Jung on God: Key Features

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.


Jung on God: Key Features

“… the unconscious… Although declared to be the devil by the early Christians, it should not be identified outright with evil; it merely has the uncomfortable quality of being beyond good and evil, and it gives this perilous quality to anyone who identifies with it, as we can see from the eloquent case of Nietzsche and the psychic epidemic that came after him….”[1]

“Whenever, therefore, in an excess of affect, in an emotionally excessive situation, I come up against a paradoxical fact or happening, I am in the last resort encountering an aspect of God, which I cannot judge logically and cannot conquer because it is stronger than me—because, in other words, it has a numinous quality and I am face to face with what Rudolf Otto calls the tremendum and fascinosum. I cannot ‘conquer’ a numinosum, I can only open myself to it, let myself be overpowered by it, trusting in its meaning. …”[2]

“The authenticity of one’s own experience of nature against the authority of tradition is a basic theme of Paracelsan thinking.”[3]

“Only psychic existence is immediately verifiable. To the extent that the world does not assume the form of a psychic image, it is virtually non-existent. … But Schopenhauer [was able to see this because he] was influenced by Buddhism and by the Upanishads.”[4]

“… the dualism of the Gnostic systems makes sense, because they at least try to do justice to the real meaning of evil.”[5]

“The art of letting things happen, action through non-action, letting go of oneself as taught by Meister Eckhart, became for me the key that opens the door to the way. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche….”[6]


Intellectually precocious as he was, Jung was barely in his teens when he began searching for confirmation of his experience of God and the insights it brought him.[7] Initially he felt stymied. None of the conversations of his clergymen relatives gave him any comfort: None of them knew anything about what, to Jung, was the true nature of God,[8] and “rummaging”[9] through his father’s library brought no help either. It was long on theology (frustrating) and short on philosophy (since philosophers “were suspect because they thought”).[10] Jung needed independent thinkers, and it was about five years before he finally began to find “historical analogues”[11] for the intuitions he had been experiencing since his memorable vision in 1886.

In this essay we examine some of these “historical analogues.” Our purpose here is not to provide a history of Jung’s intellectual development, but something much more modest: To highlight and clarify some of the key points in Jung’s sense of religion, and the sources he found that confirmed and amplified his own experiences of the Divine.

Jung was still a schoolboy when he formed some key conclusions about God and religion. These (which will be explained below) include:

  • God is an overpowering figure
  • that Christianity is one-sided in regarding God as only good
  • that dogma, creeds and other religious habits serve as blocks to experiencing God
  • that inner experience of God is important in standing up to authority and authorizing one’s own life

As he matured and experienced more of life, and read more widely, especially in esoteric literature, other ideas (nascent in the schoolboy) became more developed:

  • the importance of individuation: becoming who and what one is
  • that evil and the devil are real
  • that there are no moral absolutes
  • that there is value in all religious traditions
  • God is evident in many ways: visions, dreams, Nature, synchronicities etc.
  • that God is a process, an on-going relationship we have

Some ideas Jung was able to articulate and write about in depth later in his life:

  • that doubt and skepticism have value by revealing the weakness of faith or belief
  • that we need to abandon ourselves utterly to God
  • that God will grant us “glimpses into His own being”
  • that God needs man
  • that the old forms of religion no longer hold truth for most people

These 15 ideas provide the essence of Jung’s sense of religion, and he found plenty of confirmation for them in a variety of sources beyond his own personal experience.

God is an overpowering figure. Unable to sleep, tortured for days, tormented by the pressure of the thought he knew he should not allow into consciousness, the eleven-year-old Jung experienced this feature of the Divine,[12] but no one he knew seemed aware of this, until, several years later, he encountered the writings of Meister Eckhart.[13] Jung felt “the breath of life”[14] when he read this thirteenth/fourteenth-century German mystic. Eckhart recognized that “When… the soul is in God it is not ‘blissful,’ for when this organ of perception is overwhelmed by the divine dynamis it is by no means a happy state….”.[15]

Years later, Jung found further confirmation of his experience in the research of the scholar of religious history, Rudolf Otto.[16] Not content to analyze creeds and rituals in different religions, Otto sought what it meant to experience the Holy, and in 1917 he published a work, Das Heilige, that described an encounter with God as a “… mysterium tremendum,… ‘absolute unapproachability’… yet a further element… must be added, that, namely, of ‘might,’ ‘power,’ ‘absolute overpoweringness’.”[17] Jung later used the word Otto coined—numinosum[18]—to describe the Divine, in his definition of religion:

“Religion, as the Latin word denotes, is a careful and scrupulous observation of what Rudolf Otto aptly termed the numinosum, that is, a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On the contrary, it seizes and controls the human subject, who is always rather its victim than its creation. The numinosum—whatever its cause may be—is an experience of the subject independent of his will….”[19]

Meister Eckhart was not the only historical figure to experience the numinosum.  While immersed in his alchemical studies Jung encountered the “Holy Ghost movement”[20] and its major spokesman, Joachim of Fiore, a twelfth-century Italian monk, mystic and philosopher of history.[21] Joachim developed a “trinitarian philosophy of history”[22] involving the three persons of the Trinity in a time structure of three ages. Jung found Joachim’s ideas intriguing, and his writings suggestive of his experience of the numinosum:

“… we might hazard the conjecture that a new status was secretly anticipated in Joachim himself. Consciously, of course, he thought he was bringing the status of the Holy Ghost into reality,… But, unconsciously—and this is psychologically what probably happened—Joachim could have been seized by the archetype of the spirit. There is no doubt that his activities were founded on a numinous experience, …”[23].

Joachim and Eckhart lived it, and Jung’s contemporary Rudolf Otto described and coined a word for God’s overpowering quality.

