Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jung on Self and God

Few of Jung’s ideas have enlisted as much interest and controversy both within and beyond psychology as Jung’s equation of the God archetype with the Self. Especially in his later works, Jung is careful to point out that this equation is purely psychological in nature and he means to imply nothing about the nature of an actual metaphysical deity, the existence of which, Jung says, is beyond the scope of his purely empirical inquiry. Such disclaimers, however, have not deterred others from reading between the lines and deriving from Jung the view that in our own time the transcendent God has died and divinity has been reborn in mankind (Altizer), that Jung adopted an almost solipsistic Gnosticism in which God is discovered through an immersion in the self rather than through an “I-thou” encounter with others (Buber), or even that Jung created an oral tradition, parallel to his writings, that set himself up as a spiritual prophet and incarnation of the deity (Noll). Readers of the Red Book will find support for and against each of these positions, as the relationship between self and God is a pervasive theme in this work. In this post I will provide a brief survey of aspects of the God/Self theme in the Red Book, making some limited references to Jung’s treatments of this theme in Psychological Types and other works.

In the Red Book Jung states in no uncertain terms, “Through uniting with the self we reach God” (338), and this seems to confirm Buber’s allegation of "gnosticism, "i.e. a finding of God through interiority as opposed to an I-thou encounter with others. Jung says that this discovery was both “unexpected and unwanted.” He is convinced that it is not a deception, and that if he is deceived, the deceiver is his God, and “the God is in the deception.” He is certain of its truth, and “No insight or objection is so strong that it could surpass the strength of this experience. He acknowledges that even he himself could explain away his experience with a “theory,” but no theory could even dent his certainty that he has experienced God through uniting with the self.

The notion that God is discovered through a journey into one’s own soul is expressed in multiple ways throughout the Red Book. Early on, Jung asserts that he discovered that “…the depths in me was at the same time the ruler of the depths of world affairs” (231). In various places, Jung affirms that a god is born out of an embrace with oneself (245). This is true for our own time, a time that has witnessed the death of the old “father” God: “Are we not sons of the Gods? Why should Gods not be our children? If my father the God should die, a God child should arise from my maternal heart” (286).”

Parallel to the death of God is the death of the hero. Jung repeatedly affirms that man can no longer look to model himself on a hero, but must forge his own way. “The image of the hero was set up…through the appetite for imitation. Therefore the hero was murdered, since we all have been aping him” (249). With the death of God and the hero, one must descend into one’s “worst and…deepest” and become one’s own creator (249). In the process, “It belongs to this mystery that man is not redeemed through the hero, but becomes a Christ himself” (254). Further, “The new God laughs at imitation and discipleship. He needs no imitators and no pupils. He forces men through himself. The God is his own follower in man. He imitates himself” (245).

Interestingly, in discussing his remark in the Red Book that one reaches God by uniting with the self, Jung asserts that only a sick mind could produce such an experience and conviction. He says that in arriving at this insight he himself is like one who has been overcome by a delusion, adding, “I experience the God in sickness. A living God afflicts our reason like a sickness.” Such a God brings intoxication and chaos. Indeed, according to Jung, God is our “heaviest wound” and “appears as our sickness from which we must heal ourselves.”

Jung’s musings here bring to mind his well known remark in his “Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower":

“The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world” (Golden Flower, p. 37).

This reflects Jung’s view that modern, rational man, having denied the validity of the gods and myths, has come to experience the psychic forces embodied by these spiritual archetypes as neurotic symptoms. It is this attitude of rational disbelief that Jung, in the 1929 “Commentary” says is “the shortest way to the insane asylum.” In the Red Book, however, Jung seems to be saying that his discovery that the gods are indeed aspects of the unconscious, is itself a “wound” that threatens one with insanity, an insanity from which one can heal oneself. It is in the process of this discovery and healing that one discovers one’s soul.

Jung makes a number of other varied remarks in the Red Book on the connection between self and God. In nearly all of them, however, the fate of God or “the gods” is in the hands of humanity, or in some instances, literally in the hands of Jung himself. As we have seen (in our earlier post on Jung’s tale of the god Izdubar), Jung describes himself as healing the wounded god by having him recognize that he is indeed a fantasy in the mind of man, a fantasy which, on Jung’s view, is paradoxically, the true “reality” of the divine. In describing this, however, Jung speaks of the tremendous power implied by the notion that the fate of the gods is in the hands of man:

“That is the demise of the Gods, man puts them in his pocket. That is the end of the story of the Gods. Nothing remains of the Gods other than an egg. And I possess this egg. Perhaps I can eradicate this last one and with this finally exterminate the race of Gods” (285).

Unlike Nietzsche, however, who had decided, in effect, to let the gods die, Jung chooses to give the gods new life with “incantations” and a theory of fantasy (images, archetypes).

Once reborn, Jung’s God takes on an independence from mankind: “The God of our work stands outside us and no longer needs our help. He is created and remains left to his own devices. A created work that perishes again immediately once we turn away from it is not worth anything, even if it were a God” (288).

At times in the Red Book, Jung speaks in almost Hegelian fashion of the “new God” being born through the spirit of mankind:

“Just as the disciples of Christ recognized that God had become flesh and lived among them as a man, we now recognize that the anointed of this time is a God who does not appear in the flesh; he is no man and yet is a son of man, but in spirit and not in flesh; hence he can be born only through the spirit of man as the conceiving womb of the God” (298).

In any event, Man is a “gateway through which the procession of the Gods passes” (354). Jung’s guide, Philemon, informs him that the dead believe “in the transformation and development of man,” that that they know that “man even creates its Gods,” and as such “the Gods were of no use.” This, of course sounds like the modernist/rationalist position which Jung later criticized as resulting in neurotic complexes. However, Philemon clarifies that the dead had to learn “that man is a gateway through which crowds the train of the Gods and the coming and passing of all times” (354). Jung’s ultimate position on this question is that while man might be said to create the gods, such creation is not a fabrication in order to fulfill an infantile psychological wish or atone for one's guilt (Freud) but rather a spontaneous creative act stemming from the deepest, and thus most meaningful, recesses of the collective unconscious. The gods are, in effect, an archetypical collective fantasy of humanity, and for this reason are as psychically (or phenomenologically) real as the so-called objective world.

The view that man creates God has precedent in several mystical traditions. For example, amongst the Gnostics, with whose writings Jung was deeply involved during the period of the Red Book, we find the claim that “God created men, and men created God. So is it also in the world, since men created gods and worship them as their creations it would be fitting that gods should worship men ("Rudolf, Gnosis, p. 93). A similar point of view is expressed in the classical Kabbalistic text, the Zohar, where we read “He who “keeps” the precepts of the Law and “walks” in God’s ways, if one may say so, “makes” Him who is above” (Zohar III, 113a. Sperling and Simon trans., Vol. 5, p. 153). Finally, in Psychological Types, Jung writes that for the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, God is identical to the human soul, quoting Eckhart’s pronouncements that “man is truly God, and God is truly man,” (Psych. Types, par. 416) and “So much…is God in the soul, that his whole divine nature depends on her” (p. 246).

Jung provides a rather sophisticated theological formulation of the relationship between self and God in a letter written on February 19, 1919 to Joan Corrie, and quoted in a footnote by the Red Books editors:

“The primordial creator of the world, the blind creative libido, becomes transformed in man through individuation & out of this process, which is like pregnancy, arises a divine child, a reborn God, no more (longer) dispersed into the millions of creatures, but being one & this individual, and at the same time all individuals, the same in you as in me” (354, n. 123).

While there are passages in the Red Book that might support Noll’s charge that Jung sought to deify himself (as when Jung writes of a vision in which Salome informs him, “You are Christ,” p. 252), on the whole, in the Red Book, as elsewhere, we find Jung formulating with the idea of a divine image or archetype, accessible to all men, which provides those who make the requisite interior journey, profound spiritual meaning.

More serious, however, is Martin Buber’s charge that it is just such an “interior journey” that cuts Jung off from an encounter with divine in the form of the “Eternal thou.” Indeed, in the Red Book, Jung writes that “you produce the divine son in your embrace with yourself” (245), and that “The touchstone is being alone with oneself” (330). While there are certainly places in the Red Book, where he extols love (233. 315, 323, 327, 344), he seems to have difficulty with the notion of what Buber spoke of as an “I –thou” encounter. Jung writes:

“two things have yet to be discovered. The first is the infinite gulf that separates us from one another. The second is the bridge that could connect us” (289).

Jung’s journey in the Red Book is nothing if not a creative quest inward for God, meaning and soul, and indeed, it could be argued that the road-map to such a quest is the unique contribution of both the Red Book and Jungian psychology as a whole. However, we might wonder if a complement or perhaps even an alternative to such a quest is the discovery of meaning through the passions for and encounters and exchanges with, our fellow humans, the very passions, encounters, and exchanges that comprise our intimate, family, and social existence.

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