A mind free to explore with John A Sanford

Jim: How does Christianity relate to Jungian psychology?

Jack Sanford: First of all, there are Christians, and there are Christians. Not all Christians are alike. The kind of Christianity that I espouse, I’ll tell it best with an anecdote. My father, as I mentioned, was a minister, and the rectory where we lived was right contiguous with the church, and he had a library, which was not remarkable. This was way back. See, I grew up in the 1930s when I was just a boy. I was born in 1929, and the reason I tell this story is his library had the writings of all the philosophers, it had the early writings about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Those discoveries were just beginning to be made. It had works about all kinds of things on history. It had works on the Greek language, and it was a very rich kind of a library. My father was an intelligent man, but he was not a brilliant man. To make a long story short, I was attracted to his library. I could read any book in his library. I always had to bring them back, but I could any book at all. I could read atheistic philosophers because that was part of the world of thought. So it was a very open and free and intellectual and spiritual atmosphere. That’s what I thought Christianity was all about. I still think that’s what it is really all about. So for me, my experience of Christianity was that it was a religion in which the mind is free to explore, and that which is true will attract the mind, and you don’t need to be afraid of being led astray because the truth will bring you back.

Now, that was the Episcopal church. I still have a great affection for it because I still think it is a church that has that kind of attitude. But now, of course, there are all kinds of self-style Christians, and so if, for instance, we spoke to what we call in our culture a fundamentalist kind of Christian, that would not be the attitude at all. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I would be very popular with those people. So it is a different kind of attitude. There isn’t something called "Christianity" as though it was one homogeneous kind of a block in attitude, and so forth and so on. That doesn’t exist. There are different ways people have of exercising their Christianity, so I am talking now about the kind of Christianity where the mind is free to explore as it will, and confident in the ability of the truth to bring the mind back to its proper center. I think that is a very important distinction because nowadays the more fundamentalist aspect of Christianity, while it certainly has some fine things to commend it, has sort of taken the stage, and so many people identify Christianity with Christian fundamentalism. The Christian fundamentalists do not care for Jung. I think from the fundamental point of view of Christian fundamentalism, is the psychology and the probing of oneself is not only not necessary, but I think they would have a negative view of it because if you start probing into the unconscious, you meet all kinds of things, you meet all kinds of shadowy realities, and this and that and the other, and God only knows what you will meet. So I think their attitude is, rather than explore those things, to shut the door on those realities. Now as soon as you begin shutting the door on certain things, then you have to narrow your scope down, and I think that’s what fundamentalism does. I think that’s what fundamentalism does in any religion, whether it is fundamentalism in other religions as well as Christianity. Anybody, on the other hand, who gets into the workings of the unconscious, and look at their dreams, you are going there into a different kind of a world. You can’t control what is going to come up in your dreams, you know, and you have to look at what that says. And so it is an entirely different kind of a spirit that’s at work. Now, with the kind of Christianity I espouse, there is no conflict because of the reasons that I gave you. But with others, there would be, and they would identify somebody who probes the world of dreams, they might have very dark things to say about such a person. Although the Bible, itself, had a different point of view, you know. The Bible was filled with dreams. And there is a quotation from the Book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and sent for Daniel to interpret the dream. And the king said, "Why did I have this dream?" And the answer that Daniel gave was, "The dream has come to you, O King, in order that you may know the thoughts of your inmost mind." Now, that’s exactly, in that one sentence, the theory of contemporary Jungian-type depth psychology with regard to dreams. But that very open and exploring aspect that we find in many places in the Bible is not always well represented in what you might call the general way of looking at things.

Jim: On occasion, you criticize Jung’s ideas on evil.

Jack Sanford: Oh, yes, I don’t agree with Jung on those things.

Jim: In that article you wrote in The Well Tended Tree, you sort of seem to probe some of his philosophical stances a little bit. Could you say a little bit about those two topics of how an open and critically thinking Christian still might have hesitations about this or that aspect of Jung’s psychology.

Jack Sanford: I turn the same probing mind to my Jungian mentors, and to Jung, himself, as I do anywhere else, and I am not a slave to what Jung felt and believed, and Jungians aren’t expected to be a slave to what Jung felt and believed. Jung did have a sort of a way of dealing with the nature of evil, and he made ambiguous statements, confusing statements, and spoke of God, and God as being good and evil, or the darkness in God, and things like that, and he never really clarified those things very well. He was death against one of the Christian viewpoints known as evil of the privatio boni, which is a thing that says that evil has no reality in itself, it is a deprivation of good. He felt that it was a very dangerous standpoint to have because it minimized the reality of evil. In that sense he disagreed with a good deal of the Christian point of view about it. But I defended the doctrine of the privatio boni, but rather enlarged the scope of understanding of it. There I don’t agree with Jung. I don’t see evil as an integral part of God. I see it as something allowed for the higher purposes of God, and in that respect I differ from Jung. You understand there is no Jungian doctrine about this. The Jungians do not have doctrines. Some of the Jungians may agree with Jung about this, and some of them might not.

