God and the Unconscious Again

I thought that I had ended the Victor White and Carl Jung controversy but after reading Jung’s foreword to White’s book on God and the Unconscious I found myself really struggling to make sense of the dispute again…

‘The very religiousness of Jung, is apt to scare off the religious-minded as much as, or more than, the irreligious.’

This quote by Victor White, written many years ago, reflects still I think contemporary understanding of the relationship between analytical psychology and religion. It’s easier for the church to understand CBT, behavioural and cognitive psychology and the materialism of traditional Freudian psychoanalysis – after all they seem very much to deal with mental distress and emotional difficulties and they don’t tread on the territory of spirituality or religion.

Contemporary psychoanalytic psychotherapy still doesn’t have much time for the spiritual or the religious but contemporary Jungians are usually very much interested in the spiritual and the religious reflecting Carl Jung’s desire for cooperation and understanding.

In his foreword to Victor White’s book ‘God and the Unconscious’ written in May 1952 Carl Jung writes that all therapies require a spiritual completion, not least because a lot of the material that emerges in dream work reflect archetypal myths and spiritual insights. Jung notes that often those in the church don’t like the idea of myth because it seems to be an undermining of religious testimonies which are understood as supreme truth. But we need to recognise that we are all part of something; for anyone to be healed and to feel whole involves more than individual well-being or individual salvation. In this we are all in it together and acknowledging the collective matters – both consciously in being part of a group and inevitably as part of the collective unconscious (to use Jung’s term).

Jung’s main point about religion and therapy is that we use language in different contexts and with different associations. The God of the church is not the same as the God of the archetype – or is it? For Jung, God is present – a God that he said he knew – present in the deep unconscious with divine attributes of almightiness, omniscience, eternity and so on and this includes a numinous quality which deeply stirs our emotions. However, as I have discussed before, the difficulties that came to the surface in his relationship with Victor White have also disconcerted other religious and that is Carl Jung’s belief that God cannot be all good – without evil – but also has to have a shadow aspect because after all he is an archetype and archetypes have both good and bad aspects. What can we make of this?

My answer is that perhaps the conceptual thinking doesn’t matter quite so much but rather what really matters is the experience and I do find Thomas Merton’s description of his early conversion helpful here. He turns to the concept of aseity which simply means the power of a being to exist absolutely in virtue of itself, not as caused by itself, but as requiring no cause, no other justification for its existence except that its very nature is to exist. In other words God is Being Itself and that Being includes the archetypes and all the thinking about them, and all the deep longings within each of us but is also more than the archetypes encompassing the whole. In his early reading about this Merton notes the idea of the concrete and real Infinite Being, Who, Himself transcends all our conceptions. In other words God doesn’t need me to believe in him in order for him to exist…
We can’t know but we can have a sense of and be open to something which is both inside and outside of ourselves and so much more than can be thought of and easily imagined.