Karl Jung’s work on the psychology of religion was both ground breaking and amongst the first of its kind in its field; however, like his predecessors, his work was not without flaws or to be met without criticism from within the psychological community and from outside disciplines. Commentators have since argued that Jung rejected the notion of God existing beyond the realms of one’s personal psyche. This essay will address Karl Jung’s depth psychology and its pertaining fundamental concepts which arguably reduced God to a psychic fact. To support this proposition, I will firstly define fundamental Jungian concepts, followed by an analysis of Jung’s conceptualisation of the self as a symbol of the divine. Additionally, a review of some of Jung’s commentators will be discussed, concluding with an evaluation of the way in which Jung ultimately reduced God to a psychic fact.
To understand what Jung posited about God one must first understand Jung from a psychological perspective. Jung understood one’s psyche to be “the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious…” (Jung 1971, p.463, para. 797). Like the human body, the psyche is a self-regulating system that essentially maintains the balance of opposites and seeks the development of growth, a process that Jung referred to as ‘individuation’. His concept of the psyche can be understood as component parts that form a whole and is broken down as follows:
The Ego: For Jung, the ego is at the core of one’s consciousness; “by ego I understand a complex of ideas which constitutes the center of my field of consciousness and appears to possess a high degree of continuity and identity” (Jung 1971, p. 425, para. 706). It is the part of the psyche where one’s thoughts, feelings, senses, and intuition, and access to memory reside. The Ego can be understood as the component part responsible for forming and shaping the way in which one perceives and relates to the external world. For Jung, personal relation to the external world is determined by levels of extroversion and introversion and the individual performance of the four personality types: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition (Kreiman 2018, para. 6).
Unconscious: Key to Jung’s depth psychology is his understanding of the unconscious mind. “In my view the unconscious is a psychological borderline concept, which covers all psychic contents or processes that are not conscious, i.e., not related to the ego in any perceptible way” (Jung 1971, p. 483, para. 837). Material is integrated into the ego from the unconscious realm of the psyche which Jung further distinguishes into the ‘personal unconscious’ and ‘collective unconscious’ (Tse 2012, para. 5).
Personal Unconscious: According to Jung the personal unconscious comprises of “…all the acquisitions of personal life, everything forgotten, repressed, subliminally perceived, thought and felt” (Jung 1971, p. 485, para 842).
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Collective Unconscious: Jung then further identified a deeper layer of the unconscious which he referrers to as the collective unconscious, which “… in addition to these personal unconscious contents, are other contents which do not originate in personal acquisitions… these are the mythological associations, the motifs and images that can spring up anew anytime anywhere, independently of historical tradition or migration” (Jung 1971, p. 485, para. 842). The collective unconscious contains themes, structures, images and symbols which Jung refers to as archetypes.
Archetypes: Jung describes archetypes as “systems of readiness for action, and at the same time images and emotions inherited with the brain structure… that portion [of the brain] through which the psyche is attached to nature” (Jung 1970, p. 31, para. 53). Furthermore, archetypal images which reveal themselves in the forms of motifs and universal patterns are “the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends and fairy tales” (Daryl Sharp 1991, p. 12). Key to this essay are the Shadow archetype, the Self archetype, and the God archetype.
The Shadow Archetype: According to Jung, “the shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort” (Jung 1969, p. 8, para. 14). However, the moral problem presented by the shadow has an answer in the Self.
The Self Archetype: In line with Jung’s positing of archetypes comes his conceptulisation of ‘The Self’, which “… proves to be an archetypal idea which differs from other ideas of the kind in that it occupies a central position befitting the significance of its content and its numinosity” (Jung 1971, p. 460, para 791). It is the center of consciousness and unconsciousness, is superior to the ego and the antithesis of the Shadow (Hunt-Meeks, 1983, p. 196) (Jung 1968) IN THE ESSAY Where the shadow represents disharmony the Self represents wholeness “in dreams, myths, and fairytales in the figure of the ‘supraordinate personality’, such as a king, hero, prophet, saviour, etc., or in the form of a totality symbol, such as the circle, square, quadratura circuit, cross, etc” (Jung 1971, p. 460, para. 790).
The God Archetype: To understand Jung’s God archetype one only need look at his definition of the Self. The Self represents the values of wholeness or unity which “stand at the highest point on the scale of objective values because their symbols can no longer be distinguished from the imago Dei”, essentially, “all statements about the God-image also apply to the empirical symbols of totality” (Jung 1969 p. 31, para. 59). Both archetypes produce symbols in the form of the circle, the mandala, the quaternion or other quaternal forms which represent wholeness or unity (Tse 2012, para. 9). Effectively, the symbols of the archetypal Self are indistinguishable from the symbols produced by the archetype of God.
Reconciliation of Opposites: These three key archetypal ideas come together in what Jung refers to as integration or the reconciliation of opposites. For Jung wholeness or integration consisted of the union of opposites which are symbolised by quaternities balancing good and evil. In order for reconciliation to occur “repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites…the conscious mind is on top, the shadow underneath, and just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite…” (Jung 1966, p. 53, para. 78).