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Center for Action and Contemplation

Inner Authority

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Jung: Week 1

Inner Authority
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I think Carl Jung is one of the best friends of religion in the past century, yet most Christians have either ignored him or criticized him. Jung says, for example, “The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neurosis, but instead with an approach to the numinous [Transcendent God experience]. The approach to the numinous is the real therapy, and inasmuch as you attain to numinous experience, you are released from the curse of pathology. Even the very disease takes on a numinous character!” [1]

This becomes Jung’s major critique of Christianity. Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity—an unbridgeable gap—between God and the soul by our overemphasis on externals and mere intellectual belief in things that never touched our inner core. Jung observed that Christianity had become dogmatized and ritualized, belonging to groups instead of any real transformation of consciousness. He believed that Christianity had some very good theology (“an almost perfect map for the soul”), but it often had a very poor psychology and anthropology. Insofar as this is true, it creates a huge disconnect even among quite good and sincere people. The message does not “grab” them; it is not compelling or empowering for their real life. Jung was deeply disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated human beings. Jung basically said of Christianity: “It’s not working in real life!”

I know many people think that Jung was not a “believer” and others feel that he is saying that the human psyche itself is “God.” These views come from an oversimplified reading of Jung’s work. He did say that the human psyche was the mediation point, and that if God wants to speak to you, God has to speak in words that are first going to feel like your own thoughts. Of course he is right! How else could God speak to you? You have to be taught to honor, allow, give authority to, and recognize that sometimes your thoughts are God’s thoughts. This is the major fruit of training in the contemplative mind. The dualistic or non-contemplative mind cannot imagine how both could be true at the same time. The contemplative mind sees things in wholes and not in divided parts.

Jung wouldn’t have fit the bill for the classic Catholic definition of a saint. He had a number of affairs and for a little while flirted with Nazism. He had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him back to his depths and to his groundbreaking understanding of the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others. This is what Jesus had described as having a log in our own eye, but being preoccupied with the splinter in other peoples’ eyes (Matthew 7:3-5), or “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. And it is only the Divine Light which gives us freedom and permission to go “all the way down” into our depths. Without it, we do not have the necessary courage.

By examining his own depths, Jung was able to find an inner authority that he could trust, a voice larger than his own—and yet it was his own voice too. Jung sought to bring back balance to the Church’s over-reliance upon external authority—Scripture for Protestants, popes and priests for Catholics. Rather than top-down, outside-in religion, Jung taught people to experience the Christian symbols from the inside out. He wanted us to recognize that there are numinous voices in our deepest depths. Jung believed that if one did not have deep contact with one’s in-depth self, one could not know God. I would add that knowing a loving God gives you full freedom to love and accept every part of yourself. If one does not allow the Whole-Making Image (“God”) to freely operate, one finds it almost impossible to totally know, accept, and forgive oneself. We are indeed saved by mercy.

If you think that’s just modern pop psychology, then read Teresa of Ávila’s Interior Castle. To describe the dwelling place of God in this creation, she says “I myself can come up with nothing as magnificent as the beauty and amplitude of a soul!” [2] If it were not a 16th century Spanish Doctor of the Church making this statement, you might not dare to believe such good psychological news. (When the Roman Catholic Church proclaims someone a Doctor it means the Church sees their spiritual teaching as “entirely reliable.”)

Gateway to Silence:
God-in-me sees God.

[1] C. G. Jung, Letters I, August 31, 1945.
[2] Teresa of Ávila, translated by Mirabai Starr, The Interior Castle (Riverhead Books: 2004), 36.
Adapted from Richard Rohr’s unpublished “Rhine River” talks (2015).

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