Jung and Religion: Meditations on Christian Theology

This post is the result of a spontaneous outflow of thought on Jung and Religion, as it relates to Christian Theology. Part prayer, part meditation, part musing, I hope you, the reader, enjoy the journey as I meander through the landscape of Christian theology while wearing Jungian lenses.

My aim is to poetically explore the mystical implications of Christian theology in terms of fundamental Jungian concepts such as the collective unconscious, archetypes, synchronicity, and the Unus Mundus.

For me, this is not an exercise of explaining theology or religion in terms of Jungian psychology, but rather, using the conceptual framework of Jungian psychology to elucidiate better what it is that needs to be understood, even if that project simultaneously recognizes an essential mystery at the heart of the phenomenon which transcends all limitations of finite consciousness.

And moreover, in true Jungian fashion, this project of understanding is critical to the individuation of our Soul and thus mystical theology itself becomes an ameliorative enterprise capable of pushing us closer to theosis, or becoming like God, like Christ, or “putting on the mind of Christ,” as one mystic once put it.

But first, I’d like to start off with a poetics of prayer.

A Prayer of Thanks

Hear me oh Lord, on this Wednesday morning. Thank you for your blessings. Thank you for your infinite Grace, thank you for holding the Cosmos together, for being One with me and everything else while simultaneously transcending any possible union in your Absolute Simplicity beyond all finite multiplicity.

Thank you for supplying this moment with an inexhaustible Light that washes over me and through me and gives me opportunities to peacefully relax into your Presence, which impregnates the Eternal Now with the subtleties of Mercy and Grace.

Thank you for the blessings of reality, of existence, for the infinitude and beauty of Nature, for the complexity of Life, for my fellow mortal creatures with whom I share the joys and pains of finite consciousness. 

Thank you for making my Soul in Your Image so that I may participate in the macrocosm while I experience the microcosm of my mind-body interpenetrating the tangible world of Creation.

Thank you for the Earth.

And let me address the Mother Earth herself. Thank you. Thank you for your sustenance and for your beauty. Forgive me my sins against you, Great Mother. I know I falter. I know I am not perfect. I know through my daily actions I sin against the flourishing of your ecosystems and all the Life that lives within your bosom.

Thank you, Christ, for the opportunity to feel closer to you in moments of spontaneous Grace, for granting me the occasional privilege to feel the egoistic boundary between myself and Yourself slip away into the infinite contours of the Eternal Now.

Thank you for letting me feel your Presence wash over me, that holy sense of sacred tension at the heart of every moment of perception, the moment of understanding and bliss that accompanies the true apperception of spiritual reality, which is not separate from the Natural world of my experience, but co-extensive with it and simultaneously beyond it, transcending it yet staying within it and through it, and thus through me, into my heart, into my Soul.

Thank you, Guardian Angel, for guiding me, for guarding me, for giving me my Daimonic purpose, which I now realize is to explore Your Grace, to be a great adventurer in the oceanic Presence of Holy Spirit, which presents unto me depths of experience beyond all comprehension.

Being-in-the-world

I can feel the Holy Spirit but it is a kind of unconscious memory, an embodied recognition and recollection that You have been and always are already with me, that You are not separate from me, just as I am not truly separate from the world I find myself in.

I do not stand apart from the world. I dwell within it. I was born within and amidst Your Creation, enveloped and surrounded and infused with that which is outside of me.

The blood of my mother flowed through my veins in the womb, providing the nutrients out of which I constructed my own body, which now provides a home for my consciousness. 

But I know my consciousness is ultimately at home not just in my body but in the entire cosmos, that it is co-extensive with the Cosmos, that the feeling of separation from everything is only an illusion insofar as my consciousness participates in the Cosmic Consciousness which is Christ, the Logos.

The Great Eastern traditions emphasize that our felt experience of separation as a egoistic Self distinct from everything not-Self is but an ongoing and tenuously constructed illusion.

But at the most fundamental level of reality, I am One with God, for God Herself is Oneness, She is the great Unus Mundus, The One World that holds together all levels and layers of reality, who weaves together every particular fact into a Cosmic Whole that connects everything.

But this Oneness with God is not complete, but rather asymptotically approaches the limit of Oneness, for as soon as I arrive at the threshold of complete union, You slip further away into the Mystery of Your Perfect Unity and Simplicity such that I am left enveloped by a cloud of pure unknowing.

It is through a process of stripping myself of all expectation and knowledge that I sink further into these murky waters of unknowing, which paradoxically brings me closer to You albeit in a manner of experience I cannot so easily bring back to the surface of linguistic consciousness.

The Origin of Oneness

Science tells us that the origin of the material world is a singular point where the very physics of space and time ceased to function, collapsing into a great singularity and point of Origin for everything we can presently detect with our senses.

I think this is a beautiful metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things, for every material thing that has ever existed once shared together the embrace of singularity, oneness.

And then Bang! It all exploded apart into particularity and multiplicity. The One Singular Point of Everything became Multiple. It expanded into the manifestation of every physical reality we can possibly know.

As below, so above. If all of physical reality can have a shared origin, sharing the embrace of singularity, then so too can spiritual reality, which is transcendental relative to the physical world but nevertheless participates in the complete Unity and Simplicity of God’s Absolute Being.

Jung and the Unus Mundus

This spiritual reality is not separate from the physical world. It contains it but goes beyond it. In the same way the singularity of the Big Bang connects every physical thing, the spiritual or archetypal Unus Mundus connects everything at the level of mythology and consciousness. This was Jung’s great insight.

