At the end of the day, psychological integration is not salvation. And I think that most people who have done the work will be ready enough to concede that. This is not the end of the road. It’s not salvation. What do we want? We want not just integrated individuals, but we want a redeemed order of being. We want justice on earth. And Christianity has from the beginning been about that. —Not justice in some Never Never Land—that’s a myth. Christianity from the beginning was about justice on earth. The kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.”Sean McGrath
Transcript of podcast interview for ‘Psychology & The Cross’ with Sean McGrath about theology and C.G Jung
Date of interview: 31.05.2021
(0:44) Jakob Lusensky: Welcome to Psychology and the Cross, a podcast that investigates the foundations of Jungian psychology by researching its links to Christianity as thought, faith, and lived experience. Someone with a deep experience in all these matters is Sean McGrath. Sean is Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and also an affiliate of the School of Religious Studies at McGill University in Montreal. He has published widely on the topic of the philosophical roots of analytical psychology and psychoanalysis, as well as the concept of the unconscious.
Sean also spent five years as a professed monk. Together with an offshoot group of the Roman Catholic religious order at the Carmelites, he lived an off-grid life in the woods and mountains of Colorado. His learnings from the time in the monastery, as well as his studies at the Jung Institute, he will tell us a bit more about in the first part of this interview. He will then help correct some important theological misunderstandings of Jung: how to understand evil, a foundational question of Christianity but also for Jungian psychology; how Jungians misunderstood the role of the feminine in Christianity; how Christ is at the heart of our Western imagination, to be viewed as not as a symbol of the self but of God.
And last but not least, how by laying down your life for your community, you might find the inner peace that you seek. This is a very rich interview. Please listen carefully.
(2:22) Sean McGrath: So when I graduated from my undergraduate degree in philosophy, I was so intent on discovering the truth for myself that it seemed to me that I should not stay in the university, because the university was a place for a professional degree. And I wasn’t trying to make a career out of the search for truth or wisdom. I was looking for the truth to save my life.
So I had travelled in India, and I had explored Buddhism and so on. But I had never really explored my own tradition. And I realized that there was something basically missing there, something basically dishonest. In fact, I discovered, somewhat like others, that I couldn’t really convert to anything Eastern—Buddhism or Hinduism—without really dealing with my own Roman Catholic upbringing, which I had never really examined. And so I began visiting Catholic monasteries, and learning about contemplative Christianity. And then that led to a vocation. And I spent five years as a professed monk with an offshoot group of Discalced Carmelites, who were living more or less a primitive, off-grid life in the woods and in the mountains. They had two houses: one in Colorado, one in Nova Scotia.
(3:47) Jakob Lusensky: And how come you left?
(3:50) Sean McGrath: The life we were living was a very simple life. Most of my work was manual work. I really only had a couple hours for study every day. I loved the life and I never turned back. I became a contemplative Christian then and I have never—I’ve never turned back on that. But I felt very called to philosophical and theological work on a level that I couldn’t do at the monastery. And so, I actually got a year’s leave to see if I needed to look at a vocation elsewhere. And I went to the University of Toronto and after a year at the University of Toronto, I discovered that I had to pursue this. I had to pursue academic work in a more serious way.
In many ways, I feel like I had a second childhood there [at the monastery]. And that everything I really know about life, I learned in those five years, it seems to me. They were the greatest years of my upbringing—without a doubt. I didn’t only learn about mediaeval mysticism and contemplative Christianity, and how to meditate, and so on. I also learned how to harvest wood, how to build a house. So there was a lot of practical skill that I learned there. But most of all, I learned what it means to tend to the soul, to care for your soul. Why it’s important, for example, to have a vibrant intellectual life, but also to have an outdoor life at the same time. And also to leave space in your day for nothing whatsoever, for just what they used to call “holy leisure.” If—without that kind of attention to your life, religion just remains a theoretical project. And that was something that I would never have known had I not experienced it.
(5:52) Jakob Lusensky: Well, I also know that you actually spent some time in Zürich. And that you did get interested in Jung and spend some time at the Jungian Institute.
(6:02) Sean McGrath: It’s not at all unrelated to the monastery. So, five years in the monastery, from the age of twenty-three to twenty-eight: you can imagine it was a tumultuous time for me as a young man. And I went through a lot interiorly. And, in fact, I had a psychological crisis. I think it was more or less the day after I made my simple profession—took my vows, took my habit, and so on—I fell in love with a young retreatant, a young girl who was on retreat there. And I had such a powerful attraction for her. It led to nothing but long protracted conversations with my spiritual director, but I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I did not understand how my soul could go upside down like that. I didn’t understand what I was feeling, because I had never—never been in love before. And it was in that context that I started to read Jung to save my life.
