Thursday, January 06, 2022

Unwitting Magi

A sermon preached at All Souls Church, Wheaton, IL (audio here, video here)

Most people in this congregation know the secret to avoiding the after-Christmas doldrums, namely, extending the day into the season it properly is. It may be a challenge in Advent to restrain while the rest of the world rejoices, but that is made up for while we celebrate Christmastide as the rest of the world is swallowed by the post-yuletide undertow.

And after those twelve days of Christmas, just when we need it most, as the winter without Christmas threatens to descend upon us, there is Epiphany, and the season of Ephiphanytide that follows it. This season is not just about seeking the distant star but reveling in its pure bright winter light. To steal a phrase, Epiphany is the most wonderful time of year. It represents Christ for everyone, even pagan astrologers. Not merely national, sill less nationalist, but global Christianity for this nation, yes, and every other nation too. If, in the last few decades, it was the task of Christians in this wider town of Wheaton to recover Advent and the Christmas season; it may be our task in the next few decades to recover the season of Epiphany, which stretches all the way through to the Feast of the Encounter of Mary and Simeon on February 2. The fact that there’s little risk of this season being commercialized makes the recovery all the easier.

But there’s a problem, as I see it, with Epiphany, something that keeps us from being able to wholeheartedly embrace it. And that problem is this: As we celebrate the magi, journeying from the East to worship Christ, many Christians, or post-Christians in some cases, are themselves journey to the East. Burned by Christianity's very public failures, some think the light of Buddhism or Hinduism is brighter. The private pursuit of mindfulness, some gamble, offers what a Christian congregation like ours cannot.

We sure can sure learn a lot from the religions of the East – there are Buddhist and Hindu temples not far from here on Route 59 that I’ve visited, nd I’ve enjoyed my visits. But really what should Christians do about this reverse magi journey? Well, as a way of highlighting the second chapter of Matthew, let me offer the journey of a few contemporary magi that might surprise you. These magi journeyed far more deeply into the East than anyone I know of, and something happened to them – they found Christ there. Or rather, he found them.

Our first unwitting modern magi is a psychologist who, in the mid-twentieth century, sponsored some of the first big translations of Far Eastern texts that are still used today. But he was also convinced he had to go to India himself. And so he did. And while he was there, he had a dream, and if this psychologist listened to anything he listened to his dreams. In the dream he found himself not in India, but in the Grail castle off the southwest coast of England; that is, his unconscious smuggled Christianity back in to his psyche. That’s not my assessment, it is his:

It was as through the dream were asking me, ‘What are you doing in India? Rather seek for yourself and your fellows the healing vessel, the servator mundi which you urgently need. For your state is perilous; you are in imminent danger of destroying all that centuries have built up.
So that’s our magi #1: The psychologist, son of a pastor, the disciple of Freud, Carl Jung, found himself, just like the original magi, journeying from the East to Christ. Whether or not he fully got there is another topic entirely. 

Our magi #2 is another psychologist, who knew Carl Jung personally. Robert Johnson built his own career by giving talks about the Holy Grail, that symbol of the Eucharist, to churches. But he too felt something was missing, he felt the call of India. But one particular trip didn’t go well. In Calcutta, the city of the destructive goddess Kali, he encountered human suffering such as he had never thought possible. I’ll let him tell this extraordinary story himself:

I was one thousand miles from anyone I knew and felt myself falling into an abyss. It was worse than a panic attack; it was as if I had wandered into some corner of hell…. Then I remembered there was something to do. I had once been told by a friend that in India you have the right to approach a stranger and ask that person to be the incarnation of God. It is a starling custom … This person may refuse the request, but generally it is considered a sacred duty to accept the role if he or she possibly can. I walked several blocks until I reached a tiny park. Then I began desperately looking for someone I could approach and ask to be my incarnation of God. I spotted a middle-aged man; he was dressed in Indian fashion and was barefoot, but he had an air of dignity and calmness. I am amazed now at my boldness, but I was driven by desperation. I approached him. “Sir, do you speak English?” “Yes.” “Would you be the incarnation of God for me?” “Yes,” he replied. He pointed me to a bench, and for the next twenty minutes I poured out my woes. He said not  a word but listened patiently to me.” [I so grateful for this ministry, that I then asked the man.] “Please tell me something about yourself - who are you? what is your work? “I am a Roman Catholic priest,” he replied, plainly and directly.
In a city of well over ten million, less than one percent of whom are Christian, Johnson encountered someone who testified not that he was the incarnation, but who testified to the Christmas mystery instead. This psychologist, the disciple of Carl Jung, found himself, just like the original magi, journeying from the East to Christ.

