Jung on the Religious Factor

In Psychological Types, Jung traced the development of Western theology from the East-West schism in the eleventh century to Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s to such a proliferation of isms today as would rival the world’s entire mythological pantheon. Add a legion of political ideologies and as many personal beliefs as there are hairs on the Cosmic Cow’s body, and you get an idea of evolution’s tendencies. 

Historically, religion is so intimately bound to individual development that the idea of the soul was integral to its philosophy. That’s changed. Ideal falls short of reality in all human behavior; today, however, the pretense has been dropped altogether, and the church is more a social-commercial institution than a path to spiritual communion.

A new collective ego-ideal now replaces the older view, and the higher spiritual authority once presupposed in the soul now yields to the science-fiction of objectivity and its shadow-side: the lures of commercial need-invention, social marketing, object-identification, and sensual gratification. But, below these reactions to the cult of reason, where do the real changes originate?

Jung wrote in The Practice Of PsychotherapyThe positive meaning of the religious factor in a man’s philosophical outlook will not… prevent certain views and interpretations from losing their force and becoming obsolete, as a result of changes in the times, in the social conditions, and in the development of human consciousness. The old mythologems upon which all religion is ultimately based are… the expression of inner psychic events and experiences… they enable the conscious mind to preserve its link with the unconscious, which continues to send out… primordial images just as it did in the remote past.

These images give adequate expression to the unconscious, and its instinctive movements can in that way be transmitted to the conscious mind without friction… If, however, certain of these images become antiquated, if… they lose all intelligible connection with our contemporary consciousness, then our conscious acts of choice and decision are sundered from their instinctive roots, and a partial disorientation results, because our judgment then lacks any feeling of definiteness and certitude, and there is no emotional driving force behind the decision.

Psychologically, divine (numinous) refers to the unconscious feelings that attract consciousness to its development. Despite its negative connotations, instinct means natural functioning, and “animal” and “divine” are two opposite poles of an age-old psychic continuum. Without a sense of the symbolic function that would reconcile conscious contradictions to psychic reality, inner conflicts are projected onto external situations.

When enough people project enough unconscious emotion into ideological differences, they more closely resemble animals than divine beings. Somewhere in between the two lies a divine animal, and the extremes require an individual function to mediate them. We know how the unconscious group mind reacts to them.

The collective representations that connect primitive man with the life of his ancestors… form the bridge to the unconscious for the civilized man also, who, if he is a believer, will see it as the world of divine presences. Today these bridges are in a state of partial collapse, and the doctor is in no position to hold those who are worse hit responsible for the disaster. He knows that it is due far more to a shifting of the whole psychic situation over many centuries, such as happened more than once in human history. In the face of such transformations the individual is powerless. The doctor can only look on and try to understand the attempts at restitution and cure which nature herself is making.

… the unconscious produces compensating symbols which are meant to replace the broken bridges, but which can only do so with the active cooperation of consciousness. In other words, these symbols must, if they are to be effective, be “understood” by the conscious mind… A dream that is not understood remains a mere occurrence; understood, it becomes a living experience.

Intellectual comprehension and emotional experience are different forms of understanding. The soul is a function of relation to both worlds; when it loses value as a guiding idea, the loss is compensated by an exaggerated certainty and a dangerous over-confidence in consciousness: the “partial disorientation” to which Jung referred:

I therefore consider it my main task to examine the manifestations of the unconscious in order to learn its language. But since, on the one hand, the theoretical assumptions we have spoken of are of eminently historical interest, and, on the other hand, the symbols produced by the unconscious derive from archaic modes of psychic functioning, one must… have at one’s command a vast amount of historical material; and secondly, one must bring together and collate an equally large amount of empirical material based on direct observation.

“… I have come to the conclusion that the most individual thing about man is surely his consciousness… but that his shadow, by which I mean the uppermost layer of his unconscious, is far less individualized, the reason being that a man is distinguished from his fellows more by his virtues than his negative qualities. The unconscious, however, in its principal and most overpowering manifestations, can only be regarded as a collective phenomenon… and because it never seems to be at variance with itself, it may well possess a marvellous unity and self-consistency, the nature of which is at present shrouded in impenetrable darkness.

As an intellectual function, science must repress emotion — and with it, the role it plays in conscious value-formation. When the soul is twisted into an impersonal object without a history, the individual’s creative attempts at solutions to inner problems is lost to the collective. The dialogue between them — a mirror of exchange between conscious and unconscious — is shut off.

The commercial deception and manipulation; the political double-talk, violence and ideological greed, the exaggerated certainty of the new extraversion: are these the spiritual legacy the Sons of Abraham will leave for their children?

Read a poetic example of how this inner dialogue begins.

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