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Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, The Psychiatrist of Christianity

The voice I miss in contemporary theological discourse is that of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung.

Saying this is strange in a couple of ways. Firstly, Jung made no claims to be a theologian. He was a psychiatrist, and was very careful to point out that his insights and analysis were based on his personal experience, his many clinical patients and his voracious reading. However, I believe his insistent denial of theological intent indicates that he was aware that his thought had profound and massive implications for theology. My belief is that he will turn out to be the most important theologian of the twentieth century.

Secondly, most educated people, including theologians, have a nodding acquaintance with some Jungian insights. The concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious, for example, have entered the mainstream of modern thought. Many theologians mention Jung. Some take him seriously. Very few, however, have digested him at depth.

Dr. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was the son of a Protestant minister. As such, he became acutely aware of the theological dilemmas his father was unable to resolve. Jung saw that his father’s theology and preaching was disconnected from life. He would later refer to such talk as pious non-sense. Even then it was becoming evident that traditional or orthodox Christianity had ceased to be a living faith. We can understand Carl Jung’s life and work as his attempt to resolve the issues that stymied his father.

Carl Jung has been called the psychiatrist of Christianity. It is as if he put Christianity on the couch and worked through to an authentic Christian reality that lays a foundation for a whole new understanding of religions in general and Christianity in particular. In the process he became one of the major influences in changing the way the western world thinks. In fact, for me, the two greatest minds of the western world in the twentieth century were Dr. Albert Einstein, who introduced a new understanding of the outer world (the universe) and Dr. Carl Jung, who created a pathway or map into the inner world of the collective unconscious or
objective psyche.

Jung spent his life coming to terms with and exploring the reality and power of the psyche. The psyche was, for him, the creative world from which myths evolve, god images take form, archetypes do their work, religions live, individual selves have their source, all serving the effort of the psyche to become conscious. For him, the psyche was a living reality with a will of its own. He understood his own life as a product of the Psyche’s intent. The opening words of his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections are, “My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious.”

He saw human beings as small specks of emerging consciousness floating on the vast ocean of the unconscious. Somewhere deep within each of us is a self whose aim is to bring into reality the unique range of potentials that are ours. We are individual expressions of the large Self, the central archetype of the psyche whose goal is to become aware. As individuals our task is to incarnate our personal self and in the process do our part in bringing the large Self or psyche to wholeness.

Jung points out that in our experience we cannot distinguish between the Self and God. I think that this was Jung’s way of saying that, as far as he could understand it, the Self is God. He was not prepared to make such a claim since he was speaking from his experience as a psychiatrist and not as a theologian. The implication, however, is obvious.

To say that the Self, the psyche, is in the process of becoming conscious is also to say that God is becoming conscious. This turns on its head the idea that God is an all-knowing, all-wise creature directing the affairs of the universe and of humanity. It seems that consciousness can happen in the psychic realm only as it happens in the material/human realm. Humanity is a vehicle of God’s self-awareness. It must happen on earth before it can happen in heaven.

Jung spells this out in Answer to Job using the Judeo/Christian tradition as his source material. Answer to Job is Jung’s reinterpretation of the biblical mythos. Yahweh is the god-image of the Hebrew people. The Bible is the story of Yahweh’s journey to consciousness resulting from the journey to consciousness of the Hebrew and then the Christian people. Only as Yahweh was forced to contend with human consciousness did “he” become conscious.

We can liken divine, or psychic, yearning for consciousness to an intuitive awareness, a knowing of something that is not yet fully experienced. The fulfilling experience that brings conscious awareness to God comes through God’s interaction with humanity. Our consciousness is the mirror in which divinity (the psyche) becomes aware of its need to grow. Humanity is always one small step ahead of divinity.

The story line is quite simple. The mythic Eve started the ball rolling by eating the fruit of knowledge, awareness, consciousness. After considerable time, Job, in the mind of the writer, became strong enough to take God on and hold God accountable. This was such a shock to Yahweh that “he” had to become human in order to understand these humans. The result was Jesus, the completely mature, conscious, aware human. The next step, prefigured in the book of Revelation and being lived out in history, is for the whole of humanity to grow to “the fullness of the stature of Christ.”

In Aion Jung traces the evolution of human consciousness from the very beginning to the present time. He begins by outlining his understanding of the dynamics of the individual psyche and how it develops through the tension of the opposites. He then focuses on historical data from the Christian west during the astrological age of Pisces. Since Pisces begins with the birth of Jesus and ends about now with the dawning of the age of Aquarius, Aion is mainly an inner or psychic history of Christianity, a counterpoint to the outer or orthodox history. Jung sees the Self struggling to come to consciousness through Jesus, the Christ myth, the gnostics, the mystics, the alchemists, and finally through the scientific materialism of the modern age.

Jung, writing in the nineteen fifties, had great fears for the future of western civilization. He saw the modern scientific mind-set as an honouring of the material world but at the cost of separating us from our history and our inner selves. The resulting loss of soul produces a reverting to tribalism, violence and greed – which is continuing apace. He might be encouraged by the rise of the spiritual, the feminine, the global community and all the signs of the age of Aquarius which have come to the fore since his time. There is now some glimmer that we are moving from being fish swimming in the water of the unconscious (the sign of Pisces) to being carriers of the water of consciousness (the sign of Aquarius.)

Jung believed that we must not abandon our traditions but transform them. We have come from what has gone before. Our psyches have been formed by the Christian West, whether we are Christian or not, and will evolve out of it. Jung has given us a perspective from outside the box of Christianity to help us with the process. By exploring Christianity as one example of the evolving of human consciousness – all religions being pathways to consciousness – he has given us a new way of understanding Christianity and all religions, and a new myth which can give meaning to our lives.

Jung names the myth individuation. Its essence is that the purpose of human life is to create consciousness. In the fifteen billion year evolving of our universe we have now become partners in the process of creation. Our experience of mortal life brings us a level of consciousness, individually and collectively, and in the process brings a measure of awareness to the psyche, the collective unconscious, the Self, God. Could there be any higher purpose for our lives and for the whole human enterprise?

In this time when we are all involved in transformation, against the background of an Armageddon world struggle, our survival may well depend upon how quickly and how completely we can become water carriers, the carriers of consciousness. The age of Aquarius beckons.

Reading, meditating upon and inwardly digesting Dr. Carl Gustav Jung is not easy. However, we cut off our noses to spite our faces if we fail to engage the wisdom of this seminal thinker who took the deepest of modern western plunges into the unconscious and brought up vistas of a new world of possibility.

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