Letter from James
Of This and That: On
Of This and That: Essays on Religion
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September 3, 2004
[This is a continuation of an article you can access here.]
We start then with the psychological theory of Carl Jung.
The 19th century was a time when Western thinkers made a radical break from the dominance of Christianity. Although there were certainly paradigm-smashing thinkers before that time (one thinks of Copernicus), it was the biological theories of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the socio-historical mechanisms of Karl Marx (1818-1883), and the slightly-later psychological speculations of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) that determined humankind's self-concept and consequently sealed the fate of Christianity in the West. Since Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) and his later The Descent of Man (1871), humans were no longer the special creations of God, the crowning work of His six days' labor; instead they were the grandchildren of monkeys (in the popular imagination). In contrast to this demotion, Marx's The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867)-both co-written with Friedrich Engels-elevated humankind, eliminating God's position as the driving force of history; rather, historical materialism driven by a dialectical process became the main shaper of human events. Finally, Freud, in various works, but not least in his A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1910) attempted to replace what had been considered religious or spiritual processes with scientific ones. Aberrant behavior resulted no longer from demonic influence but from illness; happiness was no longer a matter of knowing God, but of knowing oneself; the path to salvation was no longer spiritual exercise but psychoanalysis.
One is hard-pressed to pin down Darwin's spiritual leanings; though he trained as a minister, he was never ordained and never practiced. His life took a scientific turn, but he was not openly hostile to religion. Both Marx and Freud, however, famously rejected the usefulness of religion for humanity. Marx, in Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, wrote in 1844, "Religion is the opiate of the masses," a means used by those in power to keep the masses down. An the "illusion" in the title of Freud's The Future of an Illusion refers to religion itself; his basic assessment of its "future" is that it has none, as science will take its place.
Into this hostile milieu, this virtually demythologized world, came young Carl Jung. Jung's work walks a fine line between science on the one hand and religion on the other. In some ways this is the natural legacy of psychology, since psyche itself means "soul." What Jung proposed was a system parallel to that of the church; he was, after all, descended from both ministers and doctors. The ministers predominated, yet the young man chose to study medicine. He brought to it, however, a refined sensibility, and a history of personal engagement with "That."
One idea in his autobiography will make this clear. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote about his early understanding of the distinction between This and That. After being scolded by a friend's father, the twelve-year-old Jung was outraged that such a man should castigate him, who felt that "This ME was not only grown up, but important, an authority, a person with office and dignity, an old man, an object of respect and awe." And yet he knew he was, in fact, only a schoolboy.
Jung recounts other encounters with this "eighteenth-century man" inside himself; these lead to a later thought that will become fundamental to his future work: the idea of a "No. 1" and "No. 2" personality.
Because of the importance of the idea, and because Jung states it so eloquently, I will again quote him at length:
Jung dubs "the schoolboy of 1890" as "Personality No. 1," and "this 'Other'" is "Personality No. 2." He continues:
The play and counterplay between personalities No. 1 and No. 2, which has run through my whole life [Jung is writing in his 80's], has nothing to do with a "split" or dissociation in the ordinary medical sense. On the contrary, it is played out in every individual. In my life No. 2 has been of prime importance, and I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within. He is a typical figure, but he is perceived only by very few. Most people's conscious understanding is not sufficient to realize that he is also what they are. (44-45).
Those familiar with Jung's work will see in this early comprehension the foundations for his later work in the area of the archetypes and the collective unconscious.
Freud had posited an area of the mind called the unconscious, in which the individual stored repressed memories and forgotten experiences; in Freud's conception, these later resurfaced to disrupt the individual's life. Jung accepted this idea, but considered it as only part of the picture. He termed this the personal unconscious; in addition, however, he derived from observation of his patients the idea of a collective unconscious. Many have misunderstood this to mean some sort of "psychic connection" between all humans; Jung saw it rather as an inherited structure of the mind, common because it has been passed along by DNA, just like the bones of the ear or the pattern of body hair.
The "New Agey" permutations are understandable, however, given the magnitude of Jung's discovery. As described by Robert Hopcke, "To become aware of the figures and movements of the collective unconscious brought one into direct contact with essential human experiences and perceptions, and the collective unconscious was considered by Jung to be the ultimate psychic source of power, wholeness, and inner transformation" (14-15). (Note that here psychic means "of the psyche," not "supernatural.") Not coincidentally, Hopcke compares the archetypes of the unconscious to Plato's forms; both of them shape the human experience along universal lines.
It is easy to see how Jung's understanding of the collective unconscious grew from his familiarity with the No. 2 personality. An examination of Jung's entire system is out of the question here; but of primary importance to our consideration of This and That is Jung's introduction of these "forms of instinct" (MDR 161), these archetypes, and the layer of the psyche in which they reside. These stand in contradistinction to the daylight, waking, social being that Jung designated as "Personality No. 1" in his boyhood, and as the personal elements (personal unconscious and conscious) in his later professional synthesis.
References for Part 3: (complete references for Four Titans)
Hopcke, Robert H. A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Boston: Shambala, 1989.
Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Random House, 1963.
Stevens, Anthony. On Jung. London: Penguin, 1990.
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