All Humans Are Naturally Religious
I should perhaps have said ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’, as that would perhaps have been less controversial. However, religion is the word used by the authors focussed on here.
I am currently writing two long series of articles, ‘Journey into the Underworld’ which discusses themes related to Carl Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious, and ‘Christianity’s Next Reformation’. I’ve always assumed that the two would eventually come together, i.e. that Jung’s psychology would become an essential ingredient in the new Reformation I envisage.
On that theme I’ve just become aware of an interesting book. In my Christianity series I am currently discussing the ideas of the late John Shelby Spong. I noticed that in his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die he mentioned favourably the theologian Paul Tillich. I’ve been aware of that name for a long time but have never studied him. By coincidence, I then came across a homage to Tillich on Medium by Paul Lee. The esteem in which he holds Tillich led me to start reading a book I’ve owned for some time, The Psyche as Sacrament: A Comparative Study of C. G. Jung and Paul Tillich by John P. Dourley¹. There is much interesting material in it, and I’ll almost certainly return to it later in the series. The first chapter, however, is especially interesting, so that it is worth writing a brief article on its theme.
As a taster, Dourley begins by saying that both Jung and Tillich could be hailed as great apologists for Christianity, but also “two of its greatest heretics”. He further says that “Jung sought to give new life and relevance to what had often become dead dogma”. He then moves on to the theme of this article, both authors claiming that all humans are ‘religious’ by nature, hence my title. He says: “Jung and Tillich affirm that the reality of religion is embedded in the fabric of the human soul, and that it finds inevitable expression in the consciousness that arises from such depths. As such, religion cannot be eradicated from the human condition. Both men, with little variation, contend that the reality of religion, when it loses its specifically religious trappings, reappears in the guise of political, social, or philosophical and cultural notions, or indeed in anything to which can be appended the suffix ‘ism’ ”.
Some obvious examples of ‘-isms’ that can be worshipped with a religious passion are: socialism, communism, fascism, atheism, humanism, and existentialism. It’s also worth noting that, when science is elevated to the status of a religion and worshipped accordingly, we call it scientism. Also, when we ignore what is worthy of veneration — the divine and sacred within us — we tend to find alternative false objects of worship: film stars, sports stars, rock music stars, completely talentless reality TV stars, all of whom can be worshipped to a degree way beyond their merit. They have replaced the gods and goddesses who, it can be argued, still exist in the depths of our modern psyche.
Rather than becoming obsessed with and worshipping such ideologies and celebrities, it would be better if we acknowledged the reality of what is truly worthy of reverence, the sacred depths within us. Dourley continues (apologies for the male-oriented language in some of the quotes which follow): “In their eyes man was not faced with the choice of being religious or irreligious. His only real option was his free and responsible facing and coming to terms with the religion-engendering forces within his life. These forces might appear as obviously religious or they might appear in the compelling attractions of the apparently nonreligious dimensions of life. But appear they would and with the force of the suprahuman, with the force of the gods. The only real question, then, was not whether man would be approached by the divine in life but whether his response to its approach would destroy or support him”.
By this they do not mean that people should join their local church, or convert to Judaism or Islam. These traditions tend to see God as wholly other, which creates “an absolute split between the divine and the human”. They are suggesting rather a spiritual approach in which the sense of religion “could be restored only if man could regain his experience of himself as an image of God… a heightened experience of the immediate presence of God to human consciousness and being”. This is clearly what we would usually call a spiritual rather than religious approach.
I mentioned some political ‘religions’ above. Both Tillich and Jung focus on this theme. They feel “that the spiritual void left in the wake of the Christian abdication has been filled by widespread adherence to political ideologies, what Jung terms ‘politico-social delusional systems’ functioning as religions. Neither are impressed by the submersion of the individual in the collective, which such systems usually demand as the price of salvation. Both call for a rediscovery of the nature of religion itself, as the precondition for the revitalization of any particular religion, including Christianity. This in fact would mean the recognition of the individual soul and psyche as the place of access to the divine, and the source from which man’s symbols and their attendant numinosity arise”.
“Tillich often uses examples (of idolatry) of the pursuit of power and fame, or national and political ideologies. Whatever comes between man and the ultimate, which draws him on from within, functions as a false god to which man religiously devotes himself and by which he is ultimately betrayed because it lacks the capacity to answer his deepest needs and aspirations”.
Elsewhere, not quoted by Dourley, Jung says: “The communist world, it may be noted, has one big myth (which we call an illusion, in the vain hope that our superior judgment will make it disappear). It is the timeless hallowed archetypal dream of a Golden Age (or Paradise), where everything is provided in abundance for everyone, and a great, just, and wise chief rules over a human kindergarten”.
You may have noticed that this idea appears eerily similar to the Christian worldview, where this Paradise will arrive with the second coming of Christ. Jung continues on precisely that theme: “This powerful archetype in its infantile form has gripped them, but it will never disappear from the world at the mere sight of our superior points of view. We even support it by our own childishness, for our Western civilization is in the grip of the same mythology. Unconsciously, we cherish the same prejudices, hopes, and expectations. We too believe in the welfare state, in universal peace, in the equality of man, in his eternal human rights, in justice, truth, and (do not say it too loudly) in the Kingdom of God on Earth” ².
It is for reasons like these that I call my website spiritualityinpolitics.com, since I believe that society can only be organised successfully when it is built on firm spiritual foundations.
If a religious attitude cannot be eradicated from the human condition, and is our natural inheritance, then it has to be said that much of modern society is in a very sad state. ‘Science’ tries to persuade us that the universe is meaningless, pitiless and therefore indifferent to humans, that life is a highly unlikely accident in the grand scheme of things. We also have the overt hostility (and general ignorance) of the New Atheists. And many people actually believe all this stuff. Need I go on? It would seem that a great fog has descended upon Western society, clouding our vision. To put it mildly, if Jung and Tillich are correct, as I believe they are, then much of Western society has a severe psychological problem, namely a dissociation from and a denial of our natural spirituality.
This is only a relatively recent development, however, coinciding with the philosophical and scientific movement known as the Enlightenment. Before that, from primordial times up to the Renaissance in Italy, a religious or spiritual attitude was the norm. Whatever the benefits the Enlightenment has brought us in terms of scientific progress and technology, it has taken us as far as it can go, and we need to move on, returning to a truly religious attitude, along the lines suggested by Jung and Tillich.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.
- Inner City Books, 1981
- Man and His Symbols, Picador, 1978, p73