Jung on the Instincts and the Religious Impulse

“… the understanding of religion [of the man of today] is made considerably more difficult owing to the lack of explanations… If, despite this, he has still not discarded all his religious convictions, this is because the religious impulse rests on an instinctive basis and is therefore a specifically human function…. When any natural human function gets lost, i.e. is denied conscious and intentional expression, a general disturbance results. …”[1]

“Among the psychological factors determining human behavior, the instincts are the chief motivating forces of psychic events. In view of the controversy which has raged around the nature of the instincts, I should like to establish clearly what seems to me to be the relation between instincts and the psyche, and why I call instincts psychological factors. …”[2]

“For the word ‘fidelity’ I should prefer, in this context, the Greek word used in the New Testament, pistis, which is erroneously translated ‘faith.’ It really means ‘trust,’ ‘trustful loyalty.’ Fidelity to the law of one’s own being is a trust in this law, a loyal perseverance and confident hope; in short, an attitude such as a religious man should have towards God…”[3]

“I make a general distinction between ‘religion’ and a ‘creed’ for the sake of the layman, since it is chiefly he who reads my books and not the academic scholar. He (the scholar) is not interested in the layman’s mind. As a rule he nurses resentments against psychology…. The layman identifies religion with a creed, that is, with the ‘things done in the church.’ Thus Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. are simply religions like Christianity. That there is a genuine inner life, a communion with transcendental powers, a possibility of religious experience is mere hearsay. Nor are the churches over-sympathetic to the view that the alpha and omega of religion is the subjective individual experience, but put community in the first place, without paying attention to the fact that the more people there are the less individuality there is. …”[4]

Jung had multiple differences of opinion from Freud,[5] and one of their major differences was their attitude toward religion. Freud regarded religion as an “illusion,”[6] while Jung recognized it as one of the instincts found in all human beings.[7] In this essay we will examine Jung’s concept of “instinct” and in particular the “reflective instinct”[8] behind our human “religious impulse,”[9] and then consider how this impulse shows up in positive and negative ways.

Jung on Instincts

The dictionary defines “instinct” as “a natural feeling, knowledge or power, such as guides animals; an unlearned tendency; a natural bent, gift or talent…”.[10] Instincts are innate; we are born with them. We don’t have to think about pulling our hand away from something very hot, or seeking water when we thirst. The desire to avoid pain or to find water are two obvious instincts. Jung had a broader understanding.

Jung defined instincts as “the chief motivating forces of psychic events…. psychological factors…”[11] which operate on two levels, the physical (as “ectopsychic factors”)[12] and the psychic (as psychic phenomena).[13] While we normally think of instincts as physical reactions—thirst, hunger, sex, etc.—Jung recognized other, non-physical forms, and some of these would not strike us as instincts.

Jung understood instincts as part of the “psychic regulatory system… determining human behavior,…”[14] and he recognized “… the controversy which has raged around the nature of instincts,…”.[15] Jung doesn’t mention any names, but his choice of words suggests the intense reaction that ensued when he broke with Freud over Freud’s views of the primacy of the sex instinct.[16]

Jung recognized sex as an instinct: “The importance of the instinct for preservation of the species is obvious….”[17] and he understood that, in our time (and more so since his death in 1961), “sexuality has been lent… an excess value comparable to that of water in a desert…”.[18] But he regarded sexuality as just one of several instincts that motivate us. He put it second in his discussion of instincts. He put “hunger” first.

Hunger—“…the instinct of self-preservation,…”—Jung recognized

“can assume the most various forms. The originally simple and unequivocal determinant can appear transformed into pure greed, or into many aspects of boundless desire or insatiability, as for instance the lust for gain or inordinate ambition.”[19]

This instinct, in other words, can give rise to more than just the behavior of eating. It motivates the young person to aspire to become the CEO of the Fortune 50 company, or the trader on Wall Street to place big bets in the market, and, as Jung notes, this innate drive can become insatiable.

