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. 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 shallow 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 answer lies 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."