Friday, October 19, 2007

Carl Jung and Christianity: Frankenstein or Marriage

I recently received an email from someone asking me whether I thought Carl Jung's teachings were compatible with traditional Christianity and Gestalt Therapy. Here is my reply:

No matter how you look at it, Jungian psycho-spirituality is not compatible in any way, shape or form with mainline Christianity.
Jung was a Gnostic. See the article by Conservative apologist and ex-teacher of mine, Doug Groothuis who wrote The Constructive Curmudgeon: Beware of Carl Jung. Groothuis observes that Jung's "overall world view was Gnostic and anti-Christian. Therefore, a Jungian analyst would not be able to help [a Christian] work through her difficulties in accord with her own Christian beliefs. In fact, such a view could do much harm to her soul." This is a typical Christian analysis of Jung. I am not of that opinion, but remind folks that we often need to start over rather than construct a spiritual Frankenstein from parts collected out of the world's psycho-spiritual cemeteries. You cannot place a Jungian head on an Orthodox Christian corpse. You end up with a monster.

In about 1916, Jung received personal inner visions which were written down as the Seven Sermons to the Dead under the pseudonym Basilides of Alexandria. His whole psychological system grew from these visions. Over the years, Jung regularly consulted his inner archetypal psychic voice named Philemon, or one of the 'little people' as he called them. This practice came to be a therapeutic tool called Active Imagination, and traditional Christians call it demon possession. Jung's psychology was more compatible with the Gnostics and their gospels than what came to be called the canonical gospels, though he found gnosis potentially in all psychically generated art and literature.

Jung did not believe in 'the devil.' He proposed a Quaternity rather than a Trinity, suggesting from his study of the dynamic and developing structure of the human psyche that Satan/Evil/Shadow needs to be part of the Godhead (God-image) along with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and I agree. Many Christians do not know that this was an inclination in some early Christians like Origen, or that the Hebrew Bible in general viewed Elohim and Shatan as co-creators (cf. Shatan as a verb used of God rather than a noun designating a separate being as in Numbers 22). Jung's book, Answer to Job, proved to traditional Christians once and for all that Jung was no friend of Orthodox Christianity when it came to evil and the devil.

When it comes to Jungians versus 'Gestaltians', many Jungians find benefit in all psychotherapeutic teachings. They see Gestalt Therapy as beneficial in moving the client from the past and into the present. Gestalt Therapy in its most basic form is described by Joel Latner, "...gestalt therapy is built around two central ideas: that the most helpful focus of psychology is the experiential present moment and that everyone is caught in webs of relationships; thus, it is only possible to know ourselves against the background of our relation to other things." Gestalt also helps remind us that the soul is not comprised of just an ego that needs curing or saving, but of myriad living imagistic archetypes in complex internal structural relationships as they form a Soul or Self.

Those of us in recovery also need to be reminded that what we see in others is the shadow in ourselves, the unconscious aspects of the Self trying to emerge. When I am on a campaign to destroy or denigrate, which I frequently am, it is inevitably something in me that is clawing its way out of the inner psychic chrysalis toward butterflydom.

My point was not necessarily to quibble over doctrines, biblical or otherwise. I see the Psyche or Soul as the mediator of Spirit and Matter, working to blend the Infinite Realm of Spirit with the finite realm of matter, with an aim to making fascinating souls or Selves of each of us, and collectively. All metaphysics with their sacred texts, complicated institutions and fascinating rites are simply human experiences turned into exalted systems. When Jesus told his followers to "leave father and mother and sister and brother" behind, he was saying that there are times the old systems no longer serve. It is time to change, move on. That doesn not necessarily mean we were 'wrong', but that it is time to take the next step. Some of us may have to lose the old familiar label "Christian" in order to follow Christ, ironically.

No comments: