Category:Religion

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Relevance of Religion

How relevant is religion? To answer this question, keep in mind that relevance is, by convention, evaluated based on how important something is for our wellbeing.

Here is what Carl Jung wrote about this question.


Among all my patients in the second half of life--that is to say, over thirty-five--there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain this religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church.

(Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East. Collected Works Vol. 11, par. 509)

And Carl Jung lived a long time, and saw lots of patients.

Definition of Religion

Although it should be obvious, let me also say that 'religion' here has nothing to do with the way this word is now usually used, namely with metaphysical belief. I am endebted to late Dr. Martin Links for the idea of which my definition is a simple adaptation:

(Here comes an ideogram: The wheel with spokes. Where the spokes meet the rim we have the archetypes. In the center we have God. A person in praying position has a living connection emanating from her fingers, and ending as a plug. The idea is simple: As we all know, one can try to be a good mother or husband or... but nothing can replace being 'plugged in' in the right way (for eg. loving your children and taking pleasure in making them safe and warm). People have been known to give their lives for truth or for freedom... We don't need speak more to see that Religion means re-connection with the archetypal, of which God is simply the common abstract essence or 'greatest common denominator'.

When we connect with an archetype, we are empowered for being a father, a mother, a hero, a truthful person. When we connect with God, the experience is just pure love, which is again the common element of all archetypal experiences.

I could spend a long time now describing the consequences this sort of 'connection' has for the human and for society. But I will let you draw the conclusions yourself, except one: This question too is profoundly political. The archetypal connection is in fact exactly what must inspire liberation and rebellion from the power structure. So an important part of the strategy of the power structures will be to deny us the religious experience.

The Experience of Alienation

If the experience which results from religion is love, what is the experience of not being connected. Here is again Karl Jung (the Self roughly correspnds with God as defined above):

DESPAIR AND VIOLENCE. In the state of alienation, the ego is not only disidentified from the Self, which is desirable, but is also disconnected from it, which is most undesirable. The connection between ego and Self is vitally important to psychic health. It gives foundation, structure and security to the ego and also provides energy, interest, meaning and purpose. When the connection is broken the result is emptiness, despair, meaninglessness and in extreme cases psychosis or suicide.

And also:

Whenever one experiences an unbearable alienation and despair it is followed by violence. The violence can take either an external or an internal form. In extreme forms this means either murder or suicide. The crucial point is that at the root of violence of any form lies the experience of alienation--a rejection too severe to be endured.

(C.G. Jung: Ego and Archetype.)

The Experience of Religion

Here is how Rumi described it:

Look! This is love -- to fly toward the heavens,
To tear a hundred veils in every wink,
To tear a hundred veils at the beginning,
To travel in the end without a foot,
And to regard this world as something hidden
And not to see with one's own seeing eye!
I said: "O heart, may it for you be blessed
To enter in the circle of the lovers,
To look from far beyond the range of eyesight,
To wander in the corners of the bosom!
(Translation by Annemarie Schimmel: Look! This is Love: Poems of Rumi Shambhala, April 1996).


And also like this, in his Mathnawi:

I was dead, I became alive;
I was weeping, I became laughing;
The treasure of love came upon me,
And I became everlasting treasure.

Towards a Unified Theory

I mention here Aldous Huxley's book Parrenial Philosophy, where he showed close correspondance between the so-called 'mystical' methods and experiences across traditions.

The Communication Problem in Religion

The problem is, as always, to communicate an inner experience, in a culture where experiences are objectified. The whole point is in fact that religious experience gives a completely different experience and perception. But how to explain this in a culture which believes that all 'normal people' experience and perceive the same thing, namely 'reality'.

The progenitors of great religions had no choice but to encode their teachings in the language of the day, which happened to be a 'worldview' or metaphysical picture. Then the message got lost in translation, and only the worldview remained. The medium, in other words, got mistaken for the message.

The Vision

Perhaps when we give up objectifying and design communication to suit the message, communicating the essence of religious experience and how to reach it will not at all be difficult.

Personal Histories

Here is a story to share.

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