Magi #3 is Huston Smith, the child of missionaries to China who became an authority on world religions, but who never gave up the Christian faith himself. The following story might be part of the reason why: 

It was 1964 and I was using a semester’s leave to continue my research in India. At the moment to be described, I was conversing with one of a number of gurus whose reputations had taken me to the foothills of the Himalayas, when suddenly there appeared in the doorway of the bungalow I was in a figure so striking that for a moment I thought I might be seeing an apparition. Tall, dressed in a white gown, and with a full beard, it was a man I came to know as Father Lazarus, a missionary of the Eastern Orthodox Church who had spent the last twenty years in India. Ten minutes after I was introduced to him I had forgotten my gurus completely—he was much more interesting than they were—and for a solid week we tramped the Himalayan foothills talking nonstop.

This scholar, a world authority on all faiths, just like the original magi, found himself journeying from the East to Christ. 

Modern magi #4 is William Johnston, a Jesuit priest from Ireland who spent 50 years in Japan. He is the one who translated Shusako Endo’s famous book Silence into English. Fully immersed in Zen Buddhism, Johnston noticed something. It was the kind of things you notice when you live in a place instead of just traveling to it. He noticed that those who attempted to fuse Christianity and Buddhism, that is, to have both, were never respected by the Zen Buddhists themselves, who wanted Christian interlocutors who knew the Christian mystical tradition. Johnson’s conclusion: “Much as I love the Buddha and the patriarchs, I cannot make to them the commitment I make to Jesus…." The difference, Johnston found, between Buddhist and Christian meditation, and he was well versed in both, was love. For a Buddhist, love is a potentially distracting attachment. But God found himself attached to a cross because of his love for us. Johnston the Jesuit, just like the original magi, found himself journeying from the East back to Christ.

What we learn from the magi, whether the ones in Matthew or the ones I just mentioned, is that Jesus is not a tribal god. Our faith is not regional. Or rather, it is regional, but it is for all regions. Within centuries of the original magi’s journey, Christianity overwhelmed the area where the magi came from. This branch of the faith is known as the Assyrian Church of the East. The heartland of Christianity for them was not the Midwest, but Mesopotamia, and it went Eastward from there. “His dominion shall be also from one sea to the other, and from the river unto the world’s end," our text this evening reads. Many of you will know that this form of Christianity has undergone great suffering, but their new patriarch, Mar Awa III, born in Chicago, consecrated patriarchy in Iraq, just visited our area this last month to minister to his flock: another journey from the East to make the point to us about the universal Christ.

As Vince Bantu puts it, Christianity is not becoming global, it always has been global. And the magi are why. They incarnate the message of Ephesians “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body.” “All those from Sheba [that is, from Africa] shall come.” So yes, we need Epiphanytide. But it’s not just about the magi. Because impressive as their journey was, theirs was not the longest journey.  Let me read from the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas:

And God held in his hand
A small globe.  Look he said.
The son looked.  Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce

Let me go there, he said.

That’s the journey that prompted the magi’s journey, then or now.  The real arrival in this story is not theirs, but his. He traveled farther. Not by the stars but through them. And he, Jesus, made the journey for one singular reason, to which he is irrevocably committed. He made the journey for you.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Dionysus Redeemed

Here is a triple book review at Comment covering America, Dionysus, Christ, masculinity, sex, wine, drugs and slavery because art history—the most efficient discipline in the panoply of the liberal arts—can do all that.


Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Book of the Year! (claims one kind person)

The Christian Century kindly published an excerpt of my book, which I suppose makes The Everlasting People, technically speaking, a "Book of the Century." Seriously though, I was especially delighted to learn it was John Wilson's book of the year at First Things, sharing the honor with the amazing Diane Glancy's A Line of Driftwood, about the 1921 journey of an Iñupiat woman named Ada Blackjack. That my book in part retraces Chesterton's 1921 journey to this continent makes for a tidy pairing.

So there you have it: The Christian Century and First Things, together at last.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Romancing the Real

A review of Michael Martin, Sophia in Exile (Angelico Press, 2021), with mention of a few of his other books as well.

Something wonderful is happening in Michigan. Not only has the state produced the trilogy that unfolds the Christian tradition of wisdom as told by Arthur Versluis of Michigan State (mentioned previously here), but now Michigan has generated another trilogy, this one by Michael Martin (The Submerged Reality, Transfiguration and now Sophia in Exile) who writes from his biodynamic farm on the other side of the state. Both of these Michigan mystics do much to uncover alternative (but very much Christian) theological communities surrounding the figure of Sophia throughout Christian history. Still I wonder if Versluis or Martin have stopped to realize that their work, between the two of them, could be substantial enough to contribute equally meaningful twenty-first century iterations of such communities as well.

The title of Martin's latest work says it all, Sophia in Exile. Those familiar with the Gnostic gospels will here recognize a myth where Sophia has been exiled from the evil earth to be beckoned back by select initiates. But Martin has not written the last book in his trilogy to endorse this Gnostic myth but to recast it traditional Christian terms. In other words, Martin's is a wisdom tethered to God's good, richly enchanted earth. Still, Martin faces the failures of Christianity squarely, concluding (in a gloss on Berdyaev) that "only Christianity can save the world from Christianity" (174). 

