Modern Man in Search of a Soul:
Implications for philosophy, psychology, politics and religion
Larapinta Trail Pictures
The intense power and clarity of Jung’s healing vision for the human psyche is expressed in the eleven short essays published in English translation in 1933 as Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Written as Europe grappled with the trauma and sorrow of the First World War, in the context of the rise of demagogic politics of the 1930s and the broad confusion around cultural identity, these essays have a classic lucidity and enduring relevance, revealing aspects of Jung’s thought with great potential to disrupt our prevailing thinking today.
In this talk I will discuss ideas that Jung expressed about philosophy, psychology, politics and religion, aiming to draw out implications about the place of soul in our modern cultural world. My method in preparing this essay was firstly to read the book, underlining significant statements, and then while walking the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia to write the underlined ideas into my journal, hopefully drawing something from the deep silent spirituality of the desert. Then I copied these lines as the first draft of this essay and attempted to edit into a coherent argument, mostly reflecting Jung’s ideas but also mixed with my selection and interpretation.
The overall theme of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, perhaps most strongly expressed in the essay on Spiritual Problems of Modern Man, is that rational science must combine with spiritual identity to provide meaning for life. Jung sees renewal of religious sentiment, reconciled with reason, as the way to overcome the deep neurosis, even psychosis, of prevailing modern life. Published just as Hitler came to power, the sense of demonic unconscious forces driving the psychotic mentality of mass politics pervades Jung’s analysis.
A starting point is the scale of deception in modern life, with honest confession far harder than deceptive illusion. And as a result, half formed ideas acquire a popular certainty, in the form of myth. The unconscious power of myth is seen most vividly for Jung in the violent opposition to Freud, from those who believe illusions on principle.
A first theme, philosophy, displays the stark polarisation between tradition and modernity that emerged in the nineteenth century and continues to strongly influence us now. In the essay Basic Postulates of Analytic Psychology Jung explains that soul was viewed as a substance until the nineteenth century. The emerging modern philosophy of scientific materialism entirely rejected spiritual traditions and laughed at everything that could not be measured. The modern negation of metaphysics produced a radical change of view, a change which Jung saw as long prepared by the spiritual catastrophe of the Reformation. Modern thought, with its close association to the European conquest of the world since the Age of Discovery, had grown in empirical breadth but not in spiritual depth. The shallow psychology of modernity is illustrated for Jung by the new imperial domination of the philosophy of empirical materialism, with its automatic assumption that mind is dependent on matter. Continuing his summary history of ideas, Jung says resistance was futile against the irrational and emotional surrender to the physical world as all-important.
A philosophical question arising here is whether we should base our views on the primacy of matter or of spirit. The problem as Jung sees it is that naturalistic values destroy spiritual development, while a spiritual focus can ignore biology. The conflict between nature and mind has both material and spiritual aspects. Our sense of reality combines physical and mental sources, meaning we need to integrate the description of material facts with the construction of spiritual values.
Jung’s argument, linking psychology to the epistemological problem of how we know anything, is that mind and matter are not simply self-evident and objective features of an objective reality, but emerge as concepts as part of a world view, as symbols dictated by the spirit of the age. The modern world is still largely in the grip of the metaphysical assertion that only matter is real. We can find Jung’s challenge to our dominant epistemology hard to grasp, making it valuable to see how he discusses these themes. He says the scientific revolution of the modern enlightenment did not actually do away with metaphysics as some philosophers have claimed, but rather introduced a new metaphysics that supplanted mind with matter.
Rejecting the intangible and obscure elements of mind by grounding values in facts elevated common sense as the absolute measure of truth. In an inversion of older religious dogma, Jung suggests modernity views dissent from the new materialism as socially dangerous blasphemy. This new metaphysics asserts the purely material cause of the psyche, rejecting old ideas of the soul as a repugnant heresy. Old presumptions of immortality, divine healing energy and the existence of a spiritual world beyond the physical are similarly deemed obsolete and wrong. However, there is a basic problem with seeing the mind in material terms in this way. Mind constructs our world in terms of culture and values and subjective experience. These psychological realities have only partial connection to the scientific assumption that we discover our world through empirical description rather than cultural imagination.
