Human Stew

Excerpt from a work-in-progress, a sort of primer I’m writing for my sisters’ kids as a Christmas present (hopefully!) introducing them to the ideas of Joseph Campbell. This is from what I expect to be around the middle:

Maybe you’re starting to see that primarily planting cultures and primarily hunting cultures led to two distinct ways of thinking about the world, which led, in turn, to two branches of religion. The two religions are broadly referred to as the Western religions and the Eastern religions. The Western religions include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and these were derived more from the hunting cultures. The Eastern religions include Buddhism and Hinduism, and these were derived more from the planting cultures.
What happened was while for most of the history of the world people got along pretty well together, at various times, in various regions, different peoples clashed. They disagreed about sharing space or food or they disagreed about ideas, and they fought. They had a war. One group won the war, but the other group didn’t vanish. The two groups assimilated. This means that the winning group’s way of life prevailed but the losing group’s way of life and ideas remained intact. They might lie dormant for a while but they’ll resurface in the new, combined group’s way of thinking about the world.
This has been happening all the time through all of history so that people today have all these ways of thinking presented to them. That’s a complicated idea so I came up with an analogy that might help illustrate it.
Imagine a huge vat of stew of brown gravy you can’t see through. I dump in a bunch of chopped up carrots. Then I dump in an equal number of chopped up celery pieces the same size as the carrots. I stir it up. Now I pull a piece out. Whether I get a carrot piece or a celery piece, the stew still has both in it, right? Even if I pull out ten pieces of carrot in a row, the celery pieces are still in there.
Now I spoon the vat of stew into ten separate bowls. What does each bowl have in it? Some mixture of carrots and celery. Some bowls might be mostly carrots and other bowls mostly celery but even if a bowl has almost all celery and just one little carrot piece, does the little lonely piece of carrot decide to just change into celery? No, right?
Even if a bowl happens to have only carrots and no celery, the carrots picked up some of the celery flavor from being in the vat stirred up with the celery. Something like that happens with these ancient ideas that show up in each of the different ways of thinking. So talking about them as two distinct ways of thinking and comparing them is just a useful tool to understanding their relationship but actually the two ideas are more like the stew. And the different religions these ideas led to are more like the bowls.

(By the way, I’m not planning on calling this portion “Human Stew,” just thought that was a nice blog title)


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