And I was reading Jung on anima and animus originally, and discovering, you know, what should you do when you fall in love? Well, you should tend to yourself; you should look after your garden. It has to do with, you know, some kind of pressing need for an integration. This was my salvation at that time. So I would get up very, very early in the morning to study Jung. And, of course, I was not discouraged from doing so. But I didn’t have anybody in the monastery who knew anything about it, but they were open to many things. And, of course, one thing led to another. And I realized it wasn’t just anima, animus, but the whole issue of the unconscious became a real living experience for me: to profess your life to a religious order, and celibacy, and so on. And then the next day to have yourself tripped up by a powerful, powerful feeling that you didn’t understand. And it was coming out of nowhere, and it was—almost had a religious quality to it. This was a kind of wake-up call: that I have an unconscious, so to speak.
There are other ways to describe it. We don’t have to use the term the unconscious, but that language helped me to realize that there’s work to be done. So, after I left the monastery, I was deeply involved in psychoanalytical work in a certain way. And I had an analyst for some years, as I was a new professor. And I began to teach psychoanalysis in my philosophy classes [at an] introductory level. And then at some point, I decided to go more deeply into it. And I thought, well, I’m going to do some research in this. I applied for a Humboldt grant, to do research in the philosophical background of psychoanalysis, particularly the nineteenth-century sources of psychoanalysis.
As you probably know, psychoanalysis didn’t drop from the sky, but it had a long history in philosophy—particularly German idealism, which made it possible for people like Freud and Jung to do the work they did. They received some concepts from a tradition that I researched as a Humboldt stipendiate in Germany for about three, four years. And while I was doing that work, I wasn’t far from Zürich. I was in Freiburg, in Germany. I realized that in order to really understand psychoanalysis, I needed to train . . . I could not simply do this from the outside—I could not simply just do this as an analysis, although I was undertaking intense analysis at the time. I needed to train—I needed to become completely immersed in the paradigm. Of course, I was also open to the possibility that I was called to do psychoanalytical work, but the primary motivation, or at least the decisive idea there, was that in order to do my research, I need to train to become an analyst, even if I don’t become an analyst. And that’s how I ended up at the CG Jung Institute in Zürich. And that’s how we met.
(9:56) Jakob Lusensky: Just shortly, how was that experience?
(10:00) Sean McGrath: Well, it was, you know, it was a wonderful, and in many ways—in terms of returning to a community life such as I had in the monastery—it was intense, as you know, the C.G Jung Institute—[in] those intensive programs, a real tight community develops around the training candidates. And that was wonderful. It was wonderful to be with a community of people who took the soul seriously, because that was something that I was missing in the university, and that I continue to miss in the university. You know, the soulless nature of the study of philosophy, for example—something that I continually wrestle with, and I don’t have a solution for.
So in a psychoanalytical community, the soul is on the agenda, and your soul is on the agenda, and this idea of having to work on yourself as you train and as you study—this was something that was just so natural to me. I think Jung was spot on when he said that there was an analogy between psychoanalysis and mediaeval religious life, for example—or ancient philosophy, such as, let’s say, the epicureans or the stoics would have practiced—that is, you know, a study that was also a way of life. And this is something that I think is not widely recognized: that this still continues in psychoanalytical school. So that part of it was really wonderful.
(11:28) Jakob Lusensky: So moving on a little bit to the actual theme of discussion, psychology and the cross. I believe that you have listened to the previous two episodes with Murray Stein, and also with Amy Cook. And in those two conversations, we spoke of the concept, if you can say so, of imitatio Christi, and also how Jung is linking that to his own idea of individuation.
(11:54) Sean McGrath: First of all, my least favorite part of Jung concerns precisely this. I find Jung to be misleading, at best, on religion and theology. So with regard to the imitatio Christi, here’s one thing I would say: it needs to be better theologically informed. If we’re going to have a psychology of imitatio Christi, I think it’s a great idea, [but] we need to be a little bit more attentive to the sources. You know, for example, if we actually look at the source texts of Christianity, we’ll see that Christ is not primarily a model. You know, that was a heresy. The idea that, well, we already have everything we need in potentia, in our soul, [and] we just need somebody to model it for us, and along comes Christ, and we suddenly realized, Oh, we just have to imitate him and we’ll become saved. That was called Pelagianism—this was not original Christianity. Christ was not primarily a model; he was a savior.
So if we think about the early texts, the first text, things that were written before any gospels were written, the letters of St. Paul: there is no imitatio without a first transformation of the soul by grace: not by effort, not by practice, not by the law, not by meditation, not by a spiritual exercise, but actually by a kind of intervention, a divine intervention, which transforms the soul. And then the invitation follows. This is the first gospel.
And there is an important analogy here with other traditions, I think—in particular, with Mahayana Buddhism: they talk about “other power,” that at a certain point, all the sitting in meditation in the world is not going to—you’re not going to break through if you’re just relying on your own energy. Something else is going to happen, there’s going to be an extra-egoic, you could say, an extra-egoic power that is going to more or less transform you, invade you, make it possible.
So it’s not by effort that the practitioner, whether it’s Buddhist or Christian, breaks through illusion. And it’s for this reason that we really need to be careful when we start talking about, like, say, a psychological imitatio Christi. We need to make a distinction, I think, between, you know, psychological integration and religious experience, and I find that Jung is continually blurring this distinction. And it becomes even worse with the second, third, fourth generation of Jungians, when there really is no attention to the distinction. It’s a psychological work—psychotherapeutic work becomes religious experience, and we no longer need grace. All we need is the right kind of attention to our complexes, and to our dreams, and so on. No, and we’ll get there on our own steam. That’s not the gospel, and that’s not the Christ.
(14:54) Jakob Lusensky: So when Jung—maybe very simplified—but this idea of not following Jesus as a role model, but he says somewhere to live your life as fully as Jesus did.
(15:06) Sean McGrath: It’s a beautiful idea. But the first point we have to realize [. . . ] when we look at the texts, is that Christ is not only a teacher. He’s not even primarily a teacher, as Kierkegaard says (—I know you’ve had a Kierkegaard discussion on the podcast recently): you know, in Christ, the teacher is the teaching. That’s Kierkegaard, and he’s been very faithful to the Pauline sources of Christianity. That is, the point here is not to, I don’t know, listen, follow the Beatitudes, and so on. The point, rather, is to see in the Christ the teaching itself, and what do we see in the Christ? We see the crucified Savior, we see God with us, God among us. He’s absolutely unique—at least he was experienced as absolutely unique by his contemporaries. We’re not talking about an archetype walking around. We’re talking about a human being who lived two thousand years ago. We have far more reason to believe in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than we do, for example, in the existence of Homer.
So, we—this is somebody who lived—and who had a practice that transformed the world, that transformed the Roman Empire, made modernity possible. And so we need to sort of realize that there’s—there’s a history here that we have to contend with. So what did the first Christians see in Christ? Did they see a model for a moral life or for psychological integration? On the contrary, they didn’t see that at all. What they saw was God among us in an absolutely unique way. And it was not experienced as projection. It was not experienced as the alienated self, projected on somebody who happened to be walking down the road, as though it could be anybody. So now I don’t—I’m not suggesting that psychology needs to subscribe to that. On the contrary, psychology doesn’t have to be religious. It could be perfectly atheistic. And I think that psychology, atheist psychology, has helped many, many people. But if it’s going to talk about the imitatio Christi, then it needs to be a little more attentive to what those terms mean.
And, of course, once we are transformed and saved, the imitation of Christ follows, but if you look at the great imitators of Christ, they do so in such a unique way that there’s no—there’s no two that are the same. I mean, think of St. Francis, okay. St. Francis, one of the great imitators of Christ, but St. Francis doesn’t act like Jesus of Nazareth. He acts in a completely different way. And when some of his followers tried to follow Francis, [they said]: Francis, I want to do what you’re doing; I want to be like you. He said, No, you can’t do what I’m doing. If you do what I’m doing, it’s going to be wrong. You’ve got to do your own thing. Your own way. There’s—you’ve got your—each of us is intended to incarnate the divine in an absolutely unique way. So the imitation of Christ, it doesn’t have to do with doing what he did, or speaking the way he did, but being open to the Father, to God, as he was, and that was Christ’s consciousness, that, not my will, but the will of God. And then, you become a new Christ. That’s the point: [a] completely different kind of Christ, maybe a Christ that doesn’t look anything like Jesus of Nazareth.
(18:23) Jakob Lusensky: And maybe Christ that looks like Jung? I’m just thinking about, you know, isn’t this also Jung’s rendering, in a way [. . . ]: [D]on’t follow Jesus, live your life as fully as Jesus did? It sounds very Jungian to me, when you when you speak it like this.
(18:37) Sean McGrath: Well, I do think that Jung understood something about Christianity . . . [O]ne of the things that I find really interesting is how Jung says, Okay, I’m in India now. And there’s all kinds of wonderful archetypal stuff going on. But I’ve got to go back home and deal with the Christ. That’s the contents of my Western European soul. I thought this was a very good idea. And in many ways, he does—he endeavors to do with Christianity what Freud did with Judaism, you know: to deal with the Christian unconscious. There is such a thing as the Christian unconscious, I think; I think this is all excellent. And this is precisely what needs to be done.
But what happens—and this is related to perhaps other things we might talk about with regard to psychology and its limits—is that there’s a kind of usurping of the theological by Jung. The theologian no longer has anything really to say about this: it all becomes psychology. And this is when things go a little funny. Psychology that has no outside, let’s say: theology is outside of psychology in some respects, or even philosophy or metaphysics. Psychology that has no outside—and this is precisely [so] with the psychology of Giegerich [Wolfgang]—is psychological idealism, it is an absolute psychology. And I think, properly speaking, it’s an atheist psychology, because if there’s nothing outside, then there’s certainly no transcendent God. So at some point, in the many writings of Jung on Christianity, this kind of move happens, whereby the Christ of theology and the Christ of history becomes insignificant. And all we’re talking about is the Christ of the unconscious, or the Christ of the European unconscious, underneath which there is a collective, and so on, in the self.
So I mean, I think that Jung is a fabulous guide on individuation. The integration of the internal diversity of the self is a great representative of the psychology of productive dissociation, which is the psychology of the nineteenth century, Romantic psychology. In many ways, he’s a conservative, because Freud comes along and he tries to rid psychology of its philosophical, theological, romantic heritage. And Jung says, You can’t do that, you know, this is a distortion—so all of this, I’m entirely on board with. But when we go back to the nineteenth-century sources of psychology or psychoanalysis, we look at some of Jung’s nineteenth-century predecessors, we’ll find a much more nuanced understanding of the limits of psychology—the limits of psychology and that which transcend psychology and the transcendent as understood no longer merely as the unconscious but (perhaps this is Nicholas Berdyaev) the superconscious: not just something underneath us, but something above us, something that cannot be contained by our psychology. And it’s only really with those kinds of categorical statements in place that we can properly make sense, let’s say, of what Paul is describing when he speaks about Christ as the image of the invisible God.
(22:14) Jakob Lusensky: Staying a little bit more with Jesus and Christ, in my own conversations at times, with Jungians or in my own training, when one tries to discuss Jesus, it often has come back to, sort of, some of these statements like, Jesus is a symbol of the self. Is there something more that you’d like to share about Jung’s relationship to Jesus Christ? You wrote to me that Christ is at the heart of Western imagination.
(22:42) Sean McGrath: Because Christ is at the heart of the Western imagination, which Western imaginary—Christ is the heart of European civilization. I believe this is true. I believe that modernity, for example, with its emancipatory politics, wouldn’t exist without Christianity, without the gospel, that the secularisation of the gospel is what produced the best aspects of our modern culture. And I might add, some of the worst aspects. So there’s no way of understanding, let’s say, Europe and its consequences without understanding Christianity. And I think Jung understood this very well. So this is why I think Freud’s psychology of religion is so useless, really, because of the marginalization of the central psychological fact of the West, which is the Christ.
Now that said, I have no difficulty with the psychology of the self. I think the emphasis on the self is extremely important. Otherwise, when we have no psychological center-point, when there is no unconscious unity driving the development of the psyche, we will just end up with a plurality, which is just a carnival—I think this is what happens in Hillman [James], for example. I think Hillman is actually de-Christianizing the Jungian model. And I think the repercussions of that are very severe. So, no difficulty whatsoever with the idea of a self as the center of the psyche, which is somehow teleologically or finalistically directing the development of the individual.
But when we talk about the symbols of the self, here I think the attention to the sources gives us a little bit of precision. So what does Paul say about Christ? He says that Christ is the image of the invisible God—that’s Colossians 1:15—the image of the invisible God. Now that sort of sounds like the symbol of the self. But let’s think a little more carefully. We also know that the human being is made in the image of God—that’s in the book of Genesis. So we have to ask ourselves, what’s the relationship of this Christ image of God and this human image of God? And there we find a very rich tradition of reflection, particularly in the Church Fathers, where the thesis is essentially that, you know, the being who we are meant to be only comes into perfection in the Christ.
So in Christ, we know not only who God is; we know for this first time who we are, or more specifically, who we ought to be. So if that’s the theological thesis in a probably inadequate generalization, let’s look for a moment at the psychological claim that Christ is a symbol of the self. As we know, there are plenty of symbols of the self: whenever there’s a God symbol, a religious symbol, it’s a symbol of the self. So it might be the Buddha, it might be the Tao, it might be a mandala. All symbols being equal, of course, that’s a legitimate approach to religion from a psychological perspective. But at some point, we need to go from the commonalities of all these things and look at the differences, and this is, I think, extremely important.
It’s very important to notice how different the Buddha is from the Christ, and you can’t really know the differences between Buddha and Christ unless you read Buddhist scriptures and Buddhist commentaries on scripture and Buddhist philosophy—similarly, with Christianity—and then it’s in the differences that . . . everything comes to life in a certain way. And I think that what we see in the Christian revelation of the Christ is that Christ is not primarily a symbol of the self; he’s a symbol of God. He’s a symbol of God, and the God is not the self. The self, then, we’d have to say, from a Christian perspective, that unconscious center of the soul, the self is an image of God. And Jung says as much, he says, it’s imago dei, it’s an image of God. We have that in Genesis. And so it points toward God. But Christ doesn’t simply express the human reality; he does that, of course, but he also expresses the divine reality. We get both. This was a big debate in Christology in the fifth century: fully human, fully divine. So you can’t tear one from the other. And you can’t confuse both—you can’t say to be fully human is simply to be fully divine. That’s not true.
