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“On account of its somewhat unusual content, my little book requires a short preface. I beg of you, dear reader, not to overlook it.  For, in what follows, I shall speak of the venerable objects of religious belief.  Whoever talks of such matters inevitably runs the risk of being torn to pieces by the two parties who are in mortal conflict about these very things.  This conflict is due to the strange supposition that a thing is true only if it presents itself as a physical fact. Thus some people believe it to be physically true that Christ was born as the son of a virgin, while others deny this as a physical impossibility.  Everyone can see that there is no logical solution to this conflict and that one would do better not to get involved in such sterile disputes.  Both are right and both are wrong.  Yet they could easily reach agreement if only they dropped the word ‘physical.’  ‘Physical’ is not the only criterion of truth: there are also psychic truths which can neither be explained nor proved nor contested in any physical way.  If, for instance, a general belief existed that the river Rhine had at one time flowed backwards from its mouth to its source, then this belief would itself be a fact even though such an assertion, physically understood, would be deemed utterly incredible.  Beliefs of this kind are psychic facts which cannot be contested and need no proof.

Religious statements are of this type.  They refer without exception to things which cannot be established as physical facts.  If they did not do this, they would inevitably fall into the category of the natural sciences.  Taken as referring to anything physical, they make no sense whatever, and science would dismiss them as non-experienceable.  They would be mere miracles, which are sufficiently exposed to doubt as it is, and yet they could not demonstrate the reality of the spirit of meaning that underlies them, because meaning is something that always demonstrates itself and is experience on its own merits.  The spirit and meaning of Christ are present and perceptible to us even without the aid of miracles.  Miracles appeal only to the understanding of those who cannot perceive the meaning.  They are mere for the not understood reality of the spirit.  This is not to say that the living presence of the spirit is not occasionally accompanied by marvelous physical happenings. I only wish to emphasize that these happenings can neither replace nor bring about an understanding of the spirit, which is the one essential thing.

The fact that religious statements frequently conflict with the observed physical phenomena proves that in contrast to physical perception the spirit is autonomous, and that psychic experience is to a certain extent independent of physical data. The psyche is an autonomous factor, and religious statements are psychic confessions which in the last resort are based on unconscious, i.e. on transcendental, processes.  These processes are not accessible to physical perception but demonstrate their existence through the medium of human consciousness: that is to say, they are given visible forms which in their turn are subject to manifold influences from within and without.  That is why whenever we speak of religious contents we move in a world of images that point to something ineffable.  We do not know how clear or unclear these images, metaphors, and concepts are in respect to their transcendental object.  If, for instance, we say ‘God,’ we give expression to an image or verbal concept which has undergone many changes in the course of time.  We are, however, unable to say with any degree of certainty–unless it be by faith–whether these changes affect only the images and concepts, or the Unspeakable itself.  After all, we can imagine God as an eternally flowing current of vital energy that endlessly changes shape just as easily as we can imagine him as an eternally unmoved, unchangeable essence.  Our reason is sure only of one thing: that it manipulates images and ides which are dependent on human imagination and its temporal and local conditions, and which have therefore changed innumerable times in the course of their long history.  There is no doubt that there is something behind these images that transcends consciousness and operates in such a way that the statements do not vary limitlessly and chaotically, but clearly all relate to a few basic principles or archetypes.  These, like the psyche itself, or like matter, are unknowable as such.  All we can do is construct models of them which we know to be inadequate, a fact which is confirmed again and again by religious statements.”

Carl Jung, Answer to Job; Collected Works Vol 11, paras 553-555

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One Comment

  1. One might ask for a qualitative conceptual analysis between knowledge and faith and the extent to which faith is truly a “not knowing” experience.


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