Jung presents an interesting commentary on evolution, noting that the modern discovery that apes evolved into humans brings philosophical assumptions into a mechanistic worldview, seeing matter as displacing the universal creative God. This modern soulless attitude reflects the economic and political power derived from a purely materialist philosophy, where evidence is the sole criterion of truth, leaving no place for intuition or imagination. Jung’s underlying point here is that spiritual identity of human psyche seen in language and culture is qualitatively different from merely animal existence, but materialist thinking tends to deprecate this central role of spiritual identity.
The historical achievement of scientific analysis of matter is seen in the spatial growth of European power through the conquest of the world. Against this empirical might of science, Jung asks about the cultural identity that emerges from a sense of history. The temporal reach of a living sense of history connects us with the past and the future. If we see both space and time as constituting reality, Jung’s concern is that science focuses too much on space and not enough on time, at least within the historical scale of human existence.
By asserting that only matter is real we forget how our minds enable us to retain continuity with the past. Our ability to see similar cultural changes in past philosophy generates our understanding of the soul as our underlying character. Such a sense of continuity is entirely different from the scientific reduction of ideas to their material substrate. This soulless reduction of ideas to matter is the method Jung critiques in philosophy, and also in psychology, seen in the assertion of the primacy of neuroscience and analysis of instincts and drives rather than an integrated theory of soul.
The materialist philosophy of modern secular logic dominates what Jung calls the uncanny power of the zeitgeist. The physical empiricism in the scientific world is irresistible, but has a deep prejudice against the old vertical vision of God as a transcendent and eternal source of order. This secular prejudice emerges in both conscious and unconscious ways. The zeitgeist is the spirit of the age, reflected in dominant assumptions of cultural values, evolving by the dialectical process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis described by Hegel. Jung notes that evolution in the history of ideas always involves an unconscious dialectical reaction against past bias, making the present equally at risk of over-reach and bias. Over-estimation of the role of physical causation in life is the unbalanced metaphysical delusion that Jung blames for the modern loss of soul, resulting in a lack of interpersonal spiritual connection. Primacy of the physical is an ideology that makes soul dependent on body, creating a psychology without the psyche. As a result we have a consciously constructed world that ignores and rejects the existence of unconscious life.
Jung accepted that illusions are actual for the psyche, including in common stories of the real. This mythological attitude stands in tension with the modern view that there must be a discoverable physical line of material connection between an action and its causes. In critiquing this materialist outlook, Jung’s point is that human action is primarily caused by cultural ideas and beliefs rather than anything material. He therefore sees the suggestion that ideas and beliefs can be reduced to physical causes as itself a metaphysical assertion of faith. To say that in principle spiritual identity can be explained by physics, the philosophy of logical positivism, is more a way of asserting the cultural value of physics and denigrating spirituality and the soul. The gulf between subjective identity and its material substrate cannot be bridged in any imaginable science, so Jung insists on the psychological autonomy of spiritual identity. The idea of autonomy of the spirit is unpopular in modern thought, but the underlying problem is that mind is as much a creation of our imagination as is matter.
Jung sees spirit as a timeless life force that rejects biochemical reduction, yet this reduction is the dominant tendency of empirical science of measurement. Ego, from this spiritual perspective, must be understood psychologically as growing from the unconscious springs of life in the depths of the soul, from spirit as a non-spatial, non-located identity grounded in the subliminal interior.
To be modern is to assert a secular materialist philosophy, denying that the psyche could arise from an inaccessible spiritual principle. We have no idea how psyche can arise from the physical, but modern science insists the idea of a spiritual life-force is an illusion. This gulf between science and spirituality is where Jung locates the breeding ground for neurosis and psychosis. The gap between psyche and consciousness, between soul and ego, requires cultural and spiritual analysis of how human identity can be made whole, a task that is quite separate from any scientific causal analysis. The springs of life arise not from our biology but from the depths of the soul. Even dreams can serve as sources of information. The materialist methods of science are only capable of measuring factors that are spatial, but the soul is not spatial.
