Heresies perish not with their authors, but like the river Arethusa, though they lose their currents in one place, they rise up again in another . - Thomas Brown, Religio Medici

Modernism is the synthesis of all heresies . - Pope Pius VI

When I was young, time took forever to pass. I remember that in March, a summer vacation due to start in June seemed agonizingly far off. Somewhat later, as I began to learn about history, ancient times seemed so remote as to be mere abstractions, with no possible import for the present or for me.

But now I’m past the midpoint of a lifetime, and it seems awfully short. Twenty or thirty of these mayfly-like passages are not much at all: more graspable to me now, shorter, it seems, than the three months of anticipation that led up to those impossibly far-off school vacations. Thirty lifetimes put us back to the Roman Empire-and suddenly, it’s not an abstraction at all. Why, it’s no more distant than Grandma or Grandpa seemed just a little while ago. And the Renaissance? That was yesterday:

I can feel myself breathing its very air.

It often happens in psychotherapy that, one day, our patient realizes that he has long carried about a pet self-definition, an unexamined shibboleth about himself that he has tacitly accepted as true, but which in fact is not. For instance, he has always thought of himself as uncommonly clever, or kind, or mature. Often, too, the moment in which he realizes the falseness of this shibboleth-that high as his I.Q. may be, it is matched or exceeded by millions of others’; that his helpfulness is often a means of control; that his maturity is most often suffered by others as rigidity-is the first moment he realizes its existence at all, even when it has, for many years, quietly infiltrated all he has said and done.

As it is with individuals, so it is with cultures, and our own great cultural shibboleth-with us since the Renaissance-is the myth of progress. It is our inability to grasp how short a time has truly passed, how much the story of our civilization is but a single story, how brief and intimately superimposed are but a mere handful of lifetimes, that fosters this illusion that we are so different from-nay, better than-our ancestors.

Of course, in many respects progress has been and is being made. But if we examine ourselves carefully, we will have to agree that the great areas of progress lie in the domain of technology , broadly defined. Consider psychiatry: measurable, quantifiable, obvious progress has been made in our understanding of the brain, its gross anatomy, fine anatomy, cellular structure, and biochemical processes, and in how these relate to behavior, thought, and emotion. This understanding has allowed for increasingly precise interventions (one parameter of progress) that more frequently yield desired results (a second parameter of progress) with increasing predictability (yet another parameter of progress).

These standards come from the world of science, whose proper domain of cultivation is the natural world (whether within or without our skulls) and whose proper harvest is improved technology. But when we consider our culture as having “made progress,” tacitly we mean far more than mere technological advance. Quite without thinking, we presume progress in other dimensions as well: that we have progressed “as people”; that we are “better,” in some sense, than our forebears; “healthier” not just in the sense of less subject to, say, bacteria, but having acquired a superior mental hygienics; that our way of understanding the world-our Weltanschauung-has also progressed; that we are, in fact, in some but dimly sensed way, morally superior to those who came before us. That is, after all, how we justify major changes in mores and social policy, and why so often we refer to these changes in all sincerity-even though they more often than not prove disastrous-as “progressive.”

But, of course, just as with our psychotherapy patient who has had his “ah ha” experience, no sooner do we put these thoughts into words than their conceit becomes embarrassingly apparent to us. While we indeed may have progressed in certain limited ways, it is not at all clear that we have progressed in those large ways that really are our main concern. For example, what evidence is there that modern man is morally superior to premodern man? Does not the bloody history of the twentieth century suggest the reverse?

But is there, perhaps, evidence that, at least under a more limited conception of “progress,” modern psychological man is mentally healthier than pre-modern pre-psychological man? In the halcyon days of psychoanalysis, analysts unabashedly urged everyone to be analyzed, for this would certainly usher in a better world. Such claims have long since ceased, thank goodness, although one still blushes to think how recent such proposals were, at once both self-serving and utopian.

After nearly ninety years, there is nothing to suggest that modern, psychological man is happier, or more serene, or more farseeing, or more generous toward his fellows than his predecessors. A more realistic view would be to acknowledge only that a number of our techniques yield documentable improvement in a limited number of discrete, identifiable illnesses. Nor does the society dominated by the idea of psychological man give evidence of having progressed because of psychological influences; its many, obvious, and swiftly increasing problems might tempt one, if anything, to argue the opposite.

