Joseph Campbell. Masks of God. Theology and Modern Psychology

Joseph Campbell’s popular book, Masks of God: Primitive Mythology proposes to explain from purely natural human development why people are religious. Campbell argues that all the essential ideas for the existence of God and His activity as Creator emerge during the psychological development of small children. Since children are able to come up with these ideas on their own, Campbell thinks they should be regarded as common results of imagination. Such “myths,” as he calls them, are rooted in human psychology, not reality.

Campbell develops his argument from dialogues with children, where children offer their explanations about where things come from. He presents numerous anecdotes of children telling stories or explaining things in ways very similar to those found in religion.

This methodology is flawed because the children interviewed were likely raised in religious households. They are growing up amid these ideas already. Also, stories read or told to children also propose many of the ideas that Campbell presents as products of the children’s minds. In other words, his sample is badly biased. To get a pure sample, one would have to isolate children from parents and culture and let them grow up wild. Even then, an interview process could taint the sample by leading questions (presuming wild children could understand your language). Most of the examples provided by Campbell actually come from an earlier psychologist, Piaget, who conducted his studies c. 100 years ago. Campbell’s argument, which seems reasonable at first, proves to be very bad “science” and logic.

People are naturally religious, as illustrated in earlier posts, because of the way God made people and not because an accident of human psychology.

Acts 17:22–31; Romans 1:18–23

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