Jung says we can personify the collective unconscious as the designer of age-old dreams from a hundred generations, with a living sense of the rhythm of growth, flowering and decay. The collective unconscious is a stream or ocean of images flowing into the mind, a valuable source of knowledge that resides not just with the individual but with the broader society. Consciousness therefore derives from the unconscious, not the other way around. Soul depends on a world system of spirit, assuming God as a being with will and mind. Such language is difficult for practical psychology, where the goal is outcomes for patient, but Jung’s objective here is not just clinical treatment but societal diagnosis.
These divisions about the purpose of psychology emerge in the essay Freud and Jung – Contrasts, where Jung argues that Freud’s focus on causal reduction of psychology overemphasises the pathological and negative aspects of life. As a result, he says Freud is unable to understand religious experience. Jung prefers to look at humanity in light of what is healthy and sound, building a psychology of the healthy mind integrated with philosophy, seeking rigorous critique of all assumptions.
The underlying problem is that instinct and spirit are powerful forces whose nature we do not know. They are not reducible to drives for sex and power as Freud and Adler argued. In Jung’s view, the psychological phenomena of human spirituality deserve respect in their own terms. He says all religion therefore has some positive value. For Jung, the greatest spiritual value is in Gnostic religion drawing knowledge of the cosmos from within the human soul. Human existence stands between equally vast inner and outer realms, serving as a connecting bridge between them.
Freud’s emphasis on scientific materialist reduction of psychological phenomena therefore renders him blind to the wholistic dimensions of the soul. As an example of how to treat the soul as a whole, Jung argues that Saint Paul’s teaching that the children of God know freedom conflicts with Freud’s denial of God as Father. Jung is saying here that true freedom requires an intuition of how human identity connects with an eternal divine reality, but that Freud rejects this on principle, forbidding the idea that faith could be a mystical gift of grace. Jung simply finds it unreal for psychology to explain away the mystical religious sense in this way, saying the irony is how Freud became a father figure to his disciples with the superego as a furtive Jehovah.
In Jung’s view, the psyche is a whole, and the ego becomes ill when it is cut off from the whole, losing connection both with the world and with the spirit. The penalty of misunderstanding is decay, embitterment, atrophy and sterility. Jung looks to a return to a cultural respect for elders, with the central teaching handed on through initiation that God is our Father, through constant renewal of the spirit. Unfortunately such an ideal struggles to be realized by established religions, due to the corrupted inability to recognise that the real meaning of traditional teachings is primarily symbolic rather than literal.
In his essay Problems of Modern Psychotherapy, Jung develops his idea of the centrality of spiritual identity to psychic healing with a discussion of catharsis, the transformation emerging from realization of the unknown. Catharsis requires meditative mystery practice to regain contact with true identity as soul. Finding out what we have repressed enables us to gain self-awareness, which in turn is essential for the creative freedom for accomplishment needed to overcome neurosis. True confession can bring the repressed to light, enabling us to bridge the abyss covered by deceptive illusion. And yet honesty is rare, against the power of ideology as a key element of loss of soul in the modern world. Who we really are is hidden and forgotten as a festering unconscious secret.
Jung recognised that the Freudian method, despite the criticisms mentioned above, has the virtue of uncovering the shadow side of systemic psychological concealment, provoking reaction from those who reject such deconstruction of their beliefs. Jung has sympathy for this conservative reaction in defence of traditional beliefs, ascribing it to a valuable focus on the radiant power of myth. The problem he sees with Freud’s efforts at a scientific psychology is that uncovering information does not explain the meaning of myth but only shows its causal aspects.
Jung thought Freud’s mistake was to assume reduction was an adequate explanation for mythology, without recognising either the place of the myth within the cultural whole or its ethical function. Modernity criticises traditional cultures for petty and meaningless beliefs and practices. And yet exposing the pettiness of prevailing culture leads to cultural relativism, the hollowing out of tradition, leading to a loss of social identity and direction. Modernity is highly relativistic through its emphasis on evidence and logic as the basis of social values. Jung was concerned that this tolerant liberal culture holds the risk of inability to see how our ideas mould us unawares.