I

Nonetheless, ideas-and whole worldviews, for that matter-do change, and directly and indirectly the society, composed of men who are both the passive carriers of those ideas and the active agents of influence, changes as well. We, the proponents and carriers of change, simply presume that such change constitutes progress-at least until we look back ruefully to consider the results.

For example, many years ago, a whole chorus of psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers asserted with one voice that in cases of divorce, sole custody was in the best interests of the child. This expert opinion made its way over time into the courts, and became the de facto law of the land. Now there has arisen a different body of experts propounding the exact opposite: that in cases of divorce, joint custody is in the best interests of the child, and this opposite “fact” is now quickly becoming the new de facto law. Is this progress? Or is it perhaps merely fashion, no different, really, from the herd of shoppers flocking de rigueur this year to mauve, that year to burnt umber?

This question is not even asked, let alone rigorously defined, researched, and answered. In fact, from a scientific perspective, the definition in this instance of “best interest” may amount to nothing more than opinions about values or ethics, in which case the desired answer can be dictated a priori.

Similarly, for many years the common (lay) consensus, based on experience, held that divorce was on balance a pretty bad thing, and that marriages should remain intact at almost any cost. Then arose an army of psychological “experts” who on the basis not of their experience but of their expertise declaimed that children were far more severely harmed by unhappy parents who stayed together than they were by divorce. Now that the results in all areas of life of our exploding divorce rate have become too devastating to be ignored (that is, now that what we already knew from “soft” but painful experience has been confirmed by painless but “hard” research), we learn that the results of divorce are after all worse-just as we used to think in that antediluvian era before modern “progress.”

Once we realize that the presumption of progress, at least in certain important areas, is a myth, and how, in fact, mere fashion most often dictates the specifics of our presumptions, we begin also to realize how fickle we really are. And once we begin to acknowledge this disconcerting fact, it becomes apparent that within the span of at most a few generations-and often more rapidly than that-a limited set of ideas is likely to be turned over, repackaged (in whatever constitutes the new idiom), and resold as new thinking.

II

Of all the fathers of modern psychology, C. G. Jung is most widely known for his recognition and approval of what he loosely termed a “religious instinct” in man: a persistent longing for meaning and purpose that gave rise not only to theology, but to much of art, literature, and mythology as well. In contrast to Sigmund Freud, his one-time mentor, Jung was convinced not only that human psychology was dominated by this “instinct”-Freud himself acknowledged this much, but he lamented the fact as evidence of mankind’s regrettable clinging to infantilism-but that the longing for meaning was unique and native to man, not neurotic, and not reducible. He never accepted Freud’s insistence that this longing could be psychoanalyzed out of existence, and ultimately the two pioneers of depth psychology (Jung had been selected by Freud as his “prince and heir”) parted company over this point. Indeed, Jung saw the conundrum implicit in, and fiercely fought, the larger proposition tacitly behind the entire psychoanalytic venture, namely, that in the mode of all scientific analysis, the entirety of human motivation could be reduced, ultimately, to prior, finally material, causes.

But being as well very much a child of the emerging, post-Christian, enlightened European world-and therefore driven to define himself as a “scientist”-Jung set about to synthesize, within his vision of human nature, science and religion: that is, instinct and spirit.

Given the twenty remarkably erudite volumes of his collected works, it may seem surprising that Jung’s synthesis can nonetheless be described rather simply: the essential elements that compose human nature-the instincts in particular-themselves each have a spiritual dimension.

“The archetypes,” states Jung, “are the images of the instincts.” Archetypes are the mythological figures that serve as the universal “cores” around which personal complexes constellate. Their universality gives human psychology its relatively invariant character across time and culture. Jung notes that the archetypes have a personality-like structure (one-dimensional and stereotyped though they may be, like the allegorical characters in a Dickens novel, or the “alters” in Multiple Personality Disorder, or the gods and goddesses of Greek and other mythologies) including each its own consciousness, set of values, and goals. He identifies them with, for example, the “spirits” that spoke to his cousin, a medium, while in trance.

This conception could be seen as but an alternative form of Freud-style reductionism: that is, if “spirits” are merely subjectively apperceived parts of the self projected onto some nonexistent metaphysical “screen” where they are mistaken as “other,” then religion, or at least a spiritism that claims access to some “other realm,” becomes, once again, merely an illusion.

