Does the World stand on the verge of Spiritual Rebirth? ~Carl Jung

This is what theologians for several centuries have been crying for; what many of them have professed to see through the fog of doubts, disillusion and despair, like a star glowing in the high heavens.

I am not a theologian; I am a doctor, a psychologist. But as a doctor, I have had experience with thousands of persons from all parts of the world—those who came to tell me the stories of their lives, their hopes, their fears, their achievements, their failures. I have studied carefully their psychology, which is, and which must be, my guide.

Out of my experience with those thousands of patients, I have become convinced that the psychological problem of today is a spiritual problem, a religious problem, Man today hungers and thirsts for a safe relationship to the psychic forces within himself. His consciousness, recoiling from the difficulties of the modern world, lacks a relationship to safe spiritual conditions.

This makes him neurotic, ill, frightened. Science has told him that there is no God, and that matter is all there is. This has deprived humanity of its blossom, its feeling of well-being and of safety in a safe world. As modern man is driven back upon himself by doubt and fear, he looks inward to his own psychic life to give him something of which his outer life has deprived him.

In view of ‘the present widespread interest in all sorts of psychic phenomena—an interest such as the world has not experienced since the last half of the seventeenth century—it does not seem beyond the range of possibility to believe that we stand on the threshold of a new spiritual epoch; and that from the depths of man’s own psychic life new spiritual forms will be born.

Look at the world about us, and what do we see? The disintegration of many religions. It is generally admitted that the churches are not holding the people as they did, particularly educated people, who do not feel any longer that they are redeemed by a system of theology.

The same thing is seen in the old established religions of the East— Confucianism and Buddhism. Half the temples in Peking are empty.

In our Western world millions of people do not go to church. Protestantism alone is broken up into four hundred denominations. Contrast this state of life and thought with that of the Middle Ages. In those centuries almost everyone went to Mass every morning. The whole life was lived within the church, which became a tremendous outlet of psychic energy.

Instead, we have today an intricate and complicated life full of mechanical devices for living. A life crowded with motor cars and radios and motion pictures. But none of these things is a substitute for what we have lost. Religion gives us a rich application for our feelings. It gives meaning to life.

Man in the Middle Ages lived in a meaningful world. He knew that God had made the world for a definite purpose; had made him for a definite purpose—to get to heaven, or to get to hell. It made sense.

Today the world in which all of us live is a madhouse. This is what many people are feeling, Some of those people come to me to tell me so. All that energy which was the origin of the rich blossom of man’s emotional life during the Middle Ages, and which found expression in the painting of great religious pictures, the carving of great religious statues, the building of the great cathedrals, has gone flat,)It is not lost, because it is a law that energy cannot be lost. Then what has become of it? Where has it gone?

The answer is that it is in man’s unconscious. It may be said to have fallen down into a lower storey. Take the example of a business man—successful, rich, not yet old. He is perhaps forty-five. He says, “I have made my fortune; I have sons who are old enough to carry on the business which I founded. I will retire. I will build a fine house in the country and live there without any cares and worries.”

So he retires. He builds his house and goes to live in it. He says to himself, “Now my life will begin.” But nothing happens. One morning he is in his bath. He is conscious of a pain in his side. All day he worries about it; wonders what it can be. When he goes to the table he does not eat. In a few days his digestion is out of order. In a fortnight he is very ill.

The doctors he has called in do not know what is the matter with him. Finally one of them says to him: “Your life lacks interest. Go back to your business. Take it up again.” The man is intelligent, and this advice seems to him sound. He decides to follow it. He goes back to his office and sits down at his old desk and declares that now he will help his sons in the management. But when the first business letter is brought to him, he cannot concentrate on it. He cannot make the decisions it calls for. Now he is terribly frightened about his condition.

You see what happened. He couldn’t go back. It was already too late. But his energy is still there, and it must be used. This man comes to me with his problem. I say to him: “You were quite right to retire from business. But not into nothingness. You must have something you can stand on. In all the years in which you devoted your energy to building up your business you never built up any interests outside of it. You had nothing to retire on.” This is a picture of the condition of man today.

This is why we feel that there is something wrong with the world. All the material interests, the automobiles and radios and skyscrapers we have, don’t fill the hungry soul. We try to retire from the world, but to what? Some try to go back to the churches. A few are able to do this. But many are not finding this entirely satisfactory. They are like the business man who tried to go back to his desk. And these people come to me, asking me to help them to find a meaning in their lives. What shall I tell them? Among them comes a man who is only slightly neurotic.

He says to me: “I am not really very sick. Perhaps I should not be here at all taking up your time. But I know you are busy with the human mind. I thought, therefore, that you might be able to tell me on what terms I may live. I have the feeling of being forlorn and lonely in a world that makes no sense.” I say to him: “My dear man, I don’t know any more than you do the meaning of the world or the meaning of your life. But you—all men—were born with a brain ready made. It took millions of years to build the brain and the body we now have.

Your brain embodies all the experience of life. The psyche, which may be called the life of the brain, existed before consciousness existed in the little child.

“Now, suppose that I am in need of advice about living, and I know of a man who is already thousands of years old. I go to him and say, ‘You have seen many changes; you have observed and experienced life under many aspects. My life is short—perhaps seventy years, perhaps less—and you have lived for thousands of years. Tell me the meaning of life for me.’

” When I say this to my patient, he cocks his ears and looks at me. “No,” I say, “I am not that man.

But that man speaks to you every night. How? In your dreams.” I go on: “You are in trouble. You feel that your life has no orientation. I cannot tell you what to do. But let us ask the Great Old Man. He will tell you. Go away for a few days, and you will have a dream. Come back and tell me about it.”

He goes away; he comes back and brings me a dream. It is difficult to work out. But we do work it out together, and it tells us something about him. Certain people lose connection with life because they have made mistakes, or because they are living the wrong way, in a life that is intellectual only. The dreams they bring to a psychologist will take up these things first. All dreams reveal spiritual experiences, provided one does not apply one’s own point of view to the interpretation of them.

Freud says that all man’s longings expressed in his dreams relate to sexuality. It is true that man is a being with sex. But he is also a being with a stomach and a liver. As well say that because he has a liver all his troubles come from that one organ. Primitive man has little difficulty with sex. The fulfillment of his sexual desires is too easy to constitute a problem. What concerns primitive man—and I have lived among primitives, and Freud has not—is his food: where he is to get it, and enough of it.

Civilized man in his dreams reveals his spiritual need. When modern science disinfected heaven it did not find God. Some scientists say that the resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth, the miracles—all those things which fed Christian thought through ages, are pretty stories, but none the less untrue. But what I say is, Do not overlook the fact that these ideas which millions of men carried with them through generations are great eternal psychological truths.

Let us look at this truth as the psychologist sees it. Here is the mind of man, without prejudice, spotless, untainted, symbolized by a virgin. And that virgin mind of man can give birth to God himself. “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

This is a great psychological truth. Christianity is a beautiful system of psychotherapy. It heals the suffering of the soul. This is the truth which man has clung to through the ages. Even after his consciousness has listened too long at the door of modern materialistic science, he clings to it in his unconscious. The old symbols are good today. They fit our minds as well as they fitted the minds that conceived them.

Deep in the unconscious of each one of us are all the attempts of that Great Old Man to express his spiritual experiences. Suppose I ask you to stay in my house. I tell you that it is well built, comfortable; that our life is pleasant; that you will have good food. You can swim in the lake and walk in the garden.

With these beliefs in your mind you decide to come, and you enjoy your stay. But suppose, when I ask you, I say to you: “This house is unsafe. The foundations are not secure. We have many earthquakes in this region. Besides all that, we have had illness here. Someone recently died of tuberculosis in this room.” Under those conditions and with these ideas in your mind, do you enjoy your stay in that house?

That medieval man we have talked of had a beautiful relationship with God. He lived in a safe world, or one that he believed to be safe. God looked out for everyone in it; he rewarded the good and punished the bad. There was the church where the man could always get forgiveness and grace. He had only to walk there to receive it. His prayers were heard. He was spiritually taken care of. But what is modern man told?

