Jung's View of Christianity

For the first time in his extensive writings C. G. JUNG tells of his personal experience of God. Despite his sometimes unorthodox views, especially in his answer to the problem of evil and his conception of a God who is not entirely good or kind, Jung’s deepest convictions are firmly rooted in his allegiance to Christianity. MEMORIES, DREAMS, REFLECTIONS will be published this spring by Pantheon Books.


ANY biography of myself must, I think, take account of the following reflections. It is true that they may well strike others as highly theoretical, but making theory of this sort is as much a part of me, as vital a function of mine, as eating and drinking.

What is remarkable about Christianity is that in its system of dogma it anticipates a metamorphosis in the divinity, a process of historic change on the “other side.” It does this in the form of the new myth of dissension in heaven, first alluded to in the creation myth in which a serpentlike antagonist of the Creator appears and lures man to disobedience by the promise of increased conscious knowledge (scientes bonum et malum). The second allusion is to the fall of the angels, a premature invasion of the human world by unconscious contents. The angels are a strange genus: they are precisely what they are and cannot be anything else. They are in themselves soulless beings who represent nothing but the thoughts and intuitions of their Lord. Angels who fall, then, are exclusively “bad” angels. These release the wellknown effect of “inflation,” which we can also observe nowadays in the megalomania of dictators: the angels beget with men a race of giants which ends by threatening to devour mankind, as is told in the Book of Enoch.

The third and decisive stage of the myth, however, is the self-realization of God in human form, in fulfillment of the Old Testament idea of the divine marriage and its consequences. As early as the period of primitive Christianity, the idea of the incarnation had been refined to include the intuition of “Christ within us.” Thus the unconscious wholeness penetrated into the psychic realm of inner experience, and man was made aware of all that entered into his true configuration. This was a decisive step, not only for man, but also for the Creator — who, in the eyes of those who had been delivered from darkness, cast off His dark qualities and became the summum bonum.

This myth remained unassailably vital for a millennium, until the first signs of a further transformation of consciousness began appearing in the eleventh century. From then on, the symptoms of unrest and doubt increased, until at the end of the second millennium the outlines of a universal catastrophe became apparent, at first in the form of a threat to consciousness. This threat consists in giantism — in other words, a hubris of consciousness— in the assertion: “Nothing is greater than man and his deeds.” The otherworldliness, the transcendence of the Christian myth was lost, and with it the view that wholeness is achieved in the other world.

Light is followed by shadow, the other side of the Creator. This development reached its peak in the twentieth century. The Christian world is now truly confronted by the principle of evil, by naked injustice, tyranny, lies, slavery, and coercion of conscience. This manifestation of naked evil has assumed apparently permanent form in the Russian nation; but its first violent eruption came in Germany. That outpouring of evil revealed to what extent Christianity has been undermined in the twentieth century. In the face of that, evil can no longer be minimized by the euphemism of “the absence of good.” Evil has become a determinant reality. It can no longer be dismissed from the world by a circumlocution. We must learn how to handle it, since it is here to stay. How we can live with it without terrible consequences cannot for the present be conceived.

We stand in need of a reorientation. Touching evil brings with it the grave peril of succumbing to it. We must, therefore, no longer give in to anything at all, not even to good. A so-called good to which we succumb loses its ethical character. Not that there is anything bad in it on that score, but to have surrendered may breed trouble. Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism. We must beware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while so-called evil can resolutely be shunned. Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole.

In practical terms, this means that good and evil are no longer so self-evident. We have to realize that each represents a judgment. In view of the fallibility of all human judgment, we cannot believe that we will always judge rightly. We might so easily be the victims of misjudgment. The ethical problem is affected by this principle only to the extent that we become somewhat uncertain about moral evaluations. Nevertheless, we have to make ethical decisions. The relativity of good and evil by no means signifies that these categories are invalid, or do not exist. Moral judgment is always present and carries with it characteristic psychological consequences. I have pointed out many times that, as in the past, so in the future the wrong we have done, thought, or intended will wreak its vengeance on our souls. Only the contents of judgment are subject to the differing conditions of time and place, and therefore take correspondingly different forms. For moral evaluation is always founded upon the apparent certitudes of a moral code which pretends to know precisely what is good and what evil. But once we know how uncertain the foundation is, ethical decision becomes a subjective creative act. We can convince ourselves of its validity only Deo concedente; there must be a spontaneous and decisive impulse on the part of the unconscious. Ethics itself, the decision between good and evil, is not affected by this impulse, only made more difficult for us. Nothing can spare us the torment of ethical decision. Nevertheless, harsh as it may sound, we must have the freedom in some circumstances to avoid the known moral good and do what is considered to be evil, if our ethical decision so requires. In given cases, the moral code is undeniably abrogated and ethical choice is left to the individual. There is nothing new about this idea; in pre-psychology days such difficult choices were also known and came under the heading of “conflict of duties.”

AS A RULE the individual is so unconscious that he altogether fails to see his own potentialities for decision. Instead he is constantly and anxiously looking around for external rules and regulations which can guide him in his perplexity. Aside from general human inadequacy, a good deal of the blame for this rests with education, which promulgates the old generalizations and says nothing about the secrets of private experience. Every effort is made to teach idealistic beliefs or conduct which people know in their hearts they can never live up to, and such ideals are preached by officials who know that they themselves have never lived up to these high standards and never will. What is more, nobody ever questions the value of this kind of teaching.

Therefore, the individual who wishes to have an answer to the problem of evil as it is posed today has need, first and foremost, of self-knowledge — that is, the utmost possible knowledge of his own wholeness. He must know relentlessly how much good he can do and what crimes he is capable of, and must beware of regarding the one as real and the other as illusion. Both are elements within his nature, and both are bound to come to light in him, should he wish — as he ought—to live without self-deception or self-delusion.

Most people are hopelessly ill equipped for living on this level, although there are also many persons today who have the capacity for profounder insight into themselves. Such self-knowledge is of prime importance, because through it we approach that fundamental stratum or core of human nature where the instincts dwell. Here are those pre-existent dynamic factors which ultimately govern the ethical decisions of our consciousness. This core is the unconscious and its contents, concerning which we cannot pass any final judgment. Our ideas about it are bound to be inadequate, for we are unable to comprehend its essence cognitively and set rational limits to it. We achieve knowledge of nature only through science, which enlarges consciousness; hence, deepened self-knowledge also requires science — that is, psychology. No one builds a telescope or microscope with one turn of the wrist without a knowledge of optics.

Today we need psychology for reasons that involve our very existence. We stand perplexed and stupefied before the phenomena of Nazism and Bolshevism because we know nothing about man, or at any rate have only a lopsided and distorted picture of him. If we had self-knowledge, that would not be the case. We stand face to face with the terrible question of evil and do not even know what is before us, let alone what to pit against it. And even if we did know, we still could not understand “how it could happen here.” With glorious naïveté a statesman comes out with the proud declaration that he has no “imagination for evil.” Quite right: we have no imagination for evil, but evil has us in its grip. Some do not want to know this, and others are identified with evil. That is the psychological situation in the world today: some call themselves Christian and imagine that they can trample so-called evil underfoot by merely willing to; others have succumbed to it and no longer see the good. Evil today has become a visible Great Power. One half of humanity battens and grows strong on a doctrine fabricated by human ratiocination; the other half sickens from the lack of a myth commensurate with the situation. The Christian nations have come to a sorry pass; their Christianity slumbers and has neglected to develop its myth further in the course of the centuries.

OUR myth has become mute, and gives no answers. The fault lies not in it as it is set down in the Scriptures, but solely in us, who have not developed it further; who, rather, have suppressed any such attempts. The original version of the myth offers ample points of departure and possibilities of development. For example, the words are put into Christ’s mouth; “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” For what purpose do men need the cunning of serpents? And what is the link between this cunning and the innocence of the dove? “Except ye become as little children. . . .”Who gives thought to what children are like in reality? By what morality did the Lord justify the taking of the ass which he needed in order to ride in triumph into Jerusalem? How was it that, shortly afterward, he put on a display of childish bad temper and cursed the fig tree? What kind of morality emerges from the parable of the unjust steward, and what profound insight, of such far-reaching significance for our own predicament, from the apocryphal logion: “Man, if thou knowest what thou dost, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the law”? What, finally, does it mean when St. Paul confesses: “The evil which I would not, that I do”? I will not discuss the transparent prophecies of the Book of Revelation, because no one believes in them and the whole subject is felt to be an embarrassing one.

