The Undiscovered Self is a short but very intense book by C. G. Jung. It was first published in 1958 at the height of the cold war when the “Iron Curtain” split the world in two. I have not found it an easy read. There are however interesting concepts in it so in order to make it more comprehensible for myself I have rewritten, précised and paraphrased it. I may or may not have done justice to the original and I hope I have not misunderstood him too much. My précis (chapter by chapter) follows and I will write some of my own comments at the end as well as add a few comments within the text, where they will be enclosed in square brackets
Chap 1. The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society
What will the future bring? What will become of our civilisation, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe”?
The plight, referred to in the title of the first chapter, stems from the fact that on either side of the Iron Curtain the moral responsibility of the individual was, for the most part, replaced by the state. Both by the absolutist states to the East but also by the constitutional, nanny states to the West. On both sides the state became, in effect, the primary ‘raison d’être’ with the individual coming second and with individuality being squashed by the effects of the conforming masses.
Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you had public welfare and the raising of the living standard. The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only ‘real’ life) no longer lay in individual development but in the policy of the state.
Furthermore, in order to compensate for its chaotic formlessness, a mass always produces a ‘Leader’ who almost infallibly becomes the victim of his own inflated ego-consciousness, as numerous examples in history show. One of the chief factors responsible for psychological mass-mindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity.
[This has echoes of the DH Lawrence poem, The Scientific Doctor: “When I went to the scientific doctor I realised what a lust there was in him to wreak his so-called science on me and reduce me to the level of a thing. So I said: Good-morning! and left him”.]
Towards the end of the first chapter is written: “The individual becomes more and more a function of society, which in turn usurps the function of the real life carrier, whereas, in actual fact, society is nothing more than an abstract idea like the State.”
[This brought back to me Mrs Thatcher’s famous quotation about society when she stated “I think we have been through a period when too many people have been given to understand that when they have a problem it is government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem; I’ll get a grant. I’m homeless; the government must house me.’ They are casting their problems on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours. People have got their entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There is no such thing as an entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.” On reflection, though I disagreed with her at the time I have to reluctantly admit that maybe, after all, she was right.]
Jung perceived a significant danger that the spiritual and moral darkness of the East stood a real risk of invading the West, particularly because of the West’s inherent values of humanitarianism and sense of justice. [There would appear to be a parallel today with the invasions by Muslim radicals. Much easier to have a fifth column in a society with many open doors]. Jung warns: ‘The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that is still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional state should succumb to a fit of weakness’.
Most people confuse self-knowledge with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has any ego consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents.
[It is a paradox for consciousness to comprehend unconsciousness but it is of course the bedrock that both Jung and Freud built their analyses on. They eventually split from one another with Jung developing his concept of the collective and archetypal unconsciousness whilst Freud continued to emphasise the role of sex and libido].
[There was, for me, a difficult passage relating to the difference between understanding and knowledge. Possibly it could have been translated better but it goes: ‘If I want to understand an individual human being, I must lay aside all scientific knowledge of the average man and discard all theories in order to adopt a completely new and unprejudiced attitude. I can only approach the task of understanding with a free and open mind, whereas knowledge of man, or insight into human character, presupposes all sorts of knowledge about mankind in general.’]
Chap 2. Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-Mindedness
Jung writes: There are socio-political movements that want to manipulate the ‘fiction’ of the sovereign state. These invariably want to cut the ground from under the religions and thus increase the dependence of individuals on the state. The religions themselves claim to enable individuals to make their own judgements and decisions. They teach that there is another authority opposed to that of the world view. However, such dependence on God’s authority is just as great as that which comes from that of the world. An individual can therefore be led to forfeit his judgement and reason in both scenarios. The religions aspire to this – but may be compromised – especially when they conspire with the State.
When the religions do compromise themselves Jung calls them creeds and not religions. He calls a creed a defined collective belief whereas he uses the word religion to express a subjective and metaphysical relationship of the individual to God or, as in Buddhism, another path to salvation and enlightenment. The ‘creeds’ have thus become increasingly codified and externalised and in so doing have thrust the authentic metaphysical religious element into the background.
