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Again and Again, the Religious Question

The basis of analytical psychology’s significance for the psychology of religion, including its practical therapeutic application, lies in C. G. Jung’s discovery of how archetypal images, events, and experiences, individually and in groups, are the essential determinants of the religious life in history and in the present.

The birth of the divine child, the life of the God-man who acts as a savior, his death and return to life, his historical connection and mystical factuality as an individual-behind all these there clearly lies an ordering, sense-making, numinous factor which Jung termed the (invisible) “archetype.”

It becomes perceptible in a specific archetypal image, for example in the Christ of history and belief, in the path of his followers, and so on.

Wherever people are gripped by the image and the content of an archetype that they believe in, symbolizing and demonstrating their belief in ritual or sacramental performances, there the archetype is virulent; it is alive and active, providing sense, offering comfort, inspiring hope and confidence.

Anyone with an inner interest in what is done has a share in the religious experience.

Psychologically speaking, a process of self-becoming unfolds.

Clearly a need for this kind of experience is innate in the human soul, even if from time to time it is expressed in forms that differ from those of any particular denomination.

To the extent to which Jung gained insight into the nature of archetypal reality, it was also possible for him, from his psychological point of view, to make corresponding assertions concerning the nature of psychology and religion.

And this was so long before the composition of the text of his book Psychology and Religion, that is before 1937 or 1940.

For instance, with regard to the religious claims of the human soul Jung said in a paper from the year 1929:

The psychologist of today has at last had to realize that it has long since been a matter not of dogmas and creeds, but rather of a religious attitude, a psychic function whose importance can hardly be imagined. And for the religious function especially, historical continuity is indispensable.

Hence as a doctor Jung took the religious problems mentioned by patients seriously, as the real problems in their situations.

Practical experience likewise led him to the conclusion that the general decline of the religious life in modern people must have considerably increased the number of neurotic complaints.

The loss of living piety, quite apart from external membership in a religious organization, consequently led to a disorientation in world view and a loss of spiritual equilibrium.

Before a conference of Alsatian ministers in Strassburg in May 1932, he announced:

Of all my patients past middle life, that is, past thirty-five, there is not one whose ultimate problem is not one of religious attitude. Indeed, in the end every one suffered from having lost that which living religions of every age have given to their believers, and none is really cured who has not regained his religious attitude, which naturally has nothing to do with creeds or belonging to a church.

Thus Jung always used the terms religion and psychotherapy in a comprehensive sense. ” God is a primal experience of the human being.”

Through the desire for knowledge and through “preaching” that mistakes “the words for the Word,” as Karl Barth put it, this primal experience is lost, and replaced by the sense that “God is dead.”

In a paper from 1935 on the fundamentals of psychotherapy, Jung commented:

Not only Christianity with its salvation symbolism, but all religions, down to the forms of magical religion of primitives, are psychotherapies, which treat and heal the sufferings of the soul, and those of the body that come from the soul.

As we have seen, it was not these observations alone that formed the basis of the physician’s insights, but above all his own experiences, which can be traced back to Jung’s childhood, not so much because of his having grown up in a Calvinist parsonage, but rather despite the fact that he was a parson’s son-precisely because he could not help but see in his own parents how ineffectual the traditional “devoutness” had become.

Thus Jung’s first religious experiences for the most past lay outside the realm of the church, in that of the elementary and immediate:

“The farther away I was from church, the better I felt,” noted this parson’s son!”

Though Jung was not, nor wished to be, either a mystic in the traditional sense of the word nor a religious reformer, he did undoubtedly have a tendency toward the homo religiosus.

If in Jung’s case the connection between psychology and religion was regarded in a clearly positive light, this had nothing to do with current theology, particularly since the majority of theologists, especially the Protestants, failed in principle to understand the psychologists they spoke with as a consequence of their own religious isolation.

To this lack of understanding, at any rate, we owe a number of detailed letters Jung wrote, especially late in his life, on this central theme of his life.

