snyder wrote:
Campbell has perhaps more influence on current American religious thought than any other contemporary writer. His books fill the religion sections of major bookstore chains; are required reading in most college and university religion, literature, and philosophy courses; and have become handbooks of spirituality to the New Agers, neo-pagans, Gaia environmentalists, and 1990s religious dabblers. 5
Campbells influence has only grown in the intervening fourteen years. More than twenty of his books (authored or co-authored) are still in print and offered in the major bookstores. His erroneous and sometimes downright ridiculous thinking on the subjects of mythology and anthropology continues to pass for wisdom in our high schools, colleges and universities. His books are replete with confusing passages meant to impress young minds with his own imagined profound intelligence. Here is a sample:
These mythic figurations are the "ancestral forms," the insubstantial archetypes, of all that is beheld by the eye as physically substantial, material things being understood as ephermeral concretions out of the energies of these noumena.6a
Passages such as this in Campbell's books are not meant to enlighten but rather to blunt critical thought. Let us here remind ourselves that ever since the Tower of Bable, fools have been posing as learned men.
A brief look at Campbells underlying assumptions will help us understand a revealing and fatal flaw at the very heart of his research and ideas.
Joseph Campbell maintained that myths are "cultural manifestations of the universal need of the human psyche to explain social, cosmological, and spiritual realities."6b This is really nothing more than a fancy way of saying that "myths are what they are." Contrary to Campbells disguised tautology, I maintain that myth is essentially history, and that many ancient myths and works of art tell the same story as the book of Genesis, but from the standpoint that the serpent is the enlightener of mankind rather than its deceiver, and that Eve did the right thing in taking the fruit. (In The Parthenon Code: Mankind's History in Marble, I show just how obvious this is from the abundant historical evidence in Greek myth/art. See my eight-page summary of the true meaning of Greek myth, Athena and Eve).
Campbell was blind to this simple truth as the following example of his errant thinking will show. On page 14 of his The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, he features an illustration of a Sumerian seal (Figure 1). Here we have a man, a woman, a tree, and a serpent. We think immediately of Eden. But Campbell writes that this "cannot possibly be, as some scholars have supposed, the representation of a lost Sumerian version of the Fall of Adam and Eve."7 Why not? Because, he writes, there is no sign of divine wrath or danger to be found. There is no theme of guilt connected with the garden. The boon of the knowledge of life is there, in the sanctuary of the world, to be culled. And it is yielded willingly to any mortal, male or female, who reaches for it with the proper will and readiness to receive. 7
But this is exactly why it is Eden. This is the view of the events in the garden taken by Kain (Cain) and those who embraced his way. They defied and ultimately dispensed with the angry God, so He and His wrath are not going to show up here. There is no guilt because there is no sin; there is no sin, or falling short of the ideal, because, according to the line of Kain, Adam and Eve did the right thing in taking the fruit. In Genesis 3:14, Yahweh condemned the serpent to crawl on its torso and eat soil. On the Sumerian seal, the serpent rises to a height above the seated humans. Why? Those who hold to the belief system of Kain revere the wisdom of the friendly serpent who freely offers the fruit of the tree of knowledge, enlightening the two progenitors of all humanity so that they and their offspring might be as gods, knowing good and evil. One does not need an advanced degree in cultural anthropology to grasp this simple truth.
How do we explain the fact that Campbell misses something so obvious and so basic to the study of mythology? He must ignore evidence and insights which contradict his atheism or his whole system falls apart. Note that Campbell does not refer to the Eden connection as improbable or unlikely, but as impossible; i.e. as something that, in his words, "cannot possibly be." His atheistic standpoint demands that the book of Genesis be treated as a fable. Campbell wrote:
No one of adult mind today would turn to the Book of Genesis to learn of the origins of the earth, the plants, the beasts, and man. There was no flood, no tower of Babel, no first couple in paradise, and between the first known appearance of men on earth and the first building of cities, not one generation (Adam to Cain) but a good two million must have come into this world and passed along. Today we turn to science for our imagery of the past and of the structure of the world, and what the spinning demons of the atom and the galaxies of the telescopes eye reveal is a wonder that makes the babel of the Bible seem a toyland dream of the dear childhood of our brain.8
These words belong at the beginning of Campbells book so that the reader might know his standpoint; but instead, they appear in the last chapter entitled "Conclusion," implying that all that went before somehow backs them up. Campbells paragraph, above, does not represent a validly deduced conclusion from the facts; on the contrary, it is his biased set of unchallengeable assumptions out of which his study of mythology originates and through which it proceeds. These assumptions color his choice of facts and the way in which he chooses to present themthus, his irrational insistence that the Sumerian seal depicting the serpents side of Eden is no such thing. Campbell does not believe what the childish "babel" of Genesis says about anything, including Eden, and is therefore his reason why the Sumerian depiction could not possibly represent it. He writes that the male figure (Adam) on the Sumerian seal is "the ever-dying, ever-resurrected Sumerian god who is the archetype of incarnate being."7 Since Campbell is an evolutionist, shouldnt his "archetype of incarnate being" look less like a human and more like a tadpole, a monkey, or a knuckle-dragging apeman?