A creed coincides with the established church or, at any rate, forms a public institution whose members include not only true believers but vast numbers of people who can only be described as ‘indifferent’ in matters of religion and who belong to it simply by force of habit. The psychological life of an individual is not determined solely by the ego or by social factors but quite as much, if not more, by a metaphysical authority. This formulation, however, will not please the mass man or the collective believer.
Where dictatorships take the place of God they assume the mantle of religions with State slavery becoming a form of worship. When doubts creep in they are first repressed but the result will be, as always in such cases, fanaticism. Free opinion and morality are ruthlessly suppressed, on the plea that the end justifies the means, even the vilest. There can only be one truth, which is sacrosanct and above criticism.
Religion, Jung expands, is an instinctive attitude peculiar to man and its manifestations can be followed all through human history. The evident purpose being to maintain man’s psychic balance – particularly in the face of adversity. Rationalists incapable of psychological insight call it magic and superstition. They miss the point and overlook that the ‘magical’ effects of the rites (of whatever ‘religious’ tradition) have vital psychological effects.
Both the dictator State and the denominational religions emphasise the idea of community. But community can be a double edged sword. The promotion of the concept of community can aid in the organisation of the masses. However, fundamental change in individuals does not result from ‘enforced’ community. Such changes (for good or bad) result from personal encounters between man and man and not from communistic or Christian baptisms en masse whenever these do not touch the inner man.
Chap 3. The Position of the West on the Question of Religion.
There was a correct perception that the socialist dictatorships of the 1950s were not going to easily change. States of that sort had no social or economic crises to fear so long as their power was intact – that is, so long as they maintained a well-disciplined and well fed police-army. They did fear a real danger from outside, from the threat of military attack, but even this diminished as the power of East and West equalised. The West’s arguments were essentially futile since the arguments were only ‘heard’ on their own side of the Iron Curtain and so it seemed that the only real possibility for change was a breakdown from within and such possible change had to be left to follow its own inner development.
Jung portrays such communist ideology as a form of religious fanaticism and that the absolute States it spawned had armies of fanatical missionaries ready to do their bidding in matters of foreign policy. Those missionaries could also count on a fifth column guaranteed asylum under the laws and constitutions of the Western States. [Does not that sound so parallel to the situation regarding sections of the Muslim world today?]
There will always be upright and truth loving people to whom lying and tyranny are hateful but one can never judge their extent or influence, where they have to exist under huge duress. Whilst the West can both exhort and sympathise with them, most of its own rhetoric turns out to be mere sound and fury. High living standards alone are not enough to check the spread of the “psychic infection” produced by these foreign ideologies. Thus perhaps the only antidote could be an equally potent faith of a different and non-materialistic kind. However not only does the West lack a uniform faith but also such faiths exercise no noticeable influence on the broad course of politics.
The disadvantage of a creed as a public institution is that it serves two masters. Though it derives its existence from the relationship of man to God, it also owes a duty to the State as exemplified by the phrase “Render unto Caesar”. Such Church institutions may well stand for traditional convictions but for many of their adherents these convictions are merely instilled. They are not based on their own inner experience. They are based on unreflecting belief. Belief and knowledge are obviously different and are often on a collision course. Belief is no adequate substitute for inner experience. When it is absent even a strong faith (which came miraculously as a gift of grace) can depart equally ‘miraculously’.
Faith for the ‘faithful’ can be called a religious experience but Jung points out that the essence of scriptural faith comes from the Greek word pistis and that pistis (which he simply defines as trust and loyalty) happens to us in the first place and before any faith has been experienced. [This Greek word pistis appears repeatedly in the original collations of the New Testament and when later translated into Latin the word became fidele. These Latin translations were around for hundreds of years before Bibles were translated into modern tongues. Pistis and fidele can be translated from standard lexicons into trust, confidence, reliance and belief but ‘faith’ has since become to be generally understood as a ‘firm belief in something for which there is no proof.’ That is not the same thing at all as simple trust or fidelity and if one substitutes trust (pistis) for faith where it appears in modern scriptures one can understand some passages quite differently.]
