Some years ago, I contributed to a monthly on-line magazine called The Meta Arts. It occurs to me, it may be worthwhile to share the columns that appear particularly relevant to our time today.
CG Jung and the way forward
The more I talk to my friends Upstairs, and the more I absorb their answers to people’s questions about life, the more impressed I am with how far ahead of the crowd Carl Jung still is today, let alone in his lifetime which ended in 1961.
Western civilization (if not the world) is in a state of civil war, and the root cause, when you cut through all the symptoms, is that the Christian and Jewish religions that have brought us this far have failed us, and the alternatives such as materialism have failed even faster, even worse.
Anyone can see the failure. How many can see the underlying cause? Instead, liberals attack religious dogmas and institutions as the cause of wars, ignorance and oppression. In return, representatives of religious institutions attack materialists as the cause of wars, ignorance and oppression. Do you notice a certain similarity there?
The problem as I express it is that liberals are afraid of the word “God” and the religious are afraid that if they don’t follow orders, God is going to be mad at them. Worse, each side feels it has a duty to civilization to avoid letting the other side set the agenda and the tone for society. In this, each has a point, but they are wrong in thinking that their view is any more productive, any safer, any closer to the truth.
Nothing will save us but the truth. But where do we find it?
It can’t be merely by belief in revealed religion. To claim divine sanction on the basis of scriptures that one believe divinely inspire leaves you believing because you choose to believe. Not much of a framework there.
But neither can it be by mere dogmatic assertion that religion is deception, fallacy or superstition. That kind of assertion is known in logic as poisoning the well, and amounts to saying that religions can’t be trusted because they can’t be trusted. That’s a lot of help too.
So – where do we go to find out what’s true? Or rather, where do we go to find out how we can find out? My answer: You look where you are led to look, and you hold to what resonates. For me, that is the work of Carl Jung.
Jung – be it remembered – was first and foremost a physician, dedicated to cures rather than merely to analysis and speculation. He listened to hundreds of thousands of dreams, and only after he had analyzed about 80,000 of them (I think the number is) did he begin to put into print his conclusions about the human condition.
And what did Dr. Jung conclude? Two things.
1) We can’t prove whether God exists or not. There is no way to know without going outside the scientific frame of reference.
2) But we can demonstrate that the idea of God is everywhere in the human unconscious. The universal existence of the idea there is a fact in itself, a starting place, because the fact that it is there means something.
The question is, what does it mean?
The following quotations are from Jung’s The Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious. Don’t skip over them just because they are in quotes. They will repay your reading.
“… we are confronted, at every new stage in the differentiation of consciousness to which civilization attains, with the task of finding a new interpretation appropriate to this stage, in order to connect the life of the past that still exists in us with the life of the present, which threatens to slip away from it. If this link-up does not take place, a kind of rootless consciousness comes into being no longer oriented to the past, a consciousness which succumbs helplessly to all manner of suggestions and, in practice, is susceptible to psychic epidemics. With the loss of the past, now become “insignificant,” devalued, and incapable of revaluation, the savior is lost too, for the savior is either the insignificant thing itself or else arises out of it.” (page 157)
Can you hear what this says? Civilizations can only maintain their life if they continually reinterpret what they think they know. Otherwise it goes dead on us in our new condition. Societies do this through a collective mythos, our religious ideas. These ideas must meet our needs, or sooner or later they meet neglect and then abandonment. And this is just what has happened to Christianity in the West. It didn’t grow to meet the new circumstances. Ask yourself, is Christianity growing today, or is it decaying on the vine? But if Christianity doesn’t grow to meet our needs, something must, for societies need something to bridge past and present, lest they become rootless and lost – as ours is. In the absence of a nourished and deepened connection between our consciousness and our unconsciousness, we get catastrophe. Jung put it thus:
“But our progressiveness, though it may result in a great many wish-fulfillments, piles up an equally gigantic Promethean debt which has to be paid off from time to time in the form of hideous catastrophes. For ages man has dreamed of flying, and all we have got for it is saturation bombing!” (Page 163)
You see what he is saying? The catastrophes of the past few hundred years are not fortuitous but instead are – psychically speaking – inevitable results of our society having lost connection with its ancient roots. As Jung points out, mythos expresses psychic reality. If a society discredits its mythos and cannot develop a new one that better meets its needs, it can only meet chaos and disaster.
Nor does this apply only to the West. What will be the effect on China and India of their having abandoned their old ways of seeing the world without having build new bridges to hold conscious and unconscious together? I wouldn’t stand on one foot waiting for universal peace and happiness any time soon.
If people understood the following couple of sentences, what a different world we would be living in! Once understand that the unconscious came before consciousness and is still primary in size, strength and impact, and much becomes clear.
“The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious…. The coming of consciousness was probably the most tremendous experience of primeval times, for with it a world came into being whose existence no one had suspected before.” (Page 167)
What are the stakes involved in our society’s regaining touch with its unconscious roots? Survival, probably. The following sentence, understood, explains the dynamics behind the rise of communism, fascism and the other murderous isms that made the 20th century hideous.
“Everything that man should, and yet cannot, be or do — be it in a positive or negative sense — lives on as a mythological figure and anticipation alongside his consciousness, either as a religious projection or — what is still more dangerous — as unconscious contents which then project themselves spontaneously into incongruous objects, e.g. hygienic and other “salvationist” doctrines or practices. All these are so many rationalized substitutes for mythology, and their unnaturalness does more harm than good. (Page 169)
If you have stayed with me, and understand what Jung told us, you will appreciate one more quote from the same source, which indicates in passing how difficult these times are.
“Higher consciousness, or knowledge going beyond our present-day consciousness, is equivalent to being all alone in the world.” (Page 169)
It is the task of civilization to provide a common framework that will link up our past and present circumstances. Instead, ours casts scorn on our ancestors as superstitious idiots. Fortunately, going on half a century from Jung’s death, we may be beginning to form the nucleus of a new culture that will include science and religion both, with consciousness primary to each. Should that culture fail to take hold – well, the word Titanic comes to mind. But I am confident that it will take hold, and we will see a way forward for our civilization, and we will no longer be “all alone in the world.”