Third in Jung’s list of instincts was what he called the “drive to activity,”[20] a “third group of instincts” that “starts functioning when the other urges are satisfied; indeed, it is perhaps only called into being after this has occurred.”[21] Abraham Maslow had a similar idea in his “hierarchy of needs:”[22] only after our basic biological needs for water, food, shelter, clothing etc. have been satisfied are we able to give time and energy to other motivations. In this group of instincts Jung included “the urge to travel, love of change, restlessness, and the play-instinct.”[23]

The other two instincts Jung mentions are not usually thought of when the word “instinct” comes to mind. One of these is the “creative instinct.”[24] Jung regarded creativity as an instinct that “deserves special mention.”[25] But he admitted that “instinct” might not be “the correct word.” He included it as an instinct

“because this factor behaves at least dynamically, like an instinct. Like an instinct it is compulsive, but it is not common, and it is not a fixed and invariably inherited organization. Therefore I prefer to designate the creative impulse as a psychic factor similar in nature to instinct, having indeed a very close connection with the instincts, but without being identical with anyone of them….”[26]

In seeing creativity as something “compulsive,” Jung was probably drawing on his own experience (something, as an empiricist, he tended to do): He often found himself “in the grip of the daimon”[27] as he wrote his books and essays. I too have had the experience of being caught up in some creative endeavor, losing all track of time or bodily functioning, just “zoning out” in “the flow.” But, as Jung notes, this is not common; not everyone has this experience, nor is it, like hunger, a daily occurrence.[28]

Jung also recognized that creativity had “connections with sexuality”[29] and that this was a “much discussed problem” (referring obliquely to Freud’s concept of the sublimation of the sex instinct into forms of art).[30] Besides the instinct of sexuality, Jung felt the creative instinct “has much in common with the drive to activity and the reflective instinct.”[31]

Which brings us to the instinct that is the focus of our discussion. Jung regarded the “reflective instinct” as something specifically human (“so far as we know”),[32] and he acknowledged that

“Ordinarily we do not think of ‘reflection’ as ever having been instinctive, but associate it with a state of mind…. Reflexio is a turning inwards, with the result that, instead of an instinctive action, there ensues a succession of derivative contents or states which may be termed reflection or deliberation. Thus in place of the compulsive act there appears a certain degree of freedom, and in place of predictability a relative unpredictability as to the effect of the impulse.”[33]

In how we reflect on life’s problems, in how we choose to respond to life’s challenges, and in how we interpret what happens to us, we have more freedom than in the more basic instincts like avoiding the hot iron or slaking our thirst.

In regarding reflection as an instinct, Jung was unique among psychologists. No others interpreted our human capacity for contemplation, reflection and conceptualization as an instinct. But, empiricist as he was, Jung could see how

“The richness of the human psyche and its essential character are probably determined by this reflective instinct. Reflection re-enacts the process of excitation and carries the stimulus over into a series of images which, if the impetus is strong enough, are reproduced in some form of expression. This may take place directly, for instance in speech, or may appear in the form of abstract thought, dramatic representation, or ethical conduct; or again, in a scientific achievement or a work of art.”[34]

Jung’s words “work of art” call to mind his Red Book, which certainly was a product of the reflective instinct, as he spent long hours over years drawing, painting and writing out the thoughts that arose from his unconscious.[35] In this, as in so much else of his thinking, his personal experience led to his concepts.

Jung understood that “… Reflection is the cultural instinct par excellence, and its strength is shown in the power of culture to maintain itself in the face of untamed nature….”[36] and one important feature of culture—a feature which does much to resist “untamed nature”—is religion. Jung felt there was an “interdependence of instinct and religion in the most general sense….”[37] and he regarded the “religious instinct for wholeness” as “the most important of the fundamental instincts….”[38]

The Religious Impulse

Jung knew this statement—that the religious instinct is the most important of the fundamental instincts—would result in howls from scientists, and his reply was to pose three questions:

“Can science be so sure that there is no such thing as a ‘religious instinct’? Can we really suppose that the religious phenomenon is nothing but a secondary function based on the repression of sex? Can anyone show us those ‘normal’ people or races who are free from such silly repressions?”[39]

The answers to all three of these questions is “No.” So Jung went on to conclude:

“But if no one can point to any race, or even a tribe, which is quite free from religious phenomena, then I really do not see how one can justify the argument that religious phenomena are not genuine and are merely repressions of sex.”[40]

Defining the various religions of the world as “merely repressions of sex” is how Freud, the atheist, viewed religions.