That Christianity is one-sided. As the son of a pastor, Jung grew up knowing he should not take the Lord’s name in vain:[24] blasphemy was wrong. So he resisted with all his might the blasphemous vision of the turd falling on Basel cathedral. When he reflected on this experience, which certainly was not something he consciously willed, Jung came to conclude that the concept of God he had been taught was too small, in its insistence that God is only good. God must contain both good and bad.[25]

This itself seemed a blasphemous thought, but Jung found confirmation from many quarters. Some of the pre-Socratic philosophers (especially Pythagoras[26] and Heraclitus[27]) wrote of reality as “… pairs of opposites, the division into odd and even, above and below, good and evil.”[28] Centuries later the Gnostics[29] developed a dualistic theology which Jung felt “… makes sense, because they at least try to do justice to the real meaning of evil.”[30] The Manichaeans also had an “Evil One.”[31] Pythagoras and Heraclitus were pagans, and the Gnostics and Manichaeans had been declared heretics by the early Church Fathers: they could be dismissed by Christian apologists. Not so with Martin Luther.[32] Jung noted that Luther “… recognized that God was not always good; unlike the modern theologians he allowed for a Deus absconditus, a concealed or veiled god that is a receptacle for all the evil deeds, all the terrible things which happen in the world.”[33] Jung identified the Deus absconditus with the unconscious (for that was where his impious vision came from), and he noted many years later that

“… Although declared to be the devil by the early Christians, it [the unconscious] should not be identified outright with evil; it merely has the uncomfortable quality of being beyond good and evil, and it gives this perilous quality to anyone who identifies with it, as we can see from the eloquent case of Nietzsche and the psychic epidemic that came after him….”[34]

Friedrich Nietzsche[35] made the fatal error of thinking he was Christ—that is, identifying with a numinous archetype—and the result was that he became insane.

As he listened to his pastor relatives’ discussions, and later on, when he had become more familiar with Western philosophy, Jung identified another way in which Christianity is one-sided: its rationalism.[36] Western civilization puts a premium on logic and rationality, and in the field of theology this leads to disputations, tomes full of ponderous concepts and a variety of creeds, each claiming to

“… possess the unique and perfect truth. Each creed claims this prerogative, hence the general disagreement! This is not very helpful. Something must be wrong. I think it is the immodesty of the claim to god-almightiness of the believers, which compensates their inner doubt. Instead of basing themselves upon immediate experience they believe in words for want of something better….”[37]

Jung found support for his view of religion as something non-rational in the work of the Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus,[38] and in the 19th century German philosopher Schopenhauer.[39] Paracelsus’ concepts were the result “not of rational reflection but of intuitive introspection,”[40] and Schopenhauer felt reason “… has only one function, the forming of concepts,…”.[41] Since our human reason is limited, we can never hope to understand the Divine.

In my own experience working with students at the Jungian Center, I have witnessed this reliance on the ego-mind, with its penchant for reasoning. I am constantly having to remind students that the workings of the psyche, the realm of the unconscious, and the source of dreams are not to be “figured out.” This is not the stuff of “head trips” or rational argument. But our culture’s one-sidedness makes it very hard for us to get out of our heads and be comfortable in the “cloud of unknowing.”[42]

That dogma, creeds and other religious habits serve as blocks to experiencing God. Jung witnessed hundreds of sermons and discussions among his relatives, but at no time did any of these events give him the sense that these men had had an experience of God.[43] They could talk a lot but it just seemed to be words—knowledge of “what is outside,…”.[44] That the psyche might be a source of knowledge of God, real “gnosis” or “knowing” in the sense of experiencing the Divine, was something the churchmen seemed to be oblivious about. But Jung found this understanding in the Gnostics, which he read in the years 1909-1916.[45]

As the name “Gnostic” implies, this two-thousand-year-old movement[46] put an emphasis on personal experience of God—epiphanies, visions, intuitions, revelations—the sort of thing that befell Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.[47] Such life-transforming experiences created people who no longer believed in God, because they had come to know God. But such people (then and now) are very hard to control, so the Church “very soon opposed them and whenever possible suppressed them.”[48] Gnosticism came to be regarded as a heresy by the early Church Fathers.[49] Jung notes how hard church officials worked to stamp out any form of personal awareness of the Divine:

“… we see in early Christianity how the bishops zealously strove to stamp out the activity of the individual unconscious among the monks…. The archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria in his biography of St. Anthony gives us particularly valuable insights in this respect…. He warns them [the monks] how cleverly the devil disguises himself in order to bring saintly men to their downfall. The devil is, of course, the voice of the anchorite’s own unconscious, in revolt against the forcible suppression of his nature….”[50]

Mindful of Heraclitus’ concept of the enantiodromia (a “running counter to”)[51] Jung recognized that, the more a monk tried to suppress his natural urges, the more these urges would try to manifest and the more he would feel oppressed by the devil (i.e. the personification of his own unconsciousness).[52]

The twelfth-century Holy Ghost movement (whose “outstanding figure”[53] was Joachim of Fiore)[54] was another phenomenon that showed how dogma could block gnosis. The men involved here “identified themselves (or were identified) with God, … had a critical approach to the gospels, followed the promptings of the inner man, and understood the kingdom of heaven to be within….”[55] Jung conjectured that, in articulating the beliefs of the movement, Joachim must have “… felt it as a revelation of the Holy Ghost, whose life and procreative power no church could bring to a stop….”[56] But the Church certainly tried: It condemned both Joachim and the Holy Ghost movement.[57]

Besides the Gnostics and the Holy Ghosters, Jung found confirmation of his idea that church dogma hinders a person from experiencing God in the life and work of Paracelsus.[58] This Swiss physician recognized that the Church frustrated his work as a healer: The Church offered people powerful symbols but allowed them to be interpreted only in the “orthodox” or acceptable way,[59] which stripped the symbols of their full power to heal. If Paracelsus tried to use these symbols, his patients would immediately take them up in the limited way they had been taught. So Paracelsus had to abandon their use.

