Carl Jung on Martin Buber
To Robert C. Smith
Dear Mr. Smith, 29 June 1960
Buber and I start from an entirely diﬀerent basis: I make no transcendental statements.
I am essentially empirical, as I have stated more than once.
I am dealing with psychic phenomena and not with metaphysical assertions. Within the frame of psychic events I ﬁnd the fact of the belief in God.
It says : “God is.”
This is the fact I am concerned with.
I a m not concerned with the truth or untruth of God’s existence.
I am concerned with the statement only, and I am interested in its structure and behaviour.
It is an emotionally “toned” complex like the father- or mother-complex or the Oedipus complex.
It is obvious that if man does not exist, no such statement can exist either, nor can anybody prove that the statement “God” exists in a non-human sphere.
What Buber misunderstands as Gnosticism is psychiatric observation, of which he obviously knows nothing. It is certainly not my invention.
Buber has been led astray by a poem in Gnostic style I made 44 years ago for a friend’s birthday celebration (a private print!), a poetic paraphrase of the psychology of the unconscious.
“Every pioneer is a monologist” until other people have tried out his method and conﬁrmed his results.
Would you call all the great minds which were not popular among their contemporaries, monologists, even that “voice of one crying in the wilderness”?
Buber, having no practical experience in depth psychology, does not know of the autonomy of complexes, a most easily observable fact however.
Thus God, as an autonomous complex, is a subject confronting me. One must be really blind if one cannot get that from my books.
Likewise the self is a redoubtable reality, as everybody learns who has tried or was compelled to do some- thing about it.
Yet I deﬁne the Self as a borderline concept.
This must be a puzzler for people like Buber, who are unacquainted with the empiricist’s epistemology. Why cannot Buber get into his head that I deal with psychic facts and not with metaphysical assertions?
Buber is a theologian and has far more information about God’s true existence and other of His qualities than I could ever dream of acquiring.
My ambitions are not soaring to theological heights.
I am merely concerned with the practical and theoretical problem of how-do-complexes-behave?
F.i. how does a mother-complex behave in a child and in an adult?
How does the God-complex behave in diﬀerent individuals and societies?
How does the self-complex compare with the Lapis Philosophorum in Hermetic philosophy and with the Christ- ﬁgure in patristic allegories, with AI Chadir in Islamic tradition, with Tifereth in the Kabbalah, with Mithras, Attis, Odin, Krishna, and so on?
As you see, I am concerned with images, human phenomena, of which only the ignorant can assume that they are within our control or that they can be reduced to mere “objects.”
Every psychiatrist and psychotherapist can tell you to what an enormous degree man is delivered over to the terriﬁc power of a complex which has assumed superiority over his mind.
(Vide compulsion neurosis, schizophrenia, drugs, political and private nonsense, etc.) Mental possessions are just as good as ghosts, demons, and gods.
It is the task of the psychologist to investigate these matters. The theologian certainly has not done it yet.
I am afraid it is sheer prejudice against science which hinders theologians from understanding my empirical standpoint.
Seen from this standpoint the “experience of God” is nolens volens the psychic fact that I ﬁnd myself confrontedwith, a factor in myself (more or less represented also by external circumstances) which proves to me to be of insurmountable power. F.i. a most rational professor of philosophy is entirely possessed by the fear of cancer which he knows does not exist.
Try to liberate such an unfortunate fellow from his predicament and you will get an idea of “psychic auton- omy.”
I am sorry if X. bothers about the question of the basis upon which “religion rests.” This is a metaphysical question the solution of which I do not know.
I am concerned with phenomenal religion, with its observable facts, to which I try to add a few psychological observations about basic events in the collective unconscious, the existence of which I can prove.
Beyond this I know nothing and I have never made any assertions about it. How does Buber know of something he cannot “experience psychologically”? How is such a thing possible at all?
If not in the psyche, then where else?
You see, it is always the same matter: the complete misunderstanding of the psychological argument: “God” within the frame of psychology is an autonomous complex, a dynamic image, and that is all psychology is ever able to state.
It cannot know more about God. It cannot prove or disprove God’s actual existence, but it does know how fallible images in the human mind are.
If Niels Bohr compares the model of atomic structure with a planetary system, he knows it is merely a model of a transcendent and unknown reality, and if I talk of the God-image I do not deny a transcendental reality.
I merely insist on the psychic reality of the God-complex or the God-image, as Niels Bohr proposes the anal- ogy of a planetary system.
He would not be as dumb as to believe that his model is an exact and true replica of the atom. No empiricist in his senses would believe his models to be the eternal truth itself.
He knows too well how many changes any kind of reality undergoes in becoming a conscious representation. All my ideas are names, models, and hypotheses for a better understanding of observable facts.
I never dreamt that intelligent people could misunderstand them as theological statements, i.e., hypostases.
I was obviously too naive in this regard and that is the reason why I was so me times not careful enough to repeat time and again: “But what I mean is only the psychic image of a nou menon”
Kant’s thing-in-itself, which is not a negation as you know).
My empirical standpoint is so disappointingly simple that it needs only an average intelligence and a bit of common sense to understand it, but it needs an uncommon amount of prejudice or even ill will to misunderstand it, as it seems to me.
I am sorry if I bore you with my commonplaces. But you asked for it.
You can ﬁnd them in most of my books, beginning with the year 1912, almost half a century ago and not yet noticed by authorities like Buber.
I have spent a lifetime of work on psychological and psychopathological investigations.
Buber criticizes me in a ﬁeld in which he is incompetent and which he does not even understand.
C.G. Jung Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 570-573