With Goethe’s Faust, which along with the Gospel of John he had learned to value early on, Jung realized that in the end it was not the critically explainable “parchment” of the “holy sources” that offered refreshment to the spiritual seeker, but that the ineffable divine word was to be found in the underlying springs of one’s own soul.

Here, of course, the doctor from Kusnacht was in agreement with all supporters of mystical experience!

Hence no one who wishes to inquire into Jung’s relationship to religion can limit his study to those of his books whose titles have to do with religion; besides, the profit from this would be relatively meager. Including Psychological Types, there is hardly a work from the second half of Jung’s life in which the religious function does not play an important part.

Like so many of the years before it, 1937 was tightly crammed with work.

Much time was taken up with the preparations for the Eranos conference in August.

This time Jung was to lecture on the visions of the early alchemist Zosimos, one of the preliminary exercises for his treatment of the subject which later appeared in print.

Then of course the invitation to India was on the agenda for the end of the year.

Between these came a commitment to present the three honorary Terry Lectures at Yale University in New Haven, which were devoted to the great subject of religion.

For the first time Emma Jung accompanied her husband-the children had become self-sufficient in the meantime-to the States.

There the Jungian school was rapidly growing, and so Jung could not refuse his friends in the U.S.A. an additional seminar on the same topic.

It was to be Jung’s last visit to America.

Through Barbara Hannah we know that Jung took this internal seminar as an opportunity to discuss the theme of religion as reflected in the times. “All-out peace” still prevailed; no one suspected that the Second World War would break out a short two years later.

In her memoirs, Barbara Hannah wrote of one of the last evening events in New York:

“As I have often heard him remark on other occasions, he spoke that night of what difficult days we live in, for the archetypal images of the collective unconscious are no longer content to flow into the prevailing religion. They have come loose from their moorings, so to speak, and are troubling modern man with the restless state of the energy which has been contained in the Christian religion for the last two thousand years. Some of this energy has gone into science, it is true, but that is too narrow and rational to satisfy anything like all of the floating archetypal images. This is the reason for our many isms today, and it confronts the modern free individual with the task of coming to terms with them in his own life ….”Then Jung said to his audience-and this is what struck so many of them as last words-that we could only follow Christ’s example and live our lives as fully as possible, even if

it is based on a mistake …. No one has ever found the whole truth; but if we will only live with the same integrity and devotion as Christ, he hoped we would all, like Christ, win through to a resurrected body. ”

Surely an unusual word, and legacy, to come from a psychologist, who as a scientist took great care as a rule to keep investigation on a strictly empirical footing and to abstain in principle from any philosophical or theological and metaphysical assertions!

But it must be understood that these words belonged to those candid and even confessional utterances which Jung made in the closed company of friends or in private letters.

On the other hand, critics, especially those in church and denominational circles, occasionally felt called upon to object that Jung’s statements on religious matters were all too noncommittal, even ambiguous.

Hence his affirmation “I am an empiricist, and as such I adhere to the phenomenological standpoint” stands at the very opening of his Terry Lectures on “Psychology and Religion.”

Because their author saw in religion one of the earliest and most universal expressions of the human soul, these talks took it for granted that any kind of psychology that dealt with the psychological structure of the human personality would take religion seriously, and not only as a sociological or historical fact, but as an “important personal concern for a great many people.”

Jung’s own understanding largely coincided with that of Rudolf Otto, according to which religion is a careful and conscientious consideration of what Otto called the “numinous,” an experience that bestows on the human being a feeling of dependence on and coming face to face with a “wholly other,” something superhuman that is precisely the divine.

This mysterium tremendum is perceived on the one hand as the epitome of awe-inspiring fear, but on the other also as the fascinans, the attracting, rapturous, blissful thing through which the human being is lifted above the everyday ego.

Against this background Jung formulated his own paraphrase, one that did not so much give clear definitions as encourage individual verification and practical experience:

Religion seems to me to be a distinctive attitude of the human spirit, which one could formulate, in keeping with the original use of the concept of religio, as an attentive consideration a11d observation of certain dynamic factors that are interpreted as “powers”: spirits, demons, gods, laws,

ideas, ideals-whatever man has called such factors in his world as he has found powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be accorded careful consideration, or great, beautiful, and meaningful enough to be prayed to devoutly and loved.

