Lecture 44 — Sleeping Christianity

by C G Jung

Contents List:

Divine Metamorphosis
Progressive Transformation of Consciousness
New Ethics Needed
Know Thyself!
Sleeping Christianity

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Divine Metamorphosis

What is remarkable about Christianity is that in its system of dogma it anticipates a metamorphosis in the divinity, a process of historic change on the "other side". It does this in the form of the new myth of dissension in heaven, first alluded to in the creation myth in which the serpent-like antagonist of the Creator appears and lures man to disobedience by the promise of increased conscious knowledge (scientes bonum et malum) [knowledge of good and evil. — Ed.].

The second allusion is to the fall of the angels, a premature invasion of the human world by unconscious contents. The angels are a strange genus: they are precisely what they are and cannot be enything else. They are in themselves soulless beings who represent nothing but the thoughts and intuitions of their Lord. Angels who fall, then, are exclusively "bad" angels. They release the well-known effect of "inflation", which we can also observe nowadays in the megalomania of dictators [and also, regretably, of some "democratic" politicians - Ed]: the angels beget with men a race of giants which ends by threatening to devour mankind, as is told in the Book of Enoch.

The third and decisive stage of the myth, however, is the self-realisation of God in human form, in fulfilment of the Old Testament idea of the divine marriage and its consequences. As early as the period of primitive Christianity, the idea of the incarnation had been refined to include the intuition of "Christ within us". Thus the unconscious wholeness penetrated into the psychic realm of inner experience, and man was made aware of all that entered into his true configuration. This was a decisive step, not only for man, but also for the Creator — Who, in the eyes of those who had been delivered from darkness, cast off his dark qualities and became the summum bonum [greatest good. — Ed.].

Progressive Transformation of Consciousness

This myth remained unassailably vital for a millennium — until the first signs of a further transformation of consciousness began appearing in the eleventh century. From then on, the symptoms of unrest and doubt increased, until at the end of the second millennium the outlines of a universal catastrophe became apparent, at first in the form of a threat to consciousness. This threat consists in giantism — in other words, a hubris of consciousness — in the assertion: "Nothing is greater than man and his deeds". The otherwordliness, the transcendence, of the Christian myth was lost, and with it the view that wholeness is achieved in the other world.

Light is followed by shadow, the other side of the Creator. This development reached its peak in the twentieth century. [Jung died in 1961. I think if he were still extant, he might agree that further peaks (and troughs!) would become apparent. — Ed.] The Christian world is now truly confronted by the principle of evil, by naked injustice, tyranny, lies, slavery, and coercion of conscience. This manifestation of naked evil has assumed apparently permanent form in the Russian nation [In 2011, this seems less permanent. The role of principal world dictator currently seems to be played by the United States. — Ed.]; but its first violent eruption came in Germany. That outpouring of evil revealed to what extent Christianity had been undermined in the twentieth century. In the face of that, evil can no longer be minimised by the euphemism of the privatio boni [private good — Ed.]. Evil has become a determinant reality. It can no longer be dismissed from the world by circumlocution. We must learn how to handle it, since it is here to stay. How we can live with it without terrible consequences cannot for the present be conceived.

New Ethics Needed

In any case, we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia. Touching evil brings with it the grave peril of succumbing to it. We must, therefore, no longer succumb to anything at all, not even to good. A so-called good to which we succumb loses its ethical character. Not that there is anything bad in it on that score, but to have succumbed to it may breed trouble. Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism. We must beware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while so-called evil can resolutely be shunned. Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativises the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole.

In practical terms, this means that good and evil are no longer so self-evident. We have to realise that each represents a judgment. In view of the fallibility of all human judgment, we cannot believe that we will always judge rightly. We might so easily be the victims of misjudgment. The ethical problem is affected by this principle only to the extent that we become somewhat uncertain about moral evaluations. Nevertheless we have to make moral decisions. The relativity of "good" and "evil" by no means signifies that these categories are invalid or do not exist. Moral judgment is always present and carries with it characteristic psychological consequences.

I have pointed out many times that as in the past, so in the future: the wrong we have done, thought, or intended will wreak its vengeance on our souls. But the contents of judgment are subject to the differing conditions of time and place and, therefore, take correspondingly different forms. Moral evaluation is always founded upon the apparent certitudes of a moral code which pretends to know precisely what is good and what evil. But once we know how uncertain the foundation is, ethical decision becomes a subjective creative act. We can convince ourselves of its validity only Deo concedente [God permitting. — Ed] — that is, there must be a spontaneous and decisive impulse on the part of the unconscious. Ethics itself, the decision between good and evil, is not affected by the impulse, only made more difficult for us.