In The Aims of Pyschotherapy, Jung argues that the chaotic status of psychology as a science shows the lack of consensus on method, especially in the range of views about imagination and will, and on the principles of therapy for neurosis. I wonder how much this assessment of psychology holds true today nearly a century later. Jung points to the profound difference between psychology as an academic discipline and the settled material sciences, a difference seen in the vast diversity of psychological opinion.
He therefore considers that psychology has more in common with philosophy than with empirical science, in that neither psychology nor philosophy is really amenable to empirical methods, but rather must rely on speculative opinion. The shared bond of psychology and philosophy is that psychology studies the soul while philosophy studies the world, and soul and world are intimately inter-related through their shared method of systematic speculation.
Jung calls for respect and tolerance for divergent opinions about psychology, saying they only arise in response to a prevalent experience, rather like different religions. For example, he says Freud’s reduction of psychology to sexual factors is itself a spiritual current in modern life, a manifestation of the collective psyche. This sense that intellectual movements represent a cultural attitude with unconscious drivers shows how contradictory opinions can be equally valid in applied psychology.
The biggest dichotomy that Jung sees in human personality is between spiritual and material attitudes, reflecting ingrained conflicting passions about tradition and modernity. The value of traditional spiritual perspectives is shown in religious mythology, which Jung finds a source of priceless analogies. Respect for mythology is a basis to find meaning from fantasy, at the creative tap root of instinct.
The loss of soul in the modern materialist mentality with its rejection of the power of myth is reflected in the rise of neurosis, due often to overly rational assumptions that blind us to religion. By contrast an openness to symbols can free us by giving form to inner experience. Such artistic symbolic creativity is the language of the soul, with ability to help integrate self and ego. Creativity arises from archaic symbols, seeing how to integrate mind and heart by interpreting and understanding art.
In The Stages of Life, Jung describes the dilemma arising from the perception of consciousness as the turn away from instinct to control by reason. The conscious civilizing force of rejection of instinctive habits has the tendency, in Jung’s assessment, to belittle and suppress behaviour that forms the durable stable base of character that we identify with soul, generating a cultural clash between mind and soul. The problem here is that modern thinking assumes the rational conscious ego is the source of progress, growth and morality, but this framework excludes the soul with its instinctive basis. Jung therefore seeks the reconciliation of reason and instinct, integrating conscious reason and unconscious intuition, for example through respect for religious worship due to its ability to meet unconscious instinctive needs. Jung sees character as largely unconscious. This means character cannot be replaced by what he calls rational Promethean conquest. Here he refers to the old Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan who gave fire to man and suffered eternal torment as a result, a story that remains a powerful warning about the dangers of reliance on technology.
Character, as the defining indicator of soul, refers to our entire identity rather than just our conscious self-image. Character comes into operation in making decisions and generating creative work. Religion is a key element of this process of the construction of ethical identity. Christian symbols of the power of spirit to control nature have an ambiguous place in relation to human character. Jung notes that symbols are deeply grounded in the natural archetypes of the collective unconscious and yet are used to construct a supposedly rational superstructure.
Here we see some profound metaphysical conflicts between spirit and nature. Jung cites the theological stance against the fall of man, placing reason as the sun, creating a taboo against obscurity in favour of clarity. Jung’s call for a revival of soul therefore asks us to embed our constructed world with its clear vision within a deeper intuition of a reality that we cannot explain.
Many would criticise Jung for suggesting obscurity has value. The dilemma here is that the identity of the soul is actually obscure, not amenable to description by clear evidence. If we restrict our theory of the real to what is clear, we automatically exclude most of reality, and also exclude the wellsprings of creativity in the unconscious.
Psychology of the soul must penetrate dark secrets of denied problems, what Jung calls the fateful fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So we see the problem that the subjective ego imagines it has a clear understanding of personal character when it is only a fraction of the real self. He notes that this problem of the relation between self and ego is a key factor in the growth of personality, seen in how a child confronts limits through stages including anarchy, monarchy and duality. As this process of individuation continues into maturity, we inevitably generate inner psychic disturbance when we dig to illusions that contradict reality. The aim of uncovering our illusions and seeking the truth to live by is to create a higher vision of social being, and this means coming to an understanding of who we really are.