It should be noted here that Jung was aware that not everyone is up to having  personal experience of God, and the Church was serving a protective function in buffering people from the stress, overwhelment and disorientation that can result from such events.[60] But Jung also realized that times were changing, the old ways were weakening more and more in their appeal and relevance, as seen in falling church attendance (a trend that has been even more marked in the 50+ years since Jung’s death),[61] and new ways of engaging the “religious impulse” were aborning. (If you wish more on this, see my book The Spiritual Adventure of Our Time.

That inner experience of God is important in standing up to authority and authorizing one’s own life. This key principle in Jung’s thought follows from the previous: People who experience God for themselves are hard to control. Gnosis—their lived awareness of the Divine—gives them a certainty and security that more or less immunizes them from the fear, guilt, shame and vulnerability that officials would lay on them. Clerics can no longer insist on serving as intermediaries between the believer and God. The Church’s claim extra ecclesiam, nulla salus[62]—outside the church there is no salvation—has no traction with people who know God. Jung knew this. He wondered who else might have come to the same conclusion, and he found a variety of historical personages who did.

The Gnostics, of course, were one group, and Jung was so taken with their insights that, when the Gnostic texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945, Jung arranged to buy one of the codices and have it translated.[63] He saw in Gnostic thought many parallels to modern psychological insights,[64] and he understood why multiple church officials were so zealous in their efforts to stamp out Gnostic teachings.

Another figure supporting Jung’s view was Paracelsus, who had “a brutal passion for independence,”[65] and who, as “one of the fathers of modern science… did much to shake the authority of the ‘total’ Church….”[66] In relying on his own experience as a physician, Paracelsus challenged the authority of both the ancient physicians (like Galen) and his own contemporary academic doctors, going so far as to burn their textbooks![67] Jung noted that “The authenticity of one’s own experience of nature against the authority of tradition is a basic theme of Paracelsan thinking.”[68] and in his reliance on his own senses, Paracelsus did much to open “the way for the scientific investigation of nature and … to emancipate natural science from the authority of tradition.”[69]

Several generations after Paracelsus the German philosopher and student of Orientalism, Arthur Schopenhauer,[70] displayed the same independence of mind and reliance on his own experience. Jung found Schopenhauer’s ability to think independently

“… the more remarkable in that it was made at a time when the tremendous advance of the natural sciences had convinced everybody that causality alone could be considered the final principle of explanation.”[71]

Being influenced by Buddhism and the Upanishads,[72] Schopenhauer was able to stand against the prevailing view of mechanistic causality, to insist that non-rational forces are at the foundation of all creation and reality.[73] With this orientation, he came close to articulating the principle of synchronicity that Jung developed several generations later.[74]

The importance of individuation: becoming who and what one is. Jung appreciated Schopenhauer for more than his independent thinking. He was one of the first authors to write of the principium individuationis, the principle of individuation.[75]  Jung noted that “The persona is, in Schopenhauer’s words, how one appears to oneself and the world, but not what one is. What one is, is one’s individual self,…”[76] Stress on the persona results in loss of individual uniqueness, which to both Schopenhauer and Jung was not to be encouraged. Jung waxed long and hard about the evils of the “herd mentality,” and the social pressures to follow the crowd. “Mass man” was both dangerous and destructive.[77]

Friedrich Nietzsche recognized this too. He had a “violent reaction”[78] to how Western culture “had… strayed even further into the collective atmosphere so detrimental to individual development.”[79] Nietzsche might have come to this conclusion from his own megalomania, or from a knowledge of history, for there were earlier figures who expressed a concern for being true to oneself. Right in Basel, for example, 350 years earlier Paracelsus had an ethical demand that was explicit in its call for individuation: Alterius non sit, qui suus esse potest (That man no other man shall own, Who to himself belongs alone).[80] Likewise, the seventeenth-century poet Angelus Silesius[81] wrote of the need for human beings to be themselves:

“God is whate’er He is

I am what I must be;

If you know one, in sooth,

You know both Him and me.”[82]

Even as they share an identity with God.

That evil and the devil are real. Nothing exercised Jung as much as this point. He had lengthy and contentious arguments with Christian clerics about the orthodox position, the privatio boni, “the absence of good.”[83] Jung understood the history of this concept—how the early Church Fathers confronted both Gnostics and adherents of Manichaenism, with their belief in two gods, one of evil, one of good—and how this led orthodox theologians to go overboard in their desire to avoid these heresies.[84] The result? “the peremptory nullification of it [the reality of evil] by the Church fathers…”.[85] As an empiricist, this response made no sense to Jung at all. Personal experience, events in outer life, the sorry state of the world—on so many fronts we can see evil all around us. But the Church left it to the Gnostics to deal with the problem of evil.[86]

As was noted above, Jung had high regard for the Gnostics (leading some critics to label him a “Gnostic,” a label he refused to accept),[87] and for their willingness to discuss the problem of evil he gave them credit. Two Gnostic writers, Valentinus[88] and Basilides,[89] were, in Jung’s view,

“great theologians, who tried to cope with the problems raised by the inevitable influx of the collective unconscious, a fact clearly portrayed by the ‘gnostic’ gospel of St. John and by St. Paul, not to mention the Book of Revelation, and even by Christ himself (unjust steward and Codex Bezae to Luke 6:4)…..”[90]

By “the inevitable influx of the collective unconscious,” Jung refers to the common human experience of doing what one does not want to do, or of failing to do what one knows one should do: I’m dieting, yet I eat that piece of chocolate cake. I know I should get more exercise, but I choose to read a book instead. As St. Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”[91] Why is this? Why do we sabotage ourselves? The old saw says “The devil made me do it.” And Jung’s response to this would be that the “devil” is real, and lives within us, as part of our “shadow.”[92] Nobody likes to be reminded of this, and the Gnostics did not hesitate to write about it, with the result that “they caused the greatest offense…”[93] But they were honest, and Jung respected them for it. In his psychology Jung put a premium on self-awareness, and a big part of this task is wising up to our shadow side, and its capacity for evildoing.