In the twentieth century, perhaps because of his atheism and materialism, Freud became very popular, both in psychiatry and mainstream culture, a trend that Jung felt made “the understanding of religion… considerably more difficult…”[41] Yet Jung could see hope, because not all people have “discarded [their] religious convictions…”.[42] Why was this? Why does religion seem to remain as a feature of human life? Jung said “… this is because the religious impulse rests on an instinctive basis and is therefore a specifically human function….”[43]

So, according to Jung, to be human means, in part, to create, to reflect, to ponder one’s place in the larger scheme of things, to wrestle with questions of meaning and personal purpose—religious questions. But why would Jung posit religion as “the most important of the fundamental instincts…”?[44] Surely it is more important to slake one’s thirst and have enough food to sustain life. Of course these most basic physiological instincts must be satisfied, but living human life in its wholeness,[45] Jung insisted, requires more, specifically “the development of personality.”[46]

Animals satisfy their thirst and hunger, and “mass-man,”[47] herd-like in his behavior, does likewise. But such existence is not fully human. We begin to claim the status of “person” when we develop our personality, and to Jung this means having “fidelity to the law of one’s own being,”[48] which Jung defined as “a loyal perseverance and confident hope; in short, an attitude such as a religious man should have towards God…”.[49] Having such an attitude provides the individual with a “vital link with psychic processes independent of and beyond consciousness,…”[50] and in this way, it helps “recall to us the origin and original character of the spirit, lest man should forget what he is drawing into himself and with what he is filling his consciousness.”[51]

Jung did not have high regard for what most people in his day were filling their consciousness with. He would be utterly appalled at the trivialities and depravities that fill our consciousnesses now,[52] and part of the decline in our moral and cultural standards he would relate to a decline in religion. To understand this, and to clarify his use of the term “religion,” we must examine his definitions of the term, and how he distinguished “religion” from “creed.”

Religion versus Creed

In volume 11 of his Collected Works Jung offers several succinct definitions of “religion.” As he often did (given his fluency in the classical languages) Jung discussed the etymology of the word, noting the debate as to its root: Was “religion” derived from the Latin religo-are (“to bind together”)[53] or from relegio-ere (“to reflect or consider”)?[54] Jung sided with the latter camp, and to buttress his argument as to which side of the religere-religare was right, Jung quoted Cicero’s De inventione rhetorica: “Religion is that which gives reverence and worship to some higher nature [which is called divine].”[55]

Jung regarded “… every religion [as] a spontaneous expression of a certain predominant psychological condition…”[56] and as

“… a peculiar attitude of mind which could be formulated in accordance with the original use of the word religio, which means a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors that are conceived as “powers:” spirits, daemons, gods, laws, ideas, Ideals, or whatever name man has given to such factors in his world as he has found powerful, dangerous, or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful, and meaningful enough to be devoutly worshiped and loved….”[57]

In other volumes of his Collected Works Jung speaks of religion as “psychotherapeutic systems which assist our understanding of instinctual disturbances,…”[58] and “…as the “conscientious regard to the irrational factors of the psyche and individual fate,…”.[59] As “the only salutary powers visible in the world today”[60] the religions serve as “a vital link with psychic processes independent of and beyond consciousness,”[61] and as such, are “one of the greatest helps in the psychological process of adaptation.”[62]

Note that, in all these definitions, Jung never mentions what, to most modern people, would come to mind on hearing the word “religion:” buildings, sacred books, rites and rituals, sects or denominations, perhaps even inquisitions, wars or pogroms. Jung was aware of this: “… The layman identifies religion with a creed, that is, with the ‘things done in the church….”[63] or the mosque, or the temple, or the sangha. But Jung made a distinction between the two.

Where “religion” offers “psychic methods of healing if not of salvation,”[64] creeds “… are codified and dogmatized forms of original religious experience.”[65] Where religion has “to do with the reality of the psyche…,”[66] a creed “is a confession of faith intended chiefly for the world at large, and is thus an intramundane affair, while the meaning and purpose of religion lie in the relationship of the individual to God.”[67] Creeds look without, operating in and for the world. Religion looks within, helping to maintain “psychic balance.”[68] In a passage in volume 10 of his Collected Works Jung contrasts religion and creed in detail:

“Since they are compromises with mundane reality, the creeds have accordingly seen themselves obliged to undertake a progressive codification of their views, doctrines, and customs, and in so doing have externalized themselves to such an extent that the authentic religious element in them—the living relationship to and direct confrontation with their extramundane point of reference—has been thrust into the background. … A creed coincides with the established Church or, at any rate, forms a public institution whose members include not only true believers but vast numbers of people who can only be described as ‘indifferent’ in matters of religion and who belong to it simply by force of habit. Here the difference between a creed and a religion becomes palpable.”[69]

By saying the difference “becomes palpable,” Jung means it becomes easy to spot who goes to church/mosque/temple/sangha out of habit, and who is genuinely “religious,” as Jung meant the term.

This is a distinction I see a lot in my work at the Jungian Center. Based as we are in Vermont—the state with the lowest percentage of people who describe themselves as regular church attendees[70]—we don’t get many people who fall on the “creed” side of the spectrum. In fact, as mentioned in the Introduction, most of the students at the Center have a strong, if not visceral reaction to the very word “religion.” They have little or nothing to do with organized religion and describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” I think what they mean is that they follow no “creed,” as Jung defines the term, but they recognize that some relation to the Infinite is important. Religion, as Jung defines it, matters.

Why Religion Matters

Jung gives many examples of why and how religion matters. As a psychiatrist—a medical doctor concerned to alleviate human suffering and illness—Jung found aspects of religion very helpful:”

“The doctor… values religious ideas and attitudes, so far as they prove helpful, as therapeutic systems, and singles out the Buddha in particular, the essence of whose teaching is deliverance from suffering through the maximum development of consciousness, as one of the supreme helpers on the road to salvation. From ancient times physicians have sought a panacea, a medicina catholica, and their persistent efforts have unconsciously brought them nearer to the central ideas of the religion and philosophy of the East.”[71]

Jung had many conversations on Buddhism and Oriental thought[72] and found the Buddhist practice of abhidharma to be very similar to his system of analytical psychology.[73] Even for non-Buddhists, religion is useful as a form of “mental hygiene”[74] that can help to maintain psychological health and to restore mental balance[75] if that health is disturbed.

Religion is equally useful for those of us who are not doctors. How so? For one, having a religious orientation to life can help to keep us “conscious of sin.”[76] Whoa! What? Most people reading this statement would have this reaction, as both the notion of “sin” and the idea that it might be useful to be kept conscious of it are so outré, so out of fashion, as to be incomprehensible. What could Jung possibly mean by claiming that consciousness of sin can be valuable? Jung explains:

“Conscience, and particularly a bad conscience, can be a gift from heaven, a veritable grace if used in the interests of the higher self-criticism…. The sting of a bad conscience even spurs you on to discover things that were unconscious before, and in this way you may be able to cross the threshold of the unconscious and take cognizance of those impersonal forces which make you an unconscious instrument of the wholesale murderer in man.”[77]

That is, being conscious of our capacity to sin can help us recognize, become conscious of and hence, less likely to project, our shadow side (which can become “the wholesale murderer”). Jung felt this was especially so for those who are no longer “contained”[78] in an organized religion, i.e. the person “… who is defenseless against God and no longer shielded by walls or communities, …”[79] Such a person  “…has a unique spiritual opportunity for immediate religious experience.”[80]

Another useful feature of religion is its ability to give us a different, less worldly perspective on life:

“… it is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life only when there is a point of reference outside them. Religion gives, or claims to give, such a standpoint, thereby enabling the individual to exercise his judgment and his power of decision.”[81]

If we have a religious orientation to life (note: this does not mean participating in any form of organized religion—they are “creeds” to Jung), we can live in the world without being of the world.

In the same way, Jung felt, a religious stance “teaches another authority to that of the ‘world’.”[82] I lived this truth some years ago when I got called for jury duty. In the voir dire process, where prospective jurors are questioned about their background, the lawyers routinely asked if there were any reasons why we might not be able to adhere to the instructions given by the attorneys and the judge. I raised my hand and explained that I live by dreams, and if I had a dream during the trial that told me how to decide my vote, I would follow that dream. I live in the world—I showed up for jury duty—but my primary loyalty is to my inner life and guidance. Given the deplorable state of the world now (a condition even worse than it was in Jung’s day), having such an inner authority—being able to “authorize one’s own life”[83]—is an essential component of critical thinking and allows us to be responsible, independent citizens.