The old question posed by the Gnostics, “Whence comes evil?”, has been given no answer by the Christian world, and Origen’s cautious suggestion of a possible redemption of the devil was termed a heresy. Today we are compelled to meet that question; but we stand empty-handed, bewildered, and perplexed, and cannot even get it into our heads that no myth will come to our aid, although we have such urgent need of one. As a result of the political situation and the frightful, not to say diabolic, triumphs of science, we are shaken by secret shudders and dark forebodings; but we know no way out, and very few persons indeed draw the conclusion that this time the issue is the long since forgotten soul of man.

A further development of myth might well begin with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, by which they were made into sons of God, and not only they, but all others who through them and after them received the filiatio — sonship of God — and thus partook of the certainty that they were more than autochthonous animalia sprung from the earth, that as the twice-born they had their roots in the divinity itself. Their visible, physical life was on this earth; but the invisible inner man had come from and would return to the primordial image of wholeness, to the eternal Father, as the Christian myth of salvation puts it.

Just as the Creator is whole, so His creature, His son, ought to be whole. Nothing can take away from the concept of divine wholeness. But unbeknownst to all, a splitting of that wholeness ensued; there emerged a realm of light and a realm of darkness. This outcome, even before Christ appeared, was clearly prefigured, as we may observe inter alia in the experience of Job, or in the widely disseminated Book of Enoch, which belongs to immediate pre-Christian times. In Christianity, too, this metaphysical split was plainly perpetuated: Satan, who in the Old Testament still belonged to the intimate entourage of Yahweh, now formed the diametrical and eternal opposite of the divine world. He could not be uprooted. It is therefore not surprising that as early as the beginning of the eleventh century the belief arose that the devil, not God, had created the world. Thus the keynote was struck for the second half of the Christian aeon, after the myth of the fall of the angels had already explained that these fallen angels had taught men a dangerous knowledge of science and the arts. What would these old storytellers have to say about Hiroshima?

Since dogma holds that God is wholly present in each of the three Persons, He is also wholly present in each part of the outpoured Holy Spirit; thus every man can partake of the whole of God and hence of the filiation. The complexio oppositorum of the God image thus enters into man, and not as unity, but as conflict, the dark half of the image coming into opposition with the accepted view that God is Light. This very process is taking place in our own times, albeit scarcely recognized by the official teachers of humanity, whose task, supposedly, is to understand such matters. There is the general feeling, to be sure, that we have reached a significant turning point in the ages, but people imagine that the great change has to do with nuclear fission and fusion or with space rockets. What is concurrently taking place in the human psyche is usually overlooked.

INSOFAR as the God image is, from the psychological point of view, a manifestation of the ground of the psyche, and insofar as the cleavage in that image is becoming clear to mankind as a profound dichotomy which penetrates even into world politics, a compensation has arisen. This takes the form of circular symbols of unity which represent a synthesis of the opposites within the psyche. I refer to worldwide rumors of unidentified flying objects, of which we began to hear as early as 1945. These rumors are founded either upon visions or upon actual phenomena. The usual story about the UFOs is that they are some kind of spacecraft coming from other planets or even from the fourth dimension.

More than twenty years earlier (in 1918), in the course of my investigations of the collective unconscious, I discovered the presence of an apparently universal symbol of a similar type — the mandala symbol. To make sure of my case, I spent more than a decade amassing additional data before announcing my discovery for the first time in the commentary to The Secret of the Golden Flower (1931). The mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the self. This circular image represents the wholeness of the psychic ground, or, to put it in mythic terms, the divinity incarnate in man. It symbolizes a compensation of the psychic cleavage, or an anticipation that the cleavage will be surmounted. Since this process takes place in the collective unconscious, it manifests itself everywhere. The worldwide stories of the UFOs are evidence of that; they are the symptom of a universally present psychic disposition.

Insofar as analytical treatment makes the “shadow” conscious, it causes a cleavage and a tension of opposites which in their turn seek compensation in unity. The adjustment is achieved through symbols. The conflict between the opposites can strain our psyche to the breaking point if we take them seriously, or if they take us seriously. No solution can be found by logic. If all goes well, the solution, seemingly of its own accord, appears out of nature. Then and then only is it convincing. It is felt as grace. Since the solution proceeds out of the confrontation and clash of opposites, it is usually an unfathomable mixture of conscious arid unconscious factors, and therefore a symbol, a coin split into two halves which fit together precisely. It represents the result of the joint labors of consciousness and the unconscious and attains the likeness of the God image in the form of the mandala, which is probably the simplest model of a concept of wholeness, and one which spontaneously arises in the mind as a representation of the struggle and reconciliation of opposites.