However, Jung also attributes to the archetypes a transcendent dimension, a capacity to evade the constraints of material causality (as in extrasensory phenomena, astrological correspondences, or so-called “synchronicity”-seemingly meaningful coincidences). Once this dimension is added, the archetypes become indistinguishable from spirits or demons as traditionally conceived, regardless of the scientific sound of words like “complexes,” “synchronicity,” or, indeed, “archetypes.” Archetypes are immaterial, yet beings; each has an individual consciousness and intentionality, yet possesses a commonly shared and universal consciousness of some sort; they can transmit to people information not obtainable by natural means, and yet in some crucial way are linked to (and hence rousable by) the basic animal drives of human nature.

The classical, reductionistic psychoanalytic worldview, because it undermines belief in spirit, inadvertently nudges men in the direction of worshipping the instincts-e.g., if not God, then we shall worship pleasure, each his favorite-all the while deluding itself that it has helped men to outgrow worship altogether. Jung saw this. He was convinced that, simply put, Freud’s god was Eros (just as it is for so many others). But though recognizing it for what it was, Jung did not reject this inevitable outcome of depth psychology. On the contrary, he embraced it even more fully (and in a certain sense, more honestly), carrying the psychoanalytic venture to its natural conclusion. If psychoanalysis has forced us to worship the instincts unwittingly, says Jung, why then, worship them we shall, only deliberately, with the added illumination that these are not merely instincts we are worshipping, they are gods as well. In the spirit of Renaissance Neoplatonism and magic, says Jung, every spirit above has its reflection below in the world of matter, with man’s imagination (soul) the carrier in which above and below intersect. (This union of spirit and matter, above and below, dovetails neatly with the mystic union of macrocosm and microcosm also proposed by Neoplatonists and occultists and reincarnated in the union of science and religion.) To discover the god to whom one belongs, to embrace him-or her!-fully, to discover and not resist the fate he has laid out for you, is to know meaning and purpose in life. In Joseph Campbell’s modern updating of the world’s very first self-help admonition (Genesis 3:4-5), “Follow your bliss.”

In the materialistic psychologies that derive from or are cognate to Freud’s, the worship of instinct is only implicit-they are what we have left after all higher meaning has been shown to be illusion; in the spiritualistic psychologies that derive from or are cognate to Jung’s, the worship of instinct is explicit. Yet both derive from the same Renaissance matrix of science and magic. Their similarities, at heart, are far greater than their surface differences. Both are modern manifestations of a resurgent ancient way of life. For more significantly than a mere rebirth of classicism (that being only its artistic dimension), the Renaissance was a rebirth of paganism .

III

Ethical monotheism was introduced into the pagan culture of the ancient Near East by a single people, the Jews. The phrase “ethical monotheism” conveys two essential points concerning Judaism as a religion. First, that there is only one God, and since there is only one God, He is therefore the God of all people; second, that the central concern of this God, and therefore of His people, is ethics.

By the time of Christ, close to 10 percent of the Roman Empire was Jewish. Judaism had spread to pagan sites outside of what was once Canaan in the aftermath of the seventy-year exile of the Israelites to Babylonia, from which most did not return. Still, ethical monotheism remained the guiding worldview of but a single people, the Jews. It was a national, or quasi-national, religion and remains somewhat so even to this day.

The ultimate spread of ethical monotheism to the pagan world, then, occurred not via Judaism but via Christianity. From a certain perspective, we might say “via the Christian variant of Judaism.” (As Franz Rosenzweig, an eminent Jewish man of letters who almost converted to Christianity, put it-in a way that is perhaps not terribly flattering to Christians-“Christianity is Judaism for the Gentiles.”) It was this ethical monotheism in its Christian form that toppled so many pagan dominions with such astonishing force and speed, and established a moral order that reigned so vigorously until the Renaissance. Progressively weaker emanations of this ethical monotheism have continued to illumine our own outlook up to the present, when we in the West seem to be experiencing their final fade-out.

What are the essentials of the paganism that ethical monotheism replaced, and that is now, in turn, replacing it? First, of course, paganism is polytheistic. Each individual (or in more primitive, homogeneous societies, each group) feels himself subject to his own god or goddess. At a practical level, this means that the distinctive values, standards, goals, and laws of each deity govern the lives of that deity’s worshippers. Thus pagan society is polyvalent: a single moral standard does not govern the lives of men, and except by force majeure , no god, and no corresponding set of human values, is superior to any other. And, as a consequence, pagan societies tend to become inegalitarian. For different standards for different groups is something that inevitably leads to factional competition; and in time force majeure indeed becomes the rule-might soon comes to make right. Zeus rules because he is strongest, and for no other reason; he is certainly not the wisest.

As we know, pagan society is pantheistic or animistic: gods and goddesses inhabit the natural world and are one with it; nature itself is worshipped as divine; there is no serious distinction between creature and creator. Again, on a practical level, this means that men worship not only the nature “out there,” they also worship their own nature, which is to say, their instincts: e.g., hunger, sex, and aggression, and more generally, pleasure. In thus spiritualizing the instincts, pagan worship therefore tends naturally to the violent, the hedonistic, and the orgiastic. Pagan religious ritual arouses the instincts, especially sexuality and aggression, to the keenest possible pitch. In the subsequent gratification of these instincts, the greatest possible pleasure and hence also the highest level of religious ecstasy is meant to be achieved. Violent intoxication, temple prostitution, the ritual slaughter of enemies, self-mutilation, even child sacrifice: all these historical phenomena can be understood not as pathological, but as predictable end-points to the unfettering of human nature. Not recognizing how thin and easily cracked is our present veneer of Judeo-Christian culture, we tend loftily to think of such practices as ancient and utterly alien. (We have, after all, “progressed” beyond them.) But we need only look to television, or to the current literature of child abuse, or a few years back to the Holocaust to understand how entirely unexceptional they are.

Finally, in all of this, paganism is idolatrous, which is an archaic word for humanistic. Pagans take that which is simply found within their own human nature; and taking what is as the measure of what is good, they represent it to themselves and make of it a god: man as the measure of all things. This is, perhaps, a different take on the concept of humanism than we are accustomed to; we tend to think of it, in a spirit of kindliness, as but a form of the humane. And yet we should remember that the most enormous slaughters in recent history have poured their victims’ blood out onto explicitly humanistic soil: in France, Russia, Germany, and China. This can be so for the same reason that humanism in its scientific mode-the understanding of man by science-ends by eliminating man qua man.

Ethical monotheism, by contrast, stands opposed to all of this. Unlike paganism, it is utterly unnatural. Its appearance over four thousand years ago, and subsequent efflorescence in a uniformly pagan world, is beyond historical explanation. Frederick the Great of Prussia, friend of Voltaire and of religious liberty in the French revolutionary spirit-and a man much tormented by the conflict between his desire to sustain religious faith and his inability to do so-challenged his chaplain to point him with a word toward God. The bishop replied that he could do so; indeed he could fulfil his request literally, with but a single world. “And what single word can possibly carry the burden of such illumination?” asked Frederick. “Israel,” replied his chaplain.

Monotheism, of course, claims that every individual and group, however different by nature, however differently inclined or gifted or handicapped, is accountable to the same overarching moral standard. At a practical level, this means that all men are accountable to but one set of values, goals, and laws. Which is to say, monotheistic society is univalent: before the God who establishes this uniform law all men are treated as equals, whether it is to their immediate gain, as they see it, or to their detriment to be so treated. Monotheistic societies therefore tend to be egalitarian, not in outcome but in process. The monotheistic God is no respecter of persons.

And monotheism presupposes a critical distinction between the Creator and the creation, and hence also between the Creator and His creatures, including man. Furthermore, man qua man (not man as biochemical machine) is perceived to contain within himself an utterly unnatural capacity for spirit, which, though in the world, is not of it. This means that man is a dual creature. He in some measure opposes his own instinctive nature, and does so precisely at the point of moral choice. Put differently, in monotheism it is to be anticipated that moral choices will often involve opposition to what is natural. Though monotheists will recognize the value in its own frame of reference of any given instinct (e.g., hunger as an index of the need for food), all instinctive pleasure will be submitted to a single overarching higher purpose and therefore modulated, restricted, and, at times, eschewed.

Because they are creaturely and not divine, the instincts are not elevated to the status of final arbiters of individual or social mores. In other words, they are not worshipped. Monotheistic worship therefore tends away from the violent, hedonistic, and orgiastic. The history of ancient Israel as laid out in the Old Testament is in large part the two-millenium-long struggle of the worship of God against all the various forms of pagan worship that dominated the ancient Near East. Finally, as distinguished from paganism, monotheism is neither idolatrous nor humanistic, since it refrains from making idols-whether of wood and stone, or of the purely mental variety-of the elements of human nature.

Monotheism declares that although the satisfaction of instinctive drives gives pleasure, by itself it ultimately does not give joy; that we seem, rather, to be so constituted-because of our dual, composite nature-as to require for the latter something that goes beyond mere pleasure; that the pursuit of pleasure apart from the spirit leads inevitably to emptiness and despair; that to worship pleasure is ultimately to seek death (a conundrum Freud described, but found no way out of, apparently, either for himself or others).

From this perspective, all our longings for instinctive gratification point beyond themselves to something else, something which is neither found in, nor reducible to, mere humanity. This longing is so great that, when we are unable to attach it to its proper, eternal object and instead attach it to some form of instinctive gratification, the pursuit of that instinctive gratification toward an end it can never achieve becomes compulsive, even addictive, and ultimately monstrous. In drugs the drug addict, in alcohol the alcoholic, in sex the philanderer, in winning the gambler, in food the glutton, and in sleep the slothful all seek the one God and know it not.

If he pays any attention to it at all, the relentless opposition of the Old Testament to idolatry and pagan worship must seem to the modern reader at best a strange archaic obsession, at worst an offensive manifestation of a nationalism and chauvinism that we are well off without. In this light, it makes perfect sense for him to replace such monomania with the tolerant syncretism that now constitutes the theology of most mainstream churches and synagogues. But the conflict between monotheism and paganism is not merely historical; it is a recurrent battle for the soul of man that has never ceased. It is joined now as ever.

Surely, in his attempt to eliminate spirit and equate it with neurosis and to reduce morality to convention, Freud had no intention of accelerating this pagan reformation. Given his upbringing and rectitude, quite the reverse. But still, intended or not, that is what he did. Jung, on the other hand, saw clearly what was to come, although perhaps not all of its consequences, and embraced it.

Jung’s failure to understand the moral dangers inherent in the pagan revolution his psychological theories fostered was foreshadowed by his early-later repented of-failure to recognize the dangers inherent in National Socialism. Although he did come to decry, if belatedly, the specific direction that Nazi ideology eventually took, Jung actually never fully understood the implications of his own profound insights about the essence of Nazism. For it was he himself who correctly saw that the tremendous popular enthusiasm aroused by the Nazis could only be accounted for by seeing it as an awakening of man’s latent pagan nature.

Jung also understood, as few of his contemporaries did-nor do many nowadays-that mere rationalism, “tolerance,” and humanism is no match for the awakened pagan soul. His insights were, and often still are, dismissed as fuzzy mysticisms. As early as 1916, Jung wrote:

As the Christian view of the world loses its authority, the more menacingly will the “blonde beast” be heard prowling about in its underground prison, ready at any moment to burst out with devastating consequences. When this happens in the individual it brings about a psychological revolution, but it can also take a social form.

Perhaps, as some authors claim, the National Socialists, especially the elite, deliberately educated themselves in the occult and the pagan in order better to live it out; perhaps they didn’t. No matter: once the bands of divinely revealed morality are loosed, human nature will reproduce all its native forms de novo anyway. What Jung failed to see-and what he of all people should have seen, for it is a conclusion that flows inevitably from his own concept of “archetype”-was that the awakening of this pagan nature leads inevitably and progressively to Nazi-like phenomena of a greater and greater intensity. To the end of his life he maintained, rather, the Gnostic view of things-that an accommodation between “matter” and “spirit” could and should be worked out, that the “dark side” of human nature needed to be integrated into a single, overarching “wholeness.” In the light of his blindness with respect to the Nazis, this kind of futile, romantic utopianism on his part is not unlike that of present-day Marxists who point to the collapse of Eastern European communism not as evidence of communism’s failure, but of the misapplication by inept bunglers of an eternally true and beautiful idea.

