Myths of Alienation
Joseph Campbell described the myths of the monotheistic religions as
alienating man from his authentic spirituality, from himself and from his
nature. The idea that dominates Judeo-Christian and Islamic beliefs is that a
single, rather hostile God exists outside the world and prefers only one human
group, provided that the group is sufficiently subservient and obeys rules. The
Jews originated monotheism to support the narcissistic exclusivity of a small
and eclectic tribe. Not only were Jews the chosen people, but God promised to
send his son, the messiah, to confirm their special status and assure their
This notion of the privileged group was repeated by Christian Jews who
claimed that Jesus was in fact the messiah. The Christian Bible emerged over
many centuries, written to support the authority of the Roman Church who claimed
that their gospel superseded existing Jewish teachings and Jewish law. The
power, prestige and authority of God’s covenant with the Jews became a Christian
property. Christianity was later carried to the rest of the world by the Roman
Church with this message of excusive privilege.
Islam, in turn, copied the claims of privilege and cancelled the
claims for the Jews and Christians. Mohamed was the latest prophet who carried
the word of God to the chosen few, Arab tribes. Islam was carried to many
regions around the Mediterranean by Arab armies. Arabs eventually extended their
military occupation to India and China. The Arab empire had many cultural
benefits, bringing civilized art, science, literature, architecture, and civil
law to many regions that lacked the Arab sophistication.
The social idea of the three related religions was and continues to be that
humans must be connected to God by membership in a social group and obey the
group rules. Membership in the church, mosque or synagogue confers privileges of
access to divine approval and benevolent intervention on your behalf. If you are
an outsider, you have no privileges and are considered to be either of no
consequence or you are a threat.
Beyond the group myths, there is no evidence to support these claims of
privilege, but the social and political relevance of religious organizations is
undisputed. In the simplest analysis, humans want to belong to groups that offer
protection and prestige. Humans seek reassurance and are willing to pay for it.
Most humans are willing to sacrifice some, if not all of their freedom to remain
an acknowledged member of a group with special privileges. All humans want easy
answers to difficult questions and many are willing to forfeit their right to
inquire on their own and come to independent conclusions. They are followers who
want to be led.
Faith and belief are default positions that win group approval and are easy
to acquire. The strongest group affiliation is acquired at birth, taught by the
extended family and enforced by the local community. If you are a convert,
religious organizations provide you with a series of statements or beliefs in
the form of a creed. You have to memorize the creed; repeat the statements when
asked, and declare your faith when anyone challenges the relevance or validity
of your beliefs.
If anyone questions your motives or reasoning, you just state that the
scriptures or God himself told you. Young children indoctrinated into membership
in a religious group tend to remain loyal to the local beliefs, obedient to the
rules and become adults who are reluctant to forfeit their claims of privilege.