“A struggling clergy, unable to translate the older values into contemporary terms, cannot defend its views in the face of rational argument. Literally interpreted, religious symbols not only don’t make sense to a science based on observable facts, they appear ridiculous and even silly. Worn half-truths and a declining relevance find modern mega-churches resorting to the same impersonal strategies driving business and political interests: mass commercial appeal. Science and religion have become adversaries competing for consumers; the individual, an insignificant statistic buried under the anonymity of target groups, market niches, and sales pitches.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious
For Jung, death and the ‘beyond’ were symbols of unconscious perceptions far exceeding conscious reasoning. The gulf between belief and rational knowledge is filled with irrational facts that don’t make logical sense. Jung asked: why would the unconscious insist on such fantasies? Why is it important to consider things we can’t know?
The short answer is: they provide a deeper experience of life than intellect can achieve; a feeling-level which ascribes human values to the impersonal effects of rational thought. The commercially-instilled collective belief in science, because it depends on exploiting unconscious emotions by identifying them with objects, is a denial of subjective reality. We’re losing contact with our spiritual natures and fast becoming what Jung called “heads with wings”.
In an earlier post, I related an exchange between Manuel and the severed head of Misery from James Branch Cabell’s, Figures of Earth, in which ideas of the soul were discussed; of spirit and immortality, human disregard for animals and the earth, and other such ego-based projections as describe the conflicts and cross-purposes of man and nature.
In the conversation, Manuel explains that he has an immortal soul. The rational head, in its subservience to the sensual, material world, wants to see it. Manuel says it can’t get out until he’s dead. The head asks how he, who has never been dead, can “… be certain as to what happens when one is dead?“
Manuel takes up the argument: “… there is about at any rate some persons a whiff of divinity… do you not find it so?” He feels the inner weight of beliefs which give deeper meaning and purpose to his life…
“Yes, Manuel, most young people have a spark in them which is divine, but it is living which snuffs this out of all of you, by and large, without bothering Grandfather Death to unpeel spirits like bananas. No, the most of you go with very little spirit, if any, into the grave, and assuredly with not enough spirit to last you forever. No, Manuel… I never quarrel with religion, because it is almost the strongest ally I have, but these religious notions rather disgust me sometimes…
“Now you are talking nonsense, sir,” said Manuel stoutly, “and of all sorts of nonsense cynical nonsense is the worst.
“By no means,” replied the head, “since plainly, it is far worse nonsense to assert that omnipotence would insanely elect to pass eternity with you humans. No, Manuel, I am afraid that your queer theory, about being stuffed inside with permanent material and so on, does not very plausibly account for either your existence or mine, and that we both stay riddles without answers.
“Still, sir,” said Manuel, “inasmuch as there is one thing only which all death’s ravishings have never taken from life, and that thing is the Misery of earth — “ Misery allows the premise to be indisputable and asks what he makes of it.
“… I deduce, sir, that you, also, who have not ever been dead, cannot possibly be certain as to what happens when one is dead. And so I shall stick to my own opinion about the life to come.” The head replies that his “… opinion is absurd on the face of it.” Manuel:
“That may very well be, sir, but it is much more comfortable to live with than is your opinion, and living is my occupation just now. Dying, I shall attend to it in its due turn, and, of the two, my opinion is the more pleasant to die with. Thereafter, if your opinion be right, I shall never know that my opinion was wrong: so that I have everything to gain… and nothing whatever to lose…”
The disembodied head of rational thought can’t understand Manuel’s reasoning and questions him, but Manuel interrupts: “Ah, sir,” says Manuel… smiling, “in this world men are nourished by their beliefs; and it may well be that, yonder also, their sustenance is the same.
“But at this moment came Reeri (a little crimson naked man, having the head of a monkey) with his cock in one hand and his gnarled club in the other…”
Such heady ideas summon up unconscious emotional conflicts of a very primitive nature: the repressed animal-spirit that holds the creative urge in one hand also wields the threat of violence in the other. To restrict one to the purposes of ego, unconsciously brings the opposite into play.
You may not relate to such psychological antinomies, but we hear daily about this ‘little naked man with the head of a monkey’ on the news. An unconscious religion may well be the strongest ally of misery — until we interpret the symbolic reality beneath the beliefs.