But neither can you say, to be fully divine is to be something unhuman. That’s not true, either. So what you have in the Christ is not just the human reality come to concrete expression. But we have the divine itself revealed. Paul will say, for example, that we really don’t know anything else about God but what we see in the Christ, and this is found also in the Gospel of John. Nobody has seen the Father except for the Son, and what you see in the Son is the Father. This is a radical, radical claim, that the Christ becomes a kind of—the only—concrete focal point for the religious aspirations of the human community longing for God. Longing for knowledge of God—looking in the Torah, looking in, wherever, in mystery religions—and only here—this is the scripture, this is the Christian account, of course—only here do we see who God is. So Christ is primarily a symbol of God. That’s, I think, crucial. That’s the crucial point.
And if he is a symbol of the self in some kind of general, religious science kind of sense—you know, like Buddha, whatever—it’s in this very specific difference that we truly understand who the Christ is for. You would never say that about the Buddha, for example: the Buddha is not a symbol of God. Buddha said, there is no God. Buddhism is, if it’s not an atheistic, it’s a-monotheistic, right? So there’s a striking difference there. I would say that the Buddha has far more credentials for being understood as a symbol of the self in the Jungian sense than the Christ does.
(29:08) Jakob Lusensky: Do you have anything to say about how you understand Jung viewing this God-man or viewing Jesus? Or do you feel like he looked at him enough?
(29:25) Sean McGrath: I feel that he really stopped looking at a certain point. And he dealt only with what he learned as a young man growing up in the Reformed Church, I think it was, with a father who had religious problems. He was not particularly interested in theology, or what theologians had to say. And we can see this in the dispute that he had with Victor White about evil. You know, Victor White was a very generous and sympathetic and uncombative kind of interlocutor. He was a Thomist, of course, and a trained theologian, but he had a great deal of interest and openness to what Jung was doing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t shared. Jung was not interested in what White was doing. And that was a discussion that really couldn’t happen because of Jung’s, I think, prejudices about theology. So there is something unintegrated about Jung’s Christianity. And I think that’s what confuses things. So I mean, at the moment, I’m having a hard time thinking of a really important point that Jung makes about the Christ. I can’t think of a single one, honestly, maybe perhaps there is one, but certainly the things he says about the Christ in the Answer to Job, for example: absolutely, absolutely mixed up, you know. So there’s far too much of Jung’s unintegrated Christian heritage in Jung’s psychology of Christianity, and not enough Christianity.
(31:26) Jakob Lusensky: You spoke of the conversation Jung had with Victor White and the question of evil. In our previous conversation, you mentioned to me that you see that somehow Jung is misunderstanding evil. You also say that there’s no place for it in God. Could you maybe help us to sort of understand Jung’s view on evil and your critique on that?
(31:48) Sean McGrath: So it’s not entirely true to say that there is no place for evil in God. It all depends on what you mean by God, of course, right? So there are different notions of divinity. I’m not saying there’s only one. Now I’m a Christian theologian; I speak as a Christian theologian. And my sources are, as I said, you know, people like Paul, Maximus the Confessor, Thomas Aquinas—so that I realize there are different ways of looking at these things. So, I just offer what I know, or what has been most illuminating for me on these issues.
It seems to me that if you look at the question of evil—and I really salute Jung for making it such a central question—it really is a central question. And I also salute Jung for recognizing that, psychologically speaking, it’s absolutely crucial for the analysand or the individuating soul to reckon with the reality of evil. And I think that we’ve forgotten that in so much self-help industry. I hear far too much, “It’s all good,” and not enough “This is bad. This shouldn’t be.” Now, that said, with regard to the question of evil, you know, it is perhaps the oldest question and it is certainly the central question of Christianity. People don’t recognize that the problem of evil is not an objection to Christianity. The problem of evil is the presupposition of Christianity. Think about the central symbol of Christianity: it is the crucified Savior. Or if you don’t want Christ as the Savior, call him the best man who ever lived: crucified and rejected by the community. What could be more evil? And this symbol is now the symbol of our salvation. So sometimes people think that, Oh, yes, because of evil, we can’t believe in Christ. I would say the opposite, actually. Only if you believe in evil can you understand the Christ—but that’s perhaps a complicated story. And I don’t really want to go into it; I wanted to say something different.
I wanted to say that, historically, coming out of the ancient world, the Western tradition, we have three models for speaking about evil. And these are not properly distinguished in Jung and they need to be. The first is the Neoplatonic model. And this is what we—this is the tradition of evil as a privation of goodness—this was at the heart of the discussion with Victor White. And Jung doesn’t like this, for good reasons. Because to say that evil is nothing but the privation of good is to undermine its psychological reality: it’s nothing, it’s just an illusion or something like that. Now, that said, Neoplatonic Christianity, like in St. Augustine, is quite different from pagan Neoplatonism. In pagan Neoplatonism you get the thesis that Jung objects to—that evil is nothing—in Christian Neoplatonism, it’s modified. But nevertheless, there’s that problem of saying evil is just nothing, that’s Neoplatonic. Then you have the opposite perspective in the ancient world, which is the Gnostic perspective. And this turns out to be the one that Jung ends up subscribing to, for reasons that are actually inconsistent with his own psychology.
In the Gnostic model, you have good and evil as both real, but as sort of equal and opposing cosmic forces. You know, I like to think of this as the theology of George Lucas: you know, the dark side of the Force, the light side of the Force, and they’re always battling it out, they’re always duking it out. One’s always getting the upper hand only for the other one to take the upper hand, and somehow rather recognizing the two as dialectical pairs, that one will never be without the other. This is some kind of enlightenment experience and salvation. Now, the problem here, of course, is, if good and evil are equal and opposing forces, then they are really two parts of something higher which is neither good nor evil. So, you know, the Force is really, in itself, neither good nor evil, but as these two modalities, and so the divine on this Gnostic model really has to be understood as beyond good and evil. In which case, you no longer have this real problem of evil, do you? Right, what you see in evil is really just divinity in another way, another shape and form. There’s no particular reason, I think, to object to it definitively. And I think this is the direction Jung goes with the idea of integrating evil and so on.
But there’s a third tradition, and the third tradition is the one that is most maligned, most badly represented by Jungians. And that is the monotheist tradition. And this is what Victor White was trying to argue for. And in the monotheist tradition, you don’t say evil is nothing, but neither do you say that it’s an equal and opposing force to the good. What you do is, you make a distinction between goodness as infinity, goodness as the unlimited perfection of divinity—you know, completely out of proportion to evil—and evil as created, if you like, that’s a bit difficult—but a feature of the created world or more actually a finite perversion of creation. And according to monotheism, evil is permitted for God’s inscrutable reasons, ultimately to do with freedom. It’s permitted to infect the world for a time, but in the end, it shall be cast out. But the most important point is that there is no balance between them. You know, the John 1:15, the light shines in the darkness, the darkness does not comprehend it. There’s no proportion between good and evil. An ant has more in common with a human being than evil has with God. So there’s no, you know, dark side of God in the sense of an evil twin to the Trinity or something. The devil is not God’s other personality or something that Christians have repressed. On the contrary, if there is such a thing as evil, which I fully believe there is, and so does Jung, then it has something to do with us and the created world.
Now what, with regard to the Jungian, Gnostic thing about integrating the dark side? I don’t think that Jungians are accurately describing their own psychology here. Because plainly they’re not talking to you about committing crimes or abusing others. And that’s what I mean by evil. What I mean by evil, what the tradition means by evil, is using somebody as a means. The devil is the one person who recognizes no other outside themselves, neither God above nor another person: everybody is an object for him; using other people, but as a means to your own self-aggrandizement. Think about this as somehow taking a grotesque form in Nazi Germany, where everything becomes a means to the end of the glorification of the German state. Jungians are not talking about integrating that, you know, they’re not talking about becoming more like an early twentieth-century Satanism, becoming more deliberately bad, wicked, selfish—they’re talking about becoming more honest about your desires, more honest about your failings, about the shadow, the inferior side of yourself, instead of projecting it onto others. That’s all excellent psychology. But the integration of that is not an integration of good and evil in this cosmic sense. This is rather humility. And this is perfectly compatible with Christianity. This is the recognition that you’re not perfect, that you’re not God, that the things that you most hate in others are things that you have disowned in yourself.
(39:22) Sean McGrath: To make it a little more simple: So what Jung has done is he’s objected to the thesis that evil is nothing, which comes out of Neoplatonic Platonism. It’s also a feature I think of some oriental systems, for example, Taoism. Jung is not on board there. There’s a psychological reality of evil. This immediately puts him on the terrain of, let’s say, monotheism, and–or Gnosticism, perhaps, and then Jung takes another step further, and he says monotheism is repressive of evil and denies the divinity of evil or something like that, the shadow side of God. And so then Jung takes a Gnostic approach, and we end up with good and evil as equal and opposing forces. So ultimately, if Gnosticism is the theology of George Lucas, Jungianism, at its worst, is the psychology of George Lucas.
(40:36) Jakob Lusensky: If we continue on looking at what you view as maybe some misunderstandings of Jung, or maybe followers of Jung. There’s also this, the idea of the fourth element or the feminine element missing within Christianity, or the sort of embodiment of the feminine as a part of your individuation. You also see that that as a misconception of sorts.
(41:00) Sean McGrath: Yes. I think here what we see is Jung dealing with the repressive misogynistic, popular Christianity of the ‘50s, particularly in a European context—European Protestant context—but also elsewhere, there was lots of repression and misogyny in Roman Catholicism, too, in the ‘50s. He’s taking this admittedly skewered and inadequate expression of Christianity, but every age of the church is inadequate to the revelation. And he’s making it into dogma. And this is a complete confusion.
So it’s very good idea to deal with misogyny and repression; I think we should kick it out wherever we find it. But let’s go back to the sources. Now, here’s the question: is the feminine actually rejected by Christianity? And I would say openly, right out, on the contrary, on the contrary: Christianity has been or is perhaps the central religious force that has led to the emancipation of women. I would go so far as to say, without Christianity, there would have been no emancipation of the feminine—that the recognition of the equality and the difference of the feminine is central to the New Testament.
We know, for example, that Jesus admitted, among his followers, women—this was extremely countercultural at this time; some of them perhaps were deaconesses in the church, you know, they were involved in roles of leadership. We know that Paul, for example, who is often given a hard time for saying women should wear head dresses in church and so on, that he believes that, ultimately, men and women are equal, that there is no man, there’s no woman, there’s no free person, there’s no slave, but we’re all one in Christ. This was [an] absolutely radical breakthrough. This is a kind of universalism that exists nowhere else in the ancient world. It changed history. And at the center of it was a recognition of the feminine as equal and other to the masculine. And even in the divine.
So I said that Jung projects his own cultural prejudices onto the division and falsely concludes that the feminine is the rejected other of God. That’s simply not true. It’s a complicated story. But let’s just think for a moment of how the feminine then becomes identified with evil in Jung, because they’re both rejected. And then we call for a reintegration of the feminine slash the devil into the Trinity. First of all, notice that Jung is in fact perpetuating the cultural problem of identifying femininity with evil. He hasn’t changed it at all. He said, actually, no, the feminine and the evil, yeah, we have the devil there, we get the Virgin Mary, we can have a whore there, we could have a monster, you know, the whore, the monster, the Virgin Mary, the devil, they are the fourth. So there’s, there’s a confused identification of femininity with evil there, which is totally against his impulse.
And then secondly—more importantly, I think—Jung betrays how little he knows about Trinitarian theology. There is a long history of discussing the feminine side of God in relationship to Trinitarian theology, it goes back. In fact, it’s even earlier than Trinitarian theology. It goes back to the Shekhinah in Judaism, which is the feminine aspect of God, the material aspect of God, or Sophia, the wisdom figure discussed in the Old Testament, who is feminine, who plays before the throne of God and visits humanity with knowledge. These figures were at the center of the discussion of the first Christians—theologians—thinking about who God is, given that the fullness of God dwells in the Christ. So what we see—so, there are others too: the spirit, for example, is feminine. This is something that that early Trinitarian theologians were thinking about, and more recently, feminist theologians have been thinking about. So in Hebrew, the word for spirit, ruha, is feminine. There’s even a tradition of speaking about Christ as androgynous, that he has a feminine side to himself: we call it Sophia.
In any case, there’s everywhere a recognition that, let’s say, archetypal masculinity, archetypal femininity have equal place in divinity. There’s an active and there’s a passive element to the divine. There’s a receptive and there’s a more initiating aspect to divinity. And, you know, these questions are not easy to resolve. There’s plenty of debates about them, but they run right throughout the tradition. It wasn’t as though we were all waiting for Jung to say, Hey, we’ve got to put a fourth person in the Trinity, and it’s going to be maybe the devil or maybe the Virgin Mary, or maybe both, you know, cause there’s no femininity in the Trinity. This is simply not true. Trinitarian theology has been discussing this point for a long time. And now there is actually a great resurgence of interest in what they call Sophiology, particularly com[ing] from the Eastern Church, with a feminine figure, the feminine figure of Sophia, as a kind of divine counterpart, a divine helper from the beginning, who is not one of the persons of the Trinity, but somehow the whole Trinity manifest to itself, the mirror of God’s wisdom. This is becoming a real theme, I think, among theologians today who are interested in recovering some of the mysticism, and some of the more cosmic-oriented theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church. None of this stuff has anything to do with Jung. Many of these people don’t even read it. There it is, they find their way into the divine feminine, simply by being faithful to the record of Trinitarian theology.
(47:06) Jakob Lusensky: I want to end with a question that I also spoke with Amy (Cook) about when we spoke of Kierkegaard. We discussed if Jungian psychology can be viewed as a continuation of Christianity or if it’s a break. Sometimes he feels he’s coming out as almost as a reformer of Christianity, bringing the old wine into new bottles. And I wonder how you view that, you know—is analytical psychology sort of a continuation? Or is it—does it—surpass?