Faith and knowledge almost, by definition, conflict. It takes knowledge that bread and wine are not meat and blood but it takes Roman Catholic faith to believe a ‘real’ change has occurred. Jung states that the standpoint of the creeds is archaic with all sorts of religious symbolism, which if taken literally, comes into conflict with knowledge. If, for instance, the statement that Christ rose from the dead is to be understood not literally but symbolically, then it is capable of various interpretations that do not collide with knowledge and do not impair the meaning of the statement. He also points out the danger that if ‘mythology’ is understood too literally it is more and more likely to be repudiated lock, stock and barrel. Rather than the creeds being wiped out he asks if Christian mythology might not be better understood symbolically for once? He returns to the theme of the fatal parallelism between the State religion of the Marxists and the State religion of the Church. Both demanding unqualified submission to faith and thus curtailing man’s freedom, whether before God or before the State. Both threaten the fragile existence of the individual – the unique carrier of life.
If anyone accuses the Germans of having forgotten what happened under Hitler they need to reflect on whether something similar might not happen again and not only in Europe but also in America, which Jung saw as even more vulnerable because of its “scientific” educational system and with a mixed population that finds it difficult to strike roots in a soil that is practically without history. Common to both Europe and America is a materialistic and collectivist goal, both lacking the thing that grips the whole man, namely, an idea which puts the individual human being in the centre as the measure of all things. On the contrary one could almost go as far as to assert that the valuelessness of the individual in comparison with the masses is the one belief that meets with universal and unanimous consent. In such a reality man is both slave and victim of the machines that have conquered time and space for him.
Chap 4. The Individual’s Understanding of Himself.
The psyche has a peculiar nature which cannot be reduced to anything else. It holds within itself one of the two indispensable conditions for existence as such, namely, the phenomenon of consciousness. The carrier of this consciousness is the individual, who does not produce the psyche on his own volition but is, on the contrary, preformed by it and nourished by the gradual awakening of consciousness during childhood.
The individual psyche, just because of its individuality, is an exception to any statistical rule and is therefore robbed of one of its main characteristics when subjected to the levelling influence of statistical evaluation. Note that the Churches grant the psyche validity only in so far as it acknowledges their dogmas – in other words, when it surrenders to a collective category. The will to individuality is regarded as egotistic obstinacy. Science devalues it as subjectivity, and the Churches condemn it morally as heresy and spiritual pride. [This reminds me of Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, which portrays what can happen when an individual’s true inner belief is in conflict with the established church].
The ‘symbol’ at the core of Christianity is the ‘Son of Man’. This is regarded as a unique individuation process as the incarnation and revelation of God himself. The development of self hence acquires a significance whose implications are not well appreciated. The autonomy of the individual is the secret longing of many people. Without such autonomy this incarnation of God into an individual man would have been easy to suppress from either a moral or a spiritual standpoint.
There is a psychiatric experience that psychological enlightenment and the value of the psyche are both devalued or hindered in large measure by fear – on the fear that unwanted discoveries might be made in the realm of the unconscious. Freud and Jung disagreed about what the unconscious might eventually reveal but Jung was not dismissive of the occult or of other archaic vestiges, which he termed archetypes. Jung believed that these are the oldest part of the psyche, are grounded on instincts and have a numinous quality that sometimes can arouse fear. These archetypes are ineradicable and cannot be grasped intellectually. Fear of the unconscious psyche not only impedes self-knowledge but is also a grave obstacle to the study of psychology.
In Jungian psychotherapy, [as far as I can ascertain], as both patient and psychotherapist gain in mutual understanding, the situation between them becomes increasingly subjectivised. As this develops any ‘objective knowledge’ based on general principles loses meaning and what had been an advantage may turn into a dangerous disadvantage. Subjectivation (in technical terms, transference and counter-transference) creates isolation from the environment. Such subjective understanding may no longer be balanced by knowledge. [That is the best way I can describe this process, noting that the terms understanding and knowledge in these contexts relate to what are in the main subjective and objective respectively]. An important point is that skill of the therapist is needed to preserve the individuality of both partners and not allow it to be twisted out of shape by outside interventions. Such therapy can help the first stirrings of individuality into consciousness and to gain an ability to act on one’s own insight and decision and not from the mere wish to copy convention.