Religion as Jung defines it is also useful for providing the proper attitude to the problem of psychic suffering. Jung says:

“People have often accused me of regarding religion as ‘mental hygiene.’… I am content to emphasize the importance of … adopting some kind of attitude to the problem of psychic suffering. Suffering that is not understood is hard to bear, while on the other hand it is often astounding to see how much a person can endure when he understands the why and the wherefore. A philosophical or religious view of the world enables him to do this, and such views prove to be, at the very least, psychic methods of healing if not of salvation….”[84]

In his years in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, Viktor Frankel came to this same conclusion,[85] experiencing a level of suffering that would have been annihilating were it not for his personal psychic orientation.

A religious view also “frees the libido… offers it a new gradient, and canalized it into a spiritual form.”[86] By “libido” Jung means “psychic energy,” and he defined this more broadly than Freud. To Freud “libido” was sexual only; Jung saw, from his own experience, that this is far too narrow a definition.[87] Having a “new gradient” is important because Jung felt that growth and movement occur inwardly only when there is a significant difference or tension between present (where/who we are) and future (where/who we are meant to be).[88]

Jung also felt that “The religious myth is one of man’s greatest and most significant achievements, giving him the security and inner strength not to be crushed by the monstrousness of the universe….”.[89] Just as it provides an inner locus of authority, a religious orientation to life gives us inner strength, perseverance and a sense of purpose.[90]

It also helps us grow up. In discussing the tasks of life, Jung noted that

“The natural course of life demands that the young person should sacrifice his childhood and his childish dependence on the physical parents, lest he remain caught body and soul in the bonds of unconscious incest. This regressive tendency has been consistently opposed from the most primitive times by the great psychotherapeutic systems which we know as the religions. They seek to create an autonomous consciousness by weaning mankind away from the sleep of childhood….”[91]

Religions that are still rooted in the wisdom of “primitive times” provide rites of initiation that help young people begin the separation process from the parents, e.g. the bar/bat mitzvah in Judaism. Again, let me stress that the key here is not to go to church (i.e. be part of a creed), but to undertake that “careful consideration” that is central to religiosity. In this context, I am reminded of a 35-year-old man who contacted us through the Jungian Center Web site, having read one of the essays archived on our blog. He had never worked, had no girl friends, no income and lived with his parents. He described himself as very devout, i.e. he joined his parents every Sunday in going to church. He asked in his email what Jung would think about his situation. I told him bluntly what Jung told all the men (pueri)[92] in his situation who came to him: Get a job, any job! Get out of the house! Get away from the parents (especially the devouring mother) and begin to grow up.

Just going to church won’t help us fight the “regressive tendency,” or a Gorgon mother.[93] We have to internalize the religious attitude. The organized religions, with their institutions, rituals, catechisms etc. are the creeds, and Jung saw many limitations and problems with them.

Problems with Religion

Many of the creeds actively encourage childishness, i.e. they ask their followers to externalize a locus of authority: if you face a dilemma you’re to ask the priest or pastors for guidance. Jung had little use for this. He knew true religion meant experiencing the Divine, and looking within for guidance on how to live. When life presents us with choices or crucial decisions, we are meant to watch our dreams, intuitions and synchronicities (including using the mantic arts, like the I Ching).[94]

Most of the creeds, Jung felt, have degenerated, “corrupted by worldliness and mob instincts,”[95] leaving little for their followers by way of a “genuine inner life, a communion with transcendental powers, possibility of religious experience…”[96] In fact, Jung knew from his own history (as noted in chapter 1) creeds are not “over-sympathetic to the view that the alpha and omega of religion is the subjective individual experience,…”[97] rather they “… put community in the first place, without paying attention to the fact that the more people there are the less individuality there is. To be alone with God is highly suspect,…”[98] for the creeds. Such solitude is the core of true religion for Jung.[99]

So it is not surprising that Jung found no “church of any denomination… encouraged [his] endeavors.”[100] They are all too busy protecting

“… themselves against the will of God. Nothing shields you better against the solitude and forlornness of the divine experience than community. It is the best and safest substitute for individual responsibility. …”[101]

Likewise, the dogmas of the various creeds do wonders toward protecting their followers from experiencing God: “… a dogma is the very thing that precludes immediate experience… Dogma is like a dream, … Such an expression of the unconscious is a much more efficient means of defense against further immediate experiences than any scientific theory.”[102]

Jung criticized the creeds as “compromises with mundane reality,” and as such they

“…have accordingly seen themselves obliged to undertake a progressive codification of their views, doctrines, and customs, and in so doing have externalized themselves to such an extent that the authentic religious element in them—the living relationship to and direct confrontation with their extramundane point of reference—has been thrust into the background….”[103]

The various synods, councils, convocations and other bodies creating dogma and doctrines wind up focusing on the outer life, the rituals, the stuff “out there,” to such a degree that they have lost sight of the “living relationship” the individual person is meant to have, in Jung’s understanding of religion.