The clash, which is at first of a purely personal nature, is soon followed by the insight that the subjective conflict is only a single instance of the universal conflict of opposites. Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche. For that reason the God image is always a projection of the inner experience of a powerful vis-à-vis.

Such experiences have a helpful or, it may be, annihilating effect upon man. He cannot grasp, comprehend, dominate them; nor can he free himself from them, and therefore he feels them as overpowering. Recognizing that they do not spring from his conscious personality, he calls them mana, daimon, or God. Science employs the term “the unconscious,” thus admitting that it knows nothing about the unconscious, for it can know nothing about the substance of the psyche when the sole means of knowing is the psyche. Therefore, the validity of such terms as mana, daimon, or God can be neither disproved nor affirmed. We can. however, establish that the sense of strangeness connected with the experience of something apparently outside the psyche is authentic.

We know that something unknown, alien does come our way, just as we know that we do not ourselves make, a dream or an inspiration, but that it somehow arises of its own accord. What does happen to us in this manner can be said to emanate from mana, from a daimon, a god, or the unconscious. The first three terms have the great merit of including and evoking the emotional quality of numinosity, whereas the last — the unconscious — is banal and therefore closer to commonplace reality. “The unconscious” is too neutral and rational a term to give much impetus to the imagination. The term was coined for scientific purposes and is far better suited to dispassionate observation which makes no metaphysical claims than are the transcendental concepts, which are controversial and tend to breed fanaticism.

Hence I prefer the term “the unconscious,” knowing that I might equally well speak of “God"' or “daimon” if I wished to express myself in mythic language. When I do use such mythic language, I am aware that “mana,” “daimon,” and “God” are synonyms for the unconscious; we know just as much or just as little about them as about the latter. People only believe they know much more about them, and for certain purposes that belief is far more useful and effective than a scientific concept. The great advantage of the concepts “daimon” and “God” lies in making possible a much better objectification of the vis-à-vis — namely, a personification of it. Their emotional quality confers life and effectuality upon them. Hate and love, fear and reverence enter the scene of the confrontation and raise it to a drama. The whole man is challenged and enters the fray with its total reality. Only then can he become whole, and only then can God be “born” — that is, enter into human reality and associate with man in the form of man. By this act of incarnation, man — his ego — is inwardly replaced by “God,” and God becomes outwardly man, in keeping with the saying of Jesus: “Who sees me, sees the Father.”

It is at this point that the shortcomings of mythic terminology become apparent. The Christian’s ordinary conception of God is of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-merciful Father and Creator of the world. If this God wishes to become man, an incredible kenosis (emptying) is required of Him, in order to reduce His totality to the infinitesimal human scale. Even then it is hard to see why the human frame is not shattered by the incarnation. Theological thinkers have therefore felt it necessary to equip Jesus with qualities which raise him above ordinary human existence. Above all, he lacks the stain of original sin. For that reason, if for no other, he is at least a godman or a demigod. The Christian God image cannot become incarnate in empirical man without contradictions — quite apart from the fact that man with all his external characteristics seems little suited to representing a god.

THE myth must ultimately take monotheism seriously and put aside its dualism, which, however much repudiated officially, has persisted until now and enthroned an eternal dark antagonist alongside the omnipotent Good. Room must be made within the system for the philosophical complexio oppositorum of Nicholas of Cusa and the moral ambivalence of Jakob Boehme; only thus can the One God be granted the wholeness and the synthesis of opposites which should be His. Symbols, by their very nature, can so unite the opposites that these no longer diverge or clash but mutually supplement one another and give meaningful shape to life. Once that has been experienced, the ambivalence in the image of a nature god or Creator god ceases to present difficulties. On the contrary, the myth of the necessary incarnation of God — the essence of the Christian message — can then be understood as man’s creative confrontation with the opposites and their synthesis in the self, the wholeness of his personality. The unavoidable internal contradictions in the image of a Creator god can be reconciled in the unity and wholeness of the self as the coniunctio oppositorum of the alchemists or as a unio mystica. In the experience of the self it is no longer the opposites “God” and “man” that are reconciled, as it was before, but rather the opposites within the God image itself. That is the meaning of divine service, of the service which man can render to God, that light may emerge from the darkness, that the Creator may become conscious of Mis creation, and man conscious of himself.