Jung’s theory of archetypes, when limited to the domain of psychology, provides a brilliant model of the way natural, human personality arises from and organizes its longings around the instincts. It thus helps us to apprehend the different categories according to which people are apt to spiritualize (their own) nature(s), and thus fall into the worship of it. It provides, as it were, a taxonomy of the gods, and hence of human obsession, sin, and idolatry. But unfortunately, the theory itself is all too easily turned into that very spiritualization, becoming in its own right truly a modern Gnosticism. It shares with all Gnosticisms a profound blindness to the true nature of evil, a blindness that could be said to arise from its very brilliance. As Jerome Politzer said about the Gnosticism of the Greek and Roman world, it “was brilliant, extraordinarily spiritual, amoral, and totally false.”

Jung, viewing morality in terms that were precisely the opposite of Freud’s, nevertheless arrived at precisely the same end. For Freud, good and evil devolve into mere constructs that arise out of man’s morally neutral biosocial nature-the cognitive derivatives of animal pleasure and animal pain-and are hence, as absolutes, illusory. For Jung, good and evil evolve into two equal, balanced, cosmic principles that belong together in one overarching synthesis represented in the “Self,” and in their union they are transcended.

After its condemnation by the Church as a heresy, Gnosticism continued to lead a clandestine existence as a kind of perpetual spiritual counterculture. Magic, Neo-Platonism, Alchemy: all these flourished underground during the great ages of the Church, providing a secretive, psychic, human-oriented, polytheistic, and morally relativistic counterpoint to the God-oriented ethical monotheism being carried forward by Christianity. Jung explicitly identified depth psychology, especially his own, as heir to the Gnostic tradition, especially in what he considered its superiority over Christianity in its handling of the problem of evil: “In the ancient world the Gnostics, whose arguments were very much influenced by psychic experience, tackled the problem of evil on a much broader basis than the Church Fathers.”

In fact, the Gnostics devolved quickly into the embrace of evil, inevitably the consequence of an “inclusivist” position toward it. Modern “nature” and “goddess” theologies are following the same path. Their embrace of nature as divine inevitably forces them to include not just matter, but evil as well, within the Godhead, as in Sallie McFague’s Models of God . So widely accepted once again is this “new” psychotheology of nature that this particular book won the Academy of Religion’s 1988 Award of Excellence.

But, in fact, as long ago as the early 1950s, Jung, by psychologizing the Spirit and identifying matter with the feminine, had already incorporated into his conception of the Godhead both matter and evil. This is the dominant theme of his major work, Aion, especially the chapter entitled “Christ, a Symbol of the Self”:

There can be no doubt that the original Christian conception of the imago Dei embodied in Christ meant an all-embracing totality that even includes the animal side of man. Nevertheless the Christ-symbol lacks wholeness in the modern psychological sense, since it does not include the dark side of things but specifically excludes it in the form of a Luciferian opponent.

The “original” Christ figure Jung therein develops is exclusively symbolic, ahistorical, and congruent with Gnostic representations. For the individual illumined by this Christ, “the original state of oneness with the God-image is restored” and brings about “an integration, a bridging of the split in the personality caused by the instincts striving apart in mutually contradictory directions.”

Thus although intensely “spiritual” (indeed stripped of any meaningful physical reality), this Gnostic Christ plays no role in mediating a non-instinctive dimension to human life. The result of the “integration” fostered by this symbolic “Messiah” is nothing beyond the more efficient orchestration of instinctive gratification (however this gratification is subjectively perceived). The characterization of such an integration in the language of the mystery religions lends to it an aura of “spirituality” that effectively obscures its fundamental tendency toward hedonism and amorality.

Late in his life, the most “pneumatic” of the Gospel writers, John, saw the first Gnostic revisionists emerge from within the earliest circle of Christians. These were men who wanted for themselves the salvation promised by Christianity but who could affirm neither the physical and literal reality of the astounding events attested to by Scripture and by the Apostles nor the moral humbling required to accept substitutionary atonement as a necessity. John’s perspective on them is unflinching:

“[a]s you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come . . . . They went out from us but they did not really belong to us . . . .”

The “anti” in “antichrist” does not here mean so much “against” as “in the place of.” John’s emphasis is thus not so much on the figure of a single Antichrist as on false, specifically Gnostic, representations of Christ that shared certain common characteristics. Chief among these is the presentation of the image of Christ as solely symbolic, or mystical, or allegorical.

