The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a highly controversial figure in the early years of psychoanalysis and remains so today. He was, by all accounts including his own, a loner, a misfit and rebel. His less sympathetic biographers have focused on his rocky relationships with his wife and Sigmund Freud, his longtime affair with one of his patients, as well as his alleged anti-Semitism and collusion with the Nazis. Perhaps the more interesting thing is that he still haunts and intrigues our increasingly conflated world of spirituality, religion and psychotherapy, and this myth-debunking biography which came out only two years ago, runs a whopping 881 pages. findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0RGU/is_... Nevertheless, his impact on the founding members of AA and the early recovery movement was both profound and remarkably successful. The story of his influence on Rowland Hazard in 1932 is told on pages 26-7 of the Big Book: anonpress.org/bb/Page_26.htm Bill Wilson later acknowledged all that in both an article in the Grapevine magazine and a personal letter to Jung in 1961:
In his autobiography, "Memories, Dreams, Reflections," Jung described several days of mental and emotional torment when he was 12 years old, when his unconscious repeatedly erupted with an image of God sitting on a golden throne in heaven over a beautiful cathedral. Jung wrote that he sensed he was somehow being tested, that he must let the vision emerge completely if he was to know God in his fullness. Summoning all his courage, he let the fantasy unfold: God in the blue sky, and then from under the throne, a massive turd fell to earth and shattered the cathedral. Bliss flooded Jung's brain, and thereafter he knew God's plan for him was to "think abominations to experience His grace." But Jung never told his father, a conventional Swiss Lutheran Reform minister, of his vision. He could not bear the responsibility of plunging him into the "despair and sacrilege" that he saw at that age as being necessary for grace.
"So that was it! I felt an enormous, and indescribable relief. Instead of the expected damnation, grace had come upon me, and with it an unutterable bliss such as I had never known. I wept for happiness and gratitude. The wisdom and goodness of God had been revealed to know that I had yielded to His inexorable command. It was as though I had experienced an illumination. A great many things I had not previously understood became clear to me. That was what my father [a Lutheran minister] had not understood, I thought; he had failed to experience the will of God, had opposed it for the best reasons and out of the deepest faith. And that was why he had never experienced the miracle of grace which heals all and makes all comprehensible. He had taken the Bible's commandments as his guide; he believed in God as the Bible prescribed and as his forefathers had taught him. But he did not know the immediate living God who stands, omnipotent and free, above His Bible and His Church, who calls upon man to partake of His freedom, and can force him to renounce his own views and convictions in order to fulfill without reserve the command of God. In His trial of human courage God refuses to abide by traditions, no matter how sacred. In His omnipotence He will see to it that nothing really evil comes of such tests of courage. If one fulfills the will of God one can be sure of going the right way.
"God had also created Adam and Eve in such a way that they had to think what they did not at all want to think. He had done that in order to find out whether they were obedient. And He could also demand something of me that I would have had to reject on traditional religious grounds. 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. From that moment on, when I experienced grace, my true responsibility began. Why did God befoul His cathedral? That, for me, was a terrible thought. But then came the dim understanding that God could be something terrible. I had experienced a dark and terrible secret. It overshadowed my whole life, and I became deeply pensive." (From "Memories, Dreams, Reflections," Vintage Books 1961, pp. 39-40.)
This is the controversial background on the man who introduced the idea of "God as we [individually] understood Him" to an alcoholic who was desperate to stop drinking and the rest, as they say, is history. Rowland Hazard carried the story back to the Oxford Groups, and his friend and fellow Oxford Grouper Ebby Thatcher later related it to Bill Wilson in 1934. Jung's input has been hailed by some as the decisive paradigm shift that created the recovery movement, while the proponents of various religious and therapeutic models have subsequently brushed it aside as mere packing material, claiming that they've had the solution to the problem of alcoholism all along. They didn't have a solution that actually worked, of course, and that is the only reason that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded. Nor could it ever have succeeded if its founding members hadn't stayed sober. AA, like the Emanuel Movement, the Washingtonians and the Oxford Groups before it, would have simply faded away by death and attrition.
