Monday, May 5, 2014

Review of "Jung's Hermeneutics of Scripture"

Greetings, followers and visitors! After a year and a half of blogger hiatus, I feel almost less able to make proper use of this platform. I have thus decided to use the temporary lull in finals week to post something that absolutely nobody asked for: a theology paper reviewing an article on Carl Jung and Scripture. Why am I writing about complex interpretive methods on a blog apparently saved for pop culture geekery? Well, because it's all that I've got at the moment. I do intend for this to be a fruitful blog at some point, I truly do. But the cognitive soup is still stirring, and we'll both just have to wait for it. In the mean time, if you're not asleep yet, I hope you'll gain some interesting insight from the following. This was my midterm paper for a college theology course; I was instructed to write a three-page review of an article on a Scriptural topic of my choice. You can read the original article here. Cheers.

Jung’s Hermeneutics of Scripture is authored by Steven Kings, and appears in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 77, No. 2. The article seeks to examine the interpretation of the Christian Scriptures that Carl Jung defined and adhered to, disclose the exegetical methods he employed, and discover what use, if any, his views are to popular Christian thought.
In the introduction, the author proposes two reasons why the Jungian approach to Scripture may be relevant to those who strive to experience and understand the Bible themselves. The first is that it meets the challenges of modernity, or “the impact of scientific thinking [...] on our understanding of scripture.” This would include the effects of history, physics, chemistry, biology—and thus certainly psychology—on the popular view and interpretation of the Bible. The second reason is that the idea of interpretation itself implies a level of unconsciousness in the reader to “certain layers of meaning that nevertheless can be drawn from the text within the reader’s own context,”  and indeed that the authors themselves were unaware of at least part of these layers. Jung’s methods become particularly applicable here when we recall his emphasis on unconscious archetypal structures that become manifest as culturally-influenced images through the faculties of the individual.
The next section focuses briefly on the place of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures in Jung’s work. Though associated with the Swiss Reformed Church by his father and various other family members, Jung’s personal religious affiliations are nebulous and debatable. It is vital to note, though, that this is especially prominent in the area of Scriptural canon. Jung himself adhered to no specific canon as such, but along with the standard Protestant Bible used “apocryphal, Gnostic, rabbinical, patristic, mystical, or hermetic”  sources. The author notes that the Scriptures themselves remained important to Jung precisely because of how these extracanonical sources relate to them, rather than discredit them.
This idea of comparative examination is clarified in the following section on Jung’s hermeneutical method. Amplification, or this juxtaposition of Scripture with outside sources that may shed light on it, relates to Jung’s study of symbols and symbolic experience. As symbols are interpreted through association and analogy, so can Scripture be interpreted. Jung made the distinction between personal symbols and associations, ones that are unique to the individual due to personal experience, and collective symbols, or ones that are shared across the human landscape. Jung believed that “religions ‘consist of universal myth motifs whose origin and content are collective and not personal.’”  This suggests some innate sense of God and Truth perhaps akin to natural law. Jung finds in Scripture the collective symbols of opposites, as well as the union of opposites represented by such images as a quaternity (such as a cross).
Jung maintained several principles of interpretation, as stated in the next section of the article. His hermeneutics were characterized by nonreductive tendencies, a teleological orientation, and a rejection of the semiotic definition of the word symbol. The author juxtaposes these views with the opposing ideas of Sigmund Freud. Freud reduced the libido, or “the driving force behind psychic phenomena,”  to a purely sexual aspect, whereas Jung embraced it as psychic energy in general. Freud also focused on the causal aspect of psychic impulses rather than the purposive aspect of them, in contrast to Jung who examines the ultimate meanings and goals to which the psyche strives. Finally, Freud defines symbols as symbolic of a set and certain idea to be discovered, while Jung insists the final archetype which is symbolized cannot be fully known or understood, and that “they express a content that has not yet been consciously recognized or conceptually determined, or that cannot be formulated in any better way.”  It is noted that Jung himself found the figurative rather than intellectual nature of Scripture particularly suitable for the description of such psychic processes, and that “symbolic language is the truest reflection of the paradoxical and indeterminate realities to which it points.”  Finally, this section explains Jung’s concept of the soul’s progression towards wholeness, through the three phases of discrimination of opposites, confrontation of opposites, and integration of opposites.
The following section applies these principles to specific Scriptural narratives: the creation account, the story of Job, and the incarnation, life, and death of Christ himself. Seeking wholeness through confrontation of opposites, God Himself, we are told, is obliged to separate His goodness (in the person of Christ) from His evil (the vengeful God seen throughout the Old Testament, possibly Satan himself.) In this interpretation, Jesus Christ represents everything good and loving about this God, and through His death and resurrection, He paves the way to perfect wholeness.
“Finally, it remains to be considered what kind of authority can be attributed to biblical writings as Jung interprets them,”  the author states in his concluding remarks. His general opinion is that a text in itself has no meaning beyond what the reader projects onto it through the context to which he is exposed. 
The author has certainly done his job well, making a complex and previously vague subject digestible, and in fact making me more interested in the topic after reading his article than before. This question remains: to the faithful Catholic, are Jung’s hermeneutics useful, or even acceptable? While the concepts and principles explained are fascinating ideas, and may well draw one into a deeper understanding of the Truth in some areas, they are ultimately only that: ideas, sometimes extremely dangerous ones, and should be studied using the utmost care and caution.
Edit 5/6: Needless to say, I took any formatting/editing liberties I felt necessary in putting this text on my blog.