Though more well-researched than many an academic tome, Sophia Exile is certainly not academic (though it is demanding). Martin writes with verve and freshness across a truly wild range of topics. You won't find, for example, nostalgic appeals to the trivium and quadrivium in his work, and he dismisses aping the Inklings as cosplay. His reflections are generously (but not excessively) seasoned with quotes from Heidegger, Goethe, Rilke, William Morris, Sri Aurobindo or with scenes from Malick films. He has absorbed and mastered the academic's trade of hermeneutical nuance. But the difference is that Martin also pushes through the mists and vapor of academic grandstanding, keeping his feet moving on a very earthen spiritual quest. We might say he takes us from the hermeneutic to the hermetic.

Martin is free to say things that most academics (I am one, so trust me on this) politely avoid: he offers a discourse on nature spirits, a profound meditation on the irreducible mystery of marriage, or generous ruminations on hunting or farming. But whatever Martin's topic, it is our alienation from the earth, from the Real—across the arts, agriculture and academia— that is the common refrain. Sophia is shorthand for the engagement that overcomes this alienation, an engagement which takes considerable attentive work and is consequently far less common than one would think. Sophia is "the metaxu between science, art, and the religious" (25), we learned in the last volume. In this one Martin expands on the fact that she is in exile because we are in exile, unable to give reality the patient and humble regard that it requires. And ultimately, the case remains that "Christ is the Real" (95). If Protestantism (thanks to Boehme, Pordage, Bromley, Law, Herrick, etc.) did so much to revive interest in Sophia (a debt which Orthodoxy frequently forgets), Martin here reminds us that the revival was due in large part to Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah (5-11). 

Martin's learning and breadth as an English professor is the backbone of Sophia in Exile. If he previously reminded us that Robert Fludd and Thomas and Rebecca Vaughan deconstructed natura pura (nature without any need for God) before David Bentley Hart ever got around to doing so (106), now he leads us instead to the optics of Thomas Traherne ("it is almost as if the writings of Traherne wanted to be found, but only waited upon the arrival of the proper moment," 112) and the poetry of Eleanor ("Nellie") Farjeon (a writer, he boldly claims, equal if not better than C.S. Lewis or Charles Williams).

Martin's training and intelligence is in service to much more than himself, and jealously for that which he serves helps explains his pugilism. While the last volume in the trilogy argued "our concern... should be not the problems that now surround us but rather that we can do despite the restrictions brought on by the circumstances within which we find ourselves" (101), he aims to take on global issues a good bit more directly in this book, written in the wake of the pandemic. Martin is profoundly pessimistic about wisdom's prospects in the face of Big Tech. Such companies, Martin previously claimed, could never create pure nature (119). Sophia in Exile only turns up the volume on such warnings, claiming Big Tech has come closer to that unwelcome prospect than ever before. Whether people off the farm and on the grid can enjoy a steady connection to reality therefore remains to be seen. Martin's rhetoric sometimes make it seem like this is unlikely. But it must be possible. Why else would he have expended so much energy writing such beautiful books? 

The result of my finishing Sophia in Exile was only to go back to the first in the series (the longest), and look into Martin's close readings of major figures from the wisdom tradition like Boehme, Fludd and Tomberg. There is so much more to take in there, to say nothing of the anthology he edited (with pairs so well with Versluis's similar collection). To be bored by this rich, and still largely unknown Christian tradition of wisdom is to be bored with reality itself. How serendipitous that these buried texts have been made so freely available to us just when they are needed the most.

Friday, November 19, 2021

From Midwest Strange to Midwest Sacred

An essay of mine at the Front Porch Republic. Hope it can help those who live in the flatlands (or anywhere really) to love where they live.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Your Gaia is Too Small

I wrote at The Hedgehog Review about why the "Gaia hypothesis" is a good idea with a not-so-good name (so I proposed a better one).

Monday, October 11, 2021

Chagall's Cathedral (and our neglected North American ones).

I have an essay in this book entitled "Chagall’s Cathedral: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Art Institute's Modern Wing." The point of my title is that the Art institute of Chicago remains the teaching throne of Chagall's White Crucifixion, through which all its art must pass. My contribution is admittedly rather list-ish (a cataloguing of undeniable theological flashpoints that I've noticed over the last decade). I wish I had thought to include how the  iconic Crown Fountain in Millennium Park redeems the irony of Bruce Nauman's far less imaginative Fountain. Still, the book is also filled with elegant, less list-ish accounts of other such flashpoints by colleagues and friends.

There's also this piece published at The Hedgehog Review for Indigenous People's Day, where I imagine  a world (which is sadly not this one) where places like Picture Cave were not put up for sale. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Toward a New Grail Quest

A review of Robert J. Faas and Arthur Versluis, Conversations in Apocalyptic Times (Grailstone Press, 2021).