When Campbell writes "we turn to science for our imagery of the past" he means " I turn to science for my imagery of the past." And his chief "scientists"turn out to be Freud, Darwin, and Nietzschemen whom he idolized and whose theories and ideas are founded on their own atheism and contempt for Scripture.
Some observers think of Campbell as a pantheist, some think of him as a one-world Buddhist, and still others see him as a New Ager with a strong Hinduistic basis, but his work unmasks him as an atheist through and through. He concludes his The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology with the assertion that God did not create man, but rather man created God; and he gives the very last word in his book to Friedrich "God is dead" Nietzsche.8b Campbell's antipathy to God and Christ is what unifies his work. In one of the tapes of the PBS series, Campbell ridicules the Christian belief in resurrection calling it "a clown act, really."5 In the book, The Power of Myth, an outgrowth of the PBS series, he responds to Moyers with the following statements:
We know that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is no physical heaven anywhere in the universe.9
Jesus on the cross, the Buddha under the treethese are the same figures.10
Once you reject the idea of the Fall in the Garden, man is not cut off from his source.11
[The serpent] is the primary god, actually, in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh, the one who walks there in the cool of the evening, is just a visitor.12
One problem with Yahweh, as they used to say in the old Christian Gnostic texts is that he forgot he was a metaphor. He thought he was a fact.13
In The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Campbell predicts a new mythology for a new age wherein a "unified earth" will become "as of one harmonious being."14 The ancient and glorious matrifocal age (which never actually existed in the first place) is on the way back! At long last, humanity will be rid of God and His Christ, for the old Near Eastern desacralization of nature by way of a doctrine of the Fall will have been rejected; so that any such limiting sentiment as that expressed in II Kings 5:15, there is no God in all the earth but in Israel, will be (to use a biblical term) an abomination.15
While Campbells work teaches that Genesis and the rest of the Scriptures are basically irrelevant, the more important question remains, how do the Scriptures define his belief system? As Campbell is systematic in his opposition to the central tenet of ChristianityChrists resurrection from the deadhis teachings are those of an antichrist many of whom, according to I John 2:18, have come out into the world.
Some of his followers may reason that Campbell is not anti-Christ because he says that Christs most important teaching is "love your enemies," and then encourages his followers to do that by removing the motes in their eyes.16 But the original meaning of "anti" in Greek is not against but rather "instead." Instead of Christ Himself, Campbell offers one of Christs sayings which he misappropriates into his own atheistic frameworkalmost anything instead of Christ will do, including some of Christs words taken out of context.
Scores of other writers have followed the alien paths carved out by Harrison and Campbell and have thus been drawn into wasteful pseudo-intellectual excursions of their own. I have mentioned the work of Barbara G. Walker, above. Lady of the Beasts by Buffie Johnson (no relation to me) is another book among many which shows how the teachings of Harrison and Campbell have been picked up and spread like a mind-numbing virus. Besides the name of a special friend, Campbell appears first in Johnsons acknowledgements, and Harrison is cited often.
In her book, Johnson features seventy pages devoted to the serpent in the ancient world. Over and over, she stresses the importance of the serpent: "The serpent was venerated throughout ancient Egypt
Reverence for the snake in the Near East equaled that found in Egypt
The Minoans like the Egyptians had not been conditioned to see in the snake a symbol of evil
," etc.17 She concludes, "At the dawn of literate time, therefore, the serpent appears as a supreme figure guarding the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge."18 Over and over, she points to the connection between a woman, a tree, and a serpent; but she cannot see the Genesis connection. That is because her standpoint is based on that of Campbell, Harrison, and other atheists.
She features an illustration of the same Sumerian seal Campbell pictures in his book on Greek myth, and which I have discussed, above (Figure 1). Here is what she writes about it in her book: "Although there are similarities, the possibility that this could be an early version of the Adam and Eve story has been denied by archaeologists"[emphasis mine].19
Note that she does not say that archaeologists have disproved it, or refuted it, but have denied it. All atheists must deny the possibility of an Eden, and Buffie Johnson is no exception. Atheists must deny every bit of evidence that suggests or points to a Creator God; and likewise, they must deny all the evidence that points to the inextricably related idea that the book of Genesis is a true account of human origins. Their denials accord with their atheistic dogma, not with science, not with logic, and not with the historical record.
The irony, of course, is that even as they maintain that the early events of Genesis have no real meaning for themselves or the rest of humanity, they embrace and exalt the "wisdom" of the Genesis serpent. While God has instructed us to subdue "every living animal of the earth" (Genesis 9:2), they look up to a wild beast as a source of knowledge for mankind. This is the true abomination, for "what is high among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). In Prolegomena, Harrison features an ancient Greek relief of a woman and two men worshipping the serpent (Figure 2). Campbell copied it into his Occidental Mythology. Do we see these authors in this picture? I do.
