Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Written Dialogue: Definition of God

Zach: Well, I'll go with the big topic rather than the little one. So: God. Basically, the dilemma for someone like me is to decide whether to say I believe in God or not. Carl Jung got caught in this trap, because a brash interviewer caught him saying, "I don't believe. I know." But what he was really saying was that belief was useless to him, that there was no point in having beliefs, since they aren't based on anything one can know. But since then, Christians in particular (I literally had a Catholic PRIEST quote that line of Jung's to me one time) have projected onto Jung someone essentially like them. When they say "God," they mean a good, all knowing and all powerful God. But Jung's God was a lot more of an objective force than some sweet loving god with a plan. But it doesn't matter, because he got caught, and now all people who believe in God will think they have Jung as an ally.

But if I relinquish the word "God" and concede it to the "Santa Clause" type believers, is it too great a defeat? Is there really no room for a god which can be reconciled with science and with experience? Nonetheless, it's a big chore to have to disambiguate one's God from the much more common, but also limited, and indeed false, notion of a Santa Clause type of God.

In the end, the people who believe in the Jungian God who choose to use the word God are choosing to ally themselves vaguely with the Christian idea - they are trying to fudge the difference and retain their connections with the Christians, or at least trying to save christianity form itself by suggesting a different meaning for the word.

I am increasingly counting myself a "Jungian atheist," a term I've never seen, because I would rather associate with those who are so bitter at the Christian idea of God that they reject the term altogether rather than wage a battle for a different definition. In the end, it is a defeat, to simply hand the use of the word "God" over to the Christians, but it may not be so bad. It's just a word, after all. Have they ruined it beyond hope of redemption, or is it worth fighting for? Rhetorical question.

Ethan: I think the key, then is to really figure out who Jung's God was. And yours, for that matter. Are they the same God? Not a rhetorical question.

I too have found myself in a place where I needed a philosophical concept, and I settled on God to fill that hole in my philosophy. But like Jung and, presumably you, I was not talking about the Christian God. I used to say God was everything about the universe that I didn't understand. After that, I used it to signify the universe as a whole. 

To be honest, I think this is a cop-out on all our parts. God is just a word. It is a concept used to drive the development of other concepts. In Deleuze & Guattari's framework (found in What is Philosophy?) God would practically be a plane of immanence. A place for all of our concepts (like force) and philosophical personae (like Jesus) to come and play. The fact that we all use God in our philosophies suggests that we are unable to come up with a better concept. Unlike Nietzsche, we were not brilliant enough to realize that there is no such thing as an objective force. That all force is already a multiplicity of forces, and that this collectivity could be called nothing other than will to power. 

This leads me to an interesting and somewhat troubling conclusion. Is not settling on a concept and owning it (which is the role of a philosopher) already giving in and giving up? Language is such that it never fully realizes reality. And so philosophy is constantly stuck in this netherworld. Where no matter how good you are at it, whatever you say will not be enough. Every philosopher eventually gets to a point where he is done formulating his concepts. He has essentially given up. 

To get around this, I am perfectly happy to continue defining and re-defining concepts until I die. Nietzsche did this. So did Deleuze. Will to power, plane of immanence, and conceptual personae were just the last concepts they developed before they died. But they would have kept going if they could have. So at some point I decided to stop using God in my philosophy, unless I am talking about the Christian God and what it means for the rest of the world in a historical sense ("God is dead"). Instead, I find myself referring to the spirit-world these days. This reflects a shift in my thinking. From the dominant one, which says that the self is one and the universe is multiple. To the less dominant one, which says that the self is multiple and the universe is one.

Zach: The disappointment for me is in losing the existing connotations of the word God. God means a lot to a lot of people. And there is much to gain from examining what God means to those people, even if the big idea loses in the end. Even my heroes, Robert A. Johnson, etc, use the word God from time to time. They seem to see advantage in trying to win the term back from the "all-good, all-knowing" crowd. I suppose I'm just tepid about acquiring the stigma of atheism - a lot of atheists do in fact exhibit a bitterness, and I would like to avoid being associated with them. The only problem with the God believers is that they seem remarkably capable of ignoring the evidence. But they are often quite happy. So it's like choosing between the happy ignorant, and the bitter, though logically consistent one. 

I'm not really in the pursuit of concepts per se. Concepts are a tool. The task is simply to live life. Concepts merely help with that. To seek concepts per se is basically to say that reality is so chaotic that one must never stop seeking concepts with which to contain it. I don't think it was ever in the purview of concepts to solve all problems - just some of them. For me, there are far too many specific situations for which there is no readily available concept. Life, in other words, is an unsolvable problem in the absolute sense. But it can be made more bearable with concepts (i.e. philosophy).

Philosophically, I prefer to refer to "God" as the traditional name for the "plane of immanence." In other words, philosophers can steal God back by saying it is what the people of old called... whatever the modern word is: plane of immanence, will to power, etc. It's just that a large group of monotheists decided that this had a bunch of special characteristics - the impulse to attribute these characteristics is obviously huge, since a more mature view can see that God doesn't actually possess them.

As far as Jung's and my God. Jung's God is strange because it is capable of synchronicity, i.e. an a-causal connecting principle, and yet it is not necessarily good. I find it easier to simply abandon the notion that God is good - it's like choosing a lens through which to view the universe. And through this particular lens I am acquiring so much information. I know it's a lens. God may well be good, but so far I'm getting more fruit from the God-is-not-good lens. What to do with the information from the lens? Don't know.

In Jungian psychology, it is possible to connect with a second center of the personality, beyond the ego, which is the first center. Jung called this second center the Self, and he said it is what has historically been thought of as God. My white light experience is when I first encountered this second center. There are probably a hundred and one explanations for what this really is, in scientific every day reality. Subjectively it felt like a religious experience. Sometimes I feel like I'm supposed to serve this second self. It may just be an illustration of just how unconscious I am that I don't understand what it is. It has a vast number of attributes in common with what is traditionally called God, monotheistic or not. Generally, it seems associated with a larger social responsibility, like a prophet receiving a call. They now have to serve this call - their personal destiny is now tied up in the destiny of serving this other thing. Normal psychology is ego-focused and can't account for religious experience. Psychiatry just calls it a mental illness - a personal medical problem. But to me, that is just a defense mechanism on psychiatry's part, to appear to be fully in control of something it doesn't understand. That inner force overcame the force of psychiatry in my case.

Perhaps the Self operates in the realm of the "socially unjustifiable." By necessity. If the actions were justifiable, they could probably just as easily be integrated into the first center of the psyche. There would be no contradiction for the ego to do these things. The Self may have something to do with the conflict between the morally correct, and the socially justifiable. When a person's inner sense of morality conflicts with what can be justified by society, it necessitates a break, such that a whole new center begins to form rather than merely augmenting the ego. That may be the origin of the second center. Anyway, it has a lot in common with God.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps we believe in God even if, or because, our meaning and knowing of that enterprise have modified. Perhaps it is a chance to develop from the managing opinion of a Superior Energy to a more covering, important God to display everything.