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Literal Versus Metaphor

Joseph Campbell believes that millions of followers of the major world religions including Christians have taken literally in religious texts what should be taken as metaphor. I would imagine that Campbell placed himself in a contraversial position when he said this. In his interview with Bill Moyers in the Power of Myth television series Campbell explained the repeated themes he found in all cultures over all recorded time and the various ways these repeated themes were expressed. He said that the world’s great religions had the same message, the same god, and yet were at odds with one another because of the misinterpretation of the symbols. Having taken them literally instead of metaphorically they seemed to be saying different things. Campbell said that all the symbols were saying the same things: that God is not outside of ourselves but within us. According to Campbell this literal interpretation of religious symbols is the cause of many wars. To this Bill Moyers asked Campbell, “Who would die for a metaphor?” Campbell answered, “People are dying all over the place for a metaphor.” Although Campbell’s words have undoubtedly offended many, his words have been a liberating breath of fresh air for many others.


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