Since society at large is composed of too many de-individualised persons it is at the mercy of ruthless individualists. It is just such a banding together of groups composed largely of members, extinct of individual personalities, that makes it succumb so readily to a dictator. Such mass actions become blinded to the fact that the most powerful organisations can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans. Jung also criticises the Churches when they too avail themselves of mass action such that the individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass and fail to really help individuals achieve any true rebirth of spirit. He sees it as a delusion when the Churches try to rope an individual into a social organisation and reduce him to a condition of diminished responsibility, instead of raising him out of the torpid, mindless mass and making clear to him that he is the one important factor and that the salvation of the world consists of salvation of the individual soul. One can also reflect on both Jesus and Paul as prototypes of those who, trusting their inner experience, have gone their own individual ways, disregarding public opinion.
The Iron Curtain, the boundary line that bristled with barbed wire, ran through the psyche of modern man, no matter on which side he lived. And just as the neurotic is unconscious of his shadow side, so the normal individual, like the neurotic, saw his shadow in his neighbour or in the man beyond the great divide. It became even a duty to apostrophise the capital of the one and the communism of the other as the very devil. This was done so as to fascinate the outward eye and prevent it from looking at the individual life within.
Both adults and children can suffer from fantasies. The normal fantasies of a child are basically nothing other than imagination born of instinctive impulses. Abnormal fantasies are particularly likely to happen when unfavourable influences emanate from the parents poisoning the atmosphere and producing conflicts which upset the psychic balance of a child. It follows that the fantasies of the neurotic contain a core of normal instinct, the hallmark of which is adaptedness. A neurotic illness always implies an unadapted alteration and distortion of normal dynamisms and the ‘imagination’ proper to them. Instincts, it should be remembered, are highly conservative and of extreme antiquity as regards both their dynamism and their form. Such form according to Jung, when represented to the mind, appears as an image. Since conscious activity is rooted in instinct it has the same significance for human psychology as for all members of the animal kingdom. He ends the chapter with: If the flow of instinctive dynamism in our lives is to be maintained, as is absolutely necessary for our existence, then it is imperative that we remould these archetypal forms into ideas which are adequate to the challenge of the present.
Chap 5. The Philosophical and the Psychological Approach to Life.
Our philosophy is no longer a way of life, as it was in antiquity; it has turned into an exclusively intellectual and academic affair. Our denominational religions express a view of the world which caused no great difficulties in the Middle Ages but which has become strange and unintelligible to the man of today. Despite this conflict with the modern scientific outlook, a deep instinct bids him hang on to ideas which, if taken literally, leave out of account all the mental developments of the last five hundred years. Even if impelled to criticise contemporary religion as literalistic, narrow minded and obsolescent, we should never forget that the creeds proclaim a doctrine whose symbols nevertheless possess a life of their own, on account of their archetypal character.
Intellectual understanding is only called for when feeling and intuition does not suffice, that is to say, with people for whom the intellect holds the prime power of conviction. Characteristic of this is the gulf that has opened up between faith and knowledge to the extent that they seem to be incommensurate. Theology rejects any tendency to take the statements of its earliest records as written myths and, accordingly, to understand them symbolically. Some theologians have made attempts to demythologise the object of their faith by drawing a line, quite arbitrarily, at certain points. To the critical intellect it is only too obvious that myth is an integral component of all religions and therefore cannot be excluded from the assertions of faith without injuring them.
The rupture between faith and knowledge is a symptom of split consciousness and where this occurs it is the role of any practitioner to attempt to establish a relationship with both halves of the personality because only from them both can he hope to put together a whole and complete man.
The supremacy of the ‘word’, of the Logos, which stands for the central figure of Christian faith is a specific achievement of the Christian faith. The ‘word’ literally became the Christian God and so it has remained. But no one seems to have noticed that the veneration of the ‘word’, which was necessary for a certain phase of historical development, has a perilous shadow side because it can be unlinked from its original link with the divine person. Both the Church and the State become personified and belief in the ‘word’ becomes a matter of credulity and creed [and not of intuition]. The ‘word’ turns into a slogan and is then capable of any deception or lie [for it is easiest to lie with words rather than feelings or instincts]. Credulity is one of our worst enemies but it is what the neurotic easily resorts to in order to quell the doubter in his breast.
Jung believes that it is highly probable that all man’s psychic functions have an instinctual foundation, as is obviously the case with animals. The two most fundamental instincts of sexuality and the power drive are the source of numerous conflicts. He notes that they correspond to Saint Augustine’s moral concepts of concupisentia (desire) and superbia (lust) and that they are the chief object of moral judgement, whose purpose is to prevent these instinctual collisions as far as possible. Jung, Freud and Adler put different emphasis on which aspects of the unconscious dominated but, regardless of this, neurotic symptoms could be explained using all these different models.
Man’s instinctual side is portrayed as being capable of suppression (unlike animals) largely because of his capacity for learning. This, along with his conscious knowledge of himself, can uproot him from his instinctual foundation at the expense of the unconscious. This separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilised man into conflicts between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith. It is a split that becomes pathological the moment his consciousness is no longer able to neglect or to suppress his instinctual side.
There is both light and dark lying hidden in our instinctual unconsciousness. This dark side Jung calls the shadow and when, for example, there is a dictator it allows us to point the finger away from ourselves and at the shadow. He is clearly on the other side of the political frontier, while we are on the side of the good. But that is a fiction because deep within all of us a shadow lies in our unconsciousness and neglect of instinct can have painful consequences both physiologically and psychologically.
The forlornness of consciousness in our world is due primarily to the loss of instinct, and the reason for this lies in the development of the human mind over the past aeon. The more power man had over nature, the more his knowledge and skill went to his head, and the deeper became his contempt for the merely natural and accidental. In contrast to the subjectivity of the conscious mind the unconscious is objective, manifesting itself mainly in the form of contrary feelings, fantasies, emotions, impulses and dreams, none of which one makes oneself but which come upon one objectively.
The religious person stands directly under an influence of a reaction from the unconscious and, as a rule, this is called the operation of conscience. Where religious beliefs get lost, en mass, the believer is forced onto the defensive being at the same time aware of the weakening of the Church and the precariousness of its dogmatic assumptions. To counter this the Church recommends more faith – as if this gift of grace depended on man’s good will and pleasure. The seat of faith, however is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God. Here we must ask: Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving into the crowd.
Chap 6. Self-Knowledge.
The discovery of important truths can result in an individual succeeding in deeming himself worthy of serious attention and sympathetic interest. To be capable of declaring his own human dignity and of accessing religious experience which stems from within the unconscious. That religious experiences happen (and of which Paul’s Damascus experience is the prototype) no longer needs proof. However, it will always remain doubtful whether what metaphysics and theology call God and gods is the real basis of these experiences. Psychology’s insistence on the importance of unconscious processes for religious experience is extremely unpopular, no less with the political Right than with the Left. For the former the deciding factor is the historical revelation that came to man from outside; to the latter this is sheer nonsense as man has no religious function at all, except for belief in party doctrine.
The horror which the dictator States have recently brought upon mankind is nothing less than the culmination of all those atrocities of which our ancestors made themselves guilty in the not so distant past. Quite apart from the barbarities and blood baths perpetrated by the Christian nations among themselves throughout European history, the European has also to answer for all the crimes committed against the dark-skinned peoples during the process of colonization. In this respect the white man carries a very heavy burden indeed. It shows us a picture of the common human shadow that could hardly be painted in blacker colours. The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions, so that for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam’s relatively innocent slip-up with Eve is almost a euphemism. The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.
Since it is universally believed that man is merely what his consciousness knows of itself, he regards himself as harmless and so adds stupidity to iniquity. He does not deny that terrible things have happened and still go on happening, but it is always “the others” who do them. The evil, the guilt, the profound unease of conscience, the obscure misgiving are there before our eyes, if only we would see. Man has done these things; I am a man, who has his share of human nature, therefore I am guilty with the rest and bear, unaltered and indelibly within me, the capacity and the inclination to do them again at any time. Even if, juristically speaking, we were not accessories to the crime, we are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals. None of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow. Failure to recognise this allows the projection of the unrecognised evil into the ‘other’. This strengthens the opponents position in the most effective way, because the projection carries the fear which we involuntarily and secretly feel for our own evil over to the other side and considerably increase the formidableness of his threat. What is even worse, our lack of insight deprives us of the capacity to deal with evil.
