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"I cannot even understand my own actions. I do not do what I want to do but what I hate … I know that no good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; the desire to do right is there but not the power. What happens is that I do, not the good I will to do, but the evil I do not intend. But if I do what is against my will, it is not I who do it, but sin which dwells in me … My inner self agrees with the law of God, but I see in my body’s members another law at war with the law of my mind; this makes me the prisoner of the law of sin in my members."


Romans 7:15, 18-20, 22–23.


Was Paul writing about his shadow or of evil in a theological sense of the word? Should this be viewed psychologically or theologically? Psychology, ironically, has had little to say about evil in the human personality. In fact, it has said less and less about evil over the course of its hundred-year history. How are we Christians to respond to this phenomenon?

Having provided a brief summary of Jung’s theories and thoughts in respect of the human personality and the shadow, it may be strange at this point to acknowledge that these same theories have not met with universal or even wide-spread approval from both the psychological and religious circles. Nevertheless, this acknowledgment and the examination of some of the objections by critics is necessary in order for us to review the place of Jung in Christian spirituality, especially in the identification of evil with the shadow. This may raise a larger issue: What is the place of psychology in theology and spirituality?

It must be recognised that Jung is a vividly unconventional man, a controversial figure espousing even more controversial ideas. He has been the subject of high praise from various circles, including contemporary spiritual writers, psychologists and therapists. Equally interesting is the body of criticism that has grown over the years in respect of his works and theories coming from fellow colleagues, theologians, contemporary historians and psychologists, thus rendering him a true enigma. Many have affirmed his findings through their own research and experimentation. Others have equally found many areas in which it appears his work was less than scientific, lacking integrity and linking it with New-Age occult or pseudo-mystical movements. For example, in recent book by historian and psychologist, Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, Noll claims that he has discovered shocking evidence revealing Jung’s falsification of key research in the theory of a collective unconscious; his founding of a religious-style cult among his followers; and the persistence of racialist and proto-facist ideas in his work.

Jung and Christianity

When it comes to spirituality, Angela Tilby claims, "we are all, in some sense, Jungians. Jung has provided us with a vocabulary which most of us take for granted, especially if we are engaged in spiritual formation, direction or counselling. We talk of the shadow and of the archetypes, of the complexes that inhibit us. We speak of individuation as the goal of personal growth. Even when we use words like the self and the unconscious we are likely to do so with a Jungian nuance. We have recovered dreaming as a state of potential revelation." She adds that Jung’s greater contribution apart from vocabulary is to provide us with an overview of human life in which spirituality makes sense – she believes that the idea that life is a pilgrimage towards wholeness in God is deeply informed by Jung. Other areas of Christian living that have benefited from his contributions have been in marriage preparation, counseling, and practice of religious celibacy. Overall, Tilby has been very generous to conclude that Jung has enabled psychological insights to enrich and inform Christian spirituality in a variety of ways; he has made a difference. Many other spiritual writers and Christian psychologists will affirm this conviction, for example, Morton Kelsey and John A. Sanford, both Espicopal priests. Many others freely used his theories and findings in their writings and pastoral application without giving much thought to any deeper of issues of credibility or compatibility.


Another supporter of Jung and integration of his psychology into Christian spirituality is Frank M. Bockus, author of an article entitled The Archetypal Self: Theological Values in Jung’s Psychology.Bockus submits that Jung deserves widespread interest, not only among students of human nature, such as behavioural scientists and theologians, but among thoughtful men generally for the following reasons.

First, the philosophical data underlying his system theory are crucial for a theological evaluation. The assumptions and theories of present day theologians and philosophers are exposed as being mechanical and too reductionistic.

Second, self-theory has come to the forefront of the modern study of man, and Jung’s exploration of this issue affords a rich resource. His direct inquiry into such topics as the self-realisation tendency, the mind-body relation, genetic bases of memory, and the self in culture, all drawn together in a self theory, offers a way of synthesising many current threads of scholarship. In addition, the assumptions of his system of theory are to be found in contemporary anthropology, particularly in the organismic view. Hence our own most pressing issues and presuppositions enable us to better utilise Jung ‘s work.

Third, Jung’s quest for mankind’s common humanity, culminating in his theory of the archetype, led him inevitably into other disciplines. It was a consistent movement, which took him from his own normative concept, the self, to a consideration of Christology, the normative concept of Christian theology. Jung held that Christ represents a concrete embodiment of the God-man relation inherent in the nature of all men. In this conception, Bockus submits that Jung offers a most provocative resource for current theological construction.


What has not been greeted so enthusiastically is Jung’s ‘theology.’ Yet what he meant was that for him there was no such thing as theology divorced from its psychological interpretation.But was Jung speaking of theology? Let us now examine certain concepts of Jung that have posed some controversy. First, Jung saw God free above both Bible and Church. He saw in the dream of the ‘turd’ that God’s omnipotence was a call, not into conformity or obedience, but into risky rebellion for the sake of freedom. Jung detaches God himself from the obligation to be good. Jung’s God is not all good. Jung’s God is a totality of opposites (perhaps influenced by his Eastern studies on the Tao). Everything hinges on this, including the insights into human growth and development that we all find so helpful. He finds in the Old Testament a God who is composed of antithetical characteristics; a mixture of light and dark, good and evil, righteousness and blind wrath. These two sets of characteristics are not related to each other, they seem to operate independently. So the bit of God which relates to man is not the whole of God, nor is God aware of the rejected parts of his totality. Man is in the unhappy position of experiencing God in different modes at different times, as light and dark, wrath and mercy. According to Jung, it is through human beings that God is reminded of the missing and split parts of himself. When the dark side is operating, it is the human task to remind God of his righteousness.


It is profoundly shocking to think of God as somewhat primitive and underdeveloped, as needing the incarnation for his own good. But Tilby reminds us that Jung does not read the scriptures for information about God. For him the material of faith is less prescriptive than descriptive. It is more interesting for its insights about the ways of God and the soul than for its historical accuracy or its metaphysical conclusions about the nature of the universe. He reads them as descriptions of the human psyche and of the archetypal God who forms within them.


Jung saw the contents of the psyche as both ordered and chaotic. The great religions are the filters by which the individual experience comes to be understood and integrated. In Hinduism, he observed, this is achieved by the various forms of yoga which are themselves suited to different types of personality and different stages on the spiritual path. Similarly Jung believed that the dogmas of Christianity were symbols, produced by the psyche at a particular stage of historical development. He was not interested over what he considered dogmatic trivialities like the historical Jesus, exact nature of crucifixion and resurrection. Christianity was therefore viewed as a marriage of the old faith of the Jews and the new faith , new in its radical and redemptive arrangement of symbols derived from the old. Psychology and theology cooperated in producing "a western equivalent of yoga, linking the individual soul to the great drama of heaven and earth, witnessed in scriptures and the creeds." Tilby also submits that Jung did not believe that the contents of the psyche are fixed or that the advent of Christianity or any other faith could provide a symbolic last word on the story of the human soul – the pattern of the universal archetypes was not fixed, but was subject to modification and reorientation. But Jung did not propose any ‘theological’ insight into the divine reality that might lie behind or within these changing psychic manifestations.


Lastly, Jung believed that traditional Christianity had run its course in certain respects and was no longer wholly spiritually valid for western man. He thought there were two areas in which Christianity had become deficient. The first concerns the place of the feminine, the second the problem of evil.


Having sampled some of his unconventional views and theories concerning Christian doctrinal matters, it would not be surprising to discover that the Christian community has not peacefully welcomed Jung and his teachings with unanimous approval. Those who embrace Jung’s point of view have for the most part focused on his psychological contributions. Those eschewing his stance have disagreed not so much because of adherence to another psychological tradition (Freudian, behaviourist, humanistic, cognitive) but because of his attempts at religious and theological speculation. Though Jung was an original genius in his psychological investigations of human behaviour and suffering, he did not allow his creativity to be silenced in the face of any religious orthodoxy or dogmatism. The son of a Reformed Protestant pastor, Jung grew up in a household suffused with religiosity. His biography, however, reveals him to be a man disappointed that his father would not listen to his own theological doubts lest his dangerous thinking cost him his livelihood. Consequently, Jung forged his own explanations of religious questions and rejected his father’s religious tradition, just as he would later turn away from his surrogate father Freud and the latter’s psychological establishment (could this have involved some counter-transference?).


Even those sympathetic to Jung without Christianity find it difficult, for example, to agree to Jung’s replacing the Trinity with a quaternity whose membership includes, in addition to the traditional Father, Son and Spirit, either the feminine principle in the form of the Virgin Mary or the principle of evil, Satan, or God’s Shadow. Usually, orthodox Christian believers manage their hesitancy by picking and choosing what they like from among Jung’s writings. Jung himself admitted that internal logical consistency was not a strength of his vast sprawling system of concepts and theoretical musings. Yet, not all Christians have such an ecumenical reaction to Jung. William J. Sneck in his article, Jung’s Impact on Christian Spirituality has cited three Catholic critics as examples of negative reaction towards Jungian psychology:

  1. Joseph Koterski, a Jesuit priest wrote a scathing critique of Jungian thought. He was of the opinion that Jung’s apparent sympathy for religion is an insidious trap for the unwary, and is probably worse for Christianity than Freud’s open hostility. Some of his main objections concerned Jung’s attempt to reduce God to the stirrings of the unconscious; the mistaken belief of treating certain movements of the spirit as if they came from God when they might have had other sources; explaining the evolution of the idea of God as a result of the evolution of the human psyche; the absence of any affirmation of divine transcendence; reversal of Christian anthropology; confusing individuation with salvation. Ultimately, Koterski’s problem with Jung stems from his reading of an implicit rationalist and gnostic metaphysics underlying Jung’s work, an outlook that conforms reality to the categories of the mind as opposed to his own Thomistic "realist" outlook, which finds truth in the conformity of the mind to reality.
  2. The next critical response comes from Leanne Payne and Kevin Perrotta writing in a journal for Christian charismatics. Whereas Koterski’s line of attack centers on Jung’s philosophical presuppositions, this two focus on the three dangerous tendencies they find in Christian Jungians: a tendency towards self-absorption, the implicit identification of God with natural dynamics within the self, and the confusion of Jung’s goal of holiness. They question whether Christian Jungianism offers an authentic enrichment of Christians’ understanding of human psychology and spiritual life. They detect in Jungians an investment of enourmous energy in a seemingly endless exploration of inner reality, an unhealthy fascination with the unconscious, and an inordinate attention to self.
  3. Kevin Perrotta in another journal article reiterates the same points as above but also expresses concern that dream analysis, journal keeping, and other techniques to uncover the spiritual riches of the unconscious may take many Christians farther away from God. He believed that for many the personal harm caused by these excursions into the unconscious may outweigh the potential benefits. This is because, he submits that, establishing a relationship with the self can become confused with establishing a relationship with God, and because Jungianism may help people become more conformed to secular culture and less conformed to God (since much of the research on the unconscious realm is shaped by non-Christian thought rather than secure biblical teaching and church Tradition).


In reply to the above charges, William Sneck has proposed the following answers:

  • The above accusations do not negate the fact that thousands of sincere Christians have benefited from aspects of Jung’s thought.
  • The charges leveled by Payne and Perrotta do not provide any scale of measurement to determine when interest in the unconscious becomes excessive. Christian Jungianism has helped people to come into dialogue with their unconscious as a counterbalance to the practice of religion as a purely external, social, or legalistic formality.
  • Exploring dreams is not necessarily in itself excessive looking inward. The patriarch Joseph and the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel made good use of their dreams and visions.
  • Jung’s writings which sometimes speak of the self as if it were God is affirmed by the testimony of Christian mystics who teach that one may commune deeply with God in the souls’ depths – a union which we seem to merge into oneness with God. Though the spiritual director and the psychologist observe the same inner reality, one’s perspective focuses on God’s action while the other’s observes only the movement of the human faculties that God has touched.
  • In respect of the problem of evil, we must remember that Jung speaks psychologically and should not be interpreted theologically. Notwithstanding this, Jung’s concept of the self (with its shadow) coincides with the ability of the human heart to be open to God’s grace and revelation, to discern evil, and to know and do good.
  • There is no confusion between wholeness and holiness. For most people growth in holiness (union with God) parallels growth in wholeness (integration of all aspects of the personality). We can and should pursue holiness and wholeness at the same time; they are closely interrelated and not as easily separated practically as they are theoretically. The pursuit of both involves courage and suffering.
  • Can we integrate evil within the human personality? A sympathetic Christian might view Jung’s unorthodox statements as a challenge to rethink the Christian position and to gain a deeper grasp of the many aspects of the mystery of evil (see the discussion at the end of this chapter). Suffice to state at this point that no Christian tries to integrate moral evil with virtue for the purpose of achieving a more balanced personality, nor does he or she see evil in God, as Jung seems to. Integrating the shadow, however, is an acceptable goal, since it is not entirely evil; it personifies the inferior and rejected sides of the personality. Elements of the shadow that are morally evil cannot be integrated, but knowledge of their presence can further an understanding of one’s temptations and weaknesses.

Perhaps what is necessary to be said is that we should not attempt to push Jung’s conception of God and religious images beyond the point where he was content to leave it. Jung may be considered a prophet of this age, one who challenges us to integrate many developments in contemporary psychology and anthropology into our own faith experience and religious expression, including its theological aspect. It is ironic that some hard-core supporters as well as critics would treat his works concerning these areas as pure theology. I believe that it would be self-defeating for both Christian Jungians and critics alike to attempt to treat Jung’s thoughts and conclusions as theology. One only needs to heed the words of Jung himself: "I do not expect the believing Christian to pursue these thoughts of mine any further, for they will probably seem to him absurd. I am not, however, addressing myself to the happy possessors of faith, but to those many people for whom the light has gone out, the mystery faded, and God is dead. For most of them there is no going back, and one does not know either whether going back is always the better way. To gain understanding of religious matters, probably all that is left us today is the psychological approach. That is why I take these thought-forms that have become historically fixed, try to melt them down and pour them into the mould of immediate experience. It is certainly a difficult undertaking to discover connecting links between dogma and immediate experience of psychological archetypes, but a study of the natural symbols of the unconscious gives us the necessary raw material."

The problem of Evil

For Jung, as we have seen, the God of scriptures is not primarily an ethical God, but unvarnished, primitive force, a totality of inner opposites. This is ‘the indispensable condition for his tremendous dynamism, his omnipotence and his omniscience.’Jung sees all too clearly that the God of the Old Testament is equally present in the New. Why else does God let his beloved son die in the agony of the Cross? The problem of the New Testament for Jung, however, is that it understands Christ as the incarnation only of God’s goodness. The badness is still left outside, split off. Jesus rejects Satan in the wilderness, and the Book of Revelation ends with Satan being cast out of heaven. So Christianity has perpetuated the split in God, and failed to help God come to terms with his dark side. The consequence of this is that Christianity has trivialised evil, and denied its reality with enormously destructive consequences. Jung is particularly critical of Augustine who did much to define the doctrine of original sin. For Augustine defined evil in terms of the absence of good – privatio boni. Evil was radically opposed to God, who himself is described as summum bonum – the totality of good. God, for Augustine and for the mainstream Christian tradition, is absolutely good and contains no darkness at all. As God is Creator the works of his hands, too, must be radically good and, indeed, he declares them to be so (cf Gen. 1:4 ff). Since all being comes from God any defects in creation must be understood as deficiencies of being, a lack of that fundamental goodness with which all being is endowed. Evil in this sense is not real in the way that good is, it is a lack of goodness, and hence of being and reality. It is bound, in the end, to turn in on itself and collapse through lack of substance.


Jung believed that Christianity’s attempt to disown the dark side of God has led to a lop-sidedness in the Christian psyche parallel to the lop-sidedness caused by the subordination of the feminine. Historic symptoms of this lop-sidedness might be manifested in Christianity’s obsession with unity and purity of doctrine, its cruelty to its own dissenters, its sexual rigidities, its self-righteousness, its difficulties in recognising its inner dividedness, and its narcissistic detachment from the messiness of ordinary human relationships. On the political scale there is no doubt that Jung believed we were ill equipped by Christianity to deal with the reality of evil in the human psyche. The wars and genocides of the twentieth century, the massive dependence on armaments for our security, and the invention of the nuclear bomb were all symptoms of a refusal to recognise the polarities of our own nature, grounded as they must be in the nature of God.


How have others understood evil in its psychological context? M. Scott Peck, the guru of self-help and psycho-spirituality attempts to address this issue in his book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. Peck describes a series of blood-chilling cases in which people made choices that endangered or injured the well-being of others. When confronted with their behaviour, they exhibited appalling blindness about the meaning of their actions. In several cases, he describes behaviour characteristic of clinically character-disordered individuals, and labels them as "evil people." In an attempt to draw a clear definition of evil people, he writes, "If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because those who have ‘crossed over the line’ are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness." Many would be uncomfortable with this free labeling of character-disordered personalities as "evil people." However, this use of the term may not be so objectionable if we were to understand the context in which Peck has placed ‘evil.’ Evil would mean the inability or rather the refusal to recognise their own sinfulness, their own darker side.


Two Episcopal priests with considerable training in theology and Jungian psychology have written books that approach the subject of psychological evil: Morton Kelsey’s Discernment, A Study in Ecstasy and Evil, and John A. Sanford’s Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality. These priests recognise sin and evil as universal. Evil is a potential for any of us. Struggling to understand the locus of evil in human beings, Kelsey draws on the Jungian concepts of personal and collective unconscious by observing that "forgotten experiences" and "powerful universal patterns of experience or archetypes" are capable of intervening and controlling our choices, astonishing us, so that we might find ourselves surprised by our own behaviour. Superficially, Kelsey seems to be identifying the phenomenon of evil with our shadow. But he clarifies his position that when speaking of evil, he is speaking of powers of spiritual darkness. Nevertheless, it is our blindness to the unconscious powers within, Kelsey writes, that Jung describes as "evil par excellence, the primal human sin." Sanford also reminds us that the shadow is never more dangerous than when the conscious personality has lost touch with it. Only by facing the Shadow, becoming aware of potential evil within ourselves, can we begin to claim victory.


Is our Shadow identical with Evil, that is evil in the moral sense? In spite of the fact that we often refer to the shadow as our darker side, the cause of all the ‘bad’ things that we do, we have to realise that the shadow is not synonymous with evil. We have seen what the shadow is. It is often seen to be the unloved, inferior or beggar parts of ourselves. The parts of us that we experience as being weak or crippled, the parts we tend to despise and pretend do not exist. Nevertheless, our shadow if unrecognised may lead us to commit moral evil. But we have also seen that there is a mystery about the shadow, and it is this: the least-loved part of who we are is not insignificant as we like to think or something to renounced as in an exorcism, but it is the very key to our potential wholeness. Therefore, the shadow is not so much evil; it is rather the unloved, unrecognised, feared and unbefriended part of ourselves. It has destructive power because of our unawareness. There lies the evil as Kelsey, Peck and Sanford remind us.

Alter presents us with the beautiful Christian tradition of confession of sin which offers all of us a way back. It offers a way back to human community and a way back into finitude after desperate, panicky attempts to be God (that is the core of evil – to be like God). Jesus, as God become human, embraces finitude without control, without resistance, and without separation from God. In the temptation stories he refuses to be anything but human empowered by God. Throughout his life, he speaks honestly about the universal human potential for evil, and with solid integrity he consistently confronts the organised privilege that would avoid this truth. Through insistent forgiveness he offers us a way back into human community and new life. Jesus through his death leads us once again into a major paradox – only through surrender is evil ultimately destroyed. Jesus at his crucifixion neither fights the darkness nor flees under cover of it, but goes with it, goes into it. The darkness is not dispelled or illuminated. It remains vast, untamed, void. But he somehow encompasses it. It becomes the ‘darkness of God.’ It is now possible to enter any darkness and trust God to wrest from it meaning, coherence, resurrection.

Rethinking Theology

Despite Jung’s disparaging views of Christian thought, he did not give up hope for Christianity. He urged western people to stick with their own tradition and not look for salvation by turning, for example to eastern faiths. He gave very little indication of how theology might adjust to his insights, though he did provocatively suggest that Satan should be included as the fourth member of the Trinity. Such suggestions are not altogether helpful.


Is Jung right about evil? I choose (following the lead of others) not to answer this question directly. The question seems to oversimplify the whole problem of evil which appears to be perennial – the question, by virtue of its very scope, evades easy solution whether one attempts to answer it philosophically, theologically or psychologically. But we cannot, as Tilby reminds us, but be aware of a significantly widening gap between theology and pastoral practice, especially one which has been subjected to non-traditional assimilative spirituality. Certain schools of Christian spirituality appear to be moving to a far less moralistic account of human damage and error. The fine divisions between mortal sin and venial sin remains; the theological justification for indulgences and original sin remain unshaken; traditional teachings of fundamental morals continue to be expounded. Yet, modern wholistic spirituality provides us with a new refreshing view of all that is safely orthodox and lays greater pressure on the shackles of Tradition with a capital "T." As Tilby observed, evil is now for many of us a difficult word, as is sin. It has become an extreme word, she pursues, a word which does not connect with ordinary experience. We are also at the same time becoming quite comfortable with other expressions of psychic polarity: dark and light, strength and weakness, masculine and feminine. Modern spirituality moves us further away from the traditional arbitrary selection of one of these while rejecting the other; wherein most of us now think it more natural to rearrange the contents of self and recognise how our inner polarities hold us together.


It might be argued that Jung’s insights, far from helping the renewal of Christianity, are fundamentally destructive, not only to our morality but our belief. Tilby believes that one of the reasons why conservative theology remains attractive is that it recognises how deeply modern pastoral practice, influenced by Jung and thinkers like him, undermines the way our central affirmations have always been held. It does not do so overtly, its influence is much more subtle. She then relates this to the anxiety about authority that is going on in the mainstream churches at the moment, the need for oaths of loyalty and synodical resolutions on the precise meaning of credal statements (one would only need to look at cases such as Tissa Balasuriya and the recent Instruction concerning the priesthood). "We may need Jung’s insights, but we do not like them, for his agenda is no less than the continuation of the Reformation, the dissolution of the objective God into human experience."

This paper is not a Christian psychology nor a psychology of Christianity. It does not even attempt to be a sketch of one. However, I hope that the above discussions will highlight the fact that the development of a Christian psychology is strategically important in the church today, not only in the area of pastoral ministry but also in ‘doing’ theology. This is already evidenced by the widespread enthusiasm for psychologies and self-understanding, and yet we must never forget the critical need to preserve the integrity of Christian personality. "If the church is to speak to the hunger for edification that the contemporary interest in psychology evidences, inside and outside the church, it must have something more to offer than a critique of current psychologies. It must articulate its own distinctive psychology." A compelling Christian psychology would not only liberate us from our Egyptian and Babylonian captors; it would also hold the potential for deepening our wisdom and increasing the Church’s ability to form true disciples of Jesus Christ and realising God’s kingdom here on earth.


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