Tag Archives: Jung’s symbolic view

Science and Religion in a World of Confusion

The emotional confusion generated by… a major shift in values is only enhanced today by a profound lack of introspectionThe “suprapersonal factors” embodied in religious images are intended to orient us inwardly; to center and protect us from being swept away by mass contagion. Our ideas of religion are changing, and there is no return to the old ways. Deep in the throes of unseen psychic forces, consciousness is being pushed in a new direction. The possibilities for further development hidden in the older ideas require a re-interpretation of the peculiar language of the depth from which they spring and the symbols it produces.” — A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious

It seems undeniable to anyone raised in the religious atmosphere of a generation ago that cultural values are changing. Whether praised or lamented, the current transition was an integral part of Jung’s work; what he described were historical changes in consciousness.

Sunday morning religious services still fill the airways; but, as mega-churches replace smaller communities of worship, and populations become more mobile and anonymous, religious devotion takes on a similarly impersonal character. 

The Bible remains the world’s best-seller, but does it reflect the personal values we espoused fifty years ago? Who doesn’t question the contradictions science has raised in its literal view of religious symbols? 

Political correctness has tempered public conversation in the face of increased diversity, but don’t most still believe in their religion with the same intensity of a generation ago? Though once-traditional spiritual views continue to splinter into increasingly diverse factions, doesn’t that mean further differentiation, a more nuanced perspective? A new dawn on a centuries-old collective horizon?

Panderers, preachers, and pulpiteers fall from the heavens like little Lucifers as they yield to their more animal natures — but, hasn’t that always been so? Isn’t it just more publicized as we tear away the veils of fading idols? Isn’t it the same old inflated image revealing human vulnerabilities to the natural facts beneath our ideals? A new struggle on a new psychic frontier? 

One man’s god is another man’s devil, but one fact still remains: an unknown deity drives us relentlessly forward — more compelling in the changes today than centuries of reflection have kept pace with. We may not choose it or even believe it, but isn’t that what history is? The slow coming to awareness of a psychic reality which defies comprehension beyond the rational knowledge of its parts?

So confusing is the symbolic nature of this mystery; so convincing our powers of rationalization, nothing seems certain to an honest mind but the false certainty of others. Objective knowledge has replaced subjective wisdom as the ultimate truth. Modern diversions only obscure the mystery further, hiding the dark face of inner reality.

On one side are the commercial mega-churches and their glitzy re-makes of the same old story, little changed. The personal relation to a deity seems only more impersonal through them. Is it a new improved product they sell or a diluted one — an unconscious image of belief, an indirect appeal to their own egos? Only another facade of certainty amid the unknown changes pushing from within?

Conversely, churches are driven to compete with a science that refutes the old truths with each new datum; it only gets more sophisticated. It’s no wonder they’re at odds; as ideologies, neither is aware of its own subjective bias. In the unconscious conflicts of one-sided ideals, they trade barbs like hostile brothers (or a stale-mated political process), neither bothered with the task of a greater good beyond its own partial concerns. 

What they believe in is plain enough; not words, but an irrational zeal defines it. Where is the humble soul in search of a truth which acknowledges its own inner opposite? If today’s consumer mindset and its object-philosophy are what we’re looking to for solutions, we’re in trouble. The buying and selling of partial truths and the mass marketing designed to manipulate unconscious emotions is not the way to consciousness. 

As ominous as the cultural changes have been in the last generation, we remain fixed on rational argument, cause and effect, and its literal view of events. Is the confusion beneath the facade a dim perception of a newer, darker deity? The unforeseen consequences, the off-spring of an irrational nature? 

Jung laid the basis for a science of the psyche through the study of its history: religion, philosophy, and science; a real psychological inspection of ideas, their origins, development, purposes and effects. His method was empirical, though not strictly rational. His comparative approach was a new way of examining our subjective natures within the context of an objective reality. Many sense the contradictions, though none can explain them.

The relativity of values is a more difficult reality to locate than any material fact. The scientist’s model of the atom as an analogy of the unfathomable depth of the smallest unit hints at Jung’s discoveries: physics has revealed a strange quantum world beneath the surface, just as the universe of institutional religious ideals hides a subjective truth. 