The present, Jung wrote in this context, was “a time of the death of God and the disappearance of God.”

Not only in Protestantism, but quite generally since the beginning of the Reformation, the age that was closely linked to the unfolding of scientific thought and a consciousness oriented to the individual ego, traditional spirituality, with its wealth of images and signs, of symbols and mysteries, had been lost.

The enlightenment of individual consciousness and the awakening of the autonomous human ego since the Renaissance had thus carried a high price.

Three Protestants-Jean Paul (“Speech of the Dead Christ from the Cosmic Spheres That There Is No God”), Hegel, and above all Nietzsche-had dreamed, reasoned, and proclaimed the death of God as an imminent event.

Modern man looked proudly back upon the cloud of superstition, of medieval and primitive gullibility, entirely forgetting that it was this spiritual past of his with its primitive images that supported his proud rational consciousness.

But without its anchor in the deep layers of the psyche, Jung argued, the human spirit hangs in midair. Hence the great nervousness, the insecurity and growing disorientation regarding the basic questions of human existence today and tomorrow.

The true story of the spirit, then, was not really preserved in learned books, nor guaranteed by the measurement-data of science, but in and through the “living spiritual organism of every individual.”

Jung had already referred emphatically, some years before the Terry Lectures, to the underlying facts which are empirically demonstrated to the psychologist in the dream productions of the unconscious, for example when he spoke “On the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” at the second Eranos conference in August 1934.

Here he made plain what tremendous things the human intellect had accomplished, and how Western man, European and American alike, had allowed his “spiritual house” to fall into ruin.

Already here we find the hopeful-sounding comment that the death of God, the estrangement from spiritual and religious tradition, by no means necessarily represented a total loss.

This was precisely the hour for depth psychology, the time for the psychology of the archetypes, according to which the emptying of the soul, felt by many contemporaries to be a sad loss of spiritual substance, turned out unexpectedly to be an unlooked-for gain.

The time of a world of the gods, or God, projected into an “upper” sphere was probably past; it could not-here we see an agreement with Rudolf Bultmann!-be somehow “repristinized” or restored.

But the human unconscious-not the individual, but rather the collective unconscious, filled with archetypally active powers-harbors an extremely multifarious spiritual life.

Precisely this impoverishment in symbolism and inherited religious feeling was needed in order to make the fertile soil of primal religious experience bear fruit in new ways-a discovery, as Jung had to admit for his own time, that was for the time being still not entirely believable.

But it gains in credibility to the extent that today original experience is being gained and the mental and spiritual world-Jung called it simply the world of the psyche-is being opened up anew in ever more individual ways.

And now came a significant observation:

Since the stars fell from heaven and our highest symbols faded, a secret life has held sway in the unconscious. That is why nowadays we have psychology, and why we speak of the unconscious. All this would be, and in fact is, entirely superfluous in a time and a culture that has symbols.

For these are spirit from above, and when they are present the spirit, too, is above. For such people, therefore, it would be a foolish, senseless undertaking to experience or investigate an unconscious that contains nothing but the still, undisturbed powers of nature. But our unconscious holds turbulent water, that is spirit become part of nature, on account of which it has been stirred up. Heaven, to us, has become physical space, and the divine empyreum a fond remembrance of how it used to be. But “our hearts still burn,” and a secret unease gnaws at the roots of our being.

Because this is so, Jung arrived at the insight that the concern with the unconscious represents an inevitably vital question.

The path which he adopted in analytical psychology and recommended as a therapeutic method was twofold: it consisted on the one hand in bringing the unconscious contents to consciousness, and on the other in striving toward a psychosynthesis.

What was necessary was to take up the task of integration, to lift into consciousness the unconscious contents which had become recognizable through the epochal “fall of the stars.”

This was something qualitatively more than the mere “pious” acceptance of dogmatic maxims.