Even for those well-versed in Western intellectual history, to discover the scholarship of Arthur Versluis is to discover a hidden world. His great trilogy (Theosophia, Wisdom’s Children and Wisdom’s Book), appearing at the turn of the millennium, uncovered a neglected galaxy of Christian esoteric thought, one that could in no way be dismissed as “Gnostic” (whatever might be meant by that sloppily flung term), let alone as heretical. Versluis revealed that a term like “theosophy,” co-opted by Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society originally in opposition to Christianity, was in fact a far earlier experiential form of Christian spirituality that resurfaced at the dawn of modernity partly in order to defy it. Simply put, Versluis uncovered the very terrain that people leave Christianity to find within the Christian tradition itself. His scholarship is accessible, careful, extensive and original. Many who have worked through his books, or even a portion of them, will likely find themselves realizing that their education has been lamentably incomplete.

But just as importantly, Versluis comments at nearly every turn that what he has discovered, these experimental depths of Christian mysticism in the face of modernity, is as much a personal quest as it is an intellectual project. His readers will therefore be faced with a desire for more practical guidance, for a more free-wheeling, casual discussion about how to apply this forgotten, but still very much Christian, tradition to one’s own life. It is this precise need that the present book adequately addresses, offering a casually written and accessible series of conversations between friends. Versluis’ conversation partner is a respected psychologist, Robert J. Faas, who brings his clinical experience and highly informed speculative insight into play as well. The combination is perfect for meeting the book’s stated aim: a guide for spiritual seekers in apocalyptic (that is, revelatory) times.

Faas and Versluis here show, with charity and clarity, how certain levels of approach are in themselves incapable of extracting us from our increasingly toxic twenty-first century predicament. Still, they do so while honoring the truths each of these “levels” (for lack of a better term) contain. To attempt to summarize the book, I will outline what I discerned to be these respective levels. Of course, some might fear that even to mention “levels” of approach would be to betray an elitist Gnostic approach to spirituality; but this is not the case. Faas and Versluis are too respectful of each level, and too insistent on the unique dimensions of Christianity, for that facile critique to validly apply. With that said, here are the levels I discerned:

1) First off there is the materialist approach to reality, which can include the academic mode. One can investigate spiritual and religious traditions (or anything really) from this purview, possibly declaring such traditions to be false, or (for the more restrained academics) observing and describing the religious quest with as much neutrality as possible. But while this book assumes a great degree of competence in this area, it is deliberately not academic. And while both thinkers give due weight to the material plane—to sexuality and ecology, for example—without too quickly venturing to the spiritual, both thinkers argue that our civilizational prospects without spiritual renewal are dire, especially due to purgative forces coming from the Right, but just as much so – both thinkers are keen to point out —from the silencing zeal of the political Left.

2) Then there is the more adventurous psychological approach. Think, for example, of a Jungian mode that recasts entire religious traditions in the interior key. Both thinkers are deeply appreciative of Jung for the doors he has opened, but both are far too versed in the history of mysticism to be deluded (as are too many Jungians) into thinking that Jung’s take on the alchemical and mystical traditions is always to be trusted, let alone considered as their source. Indeed, Versluis’ entire career has done so much to expose the (often unabashedly Christian) sources that Jung drew upon, liberating readers to go to them directly, unfiltered through a Jungian lens. A psychologist like Faas, it seems to me, therefore finds himself in the great tradition of Christian interpreters of Jung (Sanford, Bryant, Ulanov) who are appreciative but not beholden to the great Swiss psychoanalyst.

3) Next we might describe the traditionally religious approach that resists psychologizing, and asserts that standard doctrinal boundaries can avoid the difficulties of the materialist or psychological approaches. Faas and Versluis both understand this. Still, they know that in and of itself merely cognitive religion can also become a dead end. Both thinkers appear to be (in my reading at least) genuinely Christian mystics, ones who are perfectly straightforward about – for example – the resurrection of Christ; but they also urge their readers to experience this reality as well, liturgically and internally, and recommend unexpected ways of doing so. The Eastern Orthodox tradition therefore is especially pronounced.

4) Next we could summon the perennialists: Those who think that all religions can be freely sampled and distilled to a common denominator without committing to any one of them. Faas and Versluis see the insights of the perennial philosophy, and show deep knowledge, appreciation and respect for the great traditions. While they can affirm this approach to an extent, at the same time they claim that Christianity offers something unique, especially when understood as fulfilling the Mystery Traditions that came before it. As Faas puts it in one remarkable passage: 

What did Christ bring into the underworld that was different than what the earlier Mysteries had been able to do? It’s really quite a central question because something changed in the very nature of the underworld. Christ’s descent was not like an Orpheus or otherwise who have descended and then in a sense came back – Christ overcame…. It wasn’t just a pivot to the underworld, it was an overcoming and a change of its nature forever.

The problem, however, comes when in fulfilling and transcending the Mystery Tradition, Christianity leaves Mystery entirely behind. Faas and Versluis show us how to regain it.

In short, having absorbed the lessons of each of these preceding levels (which I have unimaginatively labeled one through four above) Faas and Versluis transcend them. While “transcend and include” has become something of a cliché, or even an unearned boast in adventurous spiritual circles, one senses that these two friends have earned the right to the phrase. Each of these conversation partners are themselves conversant in the Christian mystical tradition (not to mention Buddhist, Hindu and Sufi traditions), with a special love for how the Christian mystical tradition was modernized with Jacob Böhme. 

