Feb 26 2012

Jung, the Unconscious, and Us

Published by under Book Reviews,Opinion

A review by Laurie Chisholm.

In June 2011, Lloyd Geering gave a series of lectures on Jung at St Andrews on the Terrace in Wellington. These lectures are available on DVD from the St Andrew’s Trust (http://satrs.standrews.org.nz). The Christchurch group of the Sea of Faith has used two of them as the basis of meetings and found them helpful. The video quality is high and the PowerPoint slides that Lloyd used to accompany his words have been nicely edited in so that you have a clear and direct view of them.

Lloyd observed that his lectures on Jung have been the best-attended of all the topics he has handled, which I regard as evidence that people have a hunger for perspectives that enrich and deepen their spirituality and for a wise understanding of what it is to be a human being.

The first lecture is on Jung’s view of the psyche (Jung’s term for what others might call soul or mind). He doesn’t start straight in with Jung’s ideas, but gives a very broad historical survey, covering Plato, Aristotle, Locke and Freud, setting Jung in context. Only then does he provide an overview of Jung’s picture of the psyche, which includes the ego, the self, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, the shadow and the archetypes. The lecture concludes with Jung’s personality theory, which many will be familiar with as the basis of the Myers-Briggs personality test.

The second lecture focusses on religious experience. While Freud regarded religion as an illusion, Jung thought that the breakdown of religion caused neurosis and that religion promotes mental health, helping us to become whole. Using several historically very important examples (the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, Mohammed writing the Koran after hearing messages from God through the angel Gabriel, Paul experiencing a vision of the risen Lord at Damascus) Lloyd explained how Jung regarded the unconscious as the origin of such experiences. While traditionally, they have been understood as evidence for the existence of a spiritual or transcendent realm, Jung regards them as projections of the unconscious. This steers a middle way between regarding them as literal truth and dismissing them as some sort of hoax. Lloyd says that such experiences can be honoured for their intrinsic value, but as far as I can see, he does not articulate what that value might be for us moderns.

The third lecture is on Jung’s view of God. Again, Lloyd gives us a bird’s eye view of the grand sweep of history. Humans have an inbuilt bias to see the world in religious terms. Belief has evolved from polytheism through henotheism (loyalty to one god without denying the existence of others) to monotheism. The gods are to be understood as projections of the archetypes and the evolution of God parallels the evolution of the human psyche. Although the image of God as a personal being is a false idol, says Lloyd, monotheism has a lasting significance; it affirms the oneness of reality and you could regard the Genesis creation story as the first Grand Unified Theory. He concludes with a look at the way modern physicists talk of God and quotes the theologian Gordon Kaufmann: God is the creativity permeating everything. Helpful thoughts about God, but ones that go well beyond Jung himself.

The final lecture begins with Jung’s ideas of synchronicity as a principle that complements causality in explaining the way the world works. Lloys uses them as a spring-board to articulate his convictions about a unified human future.

Lloyd has not a word of direct criticism of Jung. Nothing about the issues that so raised the ire of Bill Cooke (see Newsletters 79 and 82) such as Jung’s possible complicity with the Nazi regime. No questioning of the evidential basis for all the entities such as archetypes, the Self, the collective unconscious and the shadow, that Jung manages to pack into the psyche. Nothing about Jung’s own ventures into biblical interpretation, such as his views on Job and on the story of the Fall. Plenty of mention of those who went before Jung, but nothing about post- Jungian therapy or scholars of myth such as Joseph Campbell who use Jungian perspectives.

Lloyd does not focus narrowly on Jung’s views but incorporates them into his own broad perspective on things. In the process, Jung’s own views could get lost or at least blurred. In particular, I don’t think Jung was primarily interested in undermining the claim that religious experience gives evidence of a spiritual world. Rather, he had a therapeutic aim of promoting individuation and integrating the unconscious, regarding communal religious symbols and myths as well as the dreams of the individual as expressions of the unconscious and therefore helpful in this task.

Lloyd is famous for his ability to explain things simply and clearly, and these lectures are one more example of this. I recommend them to other local groups for their use.

One response so far

One Response to “Jung, the Unconscious, and Us”

  1.   http://google.comon 15 Feb 2013 at 9:07 am

    Thanks a lot for applying some time to post
    “Sea of Faith Christchurch Group – Jung, the Unconscious,
    and Us”. Many thanks yet again -Christal

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