Some here have asked if there’s a Joseph Campbell Religion.
More specifically: Did Joseph Campbell believe in God?
The short answer is “no.”
The medium answer is “yes, but…”
Here’s the real answer:
Joseph Campbell studied collective mythology for most of his life. Outside of politicians, preachers, and comedians mythologists are about the only people allowed to live as generalists. They focus on any and every story they come across, rather than specializing in one specific area like the majority of scholars.
As such, Campbell grew up in what appears as an oppressive Catholic experience – hardly the sort of Christian home I grew up in. “God” in the traditional english sense got ousted from Campbell’s psyche when he started to delve into mysticism – from Native American to Voodoo to Shinto Buddhist to Mason and finally arriving at Hinduism.
He wouldn’t say that though. He wouldn’t label himself even as some sort of rationalistic transcendentalist (which is exactly what he is). Instead, he’d say that he believes in a God – the “life force” – behind the veil, behind all things. This God, as “we all know” is impersonal – the god of both life and death, in all things and in nothing. The snake, therefore, symbolizes this life the best as one long chain of life and death. The snake is terrifying not because it’s evil but because it’s honest – in Campbell’s mind – because the snake symbolizes that life-death continuum better than anything. It’s a giant mouth attached to a rectum. No legs. No arms. No warm blood. Life then death then life again.
He ended up favoring Hinduism more than any other, but applied it to every other myth, arguing that all myths told the same story. The Hero with a Thousand Faces was a hero who would die and rise with the boon or elixir that society needed to survive again. Life from death, death unto life. It’s corrupts the Gospel story, but only ever so slightly.
So yes, he would say he believes in God – the impersonal god of the universe that gives life to all things, but whom we cannot possibly know. Thus the inspiration for “the force” in George Lucas’ Star Wars.