John attributes the “spirit of the antichrist” less to actual unbelievers than to the “false prophets” who arose among the early Christians. These were of a certain “spirit” and are believers, as it were, of a kind: believers in a merely spiritualized (non-fleshly) “Christ.”

To all Gnostic redemptive schemes (wherein salvation can be attained through knowledge), atoning sacrifice by another is both meaningless and useless. Such acts are honored, therefore, only as symbols, metaphors, or allegories, at best. Gnostic theologies are all therefore in profound conflict with orthodox Christianity (and with traditional Judaism as well). It is typical of their overvaluation of allegory, and their corollary devaluation of the actual, historical dimension of religious reality, that Gnostics (whether ancient or modern, and whether overt or inadvertent) invariably fail to comprehend this contradiction. They thus also tend to embrace a shallow, intellectualized syncretism, to reject as “intolerant” any substantive concept of “heresy” and of course to hold themselves superior to “literalists.”

Not surprisingly, Jung, in defense of his deliberate, psychological reformulation of Gnostic ideas, takes direct aim at John:

The coming of the antichrist is not just a prophetic prediction-it is an inexorable psychological law whose existence, though unknown to the author of the Johannine Epistles, brought him a sure knowledge of the impending enantiodromia [the turning of a thing into its opposite]. Consequently he wrote as if he were conscious of the inner necessity for this transformation, though we may be sure that the idea seemed to him like a divine revelation. In reality, every intensified differentiation of the Christ-image brings about a corresponding accentuation of its unconscious complement, thereby increasing the tension between above and below.

But apart from the simplistic reductionism of this analysis, Jung has missed John’s point entirely- namely, that not necessarily merely an equal opposite to Christ, “antichrist” is an ever-recurring “spiritual” perspective. What perspective is that? John continues the above citation: “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them . . . .”

Jung’s historical overview of subsequent Christian centuries set forth in Aion suffers from the same covert materialism, psychological reductionism, and overvaluation of Gnostic presuppositions. Nonetheless, he does capture the essence of the large-scale historical dynamic, and seen rightly-properly refocused, if you will-Jung’s spiritual myopia provides a key to understanding what is happening in our own time:

A factor that no one has reckoned with, however, is the fatality inherent in the Christian disposition itself, which leads inevitably to a reversal of its spirit-not through the obscure workings of chance, but in accordance with psychological law. The ideal of spiritually striving for the heights was doomed to clash with the materialistic earth-bound passion to conquer matter and master the world. This change became visible at the time of the “Renaissance.” The word means “rebirth,” and it referred to the renewal of the antique spirit. We know today that this spirit was chiefly a mask; it was not the spirit of antiquity that was reborn, but the spirit of medieval Christianity that underwent strange pagan transformations, exchanging the heavenly goal for an earthly one . . . . The subsequent developments that led to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution have produced a world-wide situation today that can only be called “antichristian” in a sense that confirms the early Christian anticipation of the “end of time.” It is as if, with the coming of Christ, opposites that were latent till then had become manifest, or as if a pendulum had swung violently to one side and were now carrying out the complementary movement in the opposite direction. No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.

Jung thus manages at once both to acknowledge the rather astonishing accuracy of John’s vision and to reduce it to a mere self-fulfilling prophecy, a projection of John’s (and Christianity’s) one-sidedness. It is as though Jung, in spite of seeing with rare perspicacity the breathtakingly accurate prophetic implications of John’s two-thousand-year-old vision, could not submit himself to the moral fundamentals upon which the vouchsafing of such a vision was surely predicated. He was driven therefore to reduce it to a picture of the mere sequential acting-out in history of first one, then the opposite, human passion; passions which John was only capable of “foretelling” because his unconscious was so desperately trying to get the benighted, excessively moral, man back in balance.

The reappearance of these archaic Gnostic notions in psychological guise, as a fully articulated and widely accepted counter-theology, likely reflects both the influence of Jung in divinity schools (where he is commonly and wrongheadedly seen as the only “spiritual” alternative to a relentlessly triumphant materialism) and the truly astonishing number of clergy who have become Jungian analysts. Many of these are quite prominent both within the churches and within Jungianism.