That there are no moral absolutes. Religious orthodoxy has a whole host of moral absolutes—the “Thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, as well as other injunctions—which vary depending on the sect or religion. Rudolf Otto’s studies in comparative religions made this clear. Earlier figures, some from the Gnostics camp, others, like Friedrich Nietzsche acting independently, came to the same conclusion. The second century Gnostic school of Carpocrates,[94] for example, “taught that good and evil are merely human opinions…”[95] and the rebellious Nietzsche “shattered the ‘tables of values’ that cramp individuality….”.[96]

Does this mean that Jung had no values? That we can just “do what comes naturally,” regardless of the impact of our actions? Certainly not. Jung recognized that the human being “is a morally responsible being who, voluntarily or involuntarily, submits to the morality that he himself has created.”[97] We create moral systems, and, as the Gnostics said, “… In the end good and evil are human judgments, …”[98] From his work as a physician and psychiatrist, Jung came to understand that “what is good for one man is evil for another…”[99]

Following on from the previous key point—the reality of evil—Jung felt that modern people are “beginning to understand that out of evil comes good and out of good comes evil, the relativity of things.”[100] As an illustration of this point, I am reminded of our experience of Hurricane Irene some years ago. It caused tremendous destruction (an evil) and led to an upwelling of civic cooperation and esprit de corps (both good things) that few people had ever experienced. Likewise, the successful elimination of wolves in the American West years ago (what some thought was good) led to massive overpopulation of elk and habitat destruction (an evil).[101] We must be careful in our thinking about morality, ever mindful of the shadow within, and how it can skew our intentions and our judgment.

That there is value in all religious traditions. Jung came to this truth as an empiricist: He traveled widely, in every case making special efforts to learn about the religious traditions of the places he went: he met with African elders,[102] Native American medicine men,[103] and Hindus in India,[104] as well as having long conversations and correspondences with Jews, Protestant and Roman Catholic laymen and clergy.[105] He noted that he had “… Gnosis so far as I have immediate experience, and my models are greatly helped by the representations collectives of all religions….”[106] He could see the value in all creeds, and felt there was nothing to be gained by “cosmic vanity,”[107] i.e. one creed declaring it had the sole truth and all the others were wrong.

In his belief here Jung drew upon the model of Schopenhauer, who was a pioneer in cross-cultural philosophy. Few men in the West of his time (late eighteenth and early nineteenth century) took up the study of Hinduism and Buddhism.[108] Jung felt Schopenhauer was able to see the importance of the “psychic image”[109] because he “was influenced by Buddhism and by the Upanishads.”[110] Schopenhauer also understood the paradoxical implications of individuation: as we move more deeply into our unique individual nature, we become more aware of the unity of all beings, thus making us more open to wisdom from whatever quarter it might come, and less inclined to “ontological arrogance”[111] (the belief that ours is the only right answer).

God is evident in many ways: visions, dreams, Nature, synchronicities etc. Growing up in the country, Jung developed a keen sensitivity to natural beauty, and to the wonders of the natural world. All his life he loved being outdoors and took delight in the mountain vistas and spectacular scenery he found in his travels.[112] When he first read the earliest philosophers, with their talk of the anima mundi (the soul of the world), he took readily to the idea that we live in an “ensouled” reality.[113] His vision of the turd falling on the cathedral was not his only vision: throughout his life Jung had visions, some of them prophetic, e.g. the vision of Europe covered in blood foretelling the upcoming world war in 1914.[114]

Jung resonated with other visionaries, like Joachim of Fiore and Friedrich Nietzsche, whose visionary experiences were “… spontaneous, ecstatic,… without any ritual…”[115] for he knew that God can appear to anyone, independent of creed, sect, or background. Likewise with dreams: Any person may have a “big” dream, one of those memorable nocturnal encounters that reverberates throughout life. That such dreams produce evidence of God Jung knew from his work with thousands of patients, for such dreams heal and transform. I can attest to this myself, for my “voice-over” dreams[116] have been both transformative and healing in their creativity and redirection of my life.[117]

As for synchronicities, Jung knew how “acausal, meaningful coincidences”[118] can produce miracles. His account of the very rational woman patient whose analysis was going nowhere is pertinent here: She came to her session with a report of a dream the night before of a scarab beetle. Just as she related this to Jung, he heard a noise on his window, turned around, opened the window, and handed the woman a scarab beetle (not an insect commonly found in Zurich). That broke her rational attitude, and the analysis was able to progress.[119]

That God is a process, an on-going relationship we have. Most people, at least in the Western world, think of God as a being: Yahweh, Jehovah, Father, author of the Ten Commandments, etc. But drawing on his own experience, buttressed by the mystical insights of Meister Eckhart, Jung regarded the Divine as “a continual process. As a matter of fact, the process in question is a psychological one that unconsciously repeats itself almost continually, …”[120]

Both Eckhart and Jung recognized that “God, life at its most intense,… resides in the soul, in the unconscious”[121] when we take back our projection of libido from the outside God (i.e. the God-image that is “out there,” alien to us) and recognize the projection for what it was. By doing this, we internalize the Divine. The result is “… a feeling of intense vitality, a new potential.”[122] But, Jung went on,

“this does not mean that God has become completely unconscious in the sense that all idea of him vanishes from consciousness. It is as though the supreme value were shifted elsewhere, so that it is now found inside and not outside….”[123]

This image of God “inside” calls to mind Jesus’ words “… the kingdom of God is within you.”[124] Jesus certainly is an example of someone who recognized God as a process one lives with and within every moment.