Jung’s dilemma, between modern consciousness and instinctive soul, appears in the Faustian bargain whereby achievements which society rewards are won at the cost of diminution of personality, creating depression, neurosis and rigid intolerance. He is suggesting that religion could have some potential to heal the mental illness produced by conformity, serving as school for older people, enabling us to look within in order to make longevity worthwhile, as an individuating process of integrating soul and ego. He therefore identifies an evolutionary purpose of religious practice among elders, to cultivate culture as guardians of mystery. Here we see intimations of the ancient social structure that respected knowledge as power, handed on through sacred secret memory and initiation in stone age times, before the gradual collapse of these archaic systems under the weight of the emerging imperial forces of agriculture, metal and writing. In fact, the loss of soul that Jung sees in modernity has ancient roots, reflected in profound archetypal conflicts such as between Christ and Pilate, and in stories such as the fall from grace.
There is no doubt that the modern world has taken the loss of soul to extremes, for example in American cultural worship of youth, which already in the 1930s Jung saw as a wrong conclusion. Our material empires repress artistic creativity, except in controlled forms, and so generate a world without soul. Science for its part rejects belief and interiority. Against this barren tendency of modernity, Jung observes that a directed life is always more rich and fulfilling and healthy than an aimless life. A directed life is grounded in a sense of higher purpose and meaning, suggesting to Jung that teaching of the afterlife is part of psychic hygiene, as necessary as salt even though we do not know why.
Reflecting his psychology of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, Jung sees primordial images older than history as the groundwork of the psyche. The fullest life requires harmony with symbols as the basis of wisdom. Such spiritual vision of the psychological power of symbols points to factors of imagination that are outside scientific measurement. Considering archetypes of collective unconscious as psychic organs in this way means our social metabolism is healthy when our idea of God is in harmony with our life.
The essay Archaic Man describes how the modern world displays throwbacks at deep reptilian levels to the prelogical magical mindset of the archaic world, conflicting with modern causal reason. Magical thinking is seen when accidents are interpreted as omens. Stone age people did not dream of regarding themselves as lords of nature, but instead felt dominated by magical powers. The exclusion of magical beliefs is a dominant assumption of modernity. The modern view of human secular power in the world is seen as beneath dispute, despite its clash with basic tenets of theology. With magic relegated to amusing rituals like Easter eggs and Christmas trees, Jung sees these as modern examples of primitive ritual that could equally be the object of anthropological analysis as any study of remote tribes.
In the essay Psychology and Literature, Jung explores the German story of Faust, a modern intellectual who exchanges moral integrity for the devil’s gifts of power and pleasure, but only for a short time. Jung says the Faust myth shows how literature compensates for what is missing in the conscious culture, putting the unsayable social reality into fictional form. By questioning the spiritual basis of modernisation, Faust draws from the social context in a way that touches every soul in the epoch, tearing the curtain of the ordered world to expose the abyss. Its immense popularity is a statement of how Faust describes unconscious themes in German national identity. The Faustian theme of modern man selling his soul to the devil raises deep questions about the scientific materialist worldview, as a cautionary tale of the emotional and political dangers of reliance on reason alone.
A contemporary example of the Faustian pact is seen in climate change. The short-term benefits of reliance on fossil fuels and using the air as our sewer allow contemporary society to discount the looming risks of dangerous warming and a phase shift into a hothouse earth. This economic ability to discount the future illustrates that soul is all about a deep appreciation of time and consequence, recognising that eternity surrounds us and the future and past are as real as the present. But the modern attitude only sees the current moment as real, generating a morally bereft philosophy without soul, selling our souls to the devil like Faust.
The emotional and cultural resonance of Faust is used by Jung as an example of how psychology is more complex than science, in view of the amazing intricacy of the mind. He says that subjectively speaking, psychic phenomena such as gods and demons can be as real as physical events. Silence shields our interior worlds from view, leaving our shared conversation focused on superficial material interests rather than the deep eternal problems of the soul.
