In my latest reading of No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions, Paul Knitter discussed psychological explanations for religion, particularly those of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, William James, Abraham Maslow, and Robert Assagioli.
One point that stood out to me was
Jung's view that the unconscious (which appears to be both personal and
collective) has certain archetypes that are evident in a number of
religions: "the divine mother, the wise old man, the dying god, the
young virgin, the hero-savior, the cunning evil one, [and] the hidden
treasure" (Knitter's words on page 57). My impression from Knitter's
discussion is that Jung thought that these archetypes were symbolic.
For example, on page 61, Knitter refers to Jung's view that Jesus'
incarnation was a model for "individuation"----as the self is realized,
the ego is left behind, and the person is integrated "into the mystery
of the self-in-God" (Knitter's words).
This reminded me a lot of
Joseph Campbell. I have not read most of Campbell's works, but I did
watch Bill Moyers' interviews with him. I rolled my eyes at some of
what Campbell was saying, for it appeared to me that he was reading pop
psychology into myths and religions----such as the notion that we should
find our "bliss". I don't want to dismiss the idea that the archetypes
that appear in various world religions are getting at something
psychological----needs that we have as human beings. But I also want to
listen to what the religions, myths, and cultures themselves are
saying, without reading stuff into them that they do not explicitly say.
question that Jung inspired Knitter to address was whether or not
Jesus' historicity is important for Christian theology. Jung focused on
Jesus as a mythical archetype. I'm not sure if Jung dismissed the
notion that Jesus historically existed, but his focus was on myth and
story. I know people who affirm that the historicity of Christian
claims about Jesus (i.e., the incarnation, the virgin birth, miracles,
Jesus' death for our sins, and the resurrection), and even Jesus
himself, are not important for Jesus to have a place in one's spiritual
and religious life. After all, can't we draw inspiration from the story
of Jesus----the values that he exemplified as a character----whether or
not he actually existed?
That may work for some people. It just
doesn't work for me. I need to see a story about a hero-savior as
grounded in history for it to do anything for me, spiritually. To use
another example, I can draw inspiration from Luke Skywalker, but I can't
form a religion out of Luke Skywalker that is meaningful to me
personally, unless the story actually happened and literally had an
impact on me----as does Jesus' death for my sins, according to