As “closed systems,”[104] creeds tend “to suppress the unconscious in the individual as much as possible, thus paralyzing his fantasy activity. Instead, religion offers stereotyped symbolic concepts that are meant to take the place of his unconscious once and for all…”[105] The result is impoverishment of soul.

Jung was particularly critical of Christianity, for its failures in religious education, fostering in “too few people [the experience of] the divine image and the innermost possession of their own souls…”,[106] and for its over-emphasis on the spirit, which

“… inevitably leads to an unbearable depreciation of man’s physical side, and thus… He gets too good and too spiritual a picture of himself, and becomes too naïve and optimistic….”[107]

Jung saw the results of this naïveté in the two world wars,[108] which he interpreted as the enantiodromia—the inevitable opposite reaction—to the excessive goodness and optimism that Christianity fosters.

Jung also charged the creeds with failing to demonstrate “the value and purpose of symbolical truth,”[109] in the face of the challenges posed by modern science. As scientific thought has “attacked”[110] intangible reality and religious truths, “the spokesmen of religion have failed to deliver an apologetic suited to the spirit of the age….”[111] Science is now the “knowledge base of our culture”[112] but Jung knew that it can “never do justice to”[113] symbolic truth—the truth that is embodied in religion.

Creeds become “closed systems,”[114] fostering “banal superficiality and meaningless paradox.”[115] With their focus on “outward form,”[116] they hamper the individual’s experiencing his own soul. And with churchmen devoting more time to protecting their institutions than to meeting the needs of their parishioners,[117] they foster disintegration, schisms,[118] and in the worst case scenario (which we see all too much now), wars in the name of this or that god.

The Nature of Our Time

Jung could truthfully say that “… our time has become so utterly godless and profane: we lack all knowledge of the unconscious psyche and pursue the cult of consciousness to the exclusion of all else.”[119] But, as much as we might ignore or deny it, the unconscious does not go away, and by our paying it so little heed, we expose ourselves to

“a great psychic danger, because the autonomous systems then behave like any other repressed contents: they necessarily induce wrong attitudes since the repressed material reappears in consciousness in a spurious form. …”[120]

The result is that we are living “in a modern setting where all the ultimate things are doubtful…,”[121] where the “rites and figures once ‘sacred’ have become obsolete and … new figures have become “numinous.”[122] With the decline in religious life (as Jung defined it), we see “the neuroses grow noticeably more frequent,”[123] and “exceptionally able, courageous, and upright persons … have repudiated traditional truths for honest and decent reasons,…”.[124] This leaves the individual alone in his spiritual quest, yet “Man is neither so reasonable nor so good that he can cope eo ipso with evil.”[125] Jung would remind us that

“Our time has committed a fatal error; we believe we can criticize the facts of religion intellectually. Like Laplace, we think God is a hypothesis that can be subjected to intellectual treatment, to be affirmed or denied. We completely forget that the reason mankind believes in the ‘daemon’ has nothing whatever to do with external factors, but is simply due to a naïve awareness of the tremendous inner effect of autonomous fragmentary systems. … The effect is collectively present all the time; the autonomous systems are always at work, for the fundamental structure of the unconscious is not affected by the deviations of our ephemeral consciousness.”[126]

Much as we would like to ignore or dismiss the unconscious, Jung knew that “… the unconscious facts are coming up and becoming threateningly clear. That is very disagreeable. …”.[127] Jung could see these facts, but most people (in his day and even more so now) are blind to this truth:

“ … our age is afflicted with a blindness that has no parallel… We believe in enlightenment, as if an intellectual change of front somehow had a profounder influence on the emotional processes or even on the unconscious. We entirely forget that the religion of the last two thousand years is a psychological attitude, a definite form and manner of adaptation to the world without and within, that lays down a definite cultural pattern and creates an atmosphere which remains wholly uninfluenced by any intellectual denials. The change of front is, of course, symptomatically important as an indication of possibilities to come, but on the deeper levels the psyche continues to work for a long time in the old attitude, in accordance with the laws of psychic inertia….”[128]

In his reference to a “change of front,” Jung was reflecting his awareness of Joachim of Fiore’s idea of the third “age,” the age of the Holy Spirit,[129] which Jung felt had been aborning in the collective unconscious for centuries.