There can be no doubt that in the democracies the distance between man and man is much greater than is conducive to public welfare or beneficial to our psychic needs. True, all sorts of attempts are being made to level out glaring social contrasts by appealing to people’s idealism, enthusiasm and ethical conscience. One needs to be sure that the man who talks of ideals is himself ideal, so that his words and deeds are more than they seem. To be ideal is impossible and remains therefore an unfilled postulate.
Recognition of the shadow leads to the modesty we need in order to acknowledge imperfection. It is this conscious recognition and consideration that are needed wherever human relationship is to be established. A human relationship not based on differentiation and perfection, for these only emphasize the differences or call forth the exact opposite; it is based, rather, on imperfection, on what is weak, helpless and in need of support. The perfect has no need of the other, but weakness has, for it seeks support and does not confront its partner with anything that might force him into an inferior position. Such humiliation may happen only too easily, where idealism plays too prominent a role. It would therefore be very much in the interest of the free society to give some thought to the question of human relationship from the psychological point of view, for in this resides its real cohesion and consequently its strength. Where love stops, power begins, and violence and terror.
Chap 7. The Meaning of Self-Knowledge.
The point is made once again that, from the psychologist’s perspective, it is always a question of treating one single individual. The effect on all individuals that one would like to see realised may not set in for hundreds of years. What does lie within reach, however, is the change in individuals who have, or can create, an opportunity to influence others of like mind in their circle of acquaintances. Not by persuading or preaching but rather that anyone who has insight into his own actions (and has thus found access to the unconscious) involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment. The deepening and broadening of this effect is what the ‘primitives’ call mana; un unintentional influence on the unconscious of others. A sort of unconscious prestige whose effects last only so long as they are not disturbed by conscious intention.
There is such a thing as an unconscious Zeitgeist. It compensates the attitude of the conscious mind and anticipates changes to come. An excellent example of this is modern art. Though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really performing a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content. The pleasingness of the artistic product is replaced by chill abstractions of the most subjective nature which brusquely slam the door on the naive and romantic delight in the senses and their obligatory love for the object. This tells us in plain and universal language, that the prophetic spirit of art has turned away from the old object relationship and towards the dark chaos of subjectivity. A peculiarity of our time is the expression of the unconscious man within us – and who is changing.
Does the modern man know that he is on the point of losing the life-preserving myth of the inner man which Christianity has treasured up for him? Does he realise what lies in store should this catastrophe ever actually befall him? Is he even capable at all of realising that this would be a catastrophe? And finally, does the individual know that he himself is the makeweight that tips the scales? Happiness and contentment, equability of soul and meaningfulness of life – these can only be experienced by the individual and not by a State, which on the one hand, is nothing but a convention of independent individuals, and on the other, continually threatens to paralyze and suppress the individual.
The book finishes with: I am neither spurred on by excessive optimism nor in love with high ideals, but am merely concerned with the fate of an individual human being – that infinitesimal unit on whom a world depends, and in whom, if we read the meaning of the Christian message aright, even God seeks as his goal.
Early on in the book it was asked: “What will become of our civilisation, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe”? The big ideological division at that time related to Communism. Today, in 2016, the equivalent “big issue” is with Islam. Note that both Communism and Islam have undergone much schism so both terms need to be understood in the light that neither is an integrated whole.
The first book that I read by Jung was his autobiographical “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. I liked it very much and, compared to most of his other works, it was straightforward to understand. The many terms and concepts he uses in the body of his professional writing and from his perspective as a psychoanalyst are not so easy. I am sure that being translated from the original does not help. This book has the capacity to deepen understanding of both self and others.