While a more academic, descriptive approach to this great German mystic (and his followers) is available in Versluis’ many books, this publication is more immediate and practical, harboring no illusions about our tenuous moment. Finally, both thinkers are fully cognizant of the mystery of unearned grace, but they know that a process is necessary as well, one that so many current churches have forsaken (but which endures, for example, in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola). Faas and Versluis, however, commend instead the Grail tradition, not to mention Christian alchemy (and the two are closer than one might think). Indeed, the true alchemist – according to Faas – is Christ himself.

This is a highly recommended conversation that everyone, no matter which of the aforementioned levels they gravitate toward, would do well to hear. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Book on the way...

100 years ago G.K. Chesterton visited North America and (by his own admission) didn't sufficiently attend to this continent's First Nations; I tried to imagine what this lover of myth and critic of imperialism would have said if he had. Book out Fall 2021, and you can pre-order it here.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Dueling L.A. Virgins; Undercover in Toledo

Was Tim Hawkinson really covertly replying to Robert Gober in Los Angeles? Was El Greco smuggling a jab at the filioque clause into the city where it was first codified? I think so, and you — that's right, you — can read about both scenarios at the Transpositions decade roundup and in the Wheaton Alumni Magazine. The latter is my love letter to Renaissance art history, Christian humanism, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Midwest (with help from Mary Magdalene, Teresa of Ávila & Kerry James Marshall).

Friday, November 27, 2020

12 Rules for Understanding Jungians: An Antidote to Interpretive Chaos

Well friends, the jokes on me. With Jordan Peterson's new book in the news, people keep making uninformed, slapdash declarations about Jung and Christianity, which must mean they haven't read my previous post or informative tweet threads on the subject. 

But then I realized what the problem is. THEY WEREN'T NUMBERED! So I'm re-posting and updating this exclusive millinerd content in list form.

If you don't have time, here's the upshot: Whether you are for or against Jordan Peterson, his lone Jungian voice is a pale substitute for the rich conversation between Jung and Christianity that has been going on for well over a century, and that most people of late seem to have forgotten about. And so with that summary, I give you the list.

1. Dogmaphobia is curable. Pitting doctrine against experience is the classic, and completely unnecessary, Jungian maneuver, but one need not choose. In responding, it's hard to do better than Christopher Bryant's opening directives in Jung and the Christian Way, which originated as lectures given in 1980 at All Saints Margaret Street: 

I think Jung's understanding of dogma to be partial and inadequate. He regarded dogma as a protection against a psychic experience which might otherwise have proved overwhelming, as an attempt to tame and domesticate dangerous psychic forces. No doubt this has been one of its functions. But perhaps because of his undervaluing of belief he failed fully to grasp the positive value of dogma. For Christian doctrine and dogma grew out of an attempt to define and map an intense spiritual experience; and dogma is one of the tools for the exploration of a reality which transcends human grasp. The creeds are not intended to be the final expression of ultimate truth but signposts pointing the way to unfathomable mystery. Christians who believe them to be accurate signposts need to take care not to identify the signposts with the realities to which they point. As under Jung's guidance we learn to get in touch with our own depths and discover our own truth, the powerful realities the dogmas signify will become new and exciting (x).
2. The devil needs not be assimilated. Jung, like Nietzsche, was the son of a pastor and never quite got over it. His ultimate rebellion against admittedly unhealthy Christianity was to put evil back into the God concept, but one can get all of the benefits of that maneuver (i.e. shadow acknowledgment) without making that unnecessary mistake. John Sanford's The Kingdom Within helpfully identifies the largest deficit in the Jungian (and possibly Petersonian) systems:
Sensing the necessity of evil for the advancement of spiritual consciousness, some psychologists have ventured into the outskirts of the fields of philosophy and theology and have asserted that evil also belongs to the ultimate wholeness of things. C.G. Jung in particular repeatedly intimated that totality must include evil as well as good. This is a dangerous and misleading thought for, in spite of the necessity for evil, evil has a negative power of its own which is directly opposed to the life-giving power of totality. We must distinguish between chaotic or undifferentiated parts of our personality, which may seem to us to be devilish but which must be included if we are to be whole, and absolute or ultimate evil - a very different thing which cannot be integrated into wholeness since it is antiwholeness (137).  

Furthermore, it may be the case that, in his best moments, Jung himself understood this. Here he is in Aion:

I have neither the inclination nor the competence to mix myself up with metaphysics. Only, I have to get polemical when metaphysics encroaches on experience and interprets it in a way that is not justified empirically. My criticism of the privatio boni [the deprivation theory of evil] holds only so far as psychological experience goes.

If Origen believed in the devil's conversion, Christians can perhaps say that evil will be converted in the eschatological long run, but never can it be assimilated into the personal psyche let alone the nature of God. Which is to say, let exorcisms continue (and you can do worse than M. Scott Peck's harrowing accounts here and here).