As the centuries have passed, history has witnessed intervals of change, e.g. the Age of Enlightenment, which awakened our “petty reasoning mind,”[130] which cannot be kept down, and which then called for

“a new task… to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step to a higher level and to increase the number of persons who have at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth…”[131]

Another key interval of change was

“… the religious upheaval started off by the French Revolution…[which] was nothing but a basic readjustment of attitude, though it lacked universality. The problem of a general change of attitude has never slept since that time; it cropped up again in many prominent minds of the nineteenth century…”[132]

Jung mentions Schiller and Goethe specifically, but there have been others, more recently, like Nietzsche,[133] and even Jung himself, and some of his students, like Lawrence Jaffe[134] and Edward Edinger.[135]

Jung stated that he was “… not going to found a religion, and I know nothing about a future religion….”[136] but in other contexts he notes the “new task” sparked by the rationalism that was sparked by the Enlightenment, and he made

“ a new religious declaration: God is not only in the unspotted body of Christ… and this is the novel and significant thing—he is also hidden in the ‘cheap,’ ‘despised,’ common-or-garden substance, even in the ‘uncleanness of this world, in filth’…”[137]

In such statements he provided the raw material for his followers to sketch the outlines of how the “religious impulse” seems to be evolving as we move more deeply into the age of Aquarius. If you are interested in learning how the Aquarian energy impacts spirituality, check out chapter 4 in the new book, The Spiritual Adventure of Our Time. For complete bibliographic information to the citations see the Bibliography in this book.

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.

[1] CW 10 ¶544.

[2] CW 8 ¶233.

[3] CW 17 ¶296.

[4] CW 18 ¶1637.

[5] E.g. over the primacy of sex, religion as an illusion, Freud’s reliance on theory rather than empirical reliance on experience, Freud’s “turning his back on philosophy,” Freud’s interpretation of the incest taboo; Freud’s reductive handling of symbols; Jung reflects on these in CW 4 ¶s 768-784.

[6] CW 15 ¶ 67. The Future of an Illusion is the title of one of Freud’s books; its subject is religion.

[7] CW 8 ¶241.

[8] Ibid.; cf. ¶s 243 & 245.

[9] CW 10 ¶544.

[10] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, I, 1021.

[11] CW 8 ¶233.

[12] Ibid. ¶234.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid ¶233.

[15] Ibid.

[16] MDR, 167-168.

[17] CW 8 ¶238.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. ¶236.

[20] Ibid. ¶240. Jung called this the “causal instinct, [which] points to the true root of our nature: unconditional activity.” in his 1896 Zofingia lectures; Jung (1983), 85.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Maslow (1968), 152-154.

[23] CW 8 ¶240.

[24] Ibid. ¶245.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] MDR, 356.

[28] CW 8 ¶245.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Cf. CW 3 ¶105, note 3, and CW 15 ¶53.

[31] CW 8 ¶245.

[32] Ibid. ¶241.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid. ¶242.

[35] Jung (2009), 12-13,15-17,20-33.

[36] CW 8 ¶243.

[37] CW 14 ¶603.

[38] CW 10 ¶653.

[39] CW 17 ¶157.

[40] Ibid.

[41] CW 10 ¶544.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid. ¶653.

[45] Ibid.

[46] CW 17 ¶295.

[47] CW 8 ¶s 410 & 425.

[48] CW 17 ¶295.

[49] Ibid. ¶296.

[50] CW 9i ¶261.

[51] Ibid. ¶393.

[52] E.g. video games and Internet pornography.

[53] Lewis & Short (1969), 1557.

[54] Ibid., 1555.

[55] CW 11 ¶9, note 4; brackets in the original.

[56] Ibid. ¶160.

