Depth Psychology: Death of, Substitute for, or a Deepening of Faith?

It seems as I read Jung and post-Jungian folks, there is a splintering of consensus as to whether religion/faith/spirituality is a neurosis, an immature interpretation of the ways of the Psyche, or a valid path to that same Psyche. Jung states that if an individual is following a faith with a certain intensity, then most problems of the Psyche are contained, yet he is highly suspicious of the collective consciousness, which can be interpreted as the Church or any other "organized" religion.

How do you see depth psychology relating to faith traditions?

Tags: Jung, Psyche, church, faith, psychology, religion, spirituality

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Would like to hear YOUR thoughts, not so many quotes from Jung or others except as lead-in to your own thoughts, feelings, and/or experiences.

I suppose it partially depends where you live. For instance, I live in post-communistic Serbia where "Jungians" don't have any problem to be relatively dogmatic Christians. The American interpretation of the same Christianity (or more precisely Protestantism) is very ego-centric, materialistic, often very dogmatic (to the point of creationism), and conservative. Jung (and some other thinkers) has touched (but not resolved) seemingly the last resort of religion - the origin of consciousness (self-awareness) and life (Darwin in his narrowest sense was too mechanistic and deterministic). Even “worse”, he has provided a context for redefining determinism in other scientific fields. This very fact makes him at the same time religious and anti-religious.


I agree that the American Christian persona presented by the media as "normal American Christianity" has been co-opted by the conservative right and the materialism of the culture (just check out the current "Prosperity Gospel" craze). Just curious: What are the predominant characteristics of Christianity in Serbia? Is the faith seen as a corrective to secular materialism or is it merely an "opium of the masses?"

As you know, Serbia was in many wars against other nations. Perhaps some of them are actually former Serbs who had accepted Catholicism and Islam, but that’s another story. As the biggest nation in former Yugoslavia we didn’t have much problem with national identity and were willing to accept atheism more than others. Combine that with a communist dictator who was using national myths and revival of religion and nationalism (partially a continuation of fascism from World War Two as a “response” to some events when Yugoslavia was a monarchy) and you have trouble. Especially if that president wholeheartedly accepted and used his chance to isolate the nation and push it into wars (Just a fact that he was a communist/(pseudo) Orthodox Christian was already bad enough in 1990s.). We were (and still are) more confused than we actively hated anyone. This confusion is also visible among people who spend more time than average thinking about religion and spirituality (cosmopolitans and nationalists under the same roof and sometimes within the same person). Jung isn’t perceived as an antagonist to religion in any way.

Even intelligent and contemplative people sometimes have difficulties to resist collective stupidity and tend to perceive the national history as less ugly than it really is. A similar thing applies to that man on the default profile picture in this Alliance. He was a man who had his issues and whose private life was a mess. He was far from perfect (perhaps it’s better this way in order to prevent idolatry), but important.

Seems like anytime a demi-god is created for whatever reasons, the "for whatever reasons" becomes the driving force of the followers, even when the individual's message may be contrary to the desires of the masses. As to cleaning up history, its the only way to keep a naive optimism going, yet such becomes the foundation of simplistic radical movements. 

IF the internet is a human domain to transcend our geography - what is the domain to transcend our cultural identity?



Dear Ed,

Thank you for raising this great subject. I read your post a few days ago and have been pondering it since. My simple answer is that depth psychology.... deepens! It enhances the traditional faith that I was raised in.

Von Franz is luminous when she speaks about Christianity and I have learned so much from her. For example, in 'The Way of the Dream' she explains that the western world has yet to be christianised; we are all 'pagan barbarians,' she says, because we only ape Christ in superficial outer ways rather than truly living as he lived - which would mean to hold the tension of the opposites that his cross represents; to bear the crosses of our own lives; to fulfill our unique destiny; and, of course, to embody compassion.

GK Chesterton stated something similar in a pithy way: "Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.” 

For me depth psychology has the potential to bring so much (much needed) illumination to traditional faiths.



I fully agree that the deepest Christianity has yet to be realized and I believe it relates to our approach to the image of Jesus and the understanding of the Holy Spirit. Jung was concerned that the Christian faith had denied the presence of the feminine and that in the raising of Mary, there was at least a chance that the feminine might balance out the masculine focus so prevalent in the history of Christianity. 

I'm believing that depth psychology can deepen an understanding of the faith but the next move would need to be moving the focus from constantly, unconsciously repeating Jesus stories to a conscious appreciation of the Holy Spirit in everyday phenomena. Even Jesus said he had to go so that the 'third act" (my image) could take place to the fulfillment of the revelation of the numinous. (Indeed, in Greek, the Holy Spirit is feminine.) Maybe we need to move away from all the focus on literal-historical debates about Jesus and move to a more phenomenological-communal discussion related to the numinous in life. What say you?

Hello Ed,

Yes, absolutely. Von Franz said the problem of Christianity is threefold: (i) the feminine (ie Our Lady being a purified feminine/lacking darkness), (ii) treating matter as separate from spirit and (iii) 'not facing the problem of the opposites, of evil.' See this 2 minute clip:

For sure the split between matter and spirit is the story of the grail quests; to see (the Holy) Spirit in all matter will contribute to healing the wasteland that is modern day western culture. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford write about this, and the feminine Holy Spirit, in 'The Myth of the Goddess' for those who are interested in further reading.

Von Franz also claims that alchemy is a richer completion of Christianity, but I need to do further research on exactly what she means before commenting on that aspect...!


I wrote the poem below as a response to the feminine aspect missing in christianity - or should i say over-shadowed! by the make archetype? with a gentle nod to the mythopoeaic teleos of Joseph Cambell

If Jesus had a sister
If Jesus had a sister 
would she cry about the town
would she lie about the seasons of her life
If Jesus had a sister
would she know that men are proud
would she hide behind a cloud of her unknowing
If Jesus had a sister
would she clean up all his mess
would she pass the final test of being better than a man
If Jesus had a sister
would we want to risk her
would she want to be exposed to all the world
If Jesus had a sister
would we treat her as his equal
would we want to hear the sequel about the story from our hearts
If Jesus had a sister
Would we want to Bliss her

Bless her from the bottom of our hearts.



equal -sequel. nice couplet. not to shabby ( or as my poet friend would say, "not to wabbie" ) . some good lines. ...keep up the verse.....Jeff

I'm really glad that you brought this up, as there has always been a connection, I feel, between the study of comparative religion and depth psychology. Understanding this begins with the recognition of the truth that underlies perennial philosophy: all religions interpret the same truth in different ways appropriate to their specific situation (the parallel with archetypes is obvious). Because the same phenomena is interpreted in different ways at different times, I believe that the analytical psychology tradition is actually an expression of a quest for personal and universal knowledge that has lasted for thousands of years. Indeed, is it not ridiculous to say that Jung, great visionary that he was, was the first intelligent human being in 5000 years to realize the workings of inner life? 

If we want to see how different religions teach us about the search for the Self, we first must accept what Joseph Campbell spent much of his life teaching: that myths and religion are better viewed as psychological metaphors. Myth is intimately connected with the unconscious mind, as we all know, and I think it would be fair to say that religion similarly taps into the irrational contents of our collective and personal unconscious. For instance, Taoism teaches that the universe is made of pairs of opposites that are equivalent and must be balanced...much like how Jungian analysis teaches that the Psyche is fundamentally dualistic and must be in a state of balance and integration to be healthy. The same parallels can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and much of tribal religious life.

Also, and I'm not going to bother trying to integrate this into a larger paragraph, I distinctly remember reading that Jung said there is a religious function in each person's unconscious...which, in my interpretation, is a circuitous way of saying that everyone believes in God (which is a poor term with bad connotations for my purposes) and therefore debating God's existence is pointless because we all believe in the unknowable whether we are conscious of it or not.

Even though religion is an excellent way to approach the unconscious mind, it has been sadly misinterpreted in the west because of the flawed evolution of the western monotheistic tradition. As a young person, I can tell you that among intelligent teenagers religion is mocked and in a less anecdotal sense sociologically most 1st world countries are becoming less interested in religion. This is because the tradition that originates with Judaism teaches the wisdom of many of its prophets incorrectly. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach that there is good and there is evil in the universe, and it is our duty to "fight" evil inside and outside ourselves, that there is a specific, masculine, intelligent entity called "God" who resides in a physical place called heaven, that we must never identify our sinful selves with God, and that our reward for our struggles of the material would be compensated in the next life. They also teach that a variety of supernatural phenomena literally happened: that Jesus was a man who was literally immaculately conceived, for instance. This patent nonsense, which goes against everything that our Western rationality has taught us, is proudly upheld by the various monotheistic churches, who wonder why they are losing the "war" as it were for the soul. These religions teach their followers to be profoundly psychologically unhealthy due to the rejection of the possibility of "evil" (e.g. sexual desire) inside themselves and prevent them, ironically enough, from confronting their unconscious minds. I could go on for pages, but this has already ran on quite a bit, and I've expressed these ideas rather crudely as it is. 

TL;DR Western religion doesn't confront the psyche as it should, and religion can only remain relevant in the west if it undergoes a fundamental shift away from fear and repression and toward psychological balance.



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