Jung and religion by Ann Belford Ulanov
Jung noted that for centuries the symbols, rituals, and dogmas of religions, east and west, gathered the psychic energy of individuals and nations alike into traditions that bore witness to life’s meaning and acted as underground springs nourishing different civilizations.
What religious symbols symbolize, however, is the God who escapes human definitions.
With the shock of the world wars and brutal inhumanity, for many people in the twentieth century, the collective containers of religious symbolism no longer channeled their psychic energy.
As a result, many felt uprooted from religious traditions and the symbolic life that put them in daily touch with a sense of transcendent meaning at the center of life.
Now in the opening years of the twenty-first century religion again takes a dominant place in the clash of civilizations, thus underlining
Jung’s perception of the inescapable importance of religious experience that channels psychic energy into individual and communal forms.
Called or not, Jung holds, God will be present, and if not God, then what we substitute in that central place.
Afraid of becoming unanchored, we create religious, political, and sexual fundamentalisms to keep us close to the reality the religious symbols once conveyed, but at the price of persecuting those who disagree with us as.
Or we can just drift far away from the life-giving waters of religious experience, confined to humdrum carrying on, without joy or purpose.
Then we feel afflicted by a deadening malaise, unable to effect healing measures against rising crime, ecological depredation, and mental illness. A sense of hopelessness seeps in, like a rotting damp.
These sufferings, as Jung sees them, can be traced to the failure to secure any reliable connection to psychic reality that religion once supplied through its various symbol systems, and hence a failure to channel psychic energy toward the reality to which religions point.
For the individual, this misplaced energy can lead to neurosis or psychosis; in society, it can lead to horrors such as genocide, holocaust and gulags.
It can give rise to ideologies whose potential good is soured by the bullying of adherents into frightened compliance.
In contrast to these terrible consequences of the failure to connect to a transcendent reality is the emergence of a new discipline, that of depth psychology, which is a relatively new collective way of exploring and acknowledging the fact that the nature of our access to God has fundamentally changed.
The individual psyche, which is a part of the collective psyche, is now a medium through which we can experience the divine.
Jung saw the purpose of his analytical psychology as helping us re-establish connection to the truths contained in religious symbols by finding their equivalents in our own psychic experience (CW 12, paras. 13, 14, 15).
Immediate experience and psychic reality
The discipline of depth psychology enables us to study the importance of our immediate experience of the divine which comes to us through dream, symptom, autonomous fantasy, all the moments of primordial communication (CW 11, paras. 6, 31, 37; Ulanov and Ulanov, 1975, Chapter 1).
People have had, and continue to have, revelatory experiences of God.
But in earlier times such encounters were contained by the mainstream of religious tradition and translated into the terms of familiar and accepted religious ritual and doctrine.
In our time, Jung believes, these various systems have lost their power for a great many people (see Ulanov, 1971, Chapter 6).
For them religious symbols no longer function effectively as communicators of divine presence. Individual men and women are left alone, quite on their own, to face the blast of divine otherness in whatever form it takes.
How are we to respond to such a summons?
How are we to find a way to build a relationship to the divine?
Jung responds to this challenge by marking the emergence into collective discourse of the new vocabulary of psychic reality.
By psychic reality, Jung means our experience of our own unconscious, that is to say, of all those processes of instinct, imagery, affect, and energy that go on in us, between us, among us, without our knowledge, all the time, from birth until death, and maybe, he speculated, even after death (Jung, 1963, Chapter 11; see also Jaffe, 1989, pp. 109–113).
Coming into conscious relation with the unconscious, knowing that it is there in us and that it affects all that we think and do, alone and together, in small groups and as nations, radically changes every aspect of life.
By observing the effects of unconscious motivations on our thoughts and actions, our ego – the center of our conscious sense of I-ness, of identity – is introduced to another world with different laws that govern its operations.
In our dreams, time and space collapse into an ever-present now.
We can be our five-year-old self at the same time in the dream that we are our present age, and find ourselves in a distant land that is also our familiar backyard.
Our slips of the tongue, where wrong words jump out of our mouths as if propelled by some secret power, our projections onto people, places, and social causes, where we feel gripped by outsized emotions and compulsions to act, our moments of creative living where we perceive freshly, bring a new attitude into being, craft original projects, attest to the constant presence of unconscious mental processes. Something is there that we did not know was there.
