Know thyself and know God 5


On October 22 1950, the BBC broadcast an interview with Carl Jung conducted by John Freeman in the series ‘Face to Face’. In the course of the interview* Freeman asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ to which Jung answered after a long pause: ‘I don’t need to believe, I know.’

Here is the knowing and certainty at a deep level that has been raised in the last few posts. Jung, as he describes in his own autobiography had descended into the depths of his own psyche, and from his psychological and spiritual experiences devised his knowledge of the archetypes and the journey of the soul through individuation: he knew something of himself and knew something of God.

What Jung meant in the interview has given rise to much discussion, and he later had to clarify it in various correspondence. He explained that his ‘knowing’ and ‘knowledge of God’ was unconventional, and yet he saw himself as a Christian, in that, as he rather gnomically writes:

I am entirely based on Christian concepts. I only try to escape their internal contradictions by introducing a more modest attitude which takes into consideration the immense darkness of the human mind.

Jung thought that the Christian idea was continuously evolving, and it wasn’t appropriate to continue to think about religious experience in an antique or medieval way. For him God was something unknown but something that is believed in and present within everyone:

… always, everywhere, and by everybody. … I remember Him, I evoke Him, whenever I use His name, overcome by anger or by fear, whenever I involuntarily say “Oh, God.” That happens when I meet somebody or something stronger than myself.

For Jung, God is an apt name for experiences that overpower, and that subdue our conscious will and usurp any sense of control that we may have. For Jung, God is the Power, the Reality, the Energy that upturns and changes one’s life course – for better or worse. God is personal in that one’s very subjectivity is affected, and God, can approach us in the form of conscience with which one might converse and argue – the voice of God. Jung does not attribute either good or bad to God, but sees instead that his [Jung’s] experience can be good or evil. As he writes:

I know that the superior will is based upon a foundation which transcends human imagination. Since I know of my collision with a superior will in my own psychic system, I know of God … I would say of a God beyond Good and Evil, just as much dwelling in myself as everywhere else.

Jung repeats a quote he has used before in an earlier correspondence – when describing how in many societies the spiritual centre has dropped out – his example is Nazi Germany but we might add others now. It is only in the spiritual centre – either personally or collectively that there can be any possibility of salvation. The concept of the centre was called by the Chinese ‘Tao’, which the Jesuits in their day translated as ‘Deus’:

This centre is everywhere, i.e., in everybody, and when the individual does not possess this centre s/he infects all the others with this sickness. Then they lose the centre too. Deus est circulus cuius centrum est ubique circumferential vero nusquam.

Translated as the true God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere!

*The interview is on question about God roughly at 8 minutes in.