Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Layers of Truth - Jung's History of Religious Symbols

These thoughts are based on the following passage from Jung and Christianity by Wallace B. Clift:

The life of the Church (after the early centuries of the beginning of Christianity) could be divided into three eras... (1) The uneducated individual in medieval society accepted the authority of the institutional Church. (2) The newly awakened minds of the Renaissance accepted the authority of theology based on the Bible. (3) The humanistic, scientific, and pragmatic spirit of this age will accept the authority of experiential, personal encounter with the living God. [p. 101]

Also, this quotation from the book Projecting the Shadow by Janice Hocking Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, arguing that the story of Christ has two separate layers of meaning:

The Christ story can be taken esoterically--that is, the way in which specially initiated persons would understand it... In this interpretation... as an infant, Christ is the “divine child,” a personification of the Self archetype, the potential for wholeness in all of us that is constantly threatened by hostile forces and must be carefully guarded and nurtured. To move toward wholeness, a person follows Christ’s example as an adult and sacrifices one’s self, or, in psychological terms, the ego, on the “cross,” symbolizing the opposites of consciousness and the unconscious. Although Christianity does not deal explicitly with the problem of technology, it does, when understood esoterically, address the problem of the shadow, that rejected part of us all which is projected onto an Other, a devil figure that carries the sins of humanity. In contemporary times one form of this shadow is technology. Taken as an example, Christ’s crucifixion models what each person must do him- or herself--namely, let ego “die” as the sovereign center of the psyche so that the Self can take its place. Light cannot be brought into the world--the shadow cannot be raised to consciousness, the divided self united--without this willingness to suffer and let the old ways die.

[ In this esoteric interpretation, Jung draws the following symbolic correspondences:
God ->unconscious
Christ -> Self (or God-image)
Incarnation -> integration of the unconscious
Satan ->shadow
Salvation or Redemption -> individuation
Crucifixion or sacrifice on the Cross -> realization of the four functions or of wholeness
- Jung, Collected Works, XVIII, p. 736 ]

It is much more typical, of course, to interpret the Christ story exoterically--that is, in a way that reinforces the ego by keeping the unacceptable parts of the psyche (the shadow) separated and disowned. In this version, Satan carries the sins of the world, and Christ substitutes for us in deaing with Satan. In the Old Testament prophecy and in Paradise Lost, the messiah vanquishes Satan in glorious military combat, much as Sarah defeats the Terminator in the present and John is prophesied to do in the future. In the New Testament story, of course, Christ dies for our sins, much as Kyle Reese does in this film, so that we will not have to. In both exoteric versions, all that is required for redemption is belief, because the savior of humankind banishes that shadow for us. [p. 180] [this excerpt is from a chapter on James Cameron’s film The Terminator]

Jung, like Marx, understands that truth has multiple layers, and that one historical era is likely to emphasize a different layer than another.

Jung expressed the different layers in terms of four fundamental functions--sensing, feeling, thinking, and intuition. Jung hypothesizes that these functions develop
as a system of adaptation, just as eyes exist presumably because there is light. Thinking can claim only a third or a fourth part of the total significance, although in its own sphere it possesses exclusive validity--just as sight is the exclusively valid function for the perception of light waves, and hearing for that of sound waves. [Psychological Types, par. 158]
Jung separates history into eras depending on what layer was most emphasized. Primitive religious systems emphasize only sensation, and so the thinking, feeling, and intuitive layers of truth remain undifferentiated and mixed together in the unconscious. For primitive religions, the authority of gods is sensational in nature. The authority of gods was expressed in images with strong sensory connotations--Mother, Sun, or Fire. The Sensory gods were indifferent to human-kind. The Mother-god may have cared, but she was too distant and removed from real human history for her caring to make any difference. The image of God as Saviour marked the beginning of a new religious era, in Jung’s view. The Saviour-god, unlike the impersonal Sun-god or fire-god, provides a concrete image of God as “good.” With the Incarnation, God is not only good in a far-away, mythic sense, but He/She actively does good things in the present. In this way, Feeling becomes a legitimate source of authority. Society’s moral norms come to include emotional considerations for the first time. Jung sees the Christian age as a major victory against barbarism in this regard.

The next era is marked by the Protestant Reformation, and is the era that differentiates the Thinking function as a legitimate source of moral authority. Philosophers go back to the time of Ancient Greece, but it’s not until the Protestant Reformation that their ideas first have a signficant impact on the moral norms of society, in Jung’s view.

Development of Religious SymbolsHow God is experienced:psychological resultDifferentiated Functions within predominant religious symbols
Primitive Era (10,000 BCE - 1st century CE)association to Sensation: Sun-god, Fire-god, Mother-godNature-gods give humans an external reference point to direct their energies towards.Sensing
Medieval Era (1st century CE - 16th century CE)God as Goodness: God is a Saviour, who champions the good and banishes evil from our lives. Religious authority is controlled by an elite group of religious leaders.Society’s dominant moral norms include emotional considerations for the first time Sensing, Feeling
Rationalistic Era (16th century CE - present day)Each individual has license to interpret scripture and come to theological conclusions.The authority of the Scientist replaces the authority of the Priest as the source of truth concerning the physical world. But thought becomes overvalued. The "false uniqueness" of economic specialization is increasingly reinforced by market-based economies.Sensing, Feeling, Thinking
De-institutionalized Era (near future - distant future)God as Wholeness, achievable through authentic religious experience--the uniting of the opposing tensions within our inner Self, aka "God-image", the deepest layer of our collective, largely unconscious naturesOrthdoxy--the adherence to correct creeds--loses its importance. The religious task becomes to uncover one's subjective biases. In this way, we discover our "true uniqueness." This requires a "crucifying the ego," which contains one's most developed function, and setting out to develop the other functions that have been repressed into the inner, psychic world.Sensing, Feeling, Thinking, Intuition

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