Friday, June 24, 2011

Carl Jung: Religious Experience and the Unconscious

According to the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung - the "Einstein of the mind" - the individual is born with an inherent disposition that becomes masked by the ego as he or she matures. And it is only by penetrating through the ego's mask that he or she discovers what and who she is. The danger, however, is that in doing so one will inevitably find a certain kind of madness.

In the lengthy video interview, attached, Jung observes that
"Man has a certain pattern that makes him specifically human, and no man is born without it." 
"We are only deeply unconscious of these facts" Jung notes, "because we live all by our senses and outside of ourselves. If a man could look into himself, he could discover it. And when a man discovers it, in our days, he thinks he's crazy . . . and really crazy."
Jung's view was that without some real, inner religious experience, the madness of the human ego could and would drive the individual actor to the depths of madness, a view that is readily understandable given the collective insanity witnessed by Jung during the first half of the twentieth-century. In candid correspondence written in the last year of his life, Jung observed:
"I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world, leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouse so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible."*
Carl G. Jung
The existential question for Jung, then, was: "Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving into the crowd?"

"To this question," he remarked, "there is a positive answer only when the individual is willing to fulfill the demands of rigorous self-examination and self-knowledge. If he follows through his intention, he will not only discover some important truths about himself, but will also have gained a psychological advantage: he will have succeeded in deeming himself worthy of serious attention and sympathetic interest. He will have set his hand, as it were, to a declaration of his own human dignity and taken the first step towards the foundations of his consciousness - that is, towards the unconscious, the only accessible source of religious experience."

"This is not to say," Jung cautions, "that what we call the unconscious is identical with God or is set up in his place. It is the medium from which the religious experience seems to flow. As to what the further cause of such an experience may be, the answer to this lies beyond the range of human knowledge. Knowledge of God is a transcendental problem."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self, pp. 101-102]

* Letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson (co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous), dated January 30, 1961. Jung died on June 6, 1961.

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