3. Jung knew his boundaries (even if he sometimes blurred them). Over and over again in his collected works Jung constantly draws the line between metaphysics and psychology. Christians should take advantage of that. As Jung puts it in Psychology and Alchemy:
Psychology is concerned with the act of seeing and not with the construction of new religious truths, when even the existing teachings have not yet been perceived and understood.... Accordingly, when I say as a psychologist that God is an archetype, I mean by that the "type" in the psyche. The word "type," as we know, is derived from typos, "blow" or "imprint"; thus an archetype presupposes an imprinter. Psychology as the science of the soul has to confine itself to its subject and guard against overstepping its proper boundaries by metaphysical assertions and other professions of faith. Should it set up a God, even as a hypothetical cause, it would have implicitly claimed the possibility of proving God, thus ending its competence in an absolutely illegitimate way (263).

One wishes, of course, that Jung would have exemplified this reticence career long. In point of fact, he often overstepped it. Hence Bryant is on the mark when he writes, "Jung appears to find it hard to distinguish the experience of the self and that of God. [But] to say that God can be experienced within the working of the human psyche does not, of course, imply that he is not present and perceptible outside of it" (40-41).

But even if Jung blurred the lines between metaphysics and psychological experience, everyone who has seriously engaged his writings knows that he constantly reestablishes that boundary as a matter of discipline, and there is no reason we can't do the same. 

4. There are charts! And they really help. The Orthodox scholar G.C. Tympas (a wonderful synchronistic inversion of the C.G. in C.G. Jung) offers a challenging (and expensive) charitable reading of Jung. He nevertheless concludes that "there is a huge difference between Jung's active imagination, through which the ego encounters unconscious dynamics and aims the inner Self, and Maximus' compound psychic function that is able to directly experience the divine through prayer and spiritual contemplation" (166). Along the way, Tympas offers handily lays out the differences between Maximus the Confessor and Jung:

But the best charts, and the ones upon which Tympas bases his more elaborate ones, belong to Morton Kelsey's The Other Side of Silence. They really are fantastic, and notice there IS NO EVIL IN GOD.

5. Jung was a closet trinitarian.  Though he's accused of mandating a quaterinity (which Jung in fact expressly avoids doing), in other passages in his massive corpus Jung is quite traditional. Edward Edinger has gone on at length about this in his magnum opus, Ego and Archetype. Here's a sampling:

If the trinity can carry an equal but different significant tot he quaternity, it should emerge in empirical psychological material with about the same frequency as does the quaternity. And, indeed this is the case. I turned to a collection of mandalas published by Jung and was surprised to find how frequently there was trinitarian imagery embedded in pictures which had been selected to demonstrate the quaternity... [in short, for Jung] The quaternity must be complemented by the [comparatively dynamic] trinity (189. 191).

Of course, the book is worth engaging in full.

6. Active imagination is an ancient practice. I once heard a Jungian allergic to Christianity (the same one who deliberately mistranslated his master's doorpost) claim that Jung invented the technique of active imagination. Ridiculous. Not only was Jung aware of how Ignatius of Loyola perfected that ancient Christian practice, but he gave extended lectures on the subject (which until recently were buried in the Jungian archives because most Jungians did not care). Thankfully there is now a study on the subject: Unlikely Companions: C.G. Jung on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola

If the best thing ones learns from Jung is how to use active imagination in prayer effectively, it will have been worth the trip. John Sanford's Christian guide to the practice is on offer at the end of Healing and Wholeness and The Invisible Partners, and there is extensive guidance in this area from Kelsey's Other Side of Silence as well. Though in my experience Johnson's book on the subject (which handles dreams as well) is the most practical (and demanding). Get on it folks!

7. Symbols have their limits. As helpful as it is to see Jung fertilize the great medieval forest of symbols for our time, not everything is a symbol. Morton Kelsey can't be forgotten on this point. Here is a bracing and beautiful passage from this Jungian Christian's book-length insistence on the resurrection as symbol, sign, reality, and then some:

Through Jung and his followers I was given a new map of reality. On this map the resurrection became for me the central event. The life and death of Jesus, his birth and ascension and the coming of the Spirit were all part of the Christian drama of which the resurrection was the central act, the keystone that hols to together the whole arch of vital Christianity. Without the resurrection there might be a spiritual world and a life after death, but they might also be no better than the world in which we live with its poverty, racial hatred, power-driven egotism, misery, war brutality, systematized torture (of which the cross is one of the more hideous examples), pain agony and despair. A spiritual dimension without the resurrction might well be far worse than extinction (18).

8. Gnosis is not necessarily Gnosticism. Was Jung a Gnostic? The times that Jung expressly denied that accusation cannot be counted (though someone has tried). His Zarathustra lectures show that Jung clearly understood the dangers of body-denial or the elitist inflation to which so many full-blown Gnostics were prone. A better understanding though is that Jung used Gnosticism as a conversation partner to stir up trouble in a settled Christian church (so poorly exemplified by his father). He managed this not by being a pure Gnostic (if that's even a possibility today), but by following the mediating road of Alchemy instead.