A fundamental axiom of my worldview is that consciousness is a primordial aspect of reality just the same as mass, space, force, time, etc.

And insofar as it is fundamental, it also has its origins in the Big Bang, and thus participates and interpenetrates the shared, interconnected of being a One Mental World, a shared consciousness.

To use the metaphor of Deism, of there being a Creator God, we can imagine Them as a Big Dreamer and we are the dream. A Big Mind and we are Its Images and Fantasies. A Big Consciousness and we are what It is conscious of. 

Living in this shared dream provides the astral glue that connects every mind into a whole. A Cosmic Colony of Consciousness.

Just as the ant colony displays a level of intelligence qua colony, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This is the Logos.

And the same is true for every conscious thing, every conscious particle, every conscious entity, every conscious collection, every nested level, every layer, every conscious multiplicity, from collections of neurons to collections of animals, to ant colonies to civilizations to planets to solar systems to galaxies to clusters of galaxies to the entire Cosmos itself, every layer is conscious in its own unique way, providing a unique point of view from that level, from that “thing,” that ultimately sums up to generate a holistic interconnectedness that is greater than the sum of every possible part, every possible reality.

This is the Absolute Unus Mundus, The One World.

Jung, Synchronicity, and Religion

Jung thought it was this Unus Mundus that was the Source for every synchronicity i.e. every “random coincidence” that has no obvious physical causation explanation but is nevertheless deeply meaningful.

A synchronicity is a meaningful, acausal coincidence. Jung’s most famous example of synchronicity comes from a clinical case of a young woman who dreamt of a golden scarab. He writes:

“A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since.” ~ Synchronicity: An Acasual Principle (1952)

The dream of the golden beetle has no obvious or direct causal mechanism connected to the appearance of the beetle around the window in “real” life.

Yet this appearance is deeply meaningful. It feels impossible. It feels as if a miracle has occurred. A glitch in the Matrix.

And yet these deeply meaningful glitches are a normal part of the human experience. Almost everyone has, at one time or another, experienced a “weird” coincidence that seems completely inexplicable.

If you are an atheist and physicalist you leave it at this: it’s “just” a coincidence. It’s just mere randomness. It has no intrinsic meaning. It is not connected to anything deeper or purposeful. It is not an expression of intelligence, reason, or logic. It is just the result of totally chaotic and random natural forces, the result of atoms bouncing around according to the machinations of physical necessity.

But for Jungian and also for the spiritual person: one stays within the realm of meaning. One does not “explain away” the deeply felt meaning. One does not “reduce” the deeply felt meaning of the golden scarab to be the mere bouncing-around of atoms.

The Essential Mystery of Religious Experience

The Jungian accepts that the Universe works in mysterious ways. The Unus Mundus operates according to principles that are not sensible within the framework of mechanistic causation.

And yet our dreams are deeply real to us. As we are dreaming of the golden scarab, we experience the scarab as real. If we become lucid during a dream, we can recognize “this is a dream,” but what we cannot do is escape from the feelings of realness. It feels real.

And for the Jungian it is real. It is real at the level of the dream. At the level of the unconscious.

For it is a now-accepted fact of psychology that our conscious experience is but a small sliver of the overall psychic world: our consciousness is but a mere drop in a psychic ocean. The ego is but a small eddy in the river of our entire psychic life.

Jung and the Objective Psyche

Jung was very emphatic that there is a strong extent to which this larger psychic ocean outside of the personal subjectivity of ego consciousness is Objective insofar as it is not subject to the whims and tastes of the ego. It is larger than us. It is greater than us. Within it, this unconscious ocean contains other intelligences, other psychic entities which have their own points of view and agendas.

We might call these entities daimons, or angels, or simply encounters with the Divine.

It is within this Larger Psychic Realm, outside of us and objective to us, but still contained with the overall sphere of the mental, archetypal realm, that Jung thought the gods and daimons of the world dwelled. 

This is the origin and source of the Ego’s experience of angels, gods, aliens, beings, entities, elves, gnomes, demons, monsters, dream figures, and every other figure of myth and legend.

And there is a very real sense in which these entities constitute genuine Intelligence with minds and personalities separate from our Ego. Yet they are contained within the totality of our Soul. 

But insofar as this world of unconscious, intelligent multiplicity is larger than the personal subjectivity of our Ego-consciousness, it exists Objective relative to our experience in exactly the same way the physical world itself is Objective relative to our experience.

The Jungian Paradox of Archetypal Reality

And herein lies the great paradox of Jungian and archetypal psychology: when we truly understand the radical Otherness of the Archetypal World, we realize that it has a reality independent of us, an ontological reality separate from our subjective Ego. And from this realization we realize that the World of Archetypes intermingles and plays itself out through and within the physical world we experience.

It is as if the physical world and the unconscious world are stitched together in the editing room. And crucially: the process of editing is not merely a figment of the brain. The editing and stitching together of the archetypal world and the physical world into a unitary experiential whole happens both within the brain and outside the brain.

In other words, the human brain is not the only “editor.” It is not the only thing that spins stories. That creates meaning. That provides purpose. That creates a narrative. That is imbued with intentionality. That has a point of view.

It is impossible to come to this realization from a purely rational perspective. Rationality can take us right up to the limits of understanding, but the only way to truly know this Truth is to experience it from the perspective of a transcendental Ego. 

It is not opposed to Reason. To borrow a metaphor from Wittgenstein, Reason is like ladder that we used to climb great heights. But at a certain point, the ladder comes to an end and we must step off the ladder and keep climbing. Upon what do we climb? The Great Chain of Emanation? What is our vehicle? For me, it is the unitary consciousness of Christ.

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