Jung’s symbolic view elaborated the nature of these opposed realities in terms of an unconscious opposite: thinking/feeling, rational science vs. the irrationality of a spiritual reality. Awareness of our dual natures signals neither the decline of religion nor the advance of science, but a new way of looking at both in which each becomes relative to the other.

For an interesting statistical look at the changing religious beliefs in America, see this link:  http://religions.pewforum.org/reports


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Culture in Crisis

“Western culture, whose crisis we are experiencing today, differs from all others known to us in that, although a continuum, it finds itself in a continual process of change… The conventional division into classical, medieval, and modern is wholly fallacious… deeper analysis will show a picture of Western man in continuous movement and counter-movement, but moving steadily in a direction fixed from the very beginning: the emancipation of man from nature and consciousness from unconscious.” — Erich Neumann, The Origins And History Of Consciousness, 1954.

Since the beginning of time (or our conscious construct of it), our attempts to emancipate ourselves from the harsh reality of nature is understandable; but, recorded history is mostly humans in violent conflict with each other. That aspect of our inner nature remains unchanged since the first of days, and neither science nor religion can make sense of it without deeper understanding of the psychic facts behind it.

In a previous post, I sketched out some ideas that may seem random but which “hang together in a meaningful way”, as Jung phrased it. What appear as random ideas are associations to functions which, with knowledge and reflection, form a wider picture than conscious perception alone can see. Jung showed how only the symbolic view which perceives its own subjectivity can reconcile what logic sees as a paradox.

For a broader understanding of Neumann’s statement, I offer an overview of the empirical facts associated with the crisis we now find ourselves in. Though this crisis has been relentlessly (and unconsciously) pursued since Adam and Eve consumed that fascinating fruit which divorced us from our own natures, it’s clear that if we continue in this direction with the same unreflecting abandon, if we can’t come terms with our destructive tendencies, our loftiest dreams will become even more nightmarish than they already are.

Based on Jung’s and Neumann’s work, this excerpt is taken from an earlier post, though I think it bears repeating. It revolves around:

“… the image of the earth as a natural symbol of the unconscious. The earth and sun are the sources of all known life, suitable metaphors for the masculine and feminine forces which conceive it. Jung and Neumann have demonstrated that artifacts and symbols dating back to pre-patriarchal cultures intimately associate masculinity with light and consciousness, just as feminine images are associated with unconscious darkness and fertility: the earthly and the feminine, the creative matrix which bears and fosters the child of consciousness. Symbolically, masculinity refers to the heady principles of thought, the organizing of consciousness; the feminine principle dissolves separate tendencies to form emotional and physical relationships – properties of the soul.

The primitive mind long ago conceived the sun as spirit, reflecting processes which urged the coming of light to the dark, unconscious void of human origin. Earth and sun are psychological analogues for “feminine” relatedness — the oneness of the unconscious, the body, and the individual — and the dissecting, masculine character of consciousness. Together, they express the intermingling pairs of opposites and the penetrating form of their relationship. Male and female, spirit and matter, mind and body: all describe the two poles required for conscious orientation.

Primitive sun-worship anticipated a Christian myth “not of this world”. Both signify the urge to distinguish conscious from unconscious… The movement away from nature toward an artificial fantasy-sphere is a projection of over-extension. Jung and Neumann suggested that the natural process of separating the two psychic systems has deepened into such a division today that we can no longer relate to our instinctual foundations… Our intellectual inflation only accentuates our historical opposition to nature and the corresponding functions designed to relate us to earthly reality.

As the momentum of this drive toward conscious identity finds us alienated from ourselves, the unconscious attempts to re-orient us in the current swing by steering us back to itself, to nature… the earth, to our physical/emotional ground. The swing toward natural science describes a symbolic movement. The spiritual unfolding of our natures speaks only indirectly through its own language.

The creative spirit turns destructive when it is restricted to conscious aims and remains unconscious for too long, when a new stage is signaled. Our systematic abuse of the earth reveals an inner conflict… The artificial environment we have created in the relatively short swing back to the material world exposes our Christian disdain for nature as a symbol of our animal heritage and a “god-like” ego which cannot accept its origins or its subjection to natural laws. We are literally poisoning ourselves and our children, even as exaggerated fantasies pursue grandiose notions of “conquering” space — still driven by an inflated and unanchored ego which sees itself as “not of this world.”

 From: A Mid-Life Perspective: Conversations With The Unconscious.

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