Faust is a parable of the psychic reality of demonic forces, exposing how the modern belief that we command our soul is an arrogant delusion. Rather than such assertion of rational control, Jung suggests the soul opens a door from a world beyond our perception, from the night side of life that is the source of artistic creativity of seers, prophets, leaders and enlighteners. The underlying meaning of the parable of Faust is that creativity has been repudiated by modern reason due to fear of superstition and metaphysics. Instead, modern humanity falsely construe our consciously constructed world as safe and manageable in line with natural law, treating power and pleasure as the highest goods. The problem with these modern soulless values is that they ignore what Jung calls any presentiment of the pleroma, the incomprehensible and mysterious sense of unity with the whole cosmos, living under the eye of eternity.
This vision of cosmic unity leads Jung to discuss the Christian cross as a symbol of the psyche. He sees the cross as emerging from a highly developed secret ancient vital teaching handed on through rites of initiation. The cross thereby becomes an archetype of the collective unconscious emerging in our psychic dispositions, shaped by the forces of heredity, reflecting our unconscious shared desires for the redemption of our souls. The kingdom of God among and within us has both a horizontal meaning, connecting people to each other, and a vertical meaning, connecting earth to heaven, with these two meanings combined in the cross.
Just as the cross is a symbol concealing unconscious meaning, so too Jung also sees unexpressed desire of the times guiding political leaders, for good or ill. We can well imagine him watching the dark unfolding events in Germany with all their foreboding of war and hatred as the basis of this remark.
The loss of creative insight in the modern worldview leads Jung to see a prophetic role in poetry, with poets foretelling the change in conscious outlook. In this discussion of poetry, he says personal neurosis does not explain creative art, which rather rises far above the personal to speak to the spirit of the age, as an innate drive with poet as instrument, channel of higher purpose with ruthless passion for creation. The artist pays dearly for the divine gift, with the ego swept along on a subterranean current. The poet’s work is his fate. And therefore Jung sees in poetry the image of wisdom, the saviour and redeemer, awakened when times are out of joint to prevent serious error of society, responding with instinctive activation. The poet corrects conscious false attitudes to restore psychic equilibrium of the epoch, drawing upon healing forces to find the common rhythm of existence.
The Spiritual Problems of Modern Man is a key essay on Jung’s theory of the soul. Here he defines what he means by modern, saying the mere fact of living in the present does not make a person modern. Rather, modernity in its pure form means a life fully conscious of the present, a solitary rational intellect removed from mystical participation with the popular myths of mass society and the common unconsciousness. This fully conscious modernity is the highest stratum, seeking atonement by creative ability and proficiency, but is largely hidden by pseudo-moderns. Yet the good done by modern rational power has its shadow side, with Jung saying nothing that is good can come into the world without producing a corresponding evil, seen in the destitute illusion that we are the culmination of the history of mankind. The problem of soul is for Jung revealed in the catastrophe of war, which has still not produced the required humility.
The problem of modernity is therefore the loss of living religion of ritual and spirit, where the psyche is shared in the community as a way to resolve spiritual problems. The pathology of modernity with its distorted human identity as separate individuals has generated the spiritual need for psychoanalysis, as a symptom of a profound cultural convulsion. Our war with ourselves was seen by Freud in the pervasive presence of perverse fantasies that are incompatible with civility.
The First World War shattered faith, not only in secular progress but also in the religious possibility of the millennium as the rational organisation of the world in peace and harmony, grounded in the hope of the return of Christ to rule the world in love. Jung’s world had lost all metaphysical certainty, replaced by the secular goals of material security and humane welfare. Reliance on material progress as a metaphysical goal only adds force to the vaguely perceived threat of stupendous catastrophe. In a prophetic remark about World War Two, Jung observes that our internal demons are fated to use their accumulated materials of destruction. The same problem of a pathological mistake about the basis of security in weapons and walls still exists today.
The psychological damage of the scientific world view, in Jung’s opinion, is how it has destroyed the refuge of the inner life supplied by the religious life of worship and prayer. Without an inner life of the soul, modern life is intensely vulnerable to the seduction by superficial understanding. With some irony, Jung asks if knowledge of the unconscious means no one could be deceived by a demagogue. Of course, his observation that popular society is thoroughly mythological in its psychological structure means this absence of deep psychological engagement renders us highly exposed to dangerous social movements. Such lack of knowledge of unconscious forces can readily be exploited by a leader like Hitler.
