Jung on religion

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung expresses disappointment upon taking his first Communion, a ritual in his church signaling transition to adulthood, for which he got a new black felt hat and a new suit with a pocket in the jacket that allowed “a grownup, manly gesture.” His father was the minister at the church and worked hard to prepare his son for the occasion. During the ceremony, writes Jung,
The atmosphere was the same as that of all other performances in church—baptisms, funerals, and so on. I had the impression that something was being performed here in the traditionally correct manner. My father, too, seemed to be chiefly concerned with going through it all according to rule, and it was part of this rule that the appropriate words were read or spoken with emphasis.

I knew that God could do stupendous things to me, things of fire and unearthly light; but this ceremony contained no trace of God—not for me, at any rate.
I had hoped for an experience of grace and illumination, and nothing had happened. God had been absent.
Jung concluded that his father did not know
the immediate living God who stands omnipotent and free above [church and Bible].
God refuses to abide by traditions, no matter how sacred.
This realization followed a blasphemous thought he fended off in agony for sleepless days, a sin he resisted with all his strength because he feared eternal damnation. Finally, when he accepted it as God’s will, he allowed the image to come:
I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on His golden throne, high above the world—and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.
Jung was only a schoolboy when he summoned the courage to see God shit on the church.
I am reminded of the boy Huckleberry Finn floating down the Mississippi with the loving and loyal Jim, a runaway slave. Huck has been taught that assisting runaway slaves is a sin. To avoid a certain fate in hell, he writes a letter to the slave’s owner to tell her where Jim is.
But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping . . . and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was . . . and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world.
Trembling as he decides to commit the sin of “stealing Jim out of slavery,” he says
All right, then, I’ll go to hell
and he tears up his letter. As an English teacher of this novel, I always felt inadequate to convey the stupendous nobility of Huck in this moment. I struggled to convey the irony in conventional morality’s falseness. The boy Huck’s moral courage is meant by Mark Twain to prick the conscience of society.
The boy Jung knows he has more courage and knowledge than his father—he has a higher level of consciousness than Huck Finn has. But both boys suffer the torture of being called to disobey religion’s moral code.

Carl Jung's Theology     November 12, 2015

I am still having mental conversations with instructors and writings at the School of Theology I attended 30 years ago. One instructor and I debated about spiritual health throughout my two years there. She thinks religion is necessary for spiritual health; I do not. In my opinion, some atheists have greater spiritual health than many religious people.

Carl Jung influenced my thoughts about this. I discovered his writings before I entered the School of Theology. Almost immediately after meeting his thought, I started calling it theology and when I entered the SOT I wished it would be included.
If faculty and students in seminaries and schools of theology studied Jung, they could gain better understanding of religion and of themselves. They might stop treating church doctrines as facts and instead find the metaphors and symbols they contain to inform and guide us.

When I started reading Jung I was still committed to the logic of atheism and happy to see he did not believe the same things I did not believe. He strengthened my disbelief by informing me that other religious trinities preceded Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by several thousand years.  He called Jesus a “demigod . . . like the Greek heroes." 

He pointed out that the Christian Lord follows the pattern of the Greek Lord Zeus. Both encourage their favorites to kill their enemies. The Lord in the Bible seems more bloodthirsty though; he has his people exterminating entire tribes and cities, leaving none alive (Joshua 11 and chapters in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the book I consider the easiest way to enter his thought, Jung observes that his father, a Protestant minister, suffered from religious doubts. He was blocked by,
lifeless theological answers . . . [not] capable of understanding the direct experience of God (92-93).
[M]y poor father did not dare to think. . . . hopelessly he was entrapped by the Church and its theological thinking. They had blocked all avenues by which he might have reached God directly.
His father didn’t have a clue about
the vast despair, the overpowering elation and outpouring of grace [that] constituted the essence of God (55).
Church ceremony, Jung complained, “contained no trace of God.”

Students in schools of theology who read Jung might remember that a father cannot have a son without a mother. They might engage in less talk of Father and Son as facts instead of metaphors. They might make fewer comments like the one a student made in my “Christology” class:
I wonder how the son felt when he was sent down to earth.
The instructor looked embarrassed as he tried to respond. Jung helped me to see that irrational details in myths are not meant to be read as rational facts.  This is the lesson missing in religious education. If theology students learned the symbolism in Christian God-talk, they might learn to use other symbols of Divinity—midwife or bee or breath, for instance.

In response to a previous post on Jung, Chris commented that Jung approved of patients turning to their religion. He’s right. Jung counseled patients who dropped out of religion to go back to it. It took me a while to know what to make of this and something else that confused me. Why did Jung arrange to have himself buried in a Christian ceremony when he died? This seemed incompatible with his exposition of Christian myth.

More study informed me that religious images have mysterious power that connects people with the Invisible Realm, which Jung explained, presides in the vast unconscious of every person.

Jung wanted us to be connected to religion because religious myths connect us with the mysterious Beyond lying in our unconscious. He was regarded as a mystic but he considered himself a scientist, one who researches observable facts. These facts, these outward signs, point to the Inner Realm that religion tries to mediate. Jung explained to me why I was preoccupied with religious topics when I tried to be an atheist.
“Facts are the enemy of truth!” cries Don Quixote de la Mancha. Would that we heard homilies to that effect!

