The Christianity of C.G Jung
A research project turning into a podcast, lecture series and essay
The podcast Psychology & The Cross started as a research project to get a better understanding of C.G Jung’s relationship to Christianity.
In my own training to become a Jungian Analyst in Zurich, questions related to Christianity were often a part of the discussion. I felt at times though, that our outlook on Christianity was biased, viewing it merely as an object of study from the interpretative lens of Analytical Psychology, its theory, and concepts.
From this perspective, Christianity was a myth and one archetypal story of many. A story that could help reveal something important about the development of an individual’s psychological process and individuation. Jesus Christ was to be understood as (an incomplete) symbol of the self. The cross is a symbol of the tension of the opposites to be united within man.
As much as this perspective helped me in developing a symbolical understanding and an appreciation of metaphor something felt off. Taking a psychological attitude toward the mysteries that lie at the heart of the Christian imagination seemed to me potentially become reductive.
Jung’ emphasized gnosis, knowledge, and personal lived experience. His own experience of the Christian symbols was colored by his own biases and ambivalent relationship growing up with a specific form of protestant Christianity. To me, Jung’s interpretative framework seemed at times too absolute, possibly distorting, leaving little room for faith (besides in the theory through which we learned to analyze these events).
In early 2021 I had my first dialogue for this research project turned podcast with my former teacher from Zurich, Dr. Murray Stein. From then on I have had twelve more dialogues with Jungian analysts and scholars who have all spent much more time than I in trying to understand these matters. These dialogues have helped me to get more clarity on Jung’s complicated relationship to Christianity, where I can follow him, and where I have to depart.
With these dialogues and my own research as a backdrop, I started to write an essay and article on The Christianity of C.G Jung which will be published next year. A first version of it will be formatted as a lecture for the Jungian analysts in-training at my former institute ISAP Zürich, at the end of this month. An online seminar is planned for later this year for other people interested in this theme.
This essay, lecture and online seminar series is examing the following areas of Jungian psychology’s relationship to Christianity:
An in-depth study of Jung’s own childhood and adolescent experiences of Christianity, Christ, and the numinous.
A contextualization and study of Jung’s radical rendering of the imitation of Christ and its importance for his theory of individuation.
Jung’s view on the repression by Christianity of the unconscious and how his psychological theory attempts to compensate for this (A part based on the unpublished Polzeath seminars 1923. Released by Philemon foundation in 2023).
How can Jung’s psychological project be understood as taking place within the spirit of Protestantism and an attempt at reformation of the traditional Christianity he grew up in?
An overview of Jung’s radical Christology, its origins in his “Red Book experience” and how his “theology” is formulated in his late work Answer to Job.
A critique of Jung’s version of Christianity by scholars such as Wolfgang Giegerich is examined before concluding with the question, can Jung’s psychological project be understood as an attempt at a reformation or replacement of Christianity, or both?
I hope that this research will continue to be helpful, discussed, and criticized by those of you who are following the podcast. For more information or questions send me a message at email@example.com
Jakob, it is good that you have decided to grapple with this issue. I think Jung's engagement with Christianity is a failure. He is stuck in ancient metaphysical thought and thinks Christianity is all about archetypal ideas. In truth, Christianity is about *worldly events*, of which the most important is the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God, which occurred in a certain place and at a point in time. Christianity centers on revelation, God's will and action in the world, and the human person's will and conduct.
Jungian analyst Marilyn Nagy identifies Jung as belonging to the Platonic and Kantian tradition (Nagy, "Philosophical Issues in the Psychology of C.G. Jung", 1991, p.46). When she realized this, it made her very downcast. Jung's Christianity is all about ideas, archetypes, and abstract thought. But Christianity centers around the manifestation of God in temporal events and the action of the human person in the world.
The Christian God is a God who acts. He is not an archetype. Nor is He the Unmoved Mover of ancient philosophy. God is a person who is "hidden in suffering", as Luther says. We can have a lot of information and ideas about a person. Nevertheless, this is largely useless, considering that we have to meet the person in order to get to know him.
Christianity is oriented towards experience and relation. Jung, however, is caught up in abstractions and figments of the mind. This is what Jung means by "experience", because whatever exists in the mind is "real". His subjectivistic and romantic idealism is incompatible with earth-bound and pragmatic Christianity. Jung wants to take us above the clouds whereas Christianity wants us to remain humble and restricted to the earth, where God manifests His will in events of our life. I had the same experience as Marilyn Nagy. I was downcast when writing "An Assessment of the Theology of Carl Gustav Jung".
The religion of the future will, I hope, have room for both psychology and the cross. The cross of course, is a sophisticated psychology itself. I'm drawn to Owen Barfield's notion of Original and then Final Participation as a grand map, with Christ initiating the final phase.
This Christ initiated phase can hardly be the last evolutionary development and many psychologies will have to emerge since the psyche is consciousness itself, which I see as the Godhead. The psychologies are perhaps poetic languages that dance around the ineffable.
It could be that Jung is a bridge figure to the divine for those lost in the forest of modernity . . . I'll quit while I'm ahead . . . behind.