A contemporary of Jung, the English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead,[125] was another figure who wrote about process. He developed the school of “process philosophy,”[126] which then inspired multiple theologians[127] to create “process theology,”[128] which, like Eckhart and Jung, conceives of the Divine in terms of ongoing creative processes.

That doubt and skepticism have value by revealing the weakness of faith or belief. In this, as in so many ways, Jung was an iconoclast. Religious convention is constantly exhorting followers to “Have faith! Don’t doubt!” The result is what the Anglican theologian Charles Davis[129] calls “the lust for certitude,” and he labels it as one of the four “temptations of religion.”[130] So many devout people hunger for something certain to grasp, not realizing that the more they quest for certitude, the more they stir up doubt within (another example of the enantiodromia).

Much better, Jung felt, would be for people to experience the Divine, rather than think about, read about, or sing praises to God in church. Experience builds pistis, “trust”[131] (which conventional translations of the New Testament Greek mistranslate as “belief”).[132] Jesus did not exhort his followers to believe: he urged them to trust, that is, to be loyal to their personal, lived experience of God.[133] Besides Jesus, Jung could look to Paracelsus as a paragon of skepticism, who was constantly doubting and criticizing the old medical authorities and the academic doctors of his day. As a medical practitioner, Paracelsus relied on alchemy, astrology and magic as “fervently as he did in divine revelation, since in his view they proceeded from the authority of the lumen naturae[134] (the light/illumination of Nature). Western culture long ago “disgodded the stars,”[135] so there are few people these days who recognize God in Nature, or the reality of the anima mundi (the World soul). As a result, of course, we suffer manifold forms of ecological destruction, species extinction, climate change and other desecrations of what is essentially something divine.[136]

Churchmen urge their followers to have faith because doubting usually raises questions, and, when one’s religious commitment rests merely on faith, rather than inner experience of God, questioning can lead to situations in which “… even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously.”[137] Jung stated that “… I for my part prefer the precious gift of doubt, for the reason that it does not violate the virginity of things beyond our ken.”[138] That is, when we value doubt, we are more likely to have an attitude of intellectual humility, and to be more reluctant to speculate about things beyond the abilities of our limited ego minds.

The need to be utterly abandoned to God. Given our modern concern for, and love of, control, we don’t like to think of abandoning ourselves at all, much less “utterly.” Jung drew on Eckhart for this idea, after having experienced it himself in his final desperate moments before allowing the evil thought to come at age eleven.[139] Eckhart is not Jung’s only confirming source: Zen Buddhism, Taoist philosophy and other Christian mystics say much the same thing.[140] The Chinese concept of wu wei embodies this wisdom, which Jung defined as “the art of letting things happen, action through non-action, letting go of oneself…”[141] “It  became for me [Jung] the key that opens the door to the way. We must be able to let things happen in the psyche….”[142] Jung practiced this attitude in the process he called “active imagination,”[143] in which an analysand would “dream a dream forward” by just allowing it to unfold, without trying to make anything happen.[144] Jung was frequently frustrated by how much his patients and students kept interfering with the psyche, its timing and goals.[145]

Why such interference? Lack of trust is one reason. Our ego mind’s penchant for control is another. A third is the chronic lack of patience that is endemic in our culture. We want what we want and we want it NOW! But the psyche usually has a very different timetable, and waiting is a big part of living attuned to the inner divinity.

That God will grant us a “glimpse into His own being.” The youthful Jung got such a “glimpse” at age eleven. As the years passed, and he read widely, he came to realize that other figures in history had also had this experience, which led them to understand that God, or more specifically, the God-image, is not absolute, but “relative.” Jung explains:

“… The ‘relativity of God,’ as I understand it, denotes a point of view that does not conceive of God as ‘absolute,’ i.e. wholly ‘cut off’ from and existing outside and beyond all human conditions, but as in a certain sense dependent on him; it also implies a reciprocal and essential relation between man and God, whereby man can be understood as a function of God, and God as a psychological function of man….”[146]

If God is thought of as “absolute,” no relationship is possible between God and human beings. To Jung this would be equivalent to a fragmentation of the psyche, since

“…From the empirical standpoint of analytical psychology, the God-image is the symbolic expression of a particular psychic state, or function, which is characterized by its absolute ascendancy over the will of the subject, and can therefore bring about or enforce actions and achievements that could never be done by conscious effort. This overpowering impetus to action (so far as the God-function manifests itself in acts), or this inspiration that transcends conscious understanding, has its source in an accumulation of energy in the unconscious….”[147]

Knowing the reality of God as he did, to Jung conceiving of God as absolute would result in such an estrangement as to devalue the soul and deny the inner source of creativity and life.[148]

Jung turned to Scripture for terms to describe God’s being: the “pearl of great price”[149] and the “treasure in the field.”[150] Eckhart identified the “field” here as the “soul, wherein lies hidden the treasure of the divine kingdom.”[151] Jung also included another of Eckhart’s insights into the nature of God:

“‘So if I say God is good, it is not true: I am good, God is not good. I go further: I am better than God! For only what is good can become better, and only what is better can become the best. God is not good, therefore he cannot become better; and since he cannot become better he cannot become the best. These three: good, better, best, are infinitely remote from God, who is above all.’”[152]

Clearly, we are here miles away from the conventional claim that “God is good.”[153] To both the mystic and the Jungian psychologist, the Divine is above all human claims and descriptions. Precious, yes; a treasure lying within us, to be sure, but also ineffable, beyond being describable in words.[154]

            That God needs man. This is one of the more shocking claims Jung makes about the Divine. He came to this conclusion from his reading of the Book of Job, as well as from his studies in alchemy.[155] Paracelsus felt he was “at one with God and with himself,”[156] and this sense of the human ego’s “affinity with God,”[157] gave human beings “a distinct claim to be heard and also to be recognized…”[158] in their “mightiness, intellectual power, and beauty.”[159] This was, to Jung, an expression of the “spirit of the Renaissance” (think of Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man).[160] Our wealth of human abilities are to be put in the service of the Divine. This is what Jesus meant by the parable of the talents:[161] We each are given talents. Some people get lots of them, some people get few, but regardless, the Master expects each of us to “invest” these talents so they reap benefits for ourselves and also for the Master. In other words, we are to be co-creators with God, and in particular what we are to create is consciousness.[162] We are to give time, attention and energy to becoming more conscious, more aware of our shadow, anima/animus and the wealth of other energies living in our “inner city.”[163] In doing so, we help God to become more conscious.