Something is happening inside us and we must come to terms with it.
If we pay attention to this unconscious dimension of mental life, it will gather itself into a presence that will become increasingly familiar.
For example, just recording our dreams over a period of time will show us recurrent motifs, personages, and images that seem to demand a response from us, as if to engage us in conversation around central themes or conflicts.
These dominant patterns impress us as if they came from an other objectively there inside us. Jung calls this ordering force in the unconscious the Self.
The Self exists in us as a predisposition to be oriented around a center.
It is the archetype of the center, a primordial image similar to images that have fascinated disparate societies throughout history.
It is, like all the archetypes, part of the deepest layers of our unconscious which Jung calls “collective” or “objective” to indicate that they exceed our personal experience.
We experience the Self existing within our subjectivity, but it is not our property, nor have we originated it; it possesses its own independent life.
For example, some aboriginal tribes in Australia pay homage to Oneness.
They know its presence in themselves yet they speak of it not as my Oneness or our Oneness but as the Oneness at the heart of all life.
When we respond to the predisposition of the Self we, each of us, experience it as the center of our own psyche and more, of life itself.
Our particular pictures of the Self will draw on images from our personal biography, what in the jargon of depth psychologists we call “objects” – the internalized remnants of our earliest relationships with caregivers and other significant people.
And what we do in this theater of relations will depend on how we have been conditioned by collective images of the center dominant in our particular culture and era, including especially our religious education or lack thereof.
But our images of the Self will not be limited to these personal and cultural influences.
They will also include such primordial universal themes as may confront us from the deep layers of our own unconscious life.
Jung and religion: the opposing self
The Self is neither wholly conscious nor unconscious but orders our whole psyche, with itself as the mid-point or axis around which everything else revolves.
We experience it as the source of life for the whole psyche, which means it comes into relationship with our center of consciousness in
the ego as a bigger or more authoritative presence than we have known before (CW 9.ii, paras. 9 and 57).
If in our ego-life – what we ordinarily call “life,” the ideas and feelings and culture of which we are strongly aware – we cooperate with the approaches of the Self, it feels as if we are connecting with a process of a centering, not only for our deepest self but for something that extends well beyond us, beyond our psyche into the center of reality.
we remain unconscious, or actively resist the signs the Self sends us, we
experience the process as altogether ego-defeating, crushing our plans and
purposes with its large-scale aims.
Ego and Self, the gap and God-images
A gap always remains between ego and Self, for they speak different languages.
One is known, the other unknown. One is personal, the other impersonal. One uses feelings and words; the other, instincts, affects, and
One offers a sense of belonging to community, the other a sense of belonging to the ages.
They never merge completely, except in illness (as in mania or an inflated state, for example), but merely approach each other as if coming from two quite different worlds, and yet, even so, they are still somehow intimately related.
The gap between them can be a place of madness where the ego loses its foothold in reality by falling into identification with unconscious energies, or where the unconscious can be so invaded by conscious ambition and expediency that it seems to withdraw from contact forever, leaving the ego functioning mechanically: juiceless and joyless.
If we really become aware of and accept the gap between ego and Self, it transforms itself into a space of conversation between the worlds.
We experience the connecting within us and in all aspects of our lives.
A sense of engagement follows that leads us into a life at once exciting and reverent.
For it is precisely in that gap that we discover our images for God.
Such images point in two directions: to the purposiveness hidden in our ego-life, and across the gap into the unknown God (Ulanov and Ulanov, 1991/1999, Chapter 2).
Jung talks about God-images as inseparable from those images of the Self that express its function as center, source, point of origin, and container. Empirically, Self and God-images are indistinguishable (CW 8, para. 231).
This has led Jung’s theological critics to accuse him of reductionism, and of bringing down the transcendent God to become a mere factor in the psyche.
But Jung defends himself hotly by attacking the argument as nonsense (CW 11, paras. 13–21; Jung, 1975, p. 377).
Can we ever experience anything except through the medium of the psyche? The psyche exists.
We cannot get around it.
It influences everything we see or know of “objective” reality with our own individual colorations, of physical constitution, family, culture, history, symbol system.
Of course our images of God reflect such conditioning.
But do our God-images tell us something else? Yes, Jung answers.