[57] Ibid. ¶8.

[58] CW 18 ¶1231.

[59] CW 10 ¶514.

[60] CW 16 ¶390.

[61] CW 9i ¶261.

[62] CW 4 ¶350.

[63] CW 18 ¶1637.

[64] Ibid. ¶1578.

[65] CW 11 ¶10.

[66] Ibid. ¶752.

[67] CW 10 ¶507.

[68] ibid. ¶512.

[69] CW 10 ¶508. By “established church” Jung was referring to the phenomenon of  state churches which still exist in Europe and some of the countries colonized by the European powers, a phenomenon which developed in the 17th century as a consequence of the wars of religion following the Protestant Reformation. Most of the countries of Scandinavia are Lutheran, the state church in England is Anglican, while France, Italy, Spain and Portugal are Roman Catholic.

[70] Only 24% of Vermonters identify themselves as regular attendees of a religious group; www.gallup.com/poll/181601/frequent-church-attendance-highest-utah-lowest-vermont.aspx

[71] CW 18 ¶1578.

[72] E.g. with Shin’ichi Hisamatsu and Richard Wilhelm; an anthology contains many of these, with commentaries; Meckel & Moore (1992); see CW 8 ¶s 921-923, CW 13 ¶s 1-84, and CW 11 ¶s 964-966, and MDR, 197, 208 and 373-378 for Jung’s interactions with Wilhelm.

[73] “Self and Liberation: A Dialogue Between Carl G. Jung and Shin’ichi Hisamatsu,” in Meckel & Moore (1992), 103-118.

[74] CW 11 ¶76.

[75] CW 6 ¶422.

[76] CW 11 ¶86.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Edinger (1992), 59.

[79] CW 11 ¶86.

[80] Ibid.

[81] CW 10 ¶506.

[82] Ibid. ¶507.

[83] I took this phrase from Sam Keen (1992).

[84] CW 10 ¶506.

[85] Frankel (1984), 86-88.

[86] CW 5 ¶335.

[87] CW 4 ¶780.

[88] CW 7 ¶76; cf. Jung (2012), 92.

[89] CW 5 ¶343.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid. ¶553.

[92] Pueri is Latin for “boys,” but in Jungian psychology it is one of a pair of archetypes (with the senex, “old person”). All people start out in life as children, but some people (especially some men) never grow out of the irresponsible, non-commital, feckless lifestyle of the “divine child,” often because a powerful mother (“dragon” or “Gorgon”) has swallowed them up psychologically; for more on the puer and its psychology, see CW 9ii ¶194, CW 12 ¶505, CW 5 ¶s 184 & 393; Hillman (1979) and von Franz (1970).

[93] CW 5 ¶s 265 & 577.

[94] MDR, 373-374.

[95] CW 11 ¶52.

[96] CW 18 ¶1637.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid.

[99]  Ibid.; Jung would be appalled at the trend toward “mega-churches” with their congregations of thousands.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid.

[102] CW 11 ¶81.

[103] CW 10 ¶508.

[104] CW 6 ¶80.

[105] Ibid.

[106] CW 12 ¶12.

[107] CW 5 ¶104.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid¶336.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Ibid.

[112] I heard this phrase from the late Willis Harman, who was the President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences when I worked with him in the late 1980’s; for more on this, see Mehrtens (1996), 6.

[113] CW 5 ¶336.

[114] CW 6 ¶80.

[115] CW 9i ¶11.

[116] CW 12 ¶13.

[117] MHS, 84.

[118] CW 11 ¶33.

[119] CW 13 ¶51.

[120] Ibid.

[121] CW 11 ¶106.

[122] Ibid. ¶451.

[123] Ibid. ¶514.

[124] Ibid. ¶516.

[125] CW 14 ¶346; eo ipso means “by himself,” i.e. on his own, without a firm sense of connection to God or some larger entity.

[126] CW 13 ¶51.

[127] CW 18 ¶633.

[128] CW 6 ¶313.

[129] CW 14 ¶22.

[130] CW 12 ¶19.

[131] Ibid.

[132] CW 6 ¶314.

[133] CW 9i ¶210.

[134] Jaffe (1990) & (1998).

[135] Edinger (1984), (1992) & (1996b).

[136] CW 18 ¶633.

[137] CW 14 ¶374.