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Encountering Jung

| 3.10.02
Encountering Jung: Jung on Christianity, edited by Murray Stein

Encountering Jung: Jung on Christianity, edited by Murray Stein, is a handy collection of primary sources --Carl Gustav Jung's own writings on Christianity as it relates to his psychoanalytical theories. The main works excerpted here are Aion, Answer to Job, and various pieces of correspondence that deal with Christian subjects in response to current popular and psychological issues of his day. The content is arranged under three categories: Jung's relationship to Christianity, Jung's psychological approach to Christian doctrine, and Jung's interpretation of Christian history and its future.

Jung's relationship to Christianity is an interesting one. Despite his father's occupation as a Reformed minister, Jung was never convinced or compelled by popular or orthodox views of the Christian faith. In one of the early excerpts Jung writes of his frustration with the lack of connection with the Divine at first communion, and his early conviction that his father, and church theology in general didn't answer the questions he was asking about God. Jung sought a more direct union with God than he experienced through church ritual and the sacraments. Simultaneously, he experienced deeply disturbing dreams and other images during childhood and early adulthood that he was certain would be found blasphemous when compared to popular notions of God.

Jung's approach to Christian doctrine was primarily one of seeing the evolution of doctrine as a response to the evolution of the collective unconscious. In this part of his writings, Jung shows us how symbols of the unconscious --the mandala, the shadow, and other archetypes are mirrored in the Bible, Gnostic writings, and other myths. Breathtakingly well read on very diverse religious materials, Jung draws from this wealth to show that the collective unconscious is universal and cross cultural, and that all the major religious traditions draw from this material in their depiction of the Self, the Divine, and the world.

Jung's take on the future of Christianity paints a rather dim view of Protestantism, and a more optimistic view of Catholicism. This surprised me, given Jung's background as a protestant. Jung was impressed by Catholicism's ability to create and perpetuate new dogma (like the Assumption of Mary dogma formulated in the 1950s) as a sign of its continuing relevance to everyday people (and to the continuing evolution of the collective unconscious.) His disgust with Protestantism was perhaps most striking in his criticisms of Rudolff Bultman, whose de-mythologizing of the biblical text Jung saw as excising precisely the most meaningful part of the Scriptures from a psychoanalytical point of view. More broadly, however, Jung felt that Protestantism was too rational and not mystical enough.

My interest in Jung is somewhat related to Bultman. While I find Bultman's (and others') critiques of the mythological aspects of the Bible compelling, I also want a way to make use of the myth in a spiritually edifying way. My hope was that Jung would provide a credible framework on a rational basis to do this. And there are very difficult passages of Scripture that make a lot of sense when read through a Jungian filter, as well as glimmers of Jungian concepts shot through the gospel of John, Job, and the Psalms, just to name a few books.

However, I still feel that I don't have a very good handle on Jung, even after reading him directly. Perhaps Encountering Jung --while very interesting reading-- was too direct for an initial encounter. I walked away from the text impressed by how well-read Jung was in the classics, the early Church Fathers, apocryphal Christian writings, etc, but feeling like I hadn't really comprehended the totality of what he's saying. Even after searching the web for a number of links providing introductory material on Jung, I'm still waiting for the work that brilliantly sums up Jung's contribution to psychology, how its reflected in Christianity, and how it can be useful to Christian spirituality.

PUBLISHER: Princeton Univ Press; ISBN: 0691006970; (September 22, 1999)

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