Carl Jung- Reconciling Science and Religion.
“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to Hell”.
Carl Gustav Jung was a terrifying thinker. His ability to interpret and understand his own dreams and visions with such vivid clarity is something that is extremely rare. Born in 1875 in Kesswil (a small municipality north-east of Zurich), Jung was a lonely, introverted child. But he possessed a colourful and incredibly insightful imagination. Indeed, it can be argued that if it were not for the power of Jung’s imagination, he would not have made the discoveries about the human psyche that he did.
Jung possessed a distinct ability to utilise his imagination to delve deep into his own psyche, first into his personal unconscious, and then deeper into the collective unconscious that lay below. It was through stripping away these superficial layers of conscious society that enabled Jung to analyse the underbelly of society, looking upon it from beneath. At that depth, Jung was able to view the axiomatic, primordial currents of thought and culture that stretched across society for thousands of years; some stretching for as long as humans have existed in modern, civilised form. This ability, paired with his incredible understanding and knowledge of world religions, alchemy, the occult, ancient mythology, and culture, enabled Jung to identify such chronological currents — currents which anyone else would have missed or have been unable to see.
According to Jung, modern mankind was in search for his soul. After experiencing the atrocities and quagmires of the 20th century — Fascism and Communism alike — Jung stated that the greatest danger to mankind was man himself. The only solution was to become more conscious. According to Jung, mankind had “forgotten how to live the symbols in ourselves”. In other words, mankind had forgotten, whether by ignorance or blind innocence, the very axioms of historical culture that our societies depend upon for stability. Influenced by Nietzsche in this regard, Jung agreed with the German philosopher when he wrote,
“God is Dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him”.
Jung realised that what Nietzsche meant by this was that man had forgotten the very clear fact that Western civilisation had been built and buttressed upon Judeo-Christian foundations. Therefore, to uproot this and assert that man himself was God was a very dangerous action on the part of mankind in the late 19th Century. This void was to be filled, as Nietzsche predicted, by either pointless Nihilism or extreme ideology.
Jung continued and developed Nietzsche’s argument. He argued that if the value hierarchy of Western civilisation (of which the Judeo-Christian religion was the cornerstone) collapsed, then people would lose all meaning in their lives. And, like Nietzsche, Jung believed that this would be catastrophic for society. The course of the 20th Century only served to validate these predictions.
Jung was clearly a religious man; heavily influenced by Christianity in particular. When asked in an interview in 1959: “Do you now believe in God?”, Jung replied
“now? [It’s] Difficult to answer. I know. I don’t need to believe. I know”.
Through studying and exploring many past and present religions and mythologies, Jung came to the conclusion that the deities of such religions and mythologies were not just supernatural and improvable entities, but instead were representations of ancient instinctual systems, emotions and temperaments that lay deep within mankind’s subconscious mind. Prior to Jung, the field of psychology determined that it was the individual that governed and held autonomy over such emotions and instincts. However, Jung pointed out, through deep contemplation on the matter, that the roles should be reversed.
Such instinctual systems were not governed by the individual — rather, it was the instinctual systems that governed the individual. Jung accredited this reversal in power to the fact that such instinctual systems have existed since the beginning of mankind, and in similar forms long before mankind ever existed. The instinctual emotional systems of mammalians, vertebrates, and even some invertebrates all share similar correlation. Now whilst it must be said at this point that correlation is not causation, there is something to be said for the distinct connection between even the earliest instinctual systems of crustaceans and modern man. The fact is that these emotions and instincts which every individual possesses are primordial. In fact, they are not just primordial — they are the very rudiments of organismal life on Earth.
Furthermore, Jung asserted that the human experience, as it is consciously manifested by each of us, is structured by such underlying patterns of behaviour that are specific to mankind, but as previously stated, are similarly shared with animals. Upon this schema of behavioural patterns, Jung argued, sits a realm of imagistic and symbolic representations of such patterns that appear to mankind both through the unconscious part of our psyches, and also through conscious representations such as modern drama, movies, and entertainment. For example, from the Jungian perspective, a movie is a mere representation of characteristic behaviour patterns extending across a certain amount of time, condensed into a two-hour production. Such behaviour patterns can be more or less accurately distilled in such productions, but in large part, the same patterns always exist. There is always a protagonist and antagonist — a hero and a villain — and it can be easily determined as to which is which, since the patterns of behaviour which we call ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are kept largely distinct and separate.
Jung’s insistence on maintaining these value hierarchies which have existed and been developed for thousands of years, and how these hierarchies relate closely to ancient patterns of situational behaviour and/or mythological and religious deities, can be seen clearly in the ancient Greek, and the even more ancient Mesopotamian (Babylonian), creation myths. Here is a very basic summary of the two creation myths from both ancient religions:
· Greek — From Chaos came Gaia, the Earth. Gaia then brings forth Ouranos, the heavens. The two then create the Titans, who in turn create the Olympians. However, the Titan Cronus fears he will be deposed by his own children and so eats five of his six children. The sixth child, Zeus, escapes, only to return later and slay Cronus, releasing his five siblings from Cronus’ stomach. They then wage war on and defeat the Titans, and Zeus becomes ruler of the Olympians.
· Mesopotamian — In the beginning, there were only two deities. They were Abzu (freshwater) and Tiamat (saltwater). They were embraced in a chaotic mixture, with no land between the two. The two then separate and create the deities. However, Abzu plots to destroy the other gods, but is killed by Ea. Tiamat learns of this and declares war on the other gods. Ea’s son, Marduk (the equivalent of Zeus) single-handedly defeats Tiamat, and with her body creates the world. Marduk then becomes king of the Gods.
These two mythologies existed almost side-by-side, and so it is not surprising that their creation myths are similar. Both creation myths begin with chaos. From that chaos, order (in the form of deities) is created. But in that order, the original creators decide to wage war. Their offspring defeats them, and from that chaotic state, create the world and a new order. The underlying theme therefore in such creation myths is a continuous cycle of chaos and order.
Even in such monotheistic creation stories, such as the Christian myth, the same underpinnings apply:
· Christian: God creates the world from nothing (chaos) and then creates man and woman, or Adam and Eve (the first humans, and so they can be seen as quasi-deities). From this, Adam and Eve are tempted and tricked by the devil, an original deity (and so a second state of chaos ensues, as Adam and Eve challenge God himself in their sinful act). Order is then restored later by Jesus Christ, who restores order and essentially replaces God as the de-facto monotheistic deity (even though God still exists, after Christ’s appearance he takes a more distant position).
Jung’s overarching desire throughout his entire academic career was to re-establish a relationship between religio-mythological theologies, and empirical science. He believed that if it were not for the underpinnings which ancient religions, mythologies, and natural philosophies provided, then modern science and society as we know it would never have existed in the from it does today. Jung believed that if we allow ourselves to forget the past, and instead proclaiming that “God is dead!”, as Nietzsche so poignantly stated, we are determined to destroy our own present and future.
Words by William Cooper.