They are the pictures through which we glimpse the Almighty whom we experience as a Subject addressing us (Ulanov, 1986/2002, pp. 164, 178).
knows what God is objectively? How can we ever tell?
Only through our own experience and through other people’s experiences of God reported throughout history.
The unconscious is not itself God, but it is a medium through which we sense God speaks (CW 10, para. 565).
We can feel that God addresses us through images from the deep unconscious just as much as through the witness of historical events, other people, scriptures, and worshiping communities.
The transcendent God speaks to us through our God-images which bring God near to us clothed in human or other accessible terms that we can grasp.
Yet, at the same time no finite image encompasses the infinite God, and hence our images get smashed for no human construction can take in the incomprehensible divine.
The images, when they arrive, may evoke in us a negative feeling of such power that we feel invaded and overrun by an alien force, or a positive feeling of being healed or blessed by a life-changing vision.
Jung thus provides another method of interpretation of religious tradition.
When we acknowledge psychic reality, we must add the psychological interpretation of religious materials.
Jung’s ideas provide a method for investigating recurrent archetypal symbols that specific religious rituals or doctrines embody and employ, by means of linking them to equivalent experiences in our psyches. He applies this method to Eastern as well as Western religious traditions (CW 11).
This method no more reduces revelation to psychology than other methods of, for example, historical or literary or sociological criticism reduce God to historical event, literary metaphor, or sociological sampling.
Jung’s contribution to religion brings unconscious psychic reality into relation with our conscious avowals of faith.
He explicitly states that a major function of his psychology is to make connections between the truths contained in traditional religious symbols and our psychic experience.
Religious life involves us in ongoing, scrupulous attention to what makes itself known in those moments of numinous experience that occur when ego and Self address each other.
Understood abstractly Jung uses the word Self to describe this structural center of the psyche that transcends our ego.
Experienced immediately, Self images present as images of the center of reality that Jung calls God as a most excellent name.
Jung goes back and forth using the word Self and using the name God, stating that Self and God images are in practice indistinguishable.
We do not control such primordial moments, but rather place our confidence in their meaning for our life. Trustful observance forms the essence of the attitude Jung calls religious (CW 11, paras. 2, 6, 8, 9).
Our ego acts as both receiver and transmitter of what the Self reveals (Jung, 1973 [22 December 1942], p. 326), which does not mean that we always simply fall in placidly and passively with what comes to us.
The conversation with the divine can grow noisy indeed.
Like Jonah we may protest our fate, or like Abraham defending Sodom, we can try to argue Yahweh out of his pledge of destruction.
Our proper ego attitude in the face of God is a willing engagement.
A process of sustained communication develops, out of which both ego and Self emerge as more significant and conscious partners.
No one else can engage in this process for us. In immediate confrontation with the mysterious Other who seizes our consciousness grows the root of our personal self and our heartfelt connection to the meaning of reality.
Religious dogma and creeds, for Jung, stand in vivid contrast to such immediate experiences, and he always values the latter over the former.
Jung does see great value in dogma and creed as long as we do not substitute them for direct experience of the divine. Dogma and creed function as shared dreams of humanity and offer us valuable protection against the searing nature of firsthand knowledge of the ultimate.
They offer us different ways to house our individual experiences of these puzzling or disturbing numinous events.
Like Nicholas von der Flue, we may find refuge in the doctrine of the trinity as the means of translating into bearable form a theophany so powerful that the experience was said to have changed his saintly face forever, into a frightening visage (CW 11, para. 474; Jung, 1975 [June 1957], p. 377).
By connecting our immediate psychic encounters with the numinous to the collective knowledge of God contained in humanity’s creeds and dogmas, we fulfill what Jung emphasized as the root meaning of religion (CW 11, para. 8; Jung, 1975 [12 February 1959], pp. 482, 484).
Citing Augustine’s use of religare meaning to bind or connect, Jung says we bind ourselves to that
careful and scrupulous observation of the numinous dynamic factors contained in manifestations of the unconscious until their meaning is understood, and that we bind our individual experience back into the common possession of religious tradition.
Such collective teachings protect us from too great a blast of the Almighty by offering us the containers of humanity’s collective symbols.
To the ongoing life of inherited symbols we contribute our own personal instances of what they represent, thus helping to keep tradition from ossifying.
If we do not live the tradition in this way, it falls into disuse, becoming a mere relic.
We may give it lip-service, but it no longer quickens our hearts.
In our personal experience of the timeless tradition, we are lifted beyond ourselves to partake of the mysteries while at the same time living our ordinary ego-lives: paying taxes, voting, making meals, cleaning out closets, fetching the children from school, holding down jobs.
Bound up in tradition in lively ways, we participate in our own special groups and join the whole of humanity.
Our numinous experience, now shared, brings us into the community to digest whatever the experience represents.
Not only are we part of the human family, but our unconscious flows together with everyone else’s and we join its attempts to create a new basis of community.
Our immediate experiences of the divine revivify tradition and remind us that our shared life together depends upon a very deep source.
Religion also binds us to the pivotal numinous experiences that mark our
lives because they establish our idiosyncratic roots in transcendence.
According to Jung, forgetting such experiences, or worse, perjuring them by
acting as if they make no difference, exposes us to the risk of insanity.
Encounters with the holy are like flames. They must be shared, to keep light alive, or they will burn us up or burn us out.
The religious life is one of increased alertness, of keen watchfulness of what goes on between this mysterious Thee and me (Jung, 1973 [10 September 1943], p. 338).
For Jung, religion is inescapable. We may reject it, revile it, revise it, but we cannot get rid of it.
This early discovery by Jung has been reaffirmed recently in the research of Rizzuto (1979).
When he was accused of being a mystic, Jung objected that he did not invent this idea of homo religiosus but only put it into words.
His vast clinical experience with people afflicted with neurosis or psychosis impressed upon him the fact that half of his patients fell ill because they had lost the meaning of life (CW 11, para. 497).
Healing means revivifying connection to the transcendent, bringing with it the ability to get up and walk to our fate instead of being dragged there by a neurosis.
Thus Jung saw the numinous even in pathology; it expresses how we have fallen out of the Tao, the center of life.
Recovery requires remythologization (Ulanov, 1971, pp. 127, 136).
Religious instinct and society
Our instinct for religion consists in our being endowed with and conscious of relation to deity (CW 12, para. 11).
If we repress or suppress this instinct, we can fall ill just as surely as we do when we interfere with our physical appetite for food, or with our sexual instinct (Ulanov, 1994/2005).
Many of the substance-abuse disorders to which we fall prey can be traced, au fond to displacement onto chocolate, cocaine, valium, liquor, or whatever, of our appetitive need for connection to the power and source of our being.
This displacement operates in all of our addictions, even the ones that surprise us, such as to a lover or to a child, to becoming pregnant, or to health or diet routines, to money or power, to a political cause or a psychological theory, even to a religious discipline.
The energy that is our instinct for religion must go somewhere. If it is not directed to the ultimate, it will turn manic or make idols out of finite goods.
Jung reminds us “It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god’ . . . When the god is not acknowledged, ego mania develops and out of this mania comes sickness” (CW 13, para. 55).
Religious instinct also possesses a social function.
Our connection to transpersonal authority keeps us from being swept away into mass movements (CW 10, paras. 506, 508).
It offers a point of reference outside family, class conventions, cultural mores, even the long reach into our private lives of totalitarian governments.
When we feel seen and known by God, however we may express this, we can find the power to stand against the pressures of collectivities for the sake of truth, soul, faith.
This capacity of individuals offers a bulwark against movements that can dominate and destroy human society. Having such a reference point beyond personal whims and needs, and beyond dependence on others’ approval, makes us sturdy citizens capable of contributing to group life in fresh and sustained ways.
Knowing a connection to the source of life, we feel a mysterious binding force in our own authority as persons, which we come to respect in our neighbor as much as in ourselves.
Being a person who matters combats any loss of confidence and hope in our society to facilitate an environment where we all can thrive.
In clinical situations, acknowledging the force of religious instinct may save us from abysmal humiliation and depression.
When the majority of the world’s people are starving, it is morally embarrassing to be afflicted with obsession over one’s weight. To see the larger context of this suffering – that it stems from misdirection of soul hunger, twisting the hunger for connection to ultimate purpose – can release a person from self-revilement in order to pay trustful attention to what the Self is engineering (Ulanov, 1996, chapters 2, 3).
The religious instinct may lurk in any of our disturbances, from the extreme of homicidal urges to get even with those who threaten and hurt us unbearably to the seemingly mild but actually lethal affliction of the chronic boredom that results from the suffocation of our inner life.
In every case, an impulse toward the ultimate, toward expression of what really matters, mixes in with early childhood hurt and distorted relations with other people.
Our energy to live from and toward the center has lost its way, or we have lost touch with it. We are out of sorts. We need help.
Part of the help, in Jung’s view, means feeling emboldened enough to risk immediate experience of the numinous (Jung, 1973 [26 May 1945], p. 41).
Individuation In our experience of the numinous, according to Jung, what we feel is its effects on our ego (CW 17, para. 300).
We feel summoned by something beyond ourselves to become all of ourselves.
We sense the Self, “heavy as lead,” calling us out of unconscious identification with social convention (the persona or “mask” we adopt for social functioning), pushing us to recognize even those parts of ourselves that we would rather deny and disown, those that lie in what Jung calls the shadow (CW 17, para 303).
If we open to our shadow, we know at first-hand the agony of St. Paul when he says “the good I would, I do not, and the evil I would not, that I do.”
Becoming ourselves also means encompassing what ordinarily we think of as opposite to us, to claim as part of us a departure point so different from our conscious gender identity that it symbolizes itself in our dreams, for example, as figures of the opposite sex. Jung calls these figures the anima in man and the animus in women.
To be wholly who we are means including as part of our ego identity what these contrasexual parts bring into our consciousness (Ulanov
and Ulanov, 1994).
They open us sexually as well as spiritually to conversation with the Self, and through it to the reality the Self symbolizes.
This is not individualism. For the Self brings with it a bigger center. Jung says:
the self is like a crowd . . . being oneself, one is also like many. One cannot individuate without being with other human beings . . . Being an individual is always a link in a chain . . . howlittle you can exist . . . without responsibilities and duties and the relation of other people to yourself . . . The Self . . . plants us in otherness – of other people, and of the transcendent. (Jung, 1988, v. 1, p. 102)
Awareness of the Self shifts our focus from the private to the shared, or to put it more accurately, to the inevitable mixture of the public in the private, of the collective in the individual, of the universal in the idiosyncratic.
The task of individuation makes us appreciate the world around us with renewed interest and gratitude.
We see that we are continually offered objects with which to find and release our own particular personality.
We come to understand that we are objects with whom others can create and unfold their lives. Issues of injustice and oppression are thus brought right into our hearts, as we recognize that in addition to all the rest of the deprivations they effect, they can keep the heart from loving and unfolding, whether in ourselves or in our neighbor, and most often in both of us.
Under these conditions, we feel pushed to discover, however sneakily, who has more and who less, who does what to whom, and how we can take revenge. “More” for us now seems possible only as a result of someone else’s “less” (Ulanov and Ulanov, 1982/1998).
If, however, we are embarked on our own individuation, we gain a whole new sense of community.
We recognize how much we need each other to accomplish the tasks of facing our shadows, of encountering otherness as embodied in the opposite sex, of gathering the courage to respond wholeheartedly to the summons of the Self. We connect with each other at a new
depth, equivalent to what Jung calls kinship.
The archetypal and the body
Awareness of the Self deeply affects the clinical situation.
Analyst and analysand are rearranged around the call to answer the Self. In the midst of working with the most vexing problems urges to suicide and homicide, depression and anxiety, schizoid splitting, narcissistic wounding and borderline fragmenting, and the ways these psychic conditions complicate our relating with spouse, parent, or child, interfere with our jobs, and can reduce us to despair – analyst and analysand look directly to see what the Self is bringing through all these difficulties.
Jung defines the personal layer of the unconscious as a gathering of complexes, clusters of energy, affect, and image that reflect the conditioning of our early life.
There, drawn well down into us, we find all those who have had formative effects on us, parents, friends, lovers, of whatever age or place in our lives. Our complexes show the influence of our cultural milieu, the colorations of class, race, sex, religion, politics, education.
At the heart of each complex an archetypal image dwells. Engaging that image takes us through the personal unconscious into a still deeper layer that Jung calls the objective psyche.
The archetypes compose its contents, and deep analysis means identifying and dealing with the particular sets of primordial images
that operate in us.