But the historical fact is that prior to the introduction of this then new and pivotal idea that a spiritual experience based on one's own private and intuitive conception of God as the founding principle of AA in 1935, alcoholics were generally written off as utterly hopeless by moralists, doctors, therapists and society at large. We tend to forget that, and since then, in a theological climate of prudently sidestepped tolerance by various churches as to the orthodoxy of that belief as they tacitly credit themselves with having invented it, and as heated controversies persist among therapists as to the validity of it at all, a few million of us alcoholics have quietly and unobtrusively found permanent sobriety using our own private and often blasphemous conceptions of God.
Maybe it's time to take old Carl Jung out of the wastebasket of history, blow off the dust and take another look at just how revolutionary his own spirituality really was, most notably with his notions of "think[ing] abominations to experience His grace" and plunging into "despair and sacrilege." This was the unique, radical and seminal vision that gave AA its unprecedented even if wobbly success in its early years, but now all that seems to be getting swept under the rug in favor of psychotropic pharmaceuticals to numb the brain or equally numbing conventional therapeutic platitudes, and/or complacent, sanctimonious moralizing.
If all this seems irrelevant these days, why hasn't Jung just faded away? What is it about him that still intrigues us? I find it fascinating that the link to this ten page article in last week's New York Times Magazine has been up on Google News since yesterday morning, and I for one have already asked Amazon.com to alert me when the book comes out next month.
I know that it was important for me to uncover my own idea - GodasIunderstandhim. I mentioned courage in my prior post, because that was a courageous act for me. I'm no longer trying to run on another's ideas, I'm going to uncover my own, and attempt to live by them honestly.
The thought of that reponsibity was frightening. But I'm convinced that "Why don't you choose your own conception of God?" was crucial in overcoming the malady.
******************************************************* "When I've learned enough to really live, I'll be old enough to die" - Johnny Cash
Thanks for that Cherub. That looks similar to this post.
Hello Mike. Colorado, huh?
I'm a Carl Jung fan. I'm so glad Roland didn't go to Freud and get all coked up and guilted about feelings of his mom.
I guess Carl Jung was into a bunch of stuff... including mythology, alchemy, etc. I'm reading The Portable Jung... ever so slowly. It's going about as quickly as when I fought my way through William James- Variety of Religious Experiences. I thought us engineers were thinkers. Them PhD's are something.
According to Bair, "He remained affiliated with German psychoanalysis from the Nazi solidification of power in the 1930s through the first years of the war, insisting that his primary reason was to aid disenfranchised Jewish practitioners, but debate still rages almost half a century after his death"
Well now that THAT is cleared up!
If there was one thing that made Carl Jung special... and Dr. Silkworth special... which enabled the life-saving fellowship to form... was the fact that these two individuals had the sack to step their game up and say to the hopeless helpless alcoholic what few doctors, therapists, clergymen, etc. could say;
"I can't help you."
Thank God for small miracles.
Don't believe everything you think. Especially if you're an Anti-A.A.ing A.A. basher.
Thanks for that Cherub. That looks similar to this post.
Yup, that's my screen name on DS, and this fellow here is my namesake, Donizetti's lovelorn stumblebum, Nemorino, buying the magic elixir that will solve all his problems from the traveling medicine man:
This insight by Jung is incredibly important and might save a lot of people from suffering because of visions or thoughts that they have been taught to believe are blasphemous or heretical.
In my teenage years I was overwhelmed by a "blasphemous" thought about God, which I could not in that 1950s world mention to anybody. It was driving me nuts and the only solution I could come up with on my own was to leave my church and reject anything that even had a hint of spirituality.
I didn't read Jung's account until almost 30 years later. I didn't exactly feel grace but I felt some relief from guilt over my "heretical" thoughts.
Even now I shudder thinking that if good Christians knew about my teenage thoughts and visions they would want me burned at the stake.
And I am not sure there is much understanding of this outside A.A., and even there it is only among some alcoholics who aren't afraid to say that they have had similar thoughts.
I'm not sure this is making sense but thanks for reprinting Jung's wisdom on this topic.
It is good for this old heretic to recall Jung's experience.