A single historical line thus connects the pagan religions of the ancient Near East (including Canaan), to the Jewish heretical-mystical sects of the Qumran region (the precursors of later Gnosticism), to pre- and early Christian Gnosticism itself, to the Manichean dualism of the late Roman and Aryan Empires, to the various classical heresies (Cathar, Albigensian, Bogomil, etc.), to medieval Alchemy and Templarism, and thence into the embracing, transforming alembic of Renaissance Neoplatonism, with its interpenetrating emphases on magic, humanism, and science. From there it is but a very short step indeed to the modern reduction of spirit to psyche and/or soma and the consequent pagan resurgence through which we are now suffering.

In reaction to the profound reductionism latent in the classical psychoanalytic vision of man, explicitly spiritual schools of psychoanalysis and psychology have arisen, in large part influenced by Jung, that directly embrace the pagan, Gnostic solution to the dread of meaninglessness, taking the instincts themselves, and spiritualizing them to fill the void. Yet here, too, in this seemingly opposite approach, man’s merely animal nature is vaulted once again to the highest place of honor.

IV

Just a couple of decades ago, the notion of a coming pagan resurgence, under the banner of depth psychology, would have seemed batty at best, especially in light of the buttoned-down denizens of, say, the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. These gentlemen and ladies hardly looked or acted like the kind of people who had taken the lid off the steaming cauldron of human passion. But that appearance was deceptive. For as decent, mid-twentieth-century Americans, they were living their lives not according to the open worship of instinct latent in the psychoanalysis they quite usefully practiced and espoused, but according to the moribund Jewish or Christian standards they had inherited from their parents. With some semblance of a moral law still in place-we hasten to remind ourselves that neither this moral law, nor adherence to it, can in any way be derived from psychoanalysis itself-their act of peering unflinchingly into the depths of human nature was often salutary, a scientifically turbocharged version of confession. But not two generations were needed for this residual moral cover to pass.

Nowadays, as we see, explicitly pagan ideologies and theologies are ubiquitous and are quite unselfconsciously named as such. They are replacing conventional theologies in major divinity schools; television shows presenting them in dramatic visual form are wildly popular; books espousing their point of view are regular best-sellers; churches are rewriting their liturgies to accommodate them. Recently, two such books, both written by Jungian analysts, were number one and number four on the New York Times best-seller list. Another, dedicated by author (and analyst) Ginette Paris to the goddess Artemis (Roman: Diana the Huntress), is entitled The Sacrament of Abortion :

It is time to call back the image of Artemis, the wild one, who despite her beauty refuses marriage and chooses to belong only to herself . . . . When we are constantly paying attention to another person, to a group, to relatives, colleagues, and friends, how much time, energy, and space are left . . . for being present to one’s self? . . . When the Artemis myth manifests itself in our lives, it can be recognized by a sense of no longer belonging to a group, a couple, or a family; it represents a movement away from . . . fusion with others, the most extreme example of fusion being the connection between a mother and her young children.

Artemis . . . invites us to return from others, to become autonomous.

In a chapter entitled “The Cure for Guilt,” the author continues:

Our culture needs new rituals as well as laws to restore to abortion its sacred dimension . . . . I’ve heard women address their [aborted] fetus directly . . . and explain why it is necessary to separate now. Others write a letter of farewell and read it to a friend, a spouse, or indeed to their whole family. Still others invent their own farewell ritual, inspired perhaps by rituals from other cultures, like offering a little doll to a divinity as a symbol of the aborted fetus.

. . . [T]he pro-lifers see the spiritual dimension but keep it imprisoned within official orthodoxies, as if no other form of spirituality existed. What if my religious beliefs are pagan?

These explicitly articulated ideas are not so distant and off-the-wall as they must seem to a reader coming upon them for the first time. In their regression to archaic modes of thought, morality, and behavior they follow the gradient of descent to nature: they describe that which human beings, left to their own devices, invariably turn into. What is perhaps more frightening, however, is the fact that such articulations do not so much lead the culture as justify after the fact (for intellectuals) the widespread degradation of character and behavior that has already taken place.

Jeffrey Burke Satinover, M.D., a past President of the C.G. Jung Foundation, is a psychiatrist in private practice in Westport, Connecticut. His article “Psychology and the Abolition of Meaning” appeared in the February issue of First Things .