Sunday 11 July 2021

What CG Jung does, and doesn't, do...

I have often written about CG Jung on this blog; because he was a significant (albeit on and off) influence over a period of some thirty years, from my young adult life through to becoming a Christian. 

Jung is something of a help for atheists who experience alienation and 'division' very sharply - as I did (and do). Alienation is the awareness of being cut-off from 'the world' including human society - cut-off in a world of abstractions, thinking, un-naturalness - while division is the awareness that we live in separate worlds that do not join up: e.g. the worlds of solitude, family, education, the workplace, crowds, authority, mass media, the arts, science and technology...

The Jungian approach is to treat alienation and division as 'dis-ease'; as a therapeutic problem. In other words, the idea is to alleviate the misery, depression, hope-less-ness of this experience of being a compartmentalized and cut-off subjectivity. 

This Jungian 'therapy' might be actual psychotherapy with a therapist in 'Analytic Psychology' - or, much more often, a kind of self-help, or self-therapy; based on reading and understanding Jung's ideas - or at least some secondhand (and more accessible) account of them. This latter was my own approach - I read a great deal by and about Jung, thought deeply about it, and tried hard to live by it. 

But the idea was not wholly 'therapeutic', because the way I encountered Jung was in a context of artistic creativity. I think it may initially have been (age 19) via reading Michael Tippett's essays published in Moving into Aquarius; then various bits of actual Jung, an short book by Anthony Storr, and a Jungian analysis of Wagner's Ring (and Mozart's Magic Flute) by Robert Donington. 

At any rate; Jung came to me as both a way of feeling-better, and as a way of artistic creation - a way in which the artist might on the one hand integrate the warring elements of his personality and simultaneously re-connect with 'the public' or 'the audience' by reference to the shared archetypes of the collective unconscious. 

This was explicitly the case with Michael Tippett - whose best work (from the late 1930s and for about a decade), which is maybe the best English classical music of the twentieth century, was written under the impact of Jung. It was also argued (by Donington and others) to be the explanation for the uncanny power of many other artistic works, especially those that had reference to 'mythic' elements.

So the promise of Jung was alluring: that one might both heal that misery of personal alienation so characteristic of twentieth century life and beyond; and also deepen the capacity creatively to connect with other people. 

The difficulty is, however, that of having psychology at the bottom line; because when psychology provides the ultimate justification then life becomes a matter of subjective 'feels'. And it turns out that - in practice - the Jungian therapeutic strategies don't work very well

This is not surprising because they do not address causes, but only effects. There was, perhaps, a hope that integrated Men conscious of collective archetypes might 'make the world a better place'. But the problems are actually intrinsic to mortal life (and the ancients realized); secondly to human consciousness - as it now is; and thirdly to the nature of modern 'industrial', mass, bureaucratic society - which has only become worse over the past century. 

Jungian strategies do help a bit, especially at first; but the effect is neither profound nor lasting; and sooner or later, the Jungian perspective dissolves into a corrosive, 'relativistic', subjectivism - which devolves towards short-termist selfish hedonism. 

This is because psychology is not anchored, and goes nowhere - except to death. 

So Jungian ideas take their place among the failed promises of a this-world utopia; and we are set back to the ancient realization that mortal life in this world cannot satisfy our deepest needs; and even the satisfaction of our superficial, here-and-now desires turns out to be very temporary and/or partial.

Also, the Jungian perspective lacks ultimate purpose. Even if Jungian techniques really worked; they would only restore 'dis-ease' to 'ease'. The Jungian basis for creativity may explain why things are emotionally powerful; but do not provide a reason for creativity per se; do not provide a purpose for creativity any more profound than that of an analgesic or stimulant drug. 

One a man, or Mankind, has been healed - then what does he actually do? Once men are united by their awareness of the collective unconscious... what then? 

The aimed at situation is a state-of being and there is no purpose, no dynamic. Which may be why Jungians tend to adopt 'Eastern' types of spirituality derived from Hinduism or Buddhism - in which (for Westerners) the hope is of a permanent state of unchanging bliss, without awareness of any separate self - assimilated into oneness...

By contrast, the Christianity I have arrived at sees this mortal life as purposive, and a preparation for immortality as a separate self - not assimilated into oneness but instead many persons whose purposes are harmonized by love. 

I see creativity not as the removal of divisions; but instead as the overflowing of love between persons, between beings - by a close analogy of the way that an ideal (eternal) family operates, in which the individual family members are continually experiencing, learning and developing.  

From a this-worldly perspective this looks like an attempt to ignore the problems of this mortal life and instead yearn for another world; but properly it should be understood as the only way in which this mortal life can be made more than mere, temporary, psychological states.  

When we look forward to eternal resurrected life in Heaven; then the experiences of this mortal life are given permanent relevance. When this eternal life is loving, personal, familial and everlastingly creative - then there is a real, objective, permanent value for the things we do here and now... including creative work such as writing, music and art. 

It turns-out - contrary to mainstream expectation - that Jungianism is unattainable because this-worldly - hence subject to 'entropy' (the worldly tendency towards change; disease, degeneration, death); whereas Christianity is practical and realistic for everybody because rooted in the eternal love and creativity of Heaven. 

(Creation can be understood as the true opposite of entropy.)

No matter our situation or past; we can all participate in the making and enhancing of future Heaven. 

The good (loving, creative) things that happen in this life can (if detected, discerned and valued) be carried forward into Heaven...

While bad things can (when acknowledged) teach us about sin and the need for repentance; so we can repudiate and leave these behind at the time of resurrection - because Heaven, to be Heaven, must be a place of love only

Whatever happens to a Christian can be regarded as grist to the mill for experiencing and learning; and that in itself is therapeutic in a way that goes beyond psychology. 


Gary Bleasdale said...

I remember reading your work on the site "Hedweb" back in my early teens, when I was a sort of "cyberpunk"/bohemian type - definitely an atheist, materialist and utopianist. The sort which doesn't even bother to try and refute Christianity because it was seen as so far away from my real concerns.

To be able to read this today, 20 years later, written by the same man, and to be able to recognize it's contents as broadly true, and not only true but perhaps touching upon the one thing we most need to know (and which very few seem to grasp)...

Well, it certainly is a testament to the redemptive powers of God, and how with God, nothing is impossible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GB - Ah yes - the material is still there - with a fair bit of my scientific work, thanks to Dave Pearce - whose amazing hard work transcribed it all.

I've always said that the good thing about David Pearce's transhumanism is that it takes the assumptions and follows the logic of modernity more rigorously and much further than the mainstream incoherence.

Therefore, if we don't want the implications (or prospect) of transhumanism, then Christianity is (to cut a long story short) the only real alternative.

I realized this by the summer of 2008 - when I gave this talk -

And made my choice shortly afterwards