Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Carl Jung's Journey from God

by Pravin Thevathasan


This article, by Dr. Pravin Thevathasan MRCPsych is an expose of the errors of Jungian psychology especially with regard to its interpretation of Christianity.

Publisher & Date

Original, 05/15/2003

Jung's theories have penetrated more deeply inside the Catholic church than those of any other therapist. There is an apparent mystical aura which surrounds his name when compared to the overt atheism of Freud or the humanism of Carl Rogers. Spiritual retreats inspired by him have been popular in certain Catholic circles. His doctrines are even to be found in popular culture, such as the Star Wars films which may, in part, be regarded as Jungian adventures in outer space.

Jung was born in 1875. His father was a Lutheran Pastor and his mother came from a Spiritualist background. His childhood was lonely and unhappy and he developed a vivid fantasy life in compensation. He was extremely observant and was concerned with his parents' marital problems and his father's growing lost of faith. His parents' marital problems seemed to have stemmed from their vastly different personalities. His father was an introvert who suffered with bouts of depression and his mother was lively and jovial with an unhealthy interest in the occult. He attempted to communicate his own experiences of God to his father in an attempt to restore his father's faith. Unfortunately he was not successful as relations between father and son were poor and because Jung himself was to lose his faith in orthodox Christianity at a very early age. Nevertheless, he was to have a lifelong interest in the effect that religion has on people. The precocious Jung would ask himself questions like: why did God arrange things so that Adam and Eve would disobey him? Why did he command a father to kill his son? The Abraham-Isaac motif is significant in view of his own ambivalent relationship with his father.

As a child he developed scruples, believing that a lot of his thought were blasphemous. He eventually concluded that God wanted him to have these thoughts just as He wanted Adam and Eve to fall. Again, this is deeply significant as Jung was later to believe that wholeness means integrating the good and evil parts of one's personality.

Apart from his father, Jung had eight uncles who were Clergymen and it was therefore expected that he would be called to the ministry. But by then he had developed an interest in philosophy and he decided to study medicine in order to become a Psychiatrist.

At medical school he developed his interest in Spiritualism. His doctoral thesis was a study of a young medium, a cousin of his, who in her trances claimed that she was possessed by the personality of a much older man.

In1907, Jung published his work The psychology of Dementia Praecox. Sigmund Freud became interested and invited him to Vienna. The two met and a strong emotional relationship developed between them. Jung saw in Freud the much needed father-figure and Freud was at first to regard Jung as his natural successor in the psychoanalytical movement. He was Freud's close collaborator for a period of five years between 1907 and 1912. But it all ended in tears when Jung disagreed with Freud's belief in the sexual basis of neurosis. The authoritarian Freud was most certainly unimpressed by this dissent.

Following this break with Freud, he came close to a mental breakdown. He deliberately allowed his irrational side to function freely and he kept detailed notes of his strange experiences, dreams and visions. Certainly many strange events were reported around this time. His house felt haunted, his daughters claimed to have seen ghosts and he himself saw a crowd of spirits bursting into the house. As they disappeared, he went into a three day state of automatic writing leading to the production of his work entitled The seven sermons.

Jung was visited by a spirit guide who he named Philemon, a "pagan who brought with him an Egypto-Hellenistic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration." Although he may have suggested that the spirit guide was a figment of his imagination, in truth, as far as he was concerned it was a real being, "an old man with the horns of a bull. I was walking up and down the garden with him and to me he was what the Indians call a Guru." He also became acquainted with another spirit guide named Ka. "Ka's expression had something demonic about it - one might almost say Mephistopholean." This is a highly pertinent observation as Jung, like Freud, was fascinated by the Faust-Mephistopheles legend about the doctor who sold his soul to the devil in order to obtain secret knowledge. Jung had by now obtained a whole series of messages from his spirit guides which were to determine the nature of his beliefs. The Jungian expert Doctor Anthony Storr concluded: "Jung thought of these spirit guides as existing in an imperishable world and manifesting themselves from time to time through the psyche of an individual."

He developed an interest in religion, or at least his particular version of religion. For religion to be authentic, he felt, it must not be divorced from the unconscious. This interest led him to reading works by alchemists. For him, their obscure texts were expressions of unconscious fantasies. He wrote: "The experience of the alchemist was in a sense my experience and their world was my world. The possibility in a comparison with alchemy and the uninterrupted intellectual chain back to gnosticism gave substance to my psychology." This is the key to Jungian psychology, to his belief that the unconscious fantasies are universal and that they can appear at any age in a similar form. They are, for him, the basis of religious expression. The dogma of the Trinity, the Mass and the personality of Christ may all be seen and understood as expressing essential aspects of the human psyche. If these symbols are allowed to remain unconscious we are not really whole. The process of becoming whole is known as individuation, the central idea of his psychology. In cases of patients who had lost their faith, individuation led them to create their own myths as expressed through dreams and fantasy and it enabled them to gain wholeness.

His concept of psychological truth is thus unscientific. For him, because a belief is invested with great emotional meaning, it must be true. Dogma is nothing more than something irrational expressed through the imagination. He was not interested in objective truth, only subjective fantasies.

According to Jung, the psyche has three levels: the conscious, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The outermost crust of one's personality is the persona, that part of our personality which is exposed to the outer world. The unconscious mind is, as it were, the mirror image of the conscious mind. In other words, the very masculine person is unconsciously strongly feminine, the timid man unconsciously brave and so on.

The personal unconscious is a relatively insignificant fraction of the total unconscious material. That which lies below the personal unconscious is known as the collective unconscious, which contains the collective beliefs and myths of the race to which the person belongs. The deepest levels of the collective unconscious are known as the universal unconscious, common to all human beings, even to man's primitive and animal ancestry.