My mother complex, for instance, will show the influence of my own mother’s conscious and unconscious personality, her style of relating to me and making the world available to me.
The cultural images of motherhood from my childhood, and the particular archetypal image of Mother that arises from the objective psyche will also shape the mother complex in me.
If I see my mother as malign and depriving, I may condemn Western society for generating a culture that is antagonistic to all women who do not conform to the stereotype of the sacrificial mother.
I may also then find within me fantasy and dream images of an ideal mother whose abundant goodness compensates for my negative experience of motherhood.
Another person who has suffered at the hands of a negative mother, but who fell into self-blame instead of blaming her parent, may instead confront images of a dread witch or a stone-making gorgon sent by the unconscious to convince the ego that the problem is not hers – but, rather, that it stems from the witch-like constellation that surrounds her mother (Ulanov and Ulanov, 1987, Chapter 2).
How are we to bring together conscious suffering and unconscious compensations for it?
How are we to make sense of the ancient truth that parents visit their sins on their children?
How are we to reconcile our suffering with the understanding that our parents did their best given their own problems and illnesses?
We enter a larger space of human meditation on the hardships of life, but we are not simply victims.
Life is addressing us here; it wants to be lived in us and through us.
We feel this on a deep body level. Our spirit quickens.
Jung talks about the instinctual and spiritual poles that characterize every archetype (CW 8, paras. 417–420). One definition of the archetype – my favorite – is our instinct’s image of itself (CW 8, para. 277). Instinct is the body-originating energy, life-energy.
The image is a portrait of how we experience it. And so every archetype has a spiritual facet which explains the “incorrigibly plural” quality of human beings’ numinous experiences, to borrow Louis MacNeice’s wonderful phrase (see B. Ulanov, 1992, and Ulanov and Ulanov, 1994, for examples).
Some of us feel the spirit touch us through the Great Mother archetype.
Others feel it through feminine wisdom figures; still others through a wondrous child, a compelling quest, and so forth.
The unconscious is not creedal, but compensatory.
It dishes up the images needed to balance our conscious one-sidedness so that we can include all sides as we become ourselves.
In investigating our God-images, we must examine their personal and archetypal bases.
Personal factors will include details from our special upbringing and culture.
Archetypal aspects will show which of the fund of primordial images have been constellated in us.
Our God-image may be communism because our parents were devout revolutionaries.
Our image of the divine may be scripture-based – the Yahweh who woos his people, sews garments for them when they are naked, and designs ephods for them to wear when they lead worship.
Whatever they are, our God-images express our uniqueness and through their idiosyncratic qualities we feel the God beyond touching us in the flesh.
The body has specific form, it means boundedness, not generality or shifting shadows.
The body is life in the concrete.
Our body restricts us to a certain place and time and thus permits us to focus on what is right here, in front of us.
We are thus protected from “the elemental quality of cosmic indistinctness.”
The body is “the guarantee of consciousness, and consciousness is the instrument by which the meaning is created” (Jung, 1988, v. 1, pp. 349–350).
Our bodies ground us and keep us from floating off into timelessness in the archetype:
You cease to think and are acted upon as though carried by a great river with no end. You are suddenly eternal . . . liberated from sitting up and paying attention, doubting, and concentrating upon things . . . you don’t want to disturb it by asking foolish questions, it is too nice. (Jung, 1988, v. 1, p. 240)
We need both body and spirit or we forfeit both. We possess both or neither. For there to be life in the spirit, we need life in the body.
For contact with the unconscious, we need consciousness.
Otherwise the unconscious, like the waves of the ocean, wells up, comes forward, builds toward a climax, and then pulls downward, retreats, and disintegrates.
For something to happen, consciousness must interfere, “grasp the treasure,” make something of what is offered (Jung, 1988, p. 237).
We need the ego as the center of consciousness to know the Self as the center of the conscious and the unconscious psyche.
We need to enter the conversation that fills the gap between them.
That process of conversation constructs the Self that claims us, and builds up an ego that becomes decentered.
If we fail to engage in that process, our ego can easily be taken over by archetypal contents, as we see to our horror in any kind of religious or political fanaticism.