If we think of the rise of Hitler as the context for this problem of the modern loss of soul, we can see the political pertinence of Jung’s remark that belief in control of psyche is an illusion. He points out that evil in the world is due to the fact that man in general is hopelessly unconscious, lacking the insight needed to combat this evil at source.
While popular interest in psychology shows the yearning for religion in modern life, the problem is that religion no longer comes from within the heart but is classed with things of the outer world. Jung is here critiquing the emptiness of the dogmatic faith of Christendom, how the long subordination of the altar to the throne has led to a broad social rejection of the spiritual meaning and emotional power in the Christian story. And so he contrasts the hollow teachings of the church to authentic spiritual currents, in which he sees deep affinity with the early Gnostic movement, displaying religious character while seeking reconciliation of faith and reason.
Jung’s constant interest is psychic energy as a real phenomenon. In line with physical conservation of energy, psychic energy will emerge somewhere else if suppressed at one point. Passionate interest in spiritual identity reflects the enduring strength of psychic energy, which cannot be invested in obsolete forms but demands living meaning. And therefore modern thinking abhors dogmatic faith as a blockage to wholeness, and instead demands a spiritual vision grounded in lived experience.
The modern world needs to shift from the mentality of the former age of discovery with its outward focus, and must instead now look within, to discover the unconscious. This is a difficult process of confession, with Jung saying Freudian psychoanalysis throws light on the dirt, dark and evil of our psychic hinterland as refuse and slag.
An example of the unseen power of the unconscious in culture is for Jung seen in the enthronement of the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the French revolution, an event whose symbolic meaning he compares to the hewing of Wotan’s Oak by Christian missionaries. In another example of his psychology of the conservation of energy, Jung proposes a psychological law of compensation, that no psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equal intensity. He reflects on the European discovery of eastern spirituality in the Upanishads as a sort of replacement of the spiritual energy deflected by the rise of atheism.
Spiritually, Jung saw the Western world as in a precarious situation, with the danger worsened by illusions, seen especially in the denial of impact of colonial exterminations. Here in Australia both victors and vanquished are traumatised by the legacy of genocide, with the intergenerational traumas of Aboriginal society reflected in the bleak silence of white society. Calling to dethrone the false Gods of the idolised values of the modern world, Jung therefore asks us to lay bare the foundations of our lauded cultural virtues as whited sepulchres. This reference is to the Biblical critique of religious hypocrisy, where institutions are outwardly beautiful but inwardly corrupt.
Jung remarks that indigenous people think westerners are all crazy, greedy and cruel. This uninviting picture of shabby spiritual undercurrents is a psychological insight that meets resistance and denial. Jung respects that resistance to some extent, calling it a healthy reaction to destructive relativism, but of course this statement of respect for conservative opinion needs to be balanced by his primary concerns for knowledge and authenticity.
Looking to the example of how the Roman world abandoned its ancestral Gods in favour of mystery cults, including with the rise of Christianity, Jung suggests there is potential that the recovery of soul in the modern world will come from western respect for indigenous cultures, leading to recognition and reconciliation. The modern mentality has eyes only for gross material connection, yet there is hope in the widely observed process of conquering empires becoming like their vanquished, as the myths of the conquered society at first seem to be destroyed but then return in subordinate position. Here in Australia we can imagine this process in terms of an indigenous liberation theology, seeing the relation of Jesus in Palestine to the Roman Empire as equivalent to the relation between indigenous culture and the English invasion, with Jesus Christ as an Aborigine.
This call for cultural dialogue and renewal of mythology is not a destructive agenda, but rather in Jung’s terms, it reflects the positive message that the unconscious is attractive for healthy constructive minds as well as for the sick. Jung observes that the psyche constantly produces equivalent values to those destroyed by relativism. This appears to mean that reform of Christianity may be an effective way to create a meaningful modern story reflecting emerging values of reconciliation between black and white, between faith and reason, and between science and religion.