Science has told him that there is no one taking care of him. And so he is full of fear. For a time, after we gave up that medieval God, we had gold for a deity. But now that, too, has been declared incompetent. We trusted in armies, but the threat of poison gas defeated them. Already people talk about the next war. In Berlin they have built dugouts under the streets for retreat from poison gas attacks. If they go on talking in this way, thinking this way, the next war will explode of itself. Naturally enough, in a world of this sort, everybody gets neurotic.

Even if the house you live in is really safe, if you have the idea that it is not, you will suffer. Your reaction depends entirely on what you think. In making this point to my students, I say: “How do you measure a thing? By its effects. And usually by its terrible effects. An avalanche occurs which wipes away a dozen farms, kills scores of cows, and you say, ‘An elephant of an avalanche!’ Now, tell me, what is the most destructive thing you know of ?” In turn we consider fire, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, diseases. Then I say, “Can you think of nothing more terrible than any of these things? What about the World War?”

Ah, yes! High explosives. “But,” I say, “do high explosives make themselves? Do they declare war. It is the psyche of man that makes wars. Not his consciousness. His consciousness is afraid, but his unconscious, which contains the inherited savagery as we l as the spiritual strivings of the race,) says to. him, “Now it is time to make war. Now is the time to kill and destroy.” And he does it.

The most tremendous danger that man has to face is the power of his ideas. No cosmic power on earth ever destroyed ten million men in four years. But man’s psyche did it. And It can do it, vain. I am afraid of one thing only—the thoughts of people. I have means of defense against things. I live here in my house happily with my family. But suppose they get the illusion that I am a devil. Can I be happy with them then? Can I be safe?

All of us are subject to mass infections. I Mass infections) are greater than man. And man is their victim. He shouts and parades and pretends that he is the leader, but really he is their victim. They are the up rush of earthly and spiritual forces from the depth of the psyche. Turn the eye of consciousness within to see what is there. Let us see what we can do in small ways. If I have planted a cabbage right, then I have served the world in that place. I do not know what more I can do. Examine the spirits that speak in you. Become critical.

The modern man must be fully conscious of the terrific dangers that lie in mass movements. Listen to what the unconscious says. Hearken to the voice of that Great Old Man within you who has lived so long, who has seen and experienced so much. Try to understand the will of God: The remarkably potent force of the psyche. I say: Go slow. Go slow. With every good there comes a corresponding evil, and with every evil a corresponding good. Don’t run too fast into one unless you are prepared to encounter the other. I am not concerned about the world. I am concerned about the people with whom I live. The other world is all in the newspapers. My family and my neighbors are my life—the only life that I can experience.

What lies beyond is newspaper mythology. It is not of vast importance that I make a career or achieve great things for myself. What is important and meaningful to my life is that I shall live as fully as possible to fulfill the divine will within me. This task gives me so much to do that I have no time or any other. Let me point out that if we were all to live in that way we would need no armies, no police, no diplomacy, no politics, no banks. We would have a meaningful life and not what we have now—madness. What nature asks of the apple-tree is that it shall bring forth apples, and of the pear-tree that it shall bring forth pears. Nature wants me to be simply man. But a man conscious of what I am, and of what I am doing. God seeks consciousness in man.

This is the truth of the birth and the resurrection of Christ within. As more and more thinking men come to it, this is the spiritual rebirth of the world. Christ, the Logos—that is to say, the mind, the understanding, shining into the darkness. Christ was a new truth about man. Mankind has no existence. I exist, you exist. But mankind is only a word. Be what God means you to be; don’t worry about mankind which doesn’t exist, you are avoiding looking at what does exist—the self You are like a man who leans over his neighbor’s fence and says to him: “Look, there is a weed. And over there is an-I- other one. And why don’t you hoe the rows deeper? And I why don’t you tie up your vines?” And all the while, his own garden, behind him, is full of weeds. ~Carl Jung [1934]; C.G. Jung Speaks; Pages 67-75.

Image: The Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton

Liked it? Take a second to support lewislafontaine on Patreon!