Under such pressures, we rush out against others, compelled by the force of the archetypal. Convinced we alone possess the truth, we know no bounds in dealing with others who may disagree with, or even defy, us; segregating, maligning, oppressing, imprisoning, murdering others are crimes we can commit in the name of our twisted version of truth and salvation.
If we do engage in ego-Self conversation we come to know archetypal images inhabiting our very own bodies.
This feels like energy, sometimes in greater amounts than we think we can handle.
Then our bodies stretch, both physically and psychologically, into new postures and new attitudes of acceptance and celebration.
We might, for example, finally lay to rest a lifelong addiction to a substance, or a drink, or a special kind of food.
We might find our blood-pressure lowering after many years.
We might find back pain dispersing, or our power to endure it increasing.
We might feel ushered into sexual ecstasy for the first time after many years.
We might feel in touch with something infinite.
God-images and evil
To enter conversation with our God-image is not an easy task.
The partial nature of this dialogue, its basis in small individual experience and its all too limited human perspective soon become only too clear.
The conversation begins to crumble.
We realize with unerring certainty that we are not reaching God or the transcendent, or whatever we choose to call it.
We cannot cross the gap: we can only receive what comes from the other side, from the mysterious center of reality that our all-too-human symbols point to.
Attempting to engage our God-image in serious conversation and meditation is to face its inadequacy to cover the complexity of human life.
For example, Jung asks, “What about evil? The suffering of the innocent?”
Jung is distinguished among depth psychologists for his attempts to answer these questions (CW 11).
They are not questions we can avoid. Terrible things happen all around us, to ourselves and others. We lose our minds. Human rights disappear.
Bodies are born crippled and we are maimed. Storms and floods destroy our world. We murder each other.
How can there be a just, powerful, and merciful God when so much suffering exists?
Jung’s answer places evil, finally, in God. God’s nature is complex and bears its own shadow.
It needs human beings, with their focused body-based consciousness, to incarnate these opposites of divine life and thus help
in their transformation.
In considering the book of Job, Jung surmises that Yahweh suffers from unconsciousness, himself forgetting to consult his own
Job’s protests against his unmerited suffering make Yahweh aware of his own dealings with Satan and finally he can answer Job by becoming Christ, who takes the sufferings of human beings into his own life and pays for them himself.
Jung considers the Christ figure the most complete Self symbol we have known in human history, but he is aware that the Christian myth must be lived onward still farther (Jung, 1963, pp. 337–338).
Christ, unlike the rest of us, is without sin.
Evil splits off into the opposing figure of the Devil or the Antichrist.
Christianity, Jung says, thus leaves no place for the evil side of the human person (CW 8, para. 232).
For him, the doctrine of evil as the privation of good fails to recognize the existence of evil as a force to be contended with.
The doctrine of God as the summum bonum lifts God to impossible heights, while crushing humans under the weight of sin.
Critics of Jung question his reading of the Christ figure as separated from evil.
In fact, they say, Christ lives his whole life on the frontiers of evil.
Christ is no stranger to evil and sin.
His birth as an outcast, his occasioning Herod’s murder of innocent babies, his facing the demons of mental illness, righteous rule-keeping, scapegoating judgments, abandonment by his friends and neighbors, and his own fate of suffering betrayal, abandonment, and death depict wickedness always upon him (B. Ulanov, 1992, Chapter 5).
Jung works out a solution that is the fruit of his engagement with his own God-image.
He sees God as both good and evil.
We serve God, according to Jung, by accepting the opposing elements in ourselves – conscious and unconscious, ego and shadow, persona and anima or animus, finally ego and Self.
These opposites are best symbolized by masculine and feminine.
Jung brings into religious discussion the body-based sexuality and contrasexuality of the human person (CW 12, para. 192).
This inclusion goes a long way toward recovering the inescapable importance of the feminine mode of being, so long neglected in patriarchal history (see CW 11, paras. 107, 619–620, 625; and Ulanov, 1971, pp. 291–292).
By struggling to integrate the opposites, we incarnate God’s struggle.
The solutions we achieve, however small, contribute to divine life.
Thus we participate in Christ’s suffering and serve God by becoming the selves God created us to be.
We fulfill our vocation, redeeming our own pain from meaninglessness and participating in the life of God.
The transcendent function and synchronicity
Through Jung’s solution to the problem of evil, we come to understand his theory of the transcendent function.