Bill Moyers is a third person who fits into this ancient serpent-worshiping relief. In The Power of Myth, Moyers, an ordained Baptist minister, is quoted as saying to Campbell, "far from undermining my faith, your work in mythology has liberated my faith from the cultural prisons to which it had been sentenced."20
How naïve the sophisticates have become! Campbell did not even believe that God exists. How could such a man possibly offer any edification at all to the body of Christ? And what kind of "faith" is Moyers talking about? The only faith Moyers shows by touting Campbells work is faith in the serpents ability to undermine the Word of God and delude mankind.
As an experienced journalist who claims to be a Christian, it is the ultimate in hypocrisy for Moyers to present Campbells disguised atheism and idolatrous fervor to the public as academic brilliance. It was astounding to learn that, to Campbell, the greatest sin was the sin of "inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake."21 Asleep to the truth himself, Campbell found in Moyers an unthinking enthusiast willing to sleepwalk through his own spiritual life, perpetuating a sophisticated form of spiritual fraud upon countless young minds.
Bill Moyers' shameless promotion of the works of Joseph Campbell (and the consequent promotion of the work of Campbell's disciples) has generated an atheistic genre which now dominates mythology literature. The works of Moyers, Campbell, and those who follow in their footsteps are part of a trap laid by the Adversary, a barricade on the road to truth. The serpents voice defines and permeates their writings, saying again and again in a hundred different ways, "The Scriptures are not true, the God you learned about at home, in church, or in the synagogue does not exist. Only children and fools believe those things. Moral absolutes are for the ignorant and the improperly educated."
Campbell's contempt for, and ridicule of Christianity and Judaism undermines respect for traditional values in the minds of millions of young students each year, thus preparing them to embrace an alien and contradictory ideology they themselves will never fully understand. Campbell's promise of a warm and fuzzy harmonious unified earth abounding with moral relativism undermines students' respect for our constitutional government and our national sovereignty, thus preparing them to view their own country as the enemy even when we are attacked mercilessly by fanatics from abroad.
Atheism is a belief system, it is a religion; and it is fast becoming the central tenet of modern religious and political liberalism. Many liberals listen to Moyers. Moyers' and Campbell's distortions of human history permeate an educational system that has spawned many of these very liberals in high school and college. Thus when Moyers speaks today, these liberals have already been conditioned to nod in agreement no matter how utterly false or absurd his remarks may be.
All that Joseph Campbell's Moyers-abetted works have proven conclusively is that "the wisdom of this world is stupidity with God" (I Corinthians 3:19). Campbell eagerly embraced Darwinism, as does Moyers, and Darwinism is a speculative system that replaces God and purpose with time and chance. On this basis alone, their books and their ideas should be rejected: they trace back the origins of their own vaunted intellects, after all, to random mutations from primordial slime.
1. Bible quotations are from the Concordant Literal Translation.
2. Harrison, J.E., Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis, University Books, New Hyde Park, New York, p. 495, 1962.
3. Walker, B.G., The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Harper & Row, San Francisco, p. ix, 1983.
4. Walker, Ref. 3, p. viii.
5. Snyder, T., Myth Perceptions, Joseph Campbells Power of Deceit, Answers in Action, p. 1, .
6a. Campbell, J., The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, p. 55-56, 1986
6b. "About Joseph Campbell," The Joseph Campbell Foundation Web Site, p. 1, , 2003.
7. Campbell, J., The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, The Viking Press, Inc., New York, p. 14, 1964.
8a. Campbell, Ref, 7, p. 520.
8b. Campbell, Ref. 7, p. 523. The full "God is dead" quote is: "After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave - a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown - And we - we still have to vanquish his shadow, too." From Nietzsche's The Gay Science, s. 108, Walter Kaufmann transl.
9. Campbell, J., with Moyers, B., The Power of Myth, Doubleday, New York, p. 56, 1988.
10. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. 107.
11. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. 24.
12. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. 47.
13. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. 62.
14. Campbell, Ref. 6, p.17.
15. Campbell, Ref. 14, p. 18.
16. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. 211.
17. Johnson, B., Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals, Inner Traditions International, New York, pp. 132, 136, 129; 1994.
18. Johnson, Ref. 17, p. 191.
19. Johnson, Ref. 17, p. 184.
20. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. 55.
21. Campbell, Ref. 9, p. xvii.
Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr. is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in general science, and an airborne, ranger infantry veteran of the Vietnam War. He is the author of Athena and Eden: The Hidden Meaning of the Parthenons East Façade, and Athena and Kain: The True Meaning of Greek Myth, and The Parthenon Code: Mankind's History in Marble. He is also the vice-president of Solving Light Books in Annapolis, Maryland.
I used to read a lot of Joseph Campbell's books until I saw him on Moyer's program The Power of Myth. Campbell said that if Christ died and went to heaven he is still traveling and at the speed of light, isn't even out of our own galaxy yet. I almost fell over. Here was a PHD. that didn't even understand anything spiritual let alone dimensions or the power of God.