Carl Jung on religion and the unconscious

From an interview of CG Jung by Georg Gerster conducted on June 7, 1960, for broadcast on the Swiss radio network, as found in the book CG Jung speaking.

GG: “When I asked you earlier about a critique of our civilization I… was thinking of the problem of our time, as they say. There must have been periods when man’s relations with the unconscious through various other channels of communication were infinitely more alive than they are today.”

CGJ: “Yes, there is no doubt that it was only the 19th century that broke with this tradition and became increasingly intellectual, with the result that a lot of vitally necessary things have become obsolete. Just think of the crisis of Christianity we are passing through today — it simply means that we have lost all sense of its necessity. We no longer know what it is good for. In earlier times people knew, in a way. Naturally they had faith, but this faith was rooted in the feeling that the Christian tradition was `satisfactory,’ it was something self-evident, part of the picture. Even with scientific books, you need only think of old Scheuchzer, of Zürich who began his scientific works with the story of Creation!

GG: “Do you see any chance for psychology to do something here? I mean you can’t put the clock back.”

CGJ: “No, that’s impossible.”

GG: “On the other hand, as a psychologist with these insights, you can’t let the world go its own sweet way!”

CGJ: “Yes, but what is the voice of a single individual? These things are evidently so difficult to understand that you just can’t talk to people about them. It is amazing how little people understand of such matters. They don’t think about them at all. Naturally, a very great deal could be said in this respect. But, you see, it concerns the individual so very much that it is far too boring for people! Of course, if I knew a remedy that could be injected into 10,000 people at one go, that would be popular, especially if one didn’t have to do anything about it oneself. But the very idea that you should begin with yourself, that is totally out of the question! One must always have something that is good for 100,000, for a million people, but not for the individual, he is far too uninteresting.

“We have been so convinced by science how nugatory a human life is, and contemporary history has indeed demonstrated before our eyes how human lives count for nothing. And the individual is so utterly convinced of his nothingness that he makes no effort to get anywhere with himself, to develop himself inwardly in any way. It is too hopeless, the individual is nothing, and is naturally a false view that the individual is nothing. The individual is a vessel of life. Every individual is the bearer of life, and life is worn only by individuals. It does not exist in itself, there is no life of the millions. That is nonsense, but millions of individuals are vessels of life and for each of them the problem of the individual is the whole problem. And then they say: `Yes, but look at So-and-so, that’s no vessel of life!’ The individual is banalized, you see. Most people get discouraged.

“The theologians surely ought to be convinced that the individual soul is the vessel of life, and the thing of greatest importance. Yet a theologian told me himself: `We must get through to the masses. If we tried to treat every single individual we would never get anywhere!’ I said: `Well, how did Christianity conquer the world in the first place? It always went from individual to individual.’

“Neurotics naturally think that we do, but they soon change their tune when they see that nothing changes in them if they do not take themselves seriously. But taking yourself seriously is considered improper, you’re an eccentric, putting on self-important airs, etc. Everywhere you come up against this depreciation of the human psyche. Of course when you say “the human psyche” everyone thinks it’s fine, it is someone else’s affair, but I myself and what I do are not considered at all. If nobody bothers about his own psyche, then there is nothing you can do from the psychological angle, you can only say how things are and make yourself unpopular!”

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