I take it that a purist would find reason enough here to dismiss Jung completely. But on that measure, you may need to dismiss the gospel of John as well. Jung's great Catholic collaborator (and critic) Victor White understood this perfectly when, in response to Jung, he explained, "While gnosticism has no room for faith, faith has room, indeed need, for gnosis. Gnosis cannot be a substitute for faith, but the possession of gnosis is part and parcel of the gifts to the faithful Ecclesia" (210). Which is to say, read Victor White!

9. Grace is the secret. Those of you with an ear for grace will not go long in Jung before finding this element over and over again. For Sanford and Edinger, the insistence on encountering our personal sinfulness and the grace that consequently emerges is what gives Jung a uniquely Lutheran thrust. As Edinger explains, "the ego cannot experience the support of the Self [he means God] until it has been freed of its identification with Self. It cannot be a vessel for the influx of grace until it has been emptied of its own inflated fullness." Edinger then cites Luther, "When God is about to justify a man, he damns him. Whom he would first make alive he must first kill." (56). Edinger continues, "fundamentally, [the] patient is facing the problem of whether or not he is justified before God (57). That, for Edinger, is what analysis is really all about.

But one can also go straight to Jung for this as well. Here he is concluding After the Catastrophe

Without guilt, unfortunately, there can be no psychic maturation and no widening spiritual horizon. Was it not Meister Eckhart who said: "For this reason God is willing to bear the brunt of sins and often winks at them, mostly sending them to people for whom he has prepared some high destiny. See! Who was dear to our Lord or more intimate with him than his apostles? Not one of them but fell into moral sin, and all were moral sinners." Where sin is great, "grace doth much more abound." Such an experience brings about an inner transformation, and this is infinitely more important than political and social reforms which are all valueless in the hands of people who are not at one with themselves. This is a truth which we are forever forgetting, because our eyes are fascinated by the conditions around us and riveted on them instead of examining our own heart and conscious. Every demagogue exploits this human weakness when he points with the greatest possible outcry to all the things that are wrong in the outside world. But the principal and indeed the only thing that is wrong with the world is man (216).

10. Jung was doing triage (and so is Peterson). 

Triage, that is, for the church. In his writings Jung even goes so far as to complain that folks would not stay in church. He blamed the church's failures less on the inadequacy of Christianity than on the "psychic situation of Western man, and [his] inability to assimilate the whole range of the Christian symbol" (277). Jung continues:
I would only be too delighted to leave this anything but easy [healing] task to the theologian, were it not that it is just from the theologian that many of my patients come. They ought to have hung on to the community of the Church, but they were shed like dry leaves from the great tree and now find themselves "hanging on" to the treatment (277)...  I wish everybody could be freed from the burden of their sins by the Church. But he to whom she cannot render this service must bend very low in the imitation of Christ in order to take the burden of his cross upon him" (281).

No doubt Peterson's success today is due to more dry leaves shed from desicated churches. But again, it is Jung himself who suggests it would be better for Christians to access the content of their own tradition, perhaps using the ladles forged by depth psychology to help reach it.

In other words, while the Christian concern today is often that Jungians are too pagan, Jung's concern was the Christianity was too pagan and he was trying to help. 

It may easily happen... that a Christian who believes in all the sacred figures is still undeveloped and unchanged in his inmost soul because he has 'all God outside' and does not experience him in the soul. His deciding motives, his ruling interests and impulses, do not spring from the sphere of Christianity but from the unconscious and undeveloped psyche, which is as pagan and archaic as ever.... The great events of our world as planned and executed by man do not breathe the spirit of Christianity but rather of unadorned paganism. These things originate in a psychic condition that has remained archaic and has not been even remotely touched by Christianity (Problems of Alchemy).

If I may, that scenario sounds chillingly familiar. 

11. Christians have been here long before.  

And so the answers lie in the faith to which Jung kept insisting we return, namely, Christianity and the living experience of God that this faith makes possible. Yes, Jung did much to open up the West to Eastern realities, but as his famous dream in India revealed to him, Westerners best pursue wholeness within Christianity, not elsewhere. For in this treasure house (the church) the riches we need are still stored. As Jung beautifully elucidates,

In the hermeneutic language of the Fathers the Church possesses a rich store of analogies with the individual and spontaneous products to be found in psychology.... It stands to reason that the expressions of the unconscious are natural and not formulated dogmatically; they are exactly like the patristic allegories which draw the whole of nature into the orbit of their amplifications. If these present us with some astonishing allegoriae Christi, we find much the same sort of thing in the psychology of the unconscious.

Is it any wonder that a church that lost touch with its early Christian heritage needed this kind of reminder? And now that insight has been expanded, corrected, refined and confirmed with Pia Sophia Chaudhari's compelling Orthodox study, Dynamics of Healing, Patristic Theology and the Psyche. Please read it!