Seen in this light, depth psychology takes the place as the “correlate to the secularization of thought,” as Ulrich Mann put it, that had once been held by practicing religion,  not because, as is sometimes assumed, psychology seeks to offer a substitute for religion, but because and insofar as a gigantic process of impoverishment and secularization was gaining ground, while at the same time the spiritually troubled psyche was beginning to make itself felt as we have discussed, making available extraordinary experiences.

Of course I do not refer to the beati possidentes [those who are happily still in possession] of the faith, but to the many for whom the light has gone out, the mystery has vanished, and God has died. For most there is no going back, and indeed one does not really know for certain whether the way back is always the better one. Today, probably the only way to an understanding of religious matters is the psychological approach, and this is why I endeavor to melt down historically solidified ways of thinking again and recast them in the light of immediate experience.

Jung’s object, in fact, was nothing less than to build a spiritual bridge between traditional dogma and immediate experience.

In both, the same factor-the archetype-was, or is, at work.

Put differently:

That psychological fact which possesses the greatest power in a person acts as a god, because it is always the overpowering psychic factor that is called “God.” … The place of the godhead seems to have been taken by the totality of humanity.

Statements like this are significant because they are to be neither accepted blindly nor conveniently thrown to the winds.

They are worth thinking about and, in the true sense, “questionable.”

Beyond this, Jung left it to his readers to determine for themselves what consequences arose from his results, which experience shows is a difficult task.

When Psychology and Religion appeared in book form, critical reaction, psychological and theological alike, ranged from reserved to perplexed.

Even positively disposed readers, such as the Calvinist theologian Hans Schar, had to admit that the book was difficult if not impossible to understand on its own:

“It is an important and informative publication for one who is versed in Jung’s other writings. But those who do not meet this condition are bound to be rather perplexed in the face of Jung’s assertions. The reviews of this book that were written at the time confirm this …. Many readers, after reading this work, seem to have been more irritated and uncertain than if they had really understood Jung’s views.”

Certainly not an idea beginning for the reception of C. G. Jung’s plans for the psychology of religion.

It cannot be denied, of course, that Jung demanded a great deal of his theological colleagues; for example, he took for granted in the average theologian much that patently did not exist in general, namely a comprehensive familiarity with religious and intellectual history, and above all an individual religious consciousness that went beyond the denominationally restricted “experience of faith.”

Hence Hans Schar points out the extent of the knowledge with which the theologian must be prepared in reading Jung.

“In this regard his knowledge is unique, and among both theologians and other people there are very few who possess such an awareness of the religious life in all its forms as one finds in Jung. With him one never has the impression that his explanations of religion are brilliant flashbulbs by an author who busies himself with everything possible and thus religion along with it, but where an interesting presentation has had to substitute for thoroughness and soundness of the thoughts advanced. Even those who cannot declare themselves in agreement with all of Jung’s opinions will have to recognize his credentials for the treatment of religion …. ;’

It only remains to be noted that this only tells something about a subset of the material which Jung drew upon.

In the meantime the evidence to which Jung gradually directed his readers’ attention did at first seem irritating: part of it was the figure of totality, which was not yet fully expressed by the Trinity.

Totality-so psychological research confirms-is only achieved where the Three are joined by the fourth principle, whether it be that of the feminine, or that of darkness or evil. The number four symbolizes the parts, qualities, and aspects of the One. In terms of God, the quaternity reveals “a more or less direct representation of God as manifested in his creation.”

These audacious notions were first cautiously suggested in Psychology and Religion and in the Eranos lecture “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity,” as well as other works (as also in the essay “Brother Klaus,” 1933).

Here and in later works, for example “Answer to Job,” Jung’s concern was to show that it was a matter not of idle speculation, but of how the archetype overpowers people, reaching deep into their religious experience and changing them from the ground up.

And in fact the history of the church alone provides examples enough for this, be it Paul of Damascus or the fifteenth-century Swiss hermit Niklaus von der Flue, in the presence of his vision of the terrible image of God, or the Silesian Protestant Jakob Bohme ( 1575-1624), who bore witness to the fire of divine wrath but was also the messenger of the divine maiden Sophia.

His communications did not flow from his pen unimpeded; rather what he said or wrote often called for long years of testing, meditation, and reflection.

Then, of course, sometimes a certain moment, a particular situation, was needed to be able to give form to what had been ripening.

Thus Aniela Jaffe recounted one shining August day in 1940: the war had been under way for a year, and this time a particularly small crowd had gathered for the eight days of Eranos in Ascona-Moscia.

Actually only one lecture was scheduled, by the Basel mathematician Andreas Speiser on the Platonic doctrine of the unknown god and the Christian Trinity.

It was not desired to cancel the event altogether, and hence there was only this token short form among a small cadre.

But of course matters did not stop with this one lecture.

Aniela Jaffe recalled: “In the afternoon C. G. Jung, who was among the guests, withdrew to the shady garden on the shore of the lake. Taking a Bible from the library, he sat reading and making notes. The next day he surprised the crowd of anxious listeners with a reply to his Basel colleague’s arguments, which he supplemented ex tempore on the subject of ‘The Psychology of the Trinity.’

In his characteristically cautious and occasionally hesitant way, he formulated thoughts that he had carried about with him for years but to which he had not yet given final shape.

Jung’s improvisations, recorded in shorthand, later turned out to be practically ready for publication; only voluminous extensions were later added ….

Jung’s improvisation on the psychology of the Trinity brought the conference in Mascia to a close.

There followed another earnest and heated conversation on the terrace of Casa Eranos, with its distant view over the lake and mountains. Jung was relaxed and-a rarity, especially in those years of the catastrophe-pleased with what he had done.”

It was the satisfaction of one who had found his kairos, the indispensably inspired time for his creative work and his say.

And partly in explanation, partly in apology, Jung added the comment:

“I can only formulate my thoughts as they escape from me, like a geyser. Those who come after me will have to put them in order!”

What burst forth from him with elemental power, like an eruption, did indeed require a special interpretation.

Jung himself never tired of contributing to this, for his own part, and since the forties this had been variously reflected in his letters.

Above all in the correspondence with Christian theologians which he carried on with great patience, Jung sought to clarify the theme of his life’s work, that of the primal experience of wholeness, whether by clarifying matters of cognitive theory or by establishing existential and confessional points, for example to H. Irminger in Zurich, to whom he devoted a lengthy epistle in late 1944, saying:

I practice science, not apologetics and not philosophy, and I have neither the competence nor the desire to found a religion. My interest is a scientific one …. I proceed from a positive Christianity that is as much Catholic as Protestant, and my concern is to point out in a scientifically responsible way those empirically tangible facts which would at least make plausible the legitimacy of Christian and especially Catholic dogma. Then an observation for his critics: “One ought to read and consider authors who take as positive a stance toward Christianity as I do somewhat more carefully, before wishing to convert them to what has already been a matter of the greatest concern to them.”

In the same letter, not without some bitterness, he asks, at the age of sixty-nine, “Why do people not read my books conscientiously? Why do they skip over the facts?”

And Jung’s attitude toward and interpretation of religious reality demanded to be understood on yet a deeper level, not only that of the investigative ascertainment or scientific presentation of his reconnaissance in depth psychology and intellectual history.

Such intimate expressions of C. G. Jung the person, the homo religiosus, were naturally found in letters addressed to people of a similar turn of mind. Erich Neumann, his Jewish colleague in Tel Aviv, was one of these few; hence with him he could be brief, without running the risk of being misinterpreted by his self-reliant pupil and friend:

I am not pushing any philosophy of religion, rather I am seized, almost struck down, and am defending myself as best I can …. [My living emotion] is local, barbaric, infantile, and abysmally unscientific ….

This passage from a letter of 5 January 195 2 is a far-reaching one, and yet it belongs at the center of the same theme that dominates Jung’s later work, which remains to be discussed separately.

First, however, we must examine the events that fundamentally altered the face of Europe, and also did not pass C. G. Jung by without a trace-the outbreak of National Socialism in Germany, and the Second World War and its devastating consequences.  ~Gerhard Wehr, Jung: A Biography, Pages 291-395