As the yearning for peace and security breeds new forms of life, Jung’s perspective is to search for significant psychology below the conscious horizon. In view of his discussion of the prophetic power of poetry, he mentions a line from the German poet Friedrich Holderlin, that danger fosters the rescuing power. The meaning is that a crisis is needed to force attention on a problem that has been growing for some time.
The final essay in Modern Man in Search of a Soul is called Psychotherapists or the Clergy?
Here Jung investigates the gulf between neuroscience and psychotherapy due to the division between medical and psychic methods of treatment. Psyche is a neglected causal factor in disease, against the scientific medical focus on material causation, with its assumption that psyche did not exist. Jung sees mind as the crux of neurosis as a pathogenic factor, with the psychological challenge to construct a wholistic vision, in contrast to the reductive effort of Freud and Adler to explain neurosis by instinct.
Modern scientific method with its sole focus on material causation ignores the fictional and imaginative processes that give meaning in life, disregarding the religious view that only spiritual meaning sets us free. Science provides excellent common sense, but has no answer to spiritual suffering and inner meaning. The therapeutic challenge is to provide a patient with meaning and form to answer the confusion of the neurotic mind. At this point, the doctor must hand over to the clergy or the philosopher, or abandon the patient to unsolvable perplexity. The deep message Jung suggests for the treatment of neurosis is that illness arises from lack of love, faith, hope and insight, problems that can only be solved by great and wise teachers who grasp the meaning of life and the world. Such high achievements are gifts of grace, requiring total commitment of our whole being to liberating experience and self knowledge, but how?
The collapse of religion means clergy are incapable of providing psychological therapy, but instead in Jung’s view can provide only empty words rather than conversation about the ultimate questions of the soul. Jung sees the popular exodus from church as proof that admonitions to believe are inadequate. Meanwhile he finds it astonishing that clergy seek help in Freud and Adler theories that are hostile to spiritual values, hindering realization of meaningful experience. The majority stand in spiritual alienation, looking to psychology rather than the church, seeing theology as irrelevant to treatment of human problems. Indifference to religion grows side by side with growth of neuroses. The modern world has an ineradicable aversion for inherited truths. Jung’s outlook is that spiritual standards have lost validity, leading to the broad need to experiment in face of feeling that dogma has grown empty. He says modern people no longer feel redeemed by death of Christ, as the story has lost its meaning and promise. This pervasive meaningless mood causes disturbance of unconscious, generating neurosis.
While doctors can admit religious doubt, clergy cannot, making sincere conversation about religion difficult. Jung’s view is that unprejudiced objectivity can sense a universal unseen presence of divine will, but this is quite different from traditional religious dogma. The challenge in talking about religion is that discussion requires acceptance rather than condemnation. The seemingly simple things are the most difficult, for example the central teachings of Christian faith call us to feed the hungry, forgive insults, and treat the least as Christ. The deepest archetypal message of the Gospels is that living truly to fulfil destiny will lead to being misjudged, derided, tortured and crucified. Against that prospect, Jung finds it unsurprising that Christians prefer the imitation of Christ as a life of monastic holiness rather than political engagement.
Neurosis is a war within the self, arising from a disassociation of personality between ego and shadow. Overcoming this incoherence means healing is a religious problem. The modern loss of soul makes it impossible to accept the shadow side of life, meaning we are still reaping the bitter fruit of the nineteenth century contradiction between the church emphasis on blind faith and the academic teaching of intellectual rationalism. In the midst of this warfare of opinion we need spiritual help to withstand the powers of darkness. For Jung the First World War was an eruption of madness, showing the thin barrier between our supposedly ordered rational world and the actual lurking chaos. He says our constructed reason has done violence to natural forces that seek revenge. Only revelation of a greater wisdom can lift us out of distress, with Jung calling for rescue as coming from the psychic depths of the archetypes of collective unconscious as a spiritual guide.
has Bachelors and Masters Honours Degrees in philosophy from
Macquarie University. After thirty years working for the
federal government, he is now returning to focus on these
intellectual interests, especially the philosophical problems of
psychology and religion.