[Carl Jung: “If Christ in Gethsemane had no fear, then his passion is null and void…”]
To Pastor Fritz Buri
Dear Pastor Buri, 10 December 1945
Very many thanks for kindly sending me your book, Die religiose Ueberwindung der Angst.
I have been waiting for a rejoinder to Pfister’s book from theological quarters.
I myself cannot agree with Pfister.
First and foremost because fear is a fundamental reaction of nature.
Kierkegaard’s view that animals have no fear is totally disproved by the facts.
There are whole species which consist of nothing but fear.
A creature that loses its fear is condemned to death.
When “cured” by missionaries of their natural and justified fear of demons, primitives degenerate.
I have seen enough of this in Africa whatever the missionaries may say.
Anyone who is afraid has reason to be.
There are not a few patients who have to have fear driven into them because their instincts have atrophied.
A man who has no more fear is on the brink of the abyss.
Only if he suffers from a pathological excess of fear can he be cured with impunity.
Second, where the religions are concerned, they deliver from fear and at the same time create fear, even Christianity, and that is right because one person has too much, another too little.
Absolute deliverance from fear is a complete absurdity.
What about the fear of God?
Doesn’t God ordain fearful things?
Has Pfister no fear if both legs are broken for him and in the end he must dangle from a meat-hook through his chin?
Does no fear warn him of danger to body and soul?
Has he no fear for the life of his sick child?
A man without fear is a superman. I don’t like supermen.
They are not even likeable.
If Christ in Gethsemane had no fear, then his passion is null and void and the believer can subscribe to docetism!
Third, religions are not by any means mere fear-constructs.
Far be it from me to deny the existence of apotropaisms, but like all religious phenomena, they go back to something that the biologist can only describe as a basic instinct of human nature.
His science does not entitle him to assert that religions are revelations of the divine spirit, which they very easily might be although we are unable to prove it.
In this sense I must describe every religious idea as a “fiction” since, formally at any rate, it is a conflation of imaginative possibilities.
On the other hand, we can be sure that it is not motivated by any conscious intention, rather it “happens” to man on an unconscious level ( unconscious=unknown ) .
That is the utmost science can establish .
The wonder does not lie in the content of the “fiction” but in the existence of the fiction, even if it should be a conscious device used for illegitimate purposes (e.g., banishing fear.)
But it is putting the cart before the horse to explain all dogmas and rites as apotropaic fear-constructs.
It is not only a scandal if theologians entertain such notions, but psychologically false as everyone knows who has had a religious experience, and as is also proved by the investigation of primitive rites.
It verges directly on atheism to try to reduce the religious function to anything other than itself . . . .
Fourth, as a psychotherapist I do not by any means try to deliver my patients from fear.
Rather, I lead them to the reason for their fear, and then it becomes clear that it is justified. (I could tell you a few instructive stories in this respect!)
If my patient understands religious language, I say to him: Well, don’t try to escape this fear which God has given you, but try to endure it to the end-sine poena nulla gratia!4
I can say this because I believe I am a religious man and because I know with scientific certainty that my patient hasn’t invented his fear but that it is preordained.
By whom or what?
By the unknown.
The religious man calls this absconditum “God,” the scientific intellect calls it the unconscious.
Deriving fear from repression is a neurotic speculation, an apotropaism invented for cowards; a pseudo-scientific myth in so far as it declares a basic biological instinct unreal and twists it into an Ersatz-formation.
One could just as well explain life as a flight from death or love as an evasion of the hate which one hasn’t the courage to muster.
They are neurotic artifices with which one diddles hysterics out of the only meaning they have (which lies precisely in their neurosis), naturally with the best but unendurably shallow intentions.
I hope you will not take it amiss if I hazard the conjecture that you may have read rather too little of me.
I infer this from the difficulties which my manner of expression seems to cause you.
Fictio and imaginatio have for me their original, full meaning as important activities that concern not only man but God. (Deus imaginatur mundum. Trinitas imaginata in creatura.)
Formal dogma is fictios imaginatio; but its origin, its very existence, is a revelation of hidden
contents which are not in accord with the mundus sensibilis. (Hence Tertullian’ s unsurpassa ble paradox.)
In the hope that it will make my standpoint somewhat clearer to you I am taking the liberty of sending you my little book Psychology and Religion, as a token of gratitude for the rich stimulation your book has afforded me.
C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 398-401.