Monday, May 23, 2011

Carl Jung: Mankind's Relilgious Impulse

Carl G. Jung
The great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, was both psychoanalyst and social critic, as the video embedded, below, attests. He saw society suffering from its own neuroses, and felt that the individual could only come to terms with such outer neuroses, by developing psychological knowledge of his inner being, with all its mythological and religious significance.

Writing in his small but essential book, "The Undiscovered Self," Jung observed:
"Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors."

"The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own to the physical and moral blandishments of the world. For this he needs the evidence of inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass."

"Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational."

"(A) natural function which has existed from the beginning, like the religious function, cannot be disposed of with rationalistic and so-called enlightened criticism," Jung observed. "You can, of course, represent the doctrinal contents of the creeds as impossible and subject them to ridicule, but such methods miss the point and do not hit the religious function which forms the basis of the creeds."

Because of this, Jung, writing at the height of the Cold War, warned of the evil warping of the religious impulse by the deification of the state. In today's world, it is perhaps not so much the deification of the state that poses the biggest challenge to the exercise of one's religious impulse, but consumerism, materialism, religious and economic fundamentalism and apathy.

Nonetheless, Jung's recognition that we have within us the potential and need for inner transcendent experience remains a timely message. For, as Jung observed, it is the collective psyche of mankind that still poses the biggest threat to our survival, a point he noted long before anyone suspected or seriously projected the existential Malthusian challenges of over-population, desertification, global hunger, species extinction and massive global warming that now threaten our very survival. Thus, before he died in 1961, Jung observed that mankind creates its own greatest challenges. "We," he famously said, "are the origin of all coming evil."

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