‘We used to answer questions with answers. Now we answer them with questions…’
The old certainties are no longer sufficient. In our rational contemporary Western culture defined by materialism and technology we look for definitive answers and for answers that are given completely and quickly. In this way as the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot expressed it: ‘the misfortune of the question is the answer’. We are led to expect and this is a fantasy, that science and conceptual thought will be able to provide an answer and a solution to difficulties. It’s a fantasy because ‘science as the answer’ is in itself set up as an idol – and so it becomes a replacement god for us to worship and who may save us if we believe in it enough. It’s a mockery to say that god is dead for we will always search for something to worship.
It’s no longer possible to answer cosmic questions in simple personal terms – it seems even in the sense of what’s right or wrong and abstract terms derived from science remain unsatisfactory as solutions. It’s been shown that most scientific theories are out of date within 30 years and that at its best so-called cosmic answers are always ‘situated knowledges’ in the sense that they are framed by the context and environment of whoever is undertaking to answer.
It does seem to be the weakness of all empirical theorists that the so-called answers are so limited and reductive and to some extent Carl Jung also displays this in his approach to religion. It is clear that the arguments on both sides as put forward between Carl Jung and Victor White – between analytical psychology and religion – are obscured by their experience and the context (culture and times) of both men.
Sometimes out of loyalty to the church individuals defend indefensible positions and can react in a hostile manner with some paranoia to the idea of analytical psychology – that paranoia of course may in itself contain a grain of truth as psychoanalysis rather more than analytical psychology has been hostile to religion. In the same way Carl Jung’s Protestant ancestors and upbringing clouded his understanding of religion and particularly his response to Victor White’s Thomistic Catholic mentality and framework.
Threats to our belief system can be generalised out into the world (inner doubts can be projected) and affect our relationships with one another. We become dependent on our personal beliefs about the world and about our religious faith if we have one, and in an effort to shore up doubts we may become more strongly resistant to any apparent attack on the belief. Then the person who doesn’t believe like we do becomes the heretic and the focus for hostile thought. It’s easy to see how many people hope that if they keep to the outer rules they can overcome their inner difficulties.
The only search for answers is to open up to more questioning and so to search and continue to search. This has to be a search that is fundamentally inwards. Carl Jung despite his difficulties with Victor White understood this when he wrote explaining the background to his theological thinking as ‘I had to rely on experience alone’. Similarly, Thomas Merton who really is a theologian of experience, turned inwards in his seeking for God but always within the frame offered by the monastic community within which he lived. For questioning can be scary without a structure and indeed Carl Jung’s journeys into the deep unconscious confirm this.