The whole field of psychoanalysis (with its own inherent schisms) has always sat on the periphery of my own interest as a clinician. I have yet to be convinced that it is of great value. Indeed, I have seen the harm and pain that it can inflict, when practiced by poor, even sadistic, analysts. I am however interested if we can learn more about ourselves and others by considering how (both as individuals and groups) we are affected by what exists in the unconscious.
I have long puzzled over the mystical beginning of the Gospel of St John, which, in the King James version, reads: “In the beginning was the word”. I now understand that the English word ‘word’ had been translated from the Greek word ‘logos’ and that this Greek word, in particular, has posed problems for translators for millennia. There are those who state that the Bible should be taken as the literal “Word of God” but that is difficult for me to accept if for no other reason than it has been translated so many times. So many translations by different men and thus so many different interpretations.
In my naivety I believed, for a very long time, that the four Gospels were written down by the four Evangelists. In my head was a picture of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John sitting-down and writing-out their versions or maybe dictating them to a scribe. Of course this is not what happened. The New Testament was put together differently under the auspices of various Christian churches. Very many separate scraps of parchment had been gathered together and what became “gospel” (and indeed also what was not included or was apocryphal) was at the behest of the selection and interpretation by men – not God. Other Gospels (now known as the Gnostic Gospels) have since come to light. Whether or not these were known about when the New Testament was first being compiled are, I presume, a matter of conjecture.
I like the distinction that Jung draws between a Creed and a Religion. I personally can identify far more easily when faith comes from revelation rather than from an intellectual metaphysical argument or a literal reading of any scripture. The recurrent “leitmotif” throughout the book is the huge and vital importance of the individual and the danger that comes from all “mass movements” which tend to suppress what is uniquely important in everyone’s own individuality. That mankind has for aeons had a belief in “gods” seems obvious and in Jungian terms archetypal. He is probably quite correct that such an instinct (if it can be called that) lies deep within our unconsciousness. I am reminded too of the character Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, who after struggling with his own faith suddenly realises it is quite simple after all. “The sky is not infinite but a vault overhead, however irrational that may be. Lying on his back in a field, gazing up at the sky, Levin knows he has found faith and thanks God for it”. Perhaps mankind has, with so much recently acquired knowledge and science, become too focused on facts, too ready to preach atheism and more and more out of touch with its inner reality or soul or psyche.
The huge worry at the time of the Iron Curtain and during the Cold War was of a nuclear holocaust. That threat of course persists but the world today seems ever more dangerous. There are oppressive dictatorships in many countries, Russia and China remain isolationist and outside the pale of the constitutional democracies, the USA is deeply divided, the stability of the European Union is under threat and the more recent spread of violent islamofascism threatens us all in a way that was unimaginable not very long ago.
I have for some time been trying to get my head around what has been happening within the mind-set of both radical and not so radical Islam. Reading Jung has at least given me a new model to consider. I now perceive that there is very much Creed and very little Religion in nearly all branches of Islam today. Perhaps it was always like this. The Islamic scriptures must, it would appear, be taken literally and even learned by heart from a very early age. The mass effect of Islam is exaggerated by “church and state” by “mosque and caliphate” coming together as one.
Suppression of individuality would seem to be the rule and all the power is concentrated in oligarchies that only fundamentally differ in the various schisms that have developed in the past. It is difficult to see how any “enlightenment” might evolve within Islam but if Jung is right we need to dwell on our own shadow, on our own collective unconsciousness of where our own ancestors did so much harm. We should not allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear of the black shadow being cast by the fanatical adherents of a distorted Creed. It will be necessary for individuals from both inside and outside Islam to stand up and speak the truth – the fundamental truth that every individual needs to be nurtured and encouraged to think for themselves; to question whatever is taught and not simply and passively to submit. But there lies the rub for the very word Muslim translates from I submit!
Jung also draws a distinction between understanding and knowledge. So if I have got this concept correct one can fairly easily derive all sorts of knowledge about Muslims and Islam but to understand an individual Muslim the first approach must be to discard all prejudices and to then enquire with a free and open mind. That may be very hard for someone who is not a trained analyst to do, but it is something to at least attempt. It will take a lot of time of course, but mutual understanding could be a way for us all to evolve and for the world to become a better and happier place.