John Dourley: Jung, Thomism and Others

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John Dourley: Jung, Thomism and Others

To all,

It is good to dialogue with what should be called pre-Jungians on the list. In this recent discussion of Aquinas, Barth and Anselm I would agree with thinkers like Jung and Tillich who identify Aquinas and his introduction of Aristotle into Western religious thinking as the beginning of the process that tore the western mind from its roots in the unconscious beginning in the 13th century and continuing into our time.

I have previously posted on Anselm and both Jung’s and Tillich’s understanding of him. The latter two moderns realize that the truth of Anslem’s argument is the unmediated psychological experience of the absolute as an element of humanity’s natural experience of the its own depths. Writes Tillich on the ontological argument, “The arguments for the existence of God neither are arguments nor are they proof of the existence of God. They are expression of the question of God which is implicit in human finitude.” ST I, p. 205 Tillich goes on to base this question on the human experience of the infinite within the finitude of human consciousness. This experience bases a universal quest for God, understood as an existential questing after the essentially human, “the essential self”, which Tillich grounds in the divine in ST III, p. 235.. This idea goes back to Plato. Though Jung had never read Tillich he understood Tillich’s point and writes in almost identical language and with an identical meaning, “The ontological argument in neither argument nor proof but merely the psychological demonstration of the fact that there is a class of men for whom a definite ideal has efficacy and reality -a reality that even rivals the world of perception.” CW 6, par 81, p. 41. Obviously Jung considered himself a member of “this class of men.” However preJungiains are not familiar with the idea that the only “proof” for God’s existence is the experience of God which Jung elevates to the psychological level in the footsteps of Schleiermacher’s 19th century experience of God as the “feeling of absolute dependence”, and Tillich’s 20th century understanding of the universal experience of God as “ultimate concern”. In this Tillich professes continuity with Schleiermacher. Both of these thinkers and Jung reject the reductionism of Barthian fundamentalism which would deny to humanity the experience of divinity as a depth experience of itself. PreJungians have missed a paradigm shift that now would rest the reality of God not on hoary proofs for “God’s existence” -discounted in Western philosophy since Kant’s first critique -but on humanity’s unmediated experience of its native depth and ground. Such experience is the substance of the “religious impulse” foreign to preJungians given their entrapment in mind. On Tillich’s and Jung’s contribution to the contemporary understanding and appreciation of religion I have recently published with Routledge, Tillich, Jung and the Recovery of Religion. I doubt if the recovery documented there would be helpful to the preJungian in part because even Tillich, the acknowledged greatest of the twentieth century’s philosophical theologians, could, in the end, no longer affirm Christianity as “the final revelation” and came to see this position and all similar ones as profoundly provincial. In the end he saw the future of religious studies to rest on the examination of the symbols of all the religions as expression of immanental powers endemic to humanity.

On particulars, Aquinas had little place in living western philosophy until he was forced on the Catholic Church and its theologians by Leo XIII, in 1879, basically as a negative response to German idealism and romanticism and other positions dealing with human experience beyond the solely rational as the basis of humanity’s residual sense of divinity. Aquinas’ theology and philosophy is attractive to those devoid of such experience, as he himself was till his enlightenment shortly before his death. The Thomistic mind is drawn rather by rational proofs which appeal only to the severed consciousness of the mind uprooted from the unconscious. These proofs are only efficacious in shoring up a non-experiential faith in some particular tradition or in winning debating points at cocktail parties against “atheists”. Rome imposed Thomism on the Catholic “philosophical mind?” because Thomism is also suited to ecclesial control due to its objectivity which can be used to base the authority of the Inquisition in possession of the “objective ” Christian doctrine revealed to the mind as something of a bonus after it had exhausted itself proving the existence of God and some of his more sterling qualities, indeed, any quality that did not imply in itself an imperfection. Imposed on the Catholic mind in 1879, in the context of a century long flight from the Enlightenment as it culminated in the French Revolution, Thomism has left little trace to¬day. No serious philosopher working with the ongoing Western process would take the work of Maritain, Gilson, and currently Lonergan and his transcendental Thomism as having much to offer though the latter’s indebtedness to Kant gives it some credence. In fact Thomism would be taught only in conservative centers of Catholic indoctrination or in philosophical and theological museums in courses on the history of philosophical and theological thought (hopefully now surpassed).

Yet it was this imposition which effected so deeply the mind of Victor White and much of the still reigning Catholic imagination. The tradition was proven incompatible with Jung’s understanding of the psyche over the course of a fifteen year dialogue between the two men. In the end ;Jung affirms that he had seen others come to the crossroads leading to humanity’s spiritual future and drew back from it in death. I though I was the only one who suspected that Jung had killed White by so challenging his Thomistic simplicities but my speculation on that matter has since been reinforced by C. Weldon, The Story of Jung’s White Raven, U of Scranton Press, 2008 p. 233. Actually Jung fought the fight he fought with White twice. The first round was with Martin Buber. Jung exposed Buber’s religious poetry as a facade behind which the traditional and wholly transcendent Yaweh continued to lurk. It takes more than capitalizing the archaic version of the second person singular to move into a real relationship with ultimacy. The substance of this paragraph and the preceding paragraph are treated at greater length in “The Jung-White dialogue and why it couldn’t work and wont go away’, JAP, vol. 52, no. 3, June, 2007, 273-295. Regardless of what side one takes up in the White/Jung dialogue it cannot be denied the Jung felt that Thomism had nothing to contribute to his understanding of the psyche in theory or in practice. This consensus should preside over the current interest in the Jung/White letters.

Barth’s sophisticated fundamentalism is no where better expressed than in his manifesto The Epistle to the Romans. Here he argues that there are many “religions”, i.e., human attempts to reach God analogous to satisfying the belly with food and drink but only one “revelation”, God’s definitive address to humanity. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination to guess what tradition carried this one-sided breakthrough. Barth did go on to write on The Humanity of God but it is a limpid qualification of Romans whose religious arrogance could hardly be undone in a lifetime. It is encouraging that Barth and his 19th century predecessor, Kierkegaard, are both now clearly identified as Christian fundamentalists with very little to offer the contemporary other than the reinforcement of Christian fundamentalism. As for Barth’s Church Dogmatics I would think it to be little more than a sustained profession of faith in the maintenance of Christian dogma which Jung rightly describes as “sacrosanct unintelligibility” and “preposterous nonsense”. CW 11, par. 170, p. 109, 110.

I am not in a position to judge the philosophical or theological capacities of first year students at the University of Aberdeen but if their academic stars are Aristotle through Aquinas, Barth’s fundamentalism and Anselm’s argument taken literally to prove the existence of an objective God then they should be spared Carl Jung and above all stay away from theologians like Paul Tillich skilled in philosophy and imbued with the ability to think out of the profundities of life rather than trumpe the “kerygma” of simple faith. More…

The best to all.
John Dourley.