(47:44) Sean McGrath: Well, I think that it all depends on how it’s practiced and thought. Now, it certainly could be the continuation. I mean, it’s, historically, I think it is the—what the Germans would call the Wirkungsgeschichte. It’s the historical effect of Christianity. And I think Jung understood this very well. So, you know, this is why people who are training in analytical psychology, they have to learn something about religion in general, but also Christianity in particular—there’s something, let’s say, deeply, essentially, Christian, about Jungian psychology. I wouldn’t deny this. But does it surpass it? Certainly not.
And with regard to Kierkegaard, here you have an excellent example of a psychologist, every bit as astute an observer of the human soul and the unconscious as Jung, who refuses to absolutize psychology. Kierkegaard is perhaps the best example of a meta-psychologist of the finite. Psychology not as idealism, but psychology as realism: realistic psychology, which means a psychology which knows that there is something more than psyche at work in the world. So I think, you know, with regard to—I mean, I think every practitioner is going to find his own way. And there is no particular, you know, you don’t have to be a Christian to be a Jungian, obviously; you simply have to understand something of Christianity to understand Jung, just like you need to understand something about Judaism to understand Freud, or something about Catholicism to understand Lacan. These people are human beings. They bring their religious heritage into their meta-psychology. You’ll have no critical purchase on the thing unless you understand these things.
I mean, what I would love to see is that psychology becomes something like meditation, yoga, eating your vegetables: you can do it in any religious register you like; it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing to care for the soul. You know, we had all kinds of other practices for caring for the soul in the ancient world. Paul is very affirmative of them, the early Christians were quite affirmative of some of the practices of the mystery religions, in terms of therapeutics of the soul, or a Stoicism, or so on, you know, Epicureanism. There were a lot of practices of soul care in the world when Christianity appeared, and Christianity could affirm what was best in them without ever being confused about what it was, namely, that Christianity is not just a therapeutics of the soul. It’s much, much more than that. And, and in that regard, it’s compatible with a great variety of therapeutics—yoga, for example, or psychoanalysis.
(51:01) Jakob Lusensky: What could Christ or Christianity bring to the world of analytical psychology today? Is it possible to think like that, that there is something that Jungians really need to look at here.
(51:16) Sean McGrath: I’m tempted to say what Christianity or Christ—let’s speak about Christ because Christianity is much more amorphous and pluralistic and problematic than the Christ—what does Christ bring psychology? I think Christ brings salvation. And I don’t think psychology does. And on the other hand, you know, beware theologians and would-be mystics who have not done their psychological work, because they have done a lot of damage to a lot of people. So it’s not a one-way street. You know, religion absolutely needs—modern religion—needs psychotherapy. It might be the case, as Jung himself said, that mediaeval religion didn’t need it: it had its own methods of dealing with their confusions of the soul and the neuroses that rise in the life of an ordinary person. But modern religion needs psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
But at the end of the day, psychological integration is not salvation. And I think that most people who have done the work will be ready enough to concede that. This is not the end of the road, it’s not salvation—that somehow, rather, we want more. And I mean, for example, we want more for the world, too. We want justice on Earth. The world is, I think, far more dangerous now than it was when Jung was writing. We have tyrants who are now impervious to democratic critique. They just ignore mass protests and violate human rights as they wish. It’s not at all clear that goodness prevails in history. So, what do we want? We want not just integrated individuals, but we want a redeemed order of being. We want justice on earth. And Christianity has from the beginning been about that. —Not justice in some Never Never Land—that’s a myth. Christianity from the beginning was about justice on earth. The kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven. That was the Lord’s prayer. Almost every scholar believes that at least this much we know he said: on earth, as it is in heaven.
(53:39) Jakob Lusensky: But Jung would also say that the kingdom is to be found within.
(53:46) Sean McGrath: Yes, and there are passages where Christ says something similar. But how are we to understand that? Does it mean that Christian—that the kingdom—is simply a state of an inner quiet, such as he might attain through a Buddhist practice? That’s not the biblical Christ. If you look at what Christ did, he didn’t say, Oh, let’s all learn a spiritual practice now, so that we can find inner quiet. In fact, he also has very little to say about prayer—just that we should do it, we should do it quietly by ourselves. But what did he do? He healed people. He healed people, he criticized power, he turned the logic of the world upside down. There’s something hugely extroverted about the Christ. And this is a striking difference from the Buddha. This is not an inward path: close your eyes and find the center. This is actually an outward path: overthrow injustice, resist it—non-violently, of course—resist it, offer yourself for it, lay down your life for others. So if Christ has a kingdom within path to teach us, it is a path that proceeds within by going without, in other words: lay down your life for your community. And then you’ll find the inner peace that you seek.