This penultimate key point brought Jung no end of grief from outraged, incomprehending theologians, and in this, as in all the other key points, Jung found earlier figures in history who shared his fate as the solitary pioneer. Joachim was condemned as a heretic by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.[164] Eckhart was also declared a heretic by the Papal court in Avignon, but he died before the verdict was pronounced.[165] Both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche hoped for recognition and understanding from their peers, and both found only “despair and bitterness” in their loneliness.[166] Jung too experienced years of frustration in not being understood,[167] sharing the fate of these other pioneers whose vision was hundreds of years ahead of their time.

That the old forms of religion no longer hold truth for most people. Jung’s visions about the state of and the future for religion were far ahead of the reality of his contemporaries. The decaying state of religion in 1886 might not have been clear to the eleven-year-old Jung, but as he cast about for sources that might confirm his experiences, he found the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, and he recognized Nietzsche as a harbinger of the future in his declaration that “God is dead.”[168] Jung knew that Nietzsche was on to something, but it was not what Nietzsche thought:

“… Nietzsche was not fully aware with what he identified. He did not realize that his declaration, ‘God is dead,’ meant something which he did not quite grasp; to him the existence of God was an opinion or a kind of intellectual conviction, so one only needed to say God was not and then he was not. But in reality God is not an opinion. God is a psychological fact that happens to people.”[169]

Nietzsche was a philologist and philosopher,[170] not a psychologist, so he thought he could eliminate God by simply declaring He was dead. Being a “psychological fact” God cannot die, but the forms and ways people relate to the Divine can die when the symbols that mediate the God-man relationship lose their vitality.[171] This is the predicament that Jung saw facing people in the Western world:

“…. If we had an understanding of the symbols, we could accept them and they would work as they have always worked, but the way to an adequate understanding is also obliterated. And when that is gone it is gone forever; the symbols have lost their specific value.”[172]

and the result is that people

“…are exposed, naked to the unconscious when they can no longer use the old ways, particularly since nowadays they don’t even understand what they mean. Who understands the meaning of the Trinity or the immaculate conception? And because they cannot understand these things rationally any longer, they obliterate them, abolish them, so they are defenseless and have to repress their unconscious. They cannot express it because it is inexpressible. It would be expressible in the dogma inasmuch as they accepted the dogma, but that doesn’t mean saying lightly, ‘Oh yes, I accept the dogma.’ For they cannot understand it; they have not even the understanding in these matters of the medieval man…”[173]

In the early Middle Ages people still had the solidity of a firm spiritual orientation, but as time passed, this changed: As early as the thirteenth century a shift was occurring, which showed up in a variety of spiritual movements that Jung noted: the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the rise of alchemy, the efforts of Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon to create natural science, the Holy Grail symbolism, and, most noteworthy, the articulation by Joachim of Fiore of a new aeon, the third of the 3 ages, the age of the Holy Spirit.[174]

Seven hundred years later, Jung heard Nietzsche’s declaration as prophetic, and these days, as we see the empty pews, the closing of churches, the decline in priestly vocations, the shortage of nuns, and statistics that describe Europe and the state of Vermont as very “unchurched,”[175] i.e. few people identifying themselves as members of any organized religion, we can say that Jung was right. Jung’s response was not to urge people back to the pews. Rather, he laid the outlines for a new form of religion, drawn from the “religious impulse” in the human being,”[176] which is next month’s essay.

This essay  (and the bibliographical references in the citations below) were drawn from a new book, The Spiritual Adventure of Our Time, an explication of Jung’s ideas on spirituality, the evolution of religion, and the emergence of the “new dispensation.” This book is available on Amazon, if you are interested in learning more about these ideas.

[1] CW 14 ¶252.

[2] CW 10 ¶864.

[3] CW 13 ¶149.

[4] CW 11 ¶769.

[5] Ibid. ¶249.

[6] CW 13 ¶20.

[7] MDR, 56.

[8] Ibid., 42.

[9] Ibid.

[10] MDR, 61.

[11] Ibid., 68.

[12] Ibid., 37-39.

[13] Ibid., 68. Meister Eckhardt (c. 1260-c. 1329) German mystic, theologian, Dominican professor and preacher at Strassburg and Cologne; studied in Paris under Albertus Magnus; accused of heresy in 1326; died before being condemned.

[14] Ibid.

[15] CW 6 ¶425.

[16] Born 1869, died 1937; German theologian, philosopher and historian of religion; professor at three German universities, as well as a member of the German parliament, 1914-1918; www.britannica.com/biography/Rudolf-Otto

[17] Otto (1958), 19. The German original was published in 1917; the English translation appeared in 1923, my paperback version in 1958.

[18] John Harvey (translator), in Otto (1958), xvi.

[19] CW 11 ¶6.

[20] CW 9ii ¶140.

[21] Born c. 1130-1135, died 1201-1202; Italian mystic, theologian, biblical commentator and philosopher of history; founder of the monastic order of San Giovanni; www.britannica.com/biograpy/Joachim-of-Fiore.

[22] Ibid.

[23] CW 9ii ¶141.

[24] Exodus 20:7.

[25] CW 14 ¶252.

[26] Born c. 570 BCE, died c. 490 BCE; pre-Socratic Greek philosopher/scientist, and “semi-legendary figure;” Edinger (1999), 23.

