Home > DSO Events, Jungian Psychology > Why Christ is not the symbol of the Jungian Self

Why Christ is not the symbol of the Jungian Self

20 October 2009

[H/T Pearls Before Swine]

(sigh,) ..  From the DSO e-newsletter:

“The Woodhull Discourses Presents Dr. J. Pittman McGehee, D.D., Episcopal Priest and Psychoanalyst, Director of the Broadacres Center in Houston, Texas,  at St. Paul’s, Dayton, on Nov. 7 and 8. McGehee will present both his Saturday seminar and Sunday Adult Christian Formation lecture in the Parish Hall at St. Paul’s.
 
Saturday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.:  Mother Nature and the Nature of Mother – This lecture will focus on the archetype of Mother in general and Mother Nature in particular.  How did we cut ourselves off from her and what is the collective neuroses resulting?  Consumerism and materialism are results of our hunger for the true Mother.  Spirituality depends on the experience of the transcendent through Nature.  Our myths and symbols are replete with mountaintops, deserts, rivers, trees, stars. . . all topography of Soul.  Religion means to re-connect.  We must, for the sake of health and survival, repair our relationship with the Great Mother.”

Very interesting – “the archetype of Mother in general, and Mother Nature in particular.” 

For a while now, ever since I’ve stepped into the continent of mud that is the labyrinth fad, I’ve wrested with one concept that seems to have slipped through the cracks in the liberal arts electives I took in college;  that of the Jungian archetype.  Simply stated, it is Plato’s idea of the Forms applied to psychological theory;  or alternatively, it is the ‘dna’ of everyone’s psychology.  People, e.g., generally think of a child with big eyes as ‘cute,’ so in Jungian terms, a child with big eyes might be said to be an archetype of ‘cute.’ 

The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) puts it this way:  “Archetypes are inherited predispositions to respond to the world in certain ways. They are primordial images, representations of the instinctual energies of the collective unconscious.”

So, back to the blurb about the Woodhill Discourses – Dr. McGehee, when he talks about the archetype of mother, is claiming that there exists a archetype of ‘mother.’  He’s also claiming that there is a particular kind of mother-archetype called, “Mother Nature.”  I don’t think I’d quibble with that application of Jungian archetypes (I’m talking about the theory, I’m not saying I buy it).  What’s odd is that McGehee seems to make the leap from Mother-Nature as archetype to Mother-Nature as an individual: 

How did we cut ourselves off from her and what is the collective neuroses resulting?  Consumerism and materialism are results of our hunger for the true Mother.  ..  We must, for the sake of health and survival, repair our relationship with the Great Mother.” 

Ah, yeah.  In fairness, I may be misreading McGehee.  Perhaps he means that Mother-Nature is only an archetype.  If that is the case, then McGehee is getting his skivvies in a bunch over our impaired relationship with an archetype, something (as we’ve seen) that is difficult at best to define. 

Have you hugged your archetype today?  Have you told ‘cute‘ how you really feel about it? 

Oh yeah, there’s more..

“Sunday, 9:30 a.m.:  Christ as Symbol of Self – This lecture will seek to put words and images around Jung’s elusive and paradoxical concept known as the Self. This central archetype of the psyche is one’s totality and essence. It is one’s own unique personality.  The Self is the goal of the individuation process and that which initiates it.
 
The Christ symbol is to the Christian sacred story, as the Self is to the individual personality. This psycho/religious image and concept is central to understanding the dynamic of the human psyche.”

The concept of Self is another Jungian term that is (of course) difficult to define.  According to the ITP article,

“The self is the most important personality archetype and also the most difficult to understand. Jung has called the self the central archetype, the archetype of psychological order and the totality of the personality. The self is the archetype of centeredness. It is the union of the conscious and the unconscious that embodies the harmony and balance of the various opposing elements of the psyche. The self directs the functioning of the whole psyche in an integrated way.”

In Jerry McGuire terms, we might say, “Self, you complete me.”  😉

Regarding the second lecture, what is unclear to me is whether McGehee is declaring Christ to be an archetype of the Self-archetype  (“Christ as Symbol of Self“) or saying that the Christ-archetype is like the Self-archetype (“The Christ symbol is to the Christian sacred story, as the Self is to the individual personality“). 

In either case, he is mistaken.

Let’s first assume that McGehee meant that the Christ-archetype is an archetype of the Self-archetype.  In other words, my ‘Self’ archetype really really identifies with this concept of Christ-archetype. 

Okay, let’s think of Christ’s life on earth.  He does all of these miracles, and becomes immensely popular.  Then people stick around long enough and realize that He’s not for them, and they walk away.  Eventually, He is hated and crucified .. and one of the reasons for that is that He isn’t what we expect of Him.  In other words, the idea we have floating around our heads of what Christ should be, is not what Christ is.  People reject Christ fairly consistently because He does not match up with the Christ-archetype  (again, if you accept Jung’s archetype theory). 

So, the Christ-archetype cannot be an archetype of the Self-archetype  (sorry).

Next, let’s assume that McGehee meant that the Christ-archetype is like the Self-archetype (“The Christ symbol is to the Christian sacred story, as the Self is to the individual personality“). 

I think this goes back to the idea of Plato’s Forms.  He’s sort of stuck on this idea that there is Christ-the-symbol, and that Christ-the-symbol is the goal of the Christian-life.  But, Christ isn’t a symbol – He’s real.  He’s as real as you and me.  And He is not to be compared to abstracted Platonic Forms, because the abstractions (if they exist) would have to be be derived from Him (i.e., because of His divinity), rather than the other way around. 

Recall (e.g.,) the odd conversation He has with the Rich Young Ruler, prior to the latter asking how he could obtain eternal life:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Luke 18:18-19, ESV)

It doesn’t make any sense to compare God to a Platonic Form classified as ‘good,’ because ‘good’ is derived from God’s personality.  It’s not that ‘God is good,’ rather, it’s ‘God IS good.”  You see, God’s attributes cannot be compared to Platonic Forms. 

The other problem with the statement,  “(t)he Christ symbol is to the Christian sacred story, as the Self is to the individual personality”  is that the life of the Christian is not driven by something imprinted upon us, either at birth, or at conversion (regeneration).  Rather, our regeneration and sanctification are driven by the Holy Spirit, Who Himself is living and not a symbol.  And again, we see how our lives in Christ are driven by something that is alien to us. 

In summary, the Person of Christ is perfectly antithetical to what we’d want Him to be.  The only way to know Him is not through our Christ-archetype, but the Holy Spirit changing us (regeneration) and sanctifying us such that we are conformed to the living Christ.  And that involves a breakdown of the Self.  The Living Christ therefore is smoke in the eyes of the Christ-archetype and the Self-archetype. 

Hey, don’t look at me –  it’s all over the New Testament.  😉

– Elder

Advertisements
  1. Pearls Before Swine
    20 October 2009 at 1:37 PM

    OE – nice job. I think I’m most concerned about what you highlighted that “Spirituality depends on the experience of the transcendent through Nature… We must, for the sake of health and survival, repair our relationship with the Great Mother.” It just screams pantheism to me.

    For my health and survival I must repent and accept that my loving God, the Father and creator of all things, will repair the relationship I broke by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for me.

    What immediately comes to mind concerning the “Self” topic is: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” I understand the need for each of us to see that we are loved and valued by God, but they seem to be going in a completely different direction… as usual.

  2. Elder Oyster
    20 October 2009 at 4:49 PM

    Hi Pearls,

    Thanks for popping by, and for passing the e-newsletter along to me.

    My gut tells me that it’s a pathetic “Anglican” attempt to be all things to all people. In this case, apparently we’re trying to attract earth- mystics and lukewarm Episcopalians to the same table by mixing together Christian and pantheistic ideas, packaged in something that is intellectually appealing.

    I decided to attack the packaging, and then let the reader look at what’s inside, for themselves.

    Honestly though – I’m not sure that this claptrap even rises to the level of pantheism. First Mother Nature is an archetype, then she’s a being with whom we have an impaired relationship? Well, which is she? Does McGehee even know, or are we supposed to be in such a state of awe that everyone’s afraid to ask, lest they appear ignorant? The same thing applies to the Christ / archetype lecture.

    I think I know what he wants to do – appeal to our sense of identity in order to affect change for the better; but I think the Biblical Indicative / Imperative approach to reasoning with Christians towards sanctification, is much better. 😉

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: