I have been using Jungian inspired tools for most of my working life. In the 1970s I read most of the published material in Jungian inspired Organization Development. I’ve attended workshops and seminars conducted by Jungian inspired teachers. Parenthetically, most of my undergraduate teachers were Skinner people. I thought they were goofy then. I have more respect for them now.
But I digress. Now in my dotage, I am actually reading Jung. As a philosopher of psychology, I doubt that he can be surpassed, yet he is the product of his time and culture as are we all. I expected that, but what I did not expect was how self confidently blind he was to all of that even as that blindness fits so nicely into his own theories.
He makes bold assertions about the truth of human consciousness, unconsciousness and mental illnesses based in large part on what is normal for German middle class life in the early part of the 20th century. Children have parents, a mother and father, who raise them in the context of a household that falls within a range of norms that are commonly understood. Men have certain roles in society and family life that are theirs because they are men. Women have theirs also and they are very separate. Men think in a certain way that is typically and rationally male. Women think in a certain way that is typically and emotionally female. And so on. I was particularly amused at his assertion that homosexuality is caused by some foul up in the relationship of a boy with his mother. Yet it was the undisputed cause that was taught in my own youth. Well, that and Satan of course. Actually that’s a more compassionate answer than the popular accusation of it being a deliberate life style choice in rebellion against God, but again I digress.
If a mind as brilliant as Jung’s could be so blind to the cultural assumptions (not archetypes) built into his own thinking, what about us? As we ponder the future role of the United States in a world that no longer pivots around it. As we struggle with the implications of the rapidly changing demographic characteristics of our society. As we try to accommodate new findings in science and technology before they become obsolete. As we debate the proper role of a modern government. As we probe farther and farther into the brain, mind and soul. As we ask ever deeper questions about the meaning of self. As we do all of these things, how blind are we to our own cultural assumptions about the way things are or should be?
My guess is that it runs deep. Many, I suspect, defend what they believe the world to be with such explosive force because if it changes there will not only be no place in it for them, there will be no them at all. Others believe that there will be no place for them to exist until it does change: change according to their assumptions about what a world should be like. We hear it articulated in such phrases as “Our (my) way of life is threatened,” or “I haven’t left the church, the church has left me.” It isn’t just about social, political or institutional change, it’s about knowing who the self is and finding an acceptable place for the self to be.
I’d like to think that, being the sophisticated, intelligent world traveler thatI am, I am capable of breaking through those barriers, and not be like everyone else. The problem is, like almost everyone else, I don’t know where or what the barriers are because there are certain unchallenged cultural assumptions about the way of the world that are so much a part of how I see things. Those assumptions are not Jungian archetypes, but they are a part of the unconscious. I think that is why we hold people such as Jung, Einstein, Augustine and others in such high regard. They were able to ask the unknown question and seek answers to it. What strikes me most is that each time I am surprised by a new answer to a previously unknown question, Jesus already seems to be there. I have no idea how it was that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Paul too – maybe) went about recording the story of Jesus the way they did, but somehow it thrusts itself through, not just the veil of the temple, but the veil of history yet to be unfolded, and meets us on the other side.
That is why I keep coming back to the idea that it is not just scripture than must be interpreted by the two Great Commandments and the New Commandment, but life itself, and especially my own assumptions about life, must be tested and judged by them.