[27] Born c. 540 BCE, died c. 480 BCE; noted for his philosophy that everything changes (panta rhei); Jung’s favorite Greek philosopher, especially for his concept of the enantiodromia (a “running contrary to”); ibid., 32 & 35. Jung  cited Heraclitus and his concept of panta rhei in his 1896 Zofingia lectures, while he was still a medical student; Jung (1983), 75.

[28] CW 6 ¶963.

[29] The Gnostics were adherents of various schools of religion which denigrated the material world, stressed gnosis, or personal experience of God, and maintained a dualistic system, with a god of good and a god of evil; for more on the various schools and their philosophies, cf. Barnstone & Meyer (2009), Layton (1987) and Robinson (1978).

[30] CW 11 ¶249.

[31] Ibid., ¶380.

[32] Born 1483, died 1546; German monk, theologian, and professor whose posting of 95 theses in 1517 set off the Protestant Reformation; founder of the Lutheran denomination; for a readable biography of Luther, see Bainton (1950).

[33] TSZ, 261.

[34] CW 14 ¶252.

[35] Born 1844, died 1900; German philologist and philosopher who challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality; son of a Lutheran minister; cited 412 times by Jung in his Collected Works; Jung devoted a years-long seminar to Thus Spake Zarathustra; www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/Nietzsche

[36] CW 11 ¶83.

[37] CW 18 ¶1643.

[38] Born 1493, died 1541; German-Swiss physician and alchemist; www.britannica.com/biography/Paracelsus; Jung found Paracelsus so central to his alchemical studies that citations to him run to 7 columns in volume 20 of Jung’s Collected Works.

[39] Born 1788, died 1860; German philosopher and pioneer in introducing Eastern thought (Buddhism and Hinduism) in Western philosophy; www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/Schopenhauer. Jung cited Schopenhauer 89 times in his Collected Works.

[40] CW 13 ¶208.

[41] CW 6 ¶518.

[42] This is the title of a 14th century mystic’s account; Anon (1961).

[43] MDR, 42.

[44] CW 9ii ¶269.

[45] MDR, 162 and 378; some editions of Jung’s memoir include his 1916 Septem Sermones ad Mortuus (Seven Sermons to the Dead), a poem Jung wrote in a Gnostic style, which he later came to call “a sin of my youth;” CW 18 ¶1501.

[46] While current scholarship regards Gnosticism as a phenomenon of the Christian era, some scholars see precursors in some of the apocalyptic literature of the inter-testamentary period (c. 2nd c. BCE). A sect of Gnostics, the Mandeans, still exists in southern Iraq; Rudolf (1984), 9 and 277.

[47] Acts 9:1-9.

[48] CW 18 ¶1829.

[49] Rudolf (1984), 10.

[50] CW 6 ¶82.

[51] Ibid. ¶708.

[52] Ibid. ¶82.

[53] CW 9ii ¶140.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215; www.britannica.com/biography/Joachim-of-Fiore.

[58] CW 13 ¶231.

[59] Ibid.

[60] CW 11 ¶79.

[61] Various survey groups track the decline in church attendance; cf. www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/03/5-key-findings-about-religiosity-in-the-u-s-and-how-its-changing; and www.gallup.com/poll/181601/frequent-church-attendance-highest-utah-lowest-vermont.aspx

[62] CW 7 ¶325.

[63] CW 18 ¶1826 and note 1.

[64] Ibid. ¶s 1827-1829.

[65] CW 15 ¶19.

[66] CW 16 ¶221.

[67] CW 15 ¶20.

[68] CW 13 ¶149.

[69] Ibid.

[70] CW 8 ¶829.

[71] Ibid.

[72] CW 11 ¶769.

[73] www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/Schopenhauer.

[74] Jung defines “synchronicity” in CW 8 ¶s 816-968.

[75] CW 6 ¶876.

[76] CW 6 ¶370.

[77] CW 10 ¶718.

[78] Ibid. ¶107.

[79] Ibid.

[80] CW 16 ¶221.

[81] Born 1624, died 1677; real name: Johannes Scheffler; Polish poet, convert to Catholicism, and mystic; many of his poems became lyrics in modern Christian hymnals; www.britannica.com/biography/Angelus-Silesius.

[82] CW 6 ¶432.

[83] Cf. Jung’s Letters I, 450,540,555; II, 52-53,58-61,71-73, 79,93,147,153,213,236,268,277,281,484,519, 611; for an in-depth treatment of the good-evil issue between Jung and a Roman Catholic scholar, Victor White, see The Jung-White Letters; Lammers & Cunningham (2007).

[84] CW 11 ¶160.

[85] CW 9ii ¶171.

[86] CW 10 ¶677.

[87] CW 18 ¶1642.

[88] A 2nd century CE Egyptian religious philosopher and founder of the Roman and Alexandrian schools of Gnosticism; www.britannica.com/biography/Valentinus.

[89] Born c. 101, died c. 200 CE; a 2nd century Syrian scholar, teacher and founder of the Basilidian school of  Gnosticism; www.britannica.com/biography/Basilides.

[90] CW 18 ¶1642. The Codex Bezae is one of the texts in the Gnostic Gospels. For more on this, cf. Robinson (1978), Layton (1987), and Barnstone & Meyer (2009).

[91] Romans 7:15.

[92] Cf. CW 9i ¶s 189 & 567; CW 9ii ¶75; CW 11 ¶463; CW 13 ¶293; and CW 14 ¶32.

[93] CW 9ii ¶366.

[94] A legendary 2nd century founder of the Carpocratian sect of Gnosticism in Alexandria; www.britannica.com/topics/Carpocratians.

[95] CW 11 ¶133.

[96] CW 6 ¶408.

[97] CW 8 ¶465.

[98] “Letter to Roswitha N.,” 17 August 1957; Letters, II, 384.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Jung (1984), 239.

[101] Safina (2015), 172.

[102] Jung made this trip in 1925; Bair (2003), 348.

[103] Ibid., 336; Jung went to the US Southwest also in 1925.

[104] This trip was in 1937; ibid. 426.

[105] See Letters I, 97, 117-119, 191, 195, 215, 216, 229, 235, 245, 256, 339, 353, 355, 359, 368, 372, 381, 382, 391, 398, 401, 406, 408, 412, 414, 415, 419, 448, 449, 452, 457, 466, 471, 474, 479, 481, 483, 489, 490, 501, 506, 514, 516, 539, 555, 566; II, 11, 13, 24, 39, 50, 52, 58, 71, 79, 128, 129, 133, 139, 144, 155, 163, 208, 212, 225, 238, 244, 251, 254, 257, 267, 268, 334-336, 369, 391, 422, 434, 471, 482, 516, 518, 536, 544, 546, 552, 554, 566, 575, 581, 584, 603, 621, 625, 630.

[106] CW 18 ¶1643.

[107] This term I took from Davis (1973); he discusses it at length, pp. 28-47.

[108] CW 11 ¶769.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Kofman (2006), 101.

[112] E.g. Jung’s first trip up the Rigi; MDR, 77.

[113] Berman (1981), 16.

[114] MDR, 175.

[115] CW 9i ¶210.

[116] These are defined in the Introduction in my book The Spiritual Adventure of Our Time.

[117] For an account of these dreams see “Exceptional Human Experience 15: A Life Reoriented by ‘Voice-Over’ Dreams,” The Journal of Exceptional Human Experiences, vol. 11, no. 1 (June 1993), 33-39.

[118] CW 8 ¶827.

[119] Ibid. ¶843.

[120] CW 6 ¶428.

[121] Ibid. ¶421.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Ibid.

[124] Luke 17:21.

[125] Born 1861, died 1947; British mathematician, logician and philosopher; a founder, with Charles Hartshorn of process philosophy; www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/Whitehead.

[126] Cf. Whitehead (1926) (1927) and (1933).

[127] E.g. Charles Hartshorne, John Cobb, David Ray Griffin, Daniel Dombrowski, Roland Faber, Ronald Nash, and Marjorie Suchocki.

[128] For more on process theology, see Cobb & Griffin (1976).

[129] Davis (1973), 1-27.

[130] The other three are “pride of history,” (getting stuck in form and tradition), “the anger of morality” (which, in its most extreme form, shows up as men killing abortion doctors), and “cosmic vanity,” (mentioned earlier in this chapter). For a full description of these, and why they are “temptations,” see Davis (1973).

[131] For more on trust see Chapters 6 & 8 infra.

[132] E.g. Matt. 9:22; 13:58; 21:32; 27:42; Mark 1:15; 5:36; 6:5-6; 9:23-24; 22-24; 16:14-16; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 4:42; 5:44; 5:47; 6:29; 7:5; 12:36; 14:12; 16:30-31; Hebrews 3:19.

[133] CW 11 ¶74.

[134] CW 13 ¶151.

[135] Berman (1981), 69.

[136] Cf. Cobb (1972), Spring (1974), Schaeffer (1970), Barnette (1972), and Klein (2014).

[137] CW 10 ¶521.

[138] CW 12 ¶8.

[139] MDR, 39.

[140] Underhill (1995), 22.

[141] CW 13 ¶20.

[142] Ibid.

[143] CW 8 ¶403.

[144] Needless to say, Jung would have no truck with those dream teachers who advocate “lucid dreaming,” in which the ego mind becomes aware of dreaming and takes over the process. An exception to this is the practice in Buddhism in which the master teaches advanced students to navigate through the dream space as preparation for moving through the Bardo world after death. The key here is the advanced level of the students: this technique is only suitable for those who have attained sufficient spiritual depth as to put aside egotism and the lust for control.

[145] CW 13 ¶20; for more on wu wei and Jung’s “action through non-action,” see the essay “The Hardest of All Things,” archived on the Web site of the Jungian Center: www.jungiancenter.org/essays/the-hardest-of-all-things.

[146] CW 6 ¶412.

[147] Ibid.

[148] CW 13 ¶74.

[149] Matt. 13:46.

[150] Matt. 13:44.

[151] CW 6 ¶423.

[152] Ibid. ¶457.

[153] CW 11 ¶480.

[154] Underhill (1995), 18.

[155] Edinger (1992), 78.

[156] CW 13 ¶152.

[157] CW 6 ¶411.

[158] CW 13 ¶152.

[159] Ibid.

[160] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was born in 1463 and died in 1494; the text of his oration may be found in Contemporary Civilization Staff (1960) I, 581-587.

[161] Matt. 25:14-30.

[162] See Edinger (1984) for a full account of Jung’s thought in this regard.

[163] “Inner city” is the term used by Jungian analyst and publisher Daryl Sharp, to refer to the inner energies that inhabit the unconscious; he named his publishing house for it.

[164] www.britannica.com/biography/Joachim-of-Fiore.

[165] www.britannica.com/biography/Meister-Eckhart.

[166] CW 5 ¶14.

[167] For how and why Jung was misunderstood and his frustration with this, see the essay “All the Labels: Jung’s Frustration at Being Misunderstood,” archived on the Web site of the Jungian Center: www.jungiancenter.org/essays/all-the-labels-jungs-frustration-at-being-misunderstood.

[168] TSZ, 258.

[169] Ibid.

[170] www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/Nietzsche.

[171] TSZ, 258.

[172] Ibid., 311.

[173] Ibid.

[174] CW 9ii ¶232.

[175] Only 24% of Vermonters say they attend church, the lowest figure of the 50 states; www.gallup.com/poll/181601/frequent-church-attendance-highest-utah-lowest-vermont.aspx

[176] CW 10 ¶544

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