Jung enters the conversation of opposites, lets each side have its say, endures the struggle between the opposing points of view, suffers the anguish of being strung out between them, and greets the resolving symbol with gratitude.
The psyche, says Jung, arrives at a third point of view that includes the essence of each conflicting perspective while at the same time combining them into a new symbol.
We must enter this process and cooperate with it if we are to be fully – and ethically – engaged in living, says Jung (CW 8, paras. 181–183 and Jung 1963, paras.753–755).
It is not enough just to appreciate the transcendent function and marvel at the new symbols that arise with it. We must live them, use them,
bind them back into personal and communal life if we are to submit to a religious attitude.
The transcendent function is the process through which the new comes about in us.
This is a costly undertaking, for we feel our egos losing their grip on secure frames of reference.
When the new begins to show itself, we pause, look, contemplate, in order to integrate into a new level of unity parts of ourselves and of life outside us that were hitherto unknown to us (Ulanov and Ulanov, 1991/1999, 1997/2004, Chapter 13).
The religious attitude, therefore, involves sacrifice (CW 11, para. 390).
We offer up our identification with our ego’s point of view.
We surrender what we identify with as “mine” or “ours,” sacrificing our ego-claims without expectation of payment.
We do this because we recognize a higher claim, that of the Self. It offers itself to us, making its own sacrifice of relinquishing its status as the all and the vast, to take up residence in the stuff of our everyday lives.
The conversation between ego and Self becomes our daily meditation.
When this happens, reality seems to reform itself. Odd coincidences of events that are not causally related occur, impressing us with their large and immediate meaning: what Jung called synchronicity (CW 8, para. 840).
Outer and inner events collide in significant ways that open us to perceive what Jung calls the unus mundus, a wholeness where matter and psyche are revealed to be but two aspects of the same reality.
Clinically, I have seen striking examples of this.
A man struggled in conversation with a childhood terror of being locked in a dark attic as punishment for crying out too often to his parents when he was put to bed at night.
Eventually, he reached the key to unlock a compulsive fetish that he now saw had functioned as the symbol to bridge the gap between his adult personality and his abject childhood terror in the locked attic.
When this new attitude emerged out of his struggling back and forth with the fascination of the fetish, on the one hand, and his conscious humiliation and wish to rid himself of this compulsion, on the other, an outer event synchronistically occurred.
The attic room in the house of his childhood was struck by lightning and destroyed – only the attic part of the house!
Jung’s theory links such outer and inner happenings through his theory of the archetype as psychoid, as possessed of the body and spirit poles (CW 8, paras. 368 ff., 380).
When we engage in the conversation between the ego point of view and the Self’s, we touch both poles of the Self archetype, which open us to what is going on all the time in the interweaving of physical and spiritual events.
When our conversation grows deep enough to show us that the Self not only is a center of the psyche but symbolizes the center of all of the life, we become open to the interdependent reality of the
whole, not only of all that is human, but of all other animate and inanimate life (Aziz, 1990, pp. 85, 111, 137, 167).
Jung gives us a method to approach religious teachings of all kinds, which he demonstrates by his attention not only to materials of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also to those of alchemy, Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Hinduism, to elements of African and Native American religions, and to the mythologies of many times and cultures (CW 11, 12, 13).
We must ask, How does a given teaching reflect the conversation of ego and Self?
What dogmas and rituals from the ego side collect and contain immediate numinous experiences that give rise to Self symbols?
What are the dominant Self symbols that point to a reality beyond the psyche?
What are the main archetypal images employed to do such symbol forming activity?
Is the dominant archetype the transformation of father and son, as in the Christian eucharist, or is it the transformation of mother
and daughter, as in the ancient Eleusinian mysteries? Jung saw alchemy, for example, as taking up the problem of the spiritualization of matter which Christianity did not adequately solve (Jung, 1975, p. 401).
In alchemy the Self symbol is the lapis or “stone,” which, unlike the Christ symbol, combines good and evil, and matter and spirit; it is the end-purpose of all the alchemical operations which symbolize all our attitudes.
Jung has left methods that are practical and spiritual, hard-headed and open-hearted, to connect with the archaic roots of our religion, whatever it may be, and with the necessary clinical methods to include our experience of the numinous in the enterprise of healing.
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