Such is the one goal which fits man meaningfully into the scheme of creation and at the same time confers meaning upon it. It is an explanatory myth which has taken shape within me in the course of the decades. It is a goal I can acknowledge and esteem, and which therefore satisfies me.

By virtue of his reflective faculties, man is raised out of the animal world, and by his mind he demonstrates that nature has put a high premium precisely upon the development of consciousness. Through consciousness he takes possession of nature by recognizing the existence of the world, and thus, as it were, confirming the Creator. The world becomes the phenomenal world, for without conscious reflection it would not be. If the Creator were conscious of Himself, He would not need conscious creatures; nor is it probable that the extremely indirect methods of creation, which squander millions of years upon the development of countless species and creatures, are the outcome of purposeful intention. Natural history tells us of a haphazard and casual transformation of species over hundreds of millions of years of devouring and being devoured. The biological and political history of man is an elaborate repetition of the same thing. But the history of the mind offers a different picture. Here the miracle of reflecting consciousness intervenes — the second cosmogony. The importance of consciousness is so great that one cannot help suspecting the element of meaning to be concealed somewhere within all the monstrous, apparently senseless biological turmoil, and that the road to its manifestation was ultimately found on the level of warm-blooded vertebrates possessed of a differentiated brain — found as if by chance, unintended and unforeseen, and yet somehow sensed, felt, and groped for out of some dark urge.

I DO not imagine that in my reflections on the meaning of man and his myth I have uttered a final truth. We do not know how far the process of coming to consciousness can extend, or where it will lead. It is a new element in the story of creation, and there are no parallels we can look to. We therefore cannot know what potentialities are inherent in it. Neither can we know the prospects for the species Homo sapiens. Will it imitate the fate of other species which once flourished on the earth and now are extinct?

The need for mythic statements is satisfied when we frame a view of the world which adequately explains the meaning of human existence in the cosmos, a view which springs from our psychic wholeness, from the cooperation between conscious and unconscious. Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable — perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science. For it is not that “God” is a myth, but that myth is the revelation of a divine life in man. It is not we who invent myth; rather, it speaks to us as a Word of God. The Word of God comes to us, and we have no way of distinguishing whether and to what extent it is different from God. There is nothing about this Word that could not be considered known and human, except for the manner in which it confronts us spontaneously and places obligations upon us. It is not affected by the arbitrary operation of our will. We cannot explain an inspiration. Our chief feeling about it is that it is not the result of our own ratiocinations, but that it came to us from elsewhere. And if we happen to have a precognitive dream, how can we possibly ascribe it to our own powers? Often we do not even know until afterward that the dream represented foreknowledge, or knowledge of something that happened at a distance.

The Word happens to us; we suffer it, for we are victims of a profound uncertainty: with God as a complexio opbositorum, all things are possible, in the fullest meaning of the phrase. Truth and delusion, good and evil are equally possible. Myth is or can be equivocal, like the oracle of Delphi or like a dream. We cannot and ought not to repudiate reason; but equally we must cling to the hope that instinct will hasten to our aid—in which case God is supporting us against God, as Job long ago understood. Everything through which the “other will” is expressed proceeds from man — his thinking, his words, his images, and even his limitations. Consequently, he has the tendency to refer everything to himself, when he begins to think in clumsy psychological terms, and decides that everything proceeds out of his intentions and out of himself. With childlike naïveté he assumes that he knows all his own reaches and knows what he is in himself. Yet all the while he is fatally handicapped by the weakness of his consciousness and the corresponding fear of the unconscious. Therefore, he is utterly unable to separate what he has carefully reasoned out from what has spontaneously flowed to him from another source. He has no objectivity toward himself and cannot yet regard himself as a phenomenon which he finds in existence and with which, for better or worse, he is identical. At first everything is thrust upon him, everything happens to him, and it is only by great effort that he finally succeeds in conquering and holding for himself an area of relative freedom.

When he has won his way to this achievement, and then only, he is in a position to recognize that he is confronting his instinctive foundations, given him from the beginning, which he cannot make disappear, however much he would like to. His beginnings are not by any means mere pasts; they live with him as the constant substratum of his existence, and his consciousness is as much molded by them as by the physical world around him.

These facts assail man from without and from within with overwhelming force. He has summed them up under the idea of divinity, has described their effects with the aid of myth, and has interpreted this myth as the Word of God — that is, as the inspiration and revelation of the numen from the “other side.”

Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.