Does anyone really think Christianity, with the enormity of its manifestations, many of which are unhelpful, is in the position to refuse some assistance? Can anyone really affirm that the church has been entirely successful at engaging its own shadow? The Jungian, and now Petersonian phenomenon is empirical proof of Christian pastoral failures. Jung was right to say that "faith can often be a substitute for experience." Vociferous denials of Jung/Jungians by Christians unfortunately prove the point. 

12. So please for God's sake expand this conversation. The church grew immensely from its engagement with Aristotle, Plato, Hegel. It has already grown, thanks to its engagement of Jung. But why does everyone seem to feel the need to start from scratch? Peterson should be the starting point for recovering the rich Catholic engagement whether from Jolande Jacobi or Father Victor White (and many others). The books and letters have long been published. Jung's challenge to interiority should expand Protestantism as well, and indeed already has. Just this year Jung's letters with a Protestant Barthian, On Theology and Psychology, have been published. In England, the Cowley Father Christopher Bryant (popularized in Susan Howatch's Starbridge series) has long Christianized Jung even if the British Jungian Christian conversation (which once flourished!) may have forgotten.

There also seems to have been a brief golden age of Christian Jungian reflection in America particularly, starting with Fritz Kunkl and leading to John Sanford, Morton Kelsey, Helen Luke and Robert Johnson. The profit one can gain from John Sanford's book alone (I recommend Healing and Wholeness, The Invisible Partners, The Kingdom Within, Mystical Christianity, etc., etc.) would do much to heal many a vexed Petersonian.

Accordingly, a sure way to balance the current frenzy, and to immunize oneself forever from one more insufferable ten-minute Peterson take, is to simply pick up any of these books!

Still, if one is not willing to do so, there remains another certain pathway that avoids all of the demanding work of engaging the Jungian world, including the recent cascade of dismissals and endorsements. When faced with the question of what to make of Jung, Jungianism and the Peterson phenomenon, all that one must do is quietly reply with two simple words and one contraction: "I don't know."

Update (3/26/21): Why did I bother to write this? I could have simply read Ann Belford Ulanov's The Wisdom of the Psyche and be done with it, and so could you. It's all there. The principled (and pointed) disagreement with Jung where he goes wrong, the development of his insights regarding the feminine, the appropriate critiques of Christian fear of the psyche, but still firmly within the contours of classic Christianity. She rightfully sees that Edinger and Murray Stein miss - God's objectivity, but not at the expense of the psyche. Here she is on Jung's mistake of placing evil in God: 

 Jung fell for the Devil's trick, I think, and missed the sophisticated psychological description that privato boni gives us of evil's reality.... What Jung was after, I believe, is the psychological and religious truth that we must admit to ourselves, just how strong evil is. It is not something we can get around or ignore. What he missed, I believe, is the greater theological truth - that good is stronger than evil and of a different order of being.

My understanding of Jung is that did not know where to put the bad. He could not get a net over it. But he could not and did not deny or repress it. He struggled with it. His personal life and his life with women show this struggle and even the nastiness that inheres in it.... Jung's solution to his problem, masquerading as Job's worked.... This attitude of Jung's holds some of the appeal that the Zoroastrian religion holds: we can line up on the same side with God, or Ahuramazda, and fight fort the good against the forces of darkness. For Jung, the saving good was consciousness. God needs our consciousness. For myself, I think that is simply where Jung projected his particular struggle and particular God-image onto God. 

But that doesn't even begin to get at the book's depth. Stop reading this blog and go read her!  

Update (8/26/21): Why are you still reading this and not reading Ulanov? At any rate, Fritz Kunkl (who inspired both John Sanford and Robert Johnson) makes the same point, as summarized by Stanford here (358-359):

Jung at times seems to reverse his position with regard to evil. For instance, in his autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections, in a chapter entitled "Late Thoughts"—so we can assume that what he says here expresses his mature reflections—JUng seems to forget what he said about the Self's being good and evil, and to disregard what he said in Answer to Job about man's moral superiority to God, and to espouse a throroughly Christian attitude.... Jung finds himself faltering before the task of dining the words with which to express "the incalculable paradox of love." He concludes that "God is love" and that this is what his idea of the Self as a complexio oppositorium means. He says nothing about this remarkable and wonderful Love being combined with Hate, or requiring Hate as its opposite in order to exist. Clearly this Love of God transcends all the opposites and is their principle unity in a remarkable way. He even winds up quoting St. Paul from 1 Corinthians 13 and saying that nothing is more to be added to these words.  

And I'll stop adding to this post as well.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Mother of the Midwest

The last of my Hansen lecture series on G.K. Chesterton and Native America entitled Turtle Island Renaissance with a response from Dr. Amy Peeler is viewable here:

Monday, September 21, 2020

Rodeo Restaurans and Fake Faculty

I've long wanted to end a piece with "Carthago delanda est." Thanks to the Institute for Thriving Identities, I found a way to do so. My piece if followed up by contributions from philosopher Bryan McCarthy and business executive Jon Ungerland.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Learning in Plague Time

Here is an orientation video for this upcoming, unusual semester.