By John Ruberry
As we are in the Lenten season it is natural to look at Christ’s life and teachings–even if you are not a person of faith or you are a believer of a non-Christian religion. In these reflections, however, what is often overlooked is that Jesus faced three temptations.
I was reminded of these temptations while watching again the 1988 PBS series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth on Netflix. Although raised a Catholic, Campbell was an atheist. He was a proponent of the universality of myth across cultures which is best explained in his influential 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which was a major influence on George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise. It was in that book where the term the Hero’s Journey became popularized.
According to Scripture the devil tempted Jesus three times. First physically, while he fasting after his baptism, when Christ admonished Satan, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” Then with vanity, when the devil challenged Jesus to throw himself from a tall temple, and finally with probably the most alluring temptation, in exchange for submitting to Satan, Jesus would be given the power to rule all nations, that is, the complete power and dominion over others.
Now think of Darth Vader’s appeal to Luke Skywalker to abuse the Force in the best of the Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back. “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side,” Vader tells Luke. That power is totalitarianism.
In J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, other than invisibility, the real power of Sauron’s One Ring, which Frodo has vowed to destroy, is only vaguely described. But the greater and more treacherous power of the Ring is the same one found in the Dark Side of the Force.
Jesus resisted those three temptations. Luke refused his father’s overture. Frodo stayed true to his mission as long as he could. Even Vader redeemed himself in the end.
In The Power of Myth, host Bill Moyers comments to Campbell, “But I can hear someone out there in the audience saying, ‘Well, that’s all well and good for the imagination of a George Lucas or for the scholarship of a Joseph Campbell, but that isn’t what happens in my life.'”
Which brings this quick reply from Campbell, “You bet it does. If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life, and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off-center; he has aligned himself with a programmatic life, and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.”
Campbell believed people are mostly good and the better communities are programmed for such a life. And yes, “the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.”
These are the people who become, ethically speaking, monsters, albeit without the Darth Vader mask or the devil’s horns. They are the home repair scammers who replace perfectly working furnaces with overpriced new ones, the furniture sales people who sell a protection plan of dubious value that is saddled with an arduous claims process, or the remittance clerks, with the blessings of their bosses, who bill Medicare for treatment never delivered to patients who don’t exist. They’ve committed themselves to a corrupt system. They are betraying society and yes, themselves. These beasts see other people merely as steppingstones to achieve their own ends.
So yes, Campbell was right. We have a Hero’s Journey in front of us. Sure, it’s seemingly easier to lie and cheat your way to prosperity, rather than earning your way. But a healthy society must be controlled by the righteous who resist temptations such as the ones I just described. Otherwise society will be at war with itself.
And if you’ve read this blog entry this far, then you are among the righteous.
Remain that way.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.