Carl Jung is a controversial figure. This pioneer of psychoanalysis, though beloved by the pop psychology world, has a dark side: he experimented with occult spirit guides, his movement was both an esoteric mystery-cult and a personality cult, and his theology was heretical, his conception of God that of an amoral demiurge beyond good and evil. Jung made theological errors worthy of rejection, but also stunning insights worthy of attention, especially because his psychoanalytic work with patients gave him an inside look into the weaknesses of modern-day Protestantism. Although most of Jung’s patients had lost their faith, the healthiest were church-goers still immersed in liturgies thick with participatory symbols and rituals: their sacramental experiences nudged them towards wholeness. “Even in this day and age,” Jung wrote, “the believer has the opportunity, in his church, to live the ‘symbolic life.’” Most people “look to therapy rather than to religious tradition for their soul development,” ethicist Timothy Patitsas writes, but “the great hospital for the soul is liturgy because in liturgy we are invited to fall in love with what is most Beautiful.” But when much of the American church has been reduced to “four bare walls and a sermon,” there is plenty for the conscious mind to think about, but little for the body to do, or for the unconscious to experience. Jung thought every religion has two feet — faith and ritual — but Protestantism hops on one foot more often than not. Jung’s ability to alleviate psychological suffering should intrigue iconoclasts: he gave people another leg to stand on. Protestants rejected veneration of the holy departed and the hierarchy of angels and saints whose prayerful assistance built up the Body. Jung compensated with darker principalities — spirit guides and inner gurus. Protestants abandoned confession to a priest and penance for the soul’s repair. Jung compensated with the confessional therapist’s office. Protestants repudiated iconography and pilgrimages. Jung gave them dream symbolism and archetypes, an inward journey replacing the outward. Protestants exchanged God’s “real presence” in the Mass for a memorial. Jung showed them “the Numinous” within, mingling the archetypal Christ with the Self. Protestants exchanged synergistic theosis for passively imputed righteousness. Jung gave them an arduous process of “individuation” that resonated like a call to adventure. What the Reformers amputated re-emerged as a phantom limb in the form of depth psychology. Therapeutic “priests” now provide us with the healing and self-transcendence that was once the province of church sacraments, spiritual practices, and the heavenly hierarchy. The body and the unconscious (which are so deeply connected) must play their part in the faith. Exclude them, and who knows what will rush in to meet the ineradicable needs of human nature? Icons, rituals, liturgies, hymns, chanting, sacred spaces, fasts and feasts, pilgrimages, and sacraments — these are symbolic (“joining/uniting”) modes of participation indigenous to Christianity that psychology can only imitate, and they function fractally, healing not only the individual (psychotherapy’s aim), but also facilitating a broader communion of persons. Because Christ joins together all the opposites (Col. 1:17, 21), Eucharistic communion creates communion. In Him, all things hold together; without Him, things fall apart.
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