Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of mythology, once said that we should read other people’s stories because when we read our own, we assume they are factual, but when we read the myths of others, we begin to understand symbolism, and our imaginations transport us into realms of deeper meaning.
New students’ approaches to religious texts exhibit scant sensitivity to the complex recipes by which hearers and readers construct meaning. Yet interpretive skills are useful for making sense not only of sacred texts but of all texts, and of other communication tools as well.
Shusaku Endo’s novel recounts the spiritual descent of an earnest Portuguese priest and his small, beleaguered flock of believers in 17th-century Japan. Ever since I discovered it in 1979 thanks to a review by Douglas John Hall, it has remained among my top three candidates for items I would want to have with me if I were stranded on a desert island.
One of my grad school teachers said that anyone teaching bioethics should adopt Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Upon arriving at Baylor I took up her suggestion, and I have taught the National Book Critics Circle Award winner twice a year for nearly a decade.