Nothing can spare us the torment of ethical decision. Nevertheless, harsh as it may sound, we must in some circumstances have the freedom to avoid the known moral good and do what is considered to be evil if our ethical decision so requires. In other words, again: we must not succumb to either of the opposites. A useful pattern is provided by the neti-neti [not this, not that. — Ed.] of Indian philosophy. In given cases, the moral code is undeniably abrogated and ethical choice is left to the individual. In itself there is nothing new about this idea; in pre-psychology days such difficult choices were also known and came under the heading of "conflict of duties".

As a rule, however, the individual is so unconscious that he altogether fails to see his own potentialities for decision. Instead he is constantly and anxiously looking around for external rules and regulations which can guide him in his perplexity. Aside from general human inadequacy, a good deal of the blame rests with education which promulgates the old generalisations and says nothing about the secrets of private experience. Thus, every effort is made to teach idealistic beliefs or conduct which people know in their hearts they can never live up to; and such ideals are preached by officials who know that they themselves have never lived up to these high standards and never will. What is more, nobody ever questions the value of this kind of teaching.

Know Thyself!

Therefore the individual who wishes to have an answer to the problem of evil as it is posed today has need first and foremost of self-knowledge, that is, the utmost possible knowledge of his own wholeness. He must know relentlessly how much good he can do and what crimes he is capable of, and must beware regarding the one as real and the other as illusion. Both are elements within his nature and both are bound to come to light in him should he wish — as he ought — to live without self-deception or self-illusion.

In general, however, most people are hopelessly ill-equipped for living on this level, although there are also many persons today who have the capacity for more profound insight into themselves. Such self-knowledge is of prime importance because through it we approach that fundamental stratum or core of human nature where the instincts dwell. Here are those pre-existent dynamic factors which ultimately govern the ethical decisions of our consciousness. This core is the unconscious and its contents, concerning which we cannot pass any final judgment. Our ideas about it are bound to be inadequate, for we are unable to comprehend its essence cognitively and set rational limits to it. We achieve knowledge of nature only through science — that is, psychology. No one builds a telescope or microscope with one turn of the wrist, out of good will alone, without a knowledge of optics.

Today we need psychology for reasons that involve our very existence. We stand perplexed and stupefied before the phenomenon of Nazism and Bolshevisism [and hectoring by so-called "democrats" — Ed.] because we know nothing about man — or, at any rate, have only a lop-sided and distorted picture of him. If we had self-knowledge, that would not be the case. We stand face to face with the terrible question of evil and do not even know what is before us, let alone what to pit against it. Even if we did know, we still could not understand "how it could happen here". With glorious naivetι a statesman comes out with the proud declaration that he has no "imagination for evil". Quite right: we have no imagination for evil, but evil has us in its grip. Some do not want to know this, and others are identified with evil. That is the psychological situation in the world today: some call themselves Christian and imagine that they can trample so-called evil underfoot by merely willing to; others have succumbed to it and no longer see the good.

Sleeping Christianity

Evil has today become a visible Great Power. One half of humanity fattens and grows strong on a doctrine fabricated by human ratiocination; the other half sickens from the lack of a myth commensurate with the situation. The Christian nations have come to a sorry pass; their Christianity slumbers and has neglected to develop its myth further in the course of the centuries. Those who gave expression to the dark stirrings of growth in mythic ideas were refused a hearing; Joachim of Flora, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and many others have remained obscurantists for the majority. The only ray of light is Pius XII and his dogma. But people do not even know what I am referring to when I say this. They do not know that a myth is dead if it no longer lives and grows.

Our myth has become mute and gives no answers. The fault is not in it as it is set down in the Scriptures, but solely in us who have not developed it further but who, rather, have suppressed any such attempts. The original version of the myth offers ample points of departure and possibilities of development. For example, the words are put into Christ's mouth: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves". For what purpose do men need the cunning of serpents? And what is the link between this cunning and the innocence of the dove? "Except ye becomes as little children..." Who gives thought to what children are like in reality? By what morality did the Lord justify the taking of the ass which he needed in order to ride in triumph into Jerusalem? How was it that, shortly afterwards, he put on a display of childish bad temper and cursed the fig tree? What kind of morality emerges from the parable of the unjust steward, and what profound insight, of such far-reaching significance for our own predicament, from the apocryphal logion: "Man, if thou knowest what thou dost, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the law"? [Luke vi, 4] What, finally, does it mean when St Paul confesses: "The evil which I would not, that I do"? I will not discuss the transparent prophecies of the Book of Revelation, because no one believes in them and the whole subject is felt to be an embarrassing one.

The old question posed by the Gnostics, "Whence comes evil?" has been given no answer by the Christian world, and Origen's cautious suggestion of a possible redemption of the devil was named a heresy. Today we are compelled to meet that question; but we stand empty-handed, bewildered, and cannot even get it into our heads that no myth will come to our aid although we have such urgent need of one. As the result of the political situation and the frightful, not to say diabolic, triumphs of science, we are shaken by secret shudders and dark forebodings; but we know no way out, and very few persons indeed draw the conclusion that this time the issue is the long-since-forgotten soul of man.