The Quotable Jung
collected and edited by judith harris,
with tony woolfson
princeton, 376 pages, $29.95
It is a fair question to ask why the modern reader should be concerned with any of the writings from the early days of psychology. Knowledge of the biological conditions of mental illness and the psychological aspects of personality disorders has advanced, and the science has moved on. Why rehash theories of psychology promulgated by the early thinkers, many of which are just plain wrong?
Because several unresolved conflicts that arose from the very beginning linger. One concern has always been the problem of whether all things psychological should be represented as disorder. The human condition is dealt with in terms of maladaptation; there is not so much cure as there is management of the affliction. Another tension is that in most therapeutic methods religion has little place. If anything, it acts as an impediment to treatment. This attitude may very well be right in terms of medical conditions, but without a sense of soul and higher purpose, the mental health sciences have a rather dark conception of humanity. It is as if everything may be explained by original sin without Christian rebirth and redemption.
Here lies a reason to return to Carl Gustav Jung (1875-19671), Freud’s early follower and most famous apostate, especially for those of religious conviction. Jung sought an explanation for the human psyche that went beyond what he once called “the curse of pathology.” For Jung, there was no psyche without soul.
The Quotable Jung, edited by Judith Harris, brings all of Jung’s ideas together in brilliant form. Ms. Harris has accumulated and catalogued them over a substantial career as student, teacher, writer, and Jungian analyst. The book plucks out Jung’s best moments of clarity and organizes them in a way that makes Jung accessible to the uninitiated. Moreover, there is significant inclusion of newly published works that will appeal to those already familiar with Jung’s writings.
Perhaps its greatest strength lies in the various ways the volume may be read. Unlike most compendiums, the selected quotes build on one another, providing a logical succession of ideas. One could read the book from cover to cover and acquire an advanced understanding of Jung’s entire opus.
I suspect most people, however, will likely read it piecemeal. Jung is profoundly meditative. When read in random fashion—an approach Jung would undoubtedly approve—just about any excerpt will instigate a moment of personal reflection. There is also, of course, the utilitarian aspects of finding topics in the index. As such, The Quotable Jung is an invaluable desk reference for writers, scholars, and students who want to follow a particular line of Jungian thought.
Religious readers will appreciate the general ideas of Jung’s psychology that inspire a personal spiritual awareness. For example, the chapter on the “Religious Experience and God” makes very clear Jung’s stress on religion as a necessary part of the practice of psychology. Unlike Freud, who explained religious belief as a holdover from infant experience, Jung explored psychology with an unshakeable conviction in the existence of God:
All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakeable conviction of the existence of God. I only believe in what I know. And that eliminates believing. Therefore I do not take His existence on belief—I know that He exists.
We find in numerous passages that Jung recognized the therapeutic value of faith. The path of knowing oneself in a psychological sense must accompany an understanding of one’s relation to God. And that knowledge is very often articulated in a Christian sense:
It was obedience which brought me grace, and after that experience I knew what God’s grace was. One must be utterly abandoned to God; nothing matters but fulfilling His will. Otherwise all is folly and meaninglessness.
Quotations such as this one complicate the popular view of Jung as a kind of pantheistic guru, a leader, if not the founder, of a psychological moral relativism. Because Jung wrote about myth and considered all religions worthy of study and respect, many have wrongly assumed that he interpreted religion as myth in the sense that it is deluded belief, something childish and meant only for the unthinking masses. Just the reverse is true. Not only did Jung stress the importance of belief; he thought religion held the truths that made belief possible.
Indeed, Jung thought that the worst condition for the modern man was his abandonment of the church:
By removing yourself from the dogma you get into the world which is increasingly chaotic and primitive, in which you must find or create a new orientation. You must create a new cosmos out of the chaos into which you fall when you leave the Christian church. The church has been a cosmos, but it is no longer, we are living in chaos; therefore the general confusion and disorientation. We are profoundly bewildered though this experience which we cannot put into the frame of things that we have hitherto known.
According to Jung, one cannot simply conjure up one’s own religion, as we see so often in the narcissistic culture of our day. On the contrary, religion curbs that very impulse. The institutions of religion work against the neurotic who sets his faith (or faithlessness) against the dogma developed by longstanding processes over many generations:
A dogma is always the result and fruit of many individuals and many centuries, purified of all the oddities, shortcomings, and flaws of individual experience.
For Jung, many people’s psychological ailment has atheism at the root of their neuroses. A world without God must be self-invented or, worse, left to the lesser gods and empty symbols of the modern world.
We see throughout The Quotable Jung that Jung’s religiosity opens up the door to a reckoning of mental health and spiritual growth. To move into that positive direction, Jung imagines mental disorder as not so much pathology, but as a condition of the troubled soul. A religious reawakening in the individual makes psychological healing possible. For those wanting to merge religious belief with modern psychology, then, Jung does deserve that second look. His way of seeing is one that informs, if not ignites a soulful way of thinking of man in relation to himself and man in his relation to God.
Andrew Ladd, Ph.D. is a free-lance writer and editor from Madison, Wisconsin. He taught high school Latin as well as English literature, and rhetoric and composition at the college level.