Jung’s epistemology of the knowledge of God would be that the knowledge of God is mediated to consciousness through the self, the self as the archetype of God, and that’s the way that one knows the nature of God, and he would tend to nullify theological speculation, and his argument would be that the self contained both good and evil. Now in the first place, I don’t agree with his premise that the only way to the knowledge of God is through the archetype of the self, the archetype of order and completeness within the psyche. He has a sort of encapsulated epistemology, and I don’t agree with that. Nor do I agree with his premise that the self is a compendium of good and evil. He confused the words light and dark with good and evil. In the image of totality that the self represents, there is light, and there is dark, but dark, you see, is not intrinsically evil. It is, indeed, the complement of light. One wouldn’t know there was light if there wasn’t also dark. But it is not tantamount to evil. Now this is where Kunkel comes in, because Kunkel said that evil does not come, genuine evil does not come from the self. It comes from the ego, and to the extent that the ego is in an egocentric state, it partakes of the nature of evil. He has an emphasis on the importance of the ego, itself. In Jungian psychology you sometimes get the feeling that the main function of the ego is to observe the self, and that it is not an active agent of its own. So I would see that to the extent that human beings are egocentric, the ego partakes of the nature of evil. And that’s not a Jungian position. That’s Kunkel’s position. And I have written about that, and some people occasionally read what I write, and some of them like it, but by and large it is not a position that is very widely read in Jungian circles.

Jack Sanford: I think it comes close. Now we have to have a broad definition of individuation. The narrower definition of individuation is that individuation comes when one becomes increasingly psychologically conscious, and then one individuates, and there is certainly a lot of truth to that. But that is by no means the only way people individuate. They can individuate very well without any formal psychological approach. It is how one lives one’s life, and how you meet what comes up in life that leads to individuation. It can’t be encapsulated in the Jungian idea of a purely psychological individuation, and I think that the real individuation takes place not only as people become more psychologically aware of who they are, but it takes place as one meets life, especially as one meets the dark side of life, the difficulties of life. So one of my particular spiritual heroes was James Stockdale. James Stockdale was an aviator who was shot down in Vietnam. Stockdale was incarcerated in solitary confinement for 9 years, and finally when that conflict was over, he was released. He has written up his episode there. I conjectured to myself I would have survived possibly for a week, never for more than 2 weeks. Of course, you don’t know. If I had been in that I may have done better than I think. But he survived for something like 8 or 10 years, and emerged a healthy man. He tells how he did it. The bottom line of how he and others survived this, was "we lived for others," and that’s how he survived. "We lived for our comrades, and that’s how we did it." Now, that’s individuation, too, you see. It’s individuation through having been in the fire, and anything that was weak got burned away, and the self emerged in the we-ness of those men who shared the same experience. And that gets back to Kunkel. Kunkel said there was a "we." The "we" comes, he said, when the egocentricity of the individual is no longer there. Then one can have a true we relationship with one’s comrades in life. And that’s something Jung’s psychology lacks. Kunkel’s psychology included it. Experiences like the one I talked about here bring that about, so I have a broader feeling for individuation than I think that Jung had. I feel his point of view was too narrowly psychological, important though that is. These other factors had to be contributed. Now, I am not putting down the psychological, the importance of getting insight and understanding and identifying our complexes and understanding our ego’s psychology is tremendously important. People who don’t have some of that aren’t going to get very far in the spiritual life, and they aren’t going to get very far in their relationships with others. I think I am trying to get across here I have a much more composite, larger view of how this process of individuation takes place, and at some point the more narrowly psychological meets up with something that can only be called the spiritual, and that has to take us further.

Jim: What about from the Jungian side? Do you think there is a real interest in a dialogue with Christianity, or are they too busy with their own affairs to really spend much energy in that direction?

Jack Sanford: Well, I don’t know how one could generalize about that. I would think that among lots of Jungians there would be a lot of interest in more of a dialogue with the organized Christian position. I don’t know how open they are to it. I think there are certain prejudices and biases that they carry into it. There’s not enough discrimination from Jungians that there are many different ways of being Christian. I am a Christian, but I don’t think like fundamentalists think, you see. I am just light years away from that for the reasons I have explained. It is a totally different attitude, and I don’t many Jungians are sufficiently aware of a diversity of attitudes that people call Christian.
Jim: I like that. Let me just throw the floor open to you. If you were talking to people who had sort of a budding interest in this dialogue, what’s your advice to them?

Jack Sanford: Well, I suppose if they were really interested in this dialogue, my advice is to get some analysis if they haven’t had it already. Of course, you can’t get very far in this dialogue without having gone through your own analytical process. It would be like talking about swimming without having learned to swim. Not a very good image, but something like that. I would certainly encourage the development of an attitude which is capable of and willing to just look at something to see what it is. Not many people are willing to just look at something to see what it is. They already have a resistance or preconceived idea, or whatever. Then one is blind to what is really there because of these preconceived ideas and things. It takes that kind of cultivation. If you were ever to stand back and say, "What is this thing really? What is it really?" And be objective about it and open to it. And I would also keep a certain amount of trust, a certain amount of ego strength.

Jim: Good. I like that. I like the way you are distinguishing between Jung’s psychology and spirituality. I think that is a critical thing because if you get that distinction clear – it is hard to get clear – but somehow it is fundamental if there is going to be a dialogue. Otherwise the one is engulfing the other. Jungian psychology is engulfing Christianity.

Jack Sanford: That’s right. And that’s no good, you know. There is nothing to dialogue about.

A mind free to explore with John A Sanford
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