I agree with Jung that Christianity is, indeed, a myth. But, as J.R.R. Tolkien explained to C.S. Lewis many years ago, it’s a myth that actually came true—at least from a genuine Christian pov.


November 20
Donald responded to my previous post:
I read Jung as one writing psychology, not theology. What differentiates theology is revelation, and Jung, as I read him, is operating entirely from human reason even when discussing religion. 
Donald is right. I had not thought of it before, but now I realize that I credit psychology for that reason. I actually trust it more. Why? I don't trust religious authority that accepts only official revelation or what is deemed to fit into official revelation. It rejects other types of revelation.

I do not think Jung operated entirely from reason. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he recounts childhood experiences that fit the category of revelation. Go to my post "Jung on religion" for examples.

Jung, unlike Christian churches, credited the revelation of ordinary people. He took seriously dreams that foretell events. He saw meaning in incidents happening precisely when we need them, in animals sensing storms and earthquakes beforehand, in clocks stopping precisely at the moment of death, in glasses shattering at a critical moment (Memories, Dreams, Reflections 100). He showed that these supposed coincidences evince the spiritual realm.

This is exciting. I believe that in our everyday lives we are all receiving evidence of what I call The Other Side, only most of us are not alert to them. I hear many instances of people getting prompts from things around them precisely when they need them. Scientists and writers have spectacular instances of this. Religion does not accept these as revelation, and our secular culture would consider me flaky for saying it. 

I suggest readers who share my fascination with this subject go to posts in my index under "Paranormal."

Reading Jung, it became clear to me why I was preoccupied with religious topics when I tried to be an atheist. Spiritual reality was beguiling me at the same time that I rejected religion. 

Church not necessaryMay 7, 2015

I write to broaden understanding of spirituality and religions, which are brands of spirituality. This purpose directed my opinion piece in the St. Cloud Times on Sunday—Faith does not require church.

Religious beliefs implanted in childhood cannot adequately guide our adult lives. There is no excuse for letting religion close our minds against new knowledge. Truth staring us in the face—discoveries coming from science and other cultures—can disrupt the landscape of our minds, and that can be uncomfortable. To some it brings fear and anger.

Inexorably, however, change continues to happen.  Faith used to be bound to religion. No longer. Faith in spiritual reality—what we call "God" does not need church. 

 But I continue going to church for the relationships, the heart of spirituality.

Lessons from Hubble, May 14, 2015

A relationship with a Beloved in the Beyond does not have to be with Jesus but can take many possible forms.
                  God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1980. As I was listening to NPR 35 years later, I heard an astronaut explain the wonderful importance of Hubble’s launching. It shows stars in the sky that we can’t see because the air we breathe blocks our sight.

Earth is one object traveling around our sun. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy containing, at last estimate, 400 billion stars in tens of billions of solar systems. Our galaxy is dwarfed by giant elliptical galaxies with 100 trillion stars.
This is just one universe, our universe, and science is finding evidence of multiple universes with dimensions probably different from our space/time, height, width, and depth. Infinity really is infinite. Intoxicating.

Scientific details dizzy me and they’re not my point. My point is not even to say how small we are. It is perspective. Hubble teaches us the advantage of enlarging our perspective. Like the Hubble, we need to clear our vision of blocks immediately surrounding us—go beyond the air we breathe—and obtain the larger perspective.

In 7th grade I heard Sister say the Catholic Church is the one true church. I can still remember where I was sitting and where she was standing because the statement did not seem quite right. I thought about people in the world who had never heard of Jesus or the religious stories we were being taught. They would think their own ways were right just as we thought ours were right. The moment sticks with me sixty years later, as I’m still absorbed by this need to enlarge our perspective. It motivates my writing about the spectrum of ideas regarding religions and spirituality.

Was it yesterday or the day before? …… I heard yet another report giving yet higher figures for the portion of Americans who are leaving Christian churches. Evidently, globalization and new information from science are enlarging perspectives naturally.  

I am of an earlier generation who still value religious relationships, but I respect the "nones,” those who meet their relationship needs, that is, their spiritual needs, without religion. They are moving beyond the dogmas taught in childhood and opening their eyes to the infinity of possibilities in the Inner Realm.



Chris said…
Carl Jung once wrote that, if one of his patients reported that he or she had returned to participation in the Catholic Church, he considered that patient cured, or in any case advanced beyond the point that psychotherapy would be of further use. By this he meant, I suspect, that within the human psyche are archetypal principles and forces that are largely beyond our ability to scientifically understand, but are effectively dealt with by religion.

Religion, properly practiced, in Jung's view, is a primary means by which our culture has evolved for grappling with these archetypes, and achieving integration of the personality. - John Ubersaxe
Jeanie DeRousseau said…
This is an exquisite parable...
It outlines a moral dilemma I have every day, about whether to be precisely authentic or to be nice. My training as a Midwestern girl calls me to niceness, but my truth of awareness is more and more compelling. I would rather that my truth not be pushed by indecision in myself, but arrive complete and whole. Still, the struggle remains, sometimes truth erupting as anger, or the habit of niceness prevailing. Yet, I am determined to live from that Center of Truth in me that is beyond training and emotion. My conversations are filled with how important this commitment is now... we are in Joan of Arc times, and these moments of choice are Joan of Arc moments.
Thank you for this blog and for your persistent voice toward Truth, Jeanette...

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