Two years before his own death, C.G. Jung evoked as a strong possibility the prospect of the « definitive destruction » of the « Christian myth ».
However, psychology could still help « saving » this myth. Through a better understanding of mythology and its role in intrapsychic processes, « it would be possible to arrive at a new understanding of the Christian myth, and especially of its apparently shocking and unreasonable statements. If the Christian myth is not finally to become obsolete, which would mean a liquidation of unpredictable scope, the idea of a more psychologically oriented interpretation is necessary to save the meaning and content of the myth. The danger of definitive destruction is considerable. » i
Christianity, from the beginning, had already been considered « scandal for the Jews and folly for the Greeks »ii. Now, it had even become « shocking » and « unreasonable » for the Swiss and « obsolete » for psychologists.
The fall in religious vocations, the desertion of the faithful and the decline of the denarius were already beginning to be felt at the end of the 1950s of the last century. All this seemed to give some consistency to these Jungian prophecies of the « destruction » and « liquidation » of the « Christian myth » as a logical consequence of its supposed « obsolescence ».
The movement of disaffection with Christianity has not stopped growing over the last six decades, one might add, at least if we look at the indicators already mentioned.
Is the « Christian myth », to use Jung’s expression, now dying, or even « dead »?
And if so, can it still be « resurrected »?
And if it could indeed be resurrected, in what form, and for what purpose?
Like a Saint George slaying the dragon of obsolescence, an obsolescence less flamboyant than sneaky, silent, but swallowing credence, Jung brandishes in his time the victorious spear of psychology, the only one capable, according to him, of reviving the Christian myth.
To understand Jung’s idea of the assimilation of Christianity to a « myth » – and to a myth in the process of becoming obsolete, one must return to what underlies his entire understanding of the world, the existence of the unconscious, and the « creative » character of the psyche.
For Jung, any « representation » is necessarily « psychic ». « When we declare that something exists, it is because we necessarily have a representation of it (…) and ‘representation’ is a psychic act. Nowadays, however, ‘only psychic’ simply means ‘nothing’. Apart from psychology, only contemporary physics has had to recognize that no science can be practiced without the psyche. » iii
This last assertion seems to allude to the opinion of the Copenhagen Schooliv, hard fought by Einstein et al., but an opinion to which the latest conceptual and experimental developments seem to be giving reason today.
Despite such assurances, at the highest theoretical and experimental level of contemporary science, and despite the flattering successes of analytical psychology, C.G. Jung, while at the peak of his brilliant career, seemed bitter about having to fight again and again against the outdated cliché (typical of modern times) that « only psychic » means « nothing ».
No doubt cruelly wounded in the depths of his soul, C.G. Jung may have wanted to take a terrible revenge, by showing that this « nothing » can still, and in a short time, put down one of the most important foundations of European, and even world civilization…
The unconscious exists, it is a certainty for Jung, and for many people. But few have understood the immense power, almost divine, or even divine at all, of this entity.
« No one has noticed, » explains Jung, « that without a reflexive psyche, there is virtually no world, that therefore consciousness represents a second creator, and that cosmogonic myths do not describe the absolute beginning of the world, but rather the birth of consciousness as a second creator ». v
Before Jung: In the beginning God created the earth, etc.
After Jung: The Unconscious Mind created the idea that « God created the earth etc. ».
Myths correspond to psychic developments. They can grow and die, just like the latter. « The archetypes all have a life of their own that unfolds according to a biological model. » vi
This metaphor of the « biological model » must be taken literally, including birth, maturity and death.
« A myth is still a myth, even if some consider it to be the literal revelation of an eternal truth; but it is doomed to death if the living truth it contains ceases to be an object of faith. It is necessary, therefore, to renew one’s life from time to time through reinterpretation. Today Christianity is weakened by the distance that separates it from the spirit of the times, which is changing (…). It needs to re-establish the union or relationship with the atomic age, which represents an unprecedented novelty in history. The myth needs to be told anew in a new spiritual language ». vii
All the nuances of the biological model can be subsumed under a much broader concept of life, a much more global power of meaning, including in particular the idea of resurrection (– an idea, it will be recalled, « scandalous », « crazy » and « shocking »).
If we apply the idea of resurrection in particular to the Christian myth itself, it is possible that the latter in fact escapes its natural, « biological » destiny and its inevitable death, provided that it is subjected to a total « renovation », to an unprecedented reinterpretation, a sine qua non condition for its « resurrection« .
The idea of the « resurrection » of a myth incarnated by a dead Savior, and whose apostles based their faith on the certainty of his own resurrection (as Paul reminds us), is not lacking in salt.
But in order to taste this salt, it would be necessary to be able to reinterpret the resurrection of Christ under the species of a new « resurrection », which is more in accordance with the spirit of the (atomic) time.
The idea of an ‘atomic’ zeitgeist was probably obvious to a psychologist living in the 1950s, after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the rise of nuclear winter threats made tangible by Cold War arsenals.
Nowadays, the ‘spirit of the time’ of our time is a little less ‘atomic’, it seems, and more ‘climatic’ or ‘planetary’. It is inclined to let itself be influenced by new global threats, those towards which global warming and the foreseeable extinction of entire sections of the biosphere are pointing.
In this new context, what does it mean to « renovate » or « resurrect » the Christian myth of the « resurrection » (as distinct, for example, from the myths of the resurrection of Osiris or Dionysus)?
A first response would be to apply it (quite literally) to the putative resurrection of the millions of animal and plant species now extinct.
But would the idea of an « ecological » Christianity, relying for its own rebirth on the effective resurrection of billions of insects or amphibians, be enough to bring the faithful back to the parishes and to resurrect vocations?
This is doubtful.
It is not that we should not strive to bring back to life the dead species, if this is still humanly (or divinely?) possible. The modern myth that is being constituted before our eyes lets us imagine that one day a few traces of DNA will be enough to recreate disappeared worlds.
Such a re-creation by a few future learned priests, packed into their white coats and their spiritual laboratories, would then in itself be a kind of miracle, capable of melting the hardest, most closed hearts.
But one can also assume that this would still be insufficient to extricate the « Christian myth » from its spiral of obsolescence, in which accumulated millennia seem to lock it up.
But what? Will the resurrection of an immense quantity of fauna and flora, abolished from the surface of the globe, not be like a sort of living symbol of the resurrection of a Savior who died two thousand years ago?
Wouldn’t that be enough to announce to the world, urbi et orbi, that the very idea of resurrection is not dead, but alive again?
No, that would not be enough, one must argue with regret.
How can the resurrection of only half of the Earth’s biodiversity be weighed against the resurrection of the one universal Messiah?
The bids are going up, we can see it.
If Jung is right, the majority of humanity can no longer believe in the very myth of salvation and resurrection (as embodied by Christ in history two thousand years ago).
Why is that? Because this Messiah seems too dated, too local, too Galilean, too Nazarene even.
The story of that Messiah no longer lives on as before.
Why is that? The spirit of the times « has changed ».
And it is not the tales of the agony of the world’s fauna and flora, however moving they may be, that will be able to « convert » minds deprived of any cosmic perspective, and even more so of eschatological vision, to the call of a « renewed » Christian myth.
In the best of cases, the rescue and (momentary?) resurrection of half or even nine-tenths of the Anthropocene could never be more than a short beep on the radar of the long times.
We no longer live in Roman Judea. To be audible today, it would take a little more than the multiplication of a few loaves of bread, the walking on still waters or the resurrection of two or three comatose people; it would even take much more than the resurrection (adapted to the spirit of the time) of a Son of Man, a Son of God, both descended into Hell and ascended into Heaven.
After Season 1, which apparently ended with a sharply declining audience, Christianity’s Season 2, if it is to attract a resolutely planetary audience, must start again on a basis that is surprising for the imagination and fascinating for the intellect.
Reason and faith must be truly overwhelmed, seized, petrified with stupor, and then transported with « enthusiasm » by the new perspectives that want to open up, that must open up.
So one has to change words, worlds, times and perspectives.
The little Galilea must now compete with nebulous Galaxies.
The resurrected Carpenter must square black holes, plane universal constants and sweep away dark energy, like a simple cosmic sawdust.
The once dead Messiah must now truly live again before us, and at once tear all the veils, – the veils of all Temples, of all Ages, of all spirits, in all times, whether in the depths of galactic superclusters, or in the heart of quarks.
Quite an extensive program. But not unfeasable.
iLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.136
ii1 Co 1,23
iiiLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.135
ivThe Copenhagen School, led by Niels Bohr, stages the intrinsic role of the « observer » in the experimental definition of the observed « reality ».
vLetter from C.G. Jung to Pastor Tanner Kronbühl (February 12, 1959). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p.135
viLetter from C.G. Jung to Reverend David Cox (November 12, 1957). In C.G. Jung. The Divine in Man. 1999. p. 128
viiLetter from C.G. Jung to Reverend David Cox (September 25, 1957). In C.G. Jung. The divine in man. 1999. p. 126
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