For Jung, the collective unconscious is not simply a theory. It really exists. His system of psychotherapy is based on bringing the patient into contact with the healing collective unconscious through, for example, the interpretation of dreams.

Archetypes is another term which occurs frequently in Jungian theory. They are alleged to be inborn forms of intuition which lead us to experience life in a manner conditioned by the past history of mankind. These archetypal images include Gods and Goddesses, dwarves and giants or they may appear as fantastic or real animals and plants.

What was his attitude towards Christianity? In answering this, one must always remember that wholeness for him is only possible when we integrate the negative shadow and dark side with the more acceptable, conscious ego. In other words the pursuit of goodness cannot lead to wholeness. In his work Psychology and Alchemy Jung wrote: "Christian civilisation has proved hollow to a terrifying degree. The inner man has remained untouched. His soul is out of key with his external beliefs." Wholeness and not holiness is what matters. Christian civilisation has failed owing to a lack of psychological culture. It is psychology which "opens peoples' eyes to the real meaning of dogmas. Too few have experienced the diving image as the innermost possession of their souls." His ambivalence towards Christianity is seen when on the one hand he recommends his patients to return to the Church to which they belonged and on the other hand he writes: "there is no Deity, no submission or reconciliation to a Deity. The place of the Deity seems to be taken by the whole man." The whole man realises his brotherhood with all living things, even with inorganic matter and the cosmos itself. The whole man must achieve three things. Firstly, he must meet with his shadow and learn to live with the more terrifying aspect of himself. Secondly, he must meet with the archetypes of the collective unconscious especially through dream work. Thirdly, if he is fortunate enough, he will in the end find that pearl of great price, the archetype of wholeness, the self.

Jung claimed to have identified three stages of religious evolution. The first stage was the archaic age of the Shamans. This was followed by the ancient civilisation of prophets and priests. Then came the Christian heritage of mystics. At every stage of religious history, all human beings share in the inner divinity, the numinous. When Jung talks about God, he is really talking about the God within, the self. He was once asked if he believed in God. He answered: "I don't believe. I know." Thus Jung made an act of faith in the existence of the collective unconscious and archetypes and he interpreted Christianity in the light of his beliefs. As a example, let us examine the doctrine of the Trinity. For Jung, this doctrine is replete with psychological meaning. The Father symbolises the psyche in its original undifferentiated wholeness. The Son represents the human psyche and the Holy Spirit the state of self-critical submission to a higher reality. For this myth to be authentic, it must be found in other cultures and Jung found similar Trinitarian ideas in the Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek mystical traditions.

However, he believed in a Quaternity, the fourth person being the principle of evil. Without the opposition of satan, who is one of God's sons, the Trinity would have remained a unity. In Jungian terms without the opposition of the shadow or the fourth person, there would be no psychic development and no actualisation of the self. Jung came to believe that Mary became the fourth person following her Assumption. She is the necessary feminine element, the opposition of the shadow.

His idea of wholeness means that God approves of evil. He wrote: "since I knew from experience that God was not offended by blasphemy, that on the contrary, he could encourage it, because he wished to evoke not only man's bright and positive side but also his darkness and ungodliness, God in his omniscience arranged everything so that Adam and Eve would sin. God intended them to sin." Thus Jung blames God for the fall of Adam and Eve. He causes them to sin because He Himself is both good and evil. In his essay on Job, Jung contends that Yahweh desired the love of mankind but behaved like a thoughtless and irritable tyrant, indifferent to human misery. Like Adam, who is mythically married to Lilith, daughter of Satan, and to Eve, so is Yahweh married to Israel and to Sophia, who compensates for Yahweh's behaviour by showing human beings the mercy of God. Her appearance in the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel leads to a fundamental change. God transforms himself by becoming man. Yahweh has wronged the creatures who have outdone Him and only by becoming man can he atone for His injustice.

Jung appears to have lost his faith during his childhood. He wrote: "Lord Jesus Christ was to me unquestionably a man and therefore a fallible figure." Maintaining a tradition put forward by Gnostics, he believed that Christ is the symbolic representation of the most central archetype, the self. However, the sublime goodness of Christ means that from a psychological perspective, he lacks wholeness. Missing is the dark side of the psyche, the element of evil. Christ receives wholeness in the person of the Anti-Christ.

The Church teaches that Christ died in order to save us. For Jung, this is a misleading rationalisation for an otherwise inexplicable act of cruelty. The angry Yahweh of the Old Testament is full of guilt and is in need of atonement. Jesus dies on Calvary to expiate the sins of God the Father.

To conclude by way of quotes from three eminent Psychiatrists. The Catholic Psychiatrist Doctor Rudolph Allers wrote: "For Jung, God is not a transcendent reality of whom man may achieve some knowledge by natural reason but, rather, an archetype, a basic tendency in human nature. The idea of God and of a future life are not seen as expressing reality but as a corresponding subjective need."

Doctor Gregory Zilboorg observed: "That which Jung calls religion is not a religion at all. Even from an empirical point of view, it appears to be only a very incidental manifestation."

Doctor Anthony Storr wrote: "A good deal of Jungian psychology can be seen as Jung's attempt to find a substitute for the Orthodox faith in which he was reared, but against which he started to rebel at a very early age."


David Wulf: Psychology of Religion (John Wiley)

C.G.Jung: Collected Works (Princeton University Press)

Victor White: God and the Unconscious (Harvill Press)

Frieda Fordham: An Introduction to Jung's Psychology (Penguin)

Anthony Storr: Jung (Fontana Press)

Dr. Pravin Thevathasan is a Consultant Psychiatrist

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