Updated: Aug 25
About a year ago, I had a chat with Jungian Analyst Vlado Solc about his book, Dark Religion: Fundamentalism from the Perspective of Jungian Psychology, which he wrote in partnership with George Didier.
My own PhD research had explored women’s experience of reconciling sexuality and spirituality through the lens of Jungian theory of individuation, and I found Dark Religion to be a uniquely comprehensive presentation of Jungian theory on religion and individuation. C.G. Jung, one of the founders of depth psychology, described individuation as the process of coming into relationship with one’s unconscious.
The book is a big read, but dense academic language is brought to life through examples of relatable lived experiences. Importantly, rather than being left with a feeling of diminishment or dismissal of religion, this book reinforces the need to respect the religious/spiritual instinct that seems to be part of what it means to be human.
Dark Religion could be considered a life book, and my only complaint is that there is not a whole series of smaller books and workbooks that could help readers initiate their own journey of individuation outside of therapy with a Jungian analyst.
So, that’s where this blog post comes in.
Jesus Was a Liberal Wimp
It finally happened, and maybe because I could see it coming, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the momentary lapse of cognitive dissonance that is resulting in some people’s rejection of their religious beliefs because they do not match their perceived reality. The irony of rejecting Jesus’ loving message to share the Good News because you now believe in violence against those who are more like Jesus is beautiful. If you’re curious about this phenomenon, here’s the YouTube video.
The rejection of conventional religious doctrine of course has been happening for many decades. Many polls have been documenting that the fastest growing religion is non-religion, which is misleading of course, because rejecting conventional religion is not the same as rejecting the religious instinct. Those who claim the label of spiritual but non-religious reflect the anticipated unleashing of the deeper forces in the collective unconscious that want to help humanity transcend its limited understanding of its relationship with Source.
This trend suggests that conventional religious forms have not been able to transcend their own egoic attachment to what are becoming stubborn and increasingly literal and reductive ideas that grew out of once numinous experiences of relating to Source/God.
In Dark Religion, the authors educate the reader about the foundation of religion from a depth psychological perspective. To be clear, this perspective is not about the existence or non-existence of God, rather a depth psychology lens speaks only of the experience of religion through the psyche, which is the only way we can know God, because God is unknowable directly.
We have been living in the age of the literal and reductive for so long, we forget that the foundation of religious beliefs/doctrine are original religious/numinous experiences for which there were no words at the time, only powerful symbols. In a way a religious experience is a moment of surrendering to becoming a vessel for a new level of consciousness, for example the emergence of the belief in redemption.
The mysterious and numinous experience may take decades and even centuries to be understood and expressed in language. Religious beliefs can grow stagnant and weaker over time, eventually resonating with fewer and fewer people as they become trapped in literal interpretation and understood only through the mind.
In Ancient Hebrew though, to know is to relate, which implies an intimate and embodied experience (https://ancient-hebrew.org/definition/know.htm).
The symbol of the cross for example, over time has lost its mystery for many and now it is understood mostly as an intellectual concept. Further, many people passively receive spiritual instruction via words from people in positions of religious authority who may never have had a truly religious experience.
In Dark Religion, the authors call on the writings of German theologian Rudolf Otto to help the reader understand what Jung meant by the religious numinous experience, an experience of archetypal energy. As I was plunged into what felt like a mysterious world of depth psychology, Otto’s writings about the topic of numinous religious experiences resonated with me deeply. He described these moments as spontaneous and simultaneous experiences of mystery, fear, and fascination. During a numinous experience, a complex mixture of feeling awe and ecstasy, dread and aliveness washes over, overwhelms, inspires and terrifies at the same time.
Perhaps those moments of unbearable self-conscious connection with that fifth grade boy named Darren was a numinous experience. I couldn't put it into words back then, but I felt terrified at the mysterious depth of connection by some force that merely used Darren as a conduit to plunge into my soft soul.
During my midlife unraveling and only when I had surrendered to something mysterious beyond my intellectual knowing, did I have a conscious numinous experience of deep connection with my Self and with Source. The experience was mysterious and overwhelming and the relief that I felt at not being alone was so intense that my body grew aroused. Spontaneous images emerged of light coming into and out of the crown of my head. It took much reflection to understand that I was being rewarded for surrendering to a higher power within me, which was felt as a bridge to something transcendent.
As a recovering control freak and perfectionist, surrendering felt terrifying.
The Intertwining of Religion and Conspiracy Theories
I could see it coming long ago, the natural consequences of the intersection of three forces.
The first has been a steady diet of conspiracy theories that in the past might not have been able to gain traction but for the profiteers who because of the climax of wealth inequality have been able to seduce those who are not conscious of their own dark side or the true intentions of the false prophets.
The second is the climax of the devastating consequences of the dismantling of social guardrails that had been protecting us from the dangers of capitalism, a system that values profits over human lives, even over the survival of our species.
The third is the egoic refusal of conventional religious forms to surrender to the mysterious promptings by the unknowable Source to work towards reconciling the ultimate opposites of masculine (not man) and feminine (not woman).
I look at the masculine as oriented towards the intellect, the protective nature of the mind, an either/or and correct answer approach to life.
The feminine could be described as the unconscious, the last frontier of the psychological unknown, it's mysterious, meandering, the feminine seeks patterns, connection, and circles back to relationship. For me, it is not so much about balance as fluidity, being able to call on the right one at the right time.
Those clinging to increasingly reductive and literal notions of what once were numinous experiences that brought Source/God closer to humanity have unwittingly been accelerating the dismantling of a framework albeit flawed that had been available to people to manage their relationship with Self, others, and Source.
In Dark Religion, the authors inform the reader that during the twentieth century, the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Jewish) experienced a surge of fundamentalism, eventually leading to fundamentalism becoming intertwined with politics. While there is potential for these forces to result in increased consciousness, there is an equally dangerous chance that the archetypal energies allow for self-deception and mass manipulation.
The distinguishing factor is consciousness that comes from self-reflection of one’s own shadow and potential for evil. An absence of enough individuals questioning conventional religious ideas is what can turn religion dark enough to become a vessel through which evil flows.
The difficulty we find ourselves in today is that there exists a void, a gap left as traditional religious traditions inspire fewer and fewer people. This gap is being aggressively filled by a disturbing partnership between fundamentalist and radical forms of religion, conspiracy theories, given false credibility by politics and funded by profit-driven individuals and media empires that manipulate the real fears of people by inspiring the opposite of self-reflection. Projection of growing collective anger, intolerance, hatred, and even violence onto random groups of people who have little power act as scapegoats to deflect from the real source of injustice.
The brave pursuit to find a religion of one’s own by those like me, who identify as spiritual but not religious, may eventually emerge in the collective as a new God-image, as another Jungian Analyst Edward Edinger predicted. My emotions alternate between dread and inspiration about my purpose because of not knowing how long this may take given current events.
My irrational calling to study depth psychology coincided with my midlife unraveling. You could say C.G. Jung became my spiritual mentor as his theories helped me explore and find meaning in my falling apart, and I even began declaring that depth psychology was my spiritual practice. There was potential danger though, and thankfully my love affair with C.G. Jung eventually waned as one professor insisted that we become intimately knowledgeable about Jung’s shortcomings as well, including his polyamorous relationship arrangement.
My point is that the space between conventional ideas and systems that are breaking down and the unknown future must be filled with individuals who courageously embark on the perilous journey of finding truth. C.G. Jung warned that without a strong inner higher moral authority, individuals can be infected by the group psyche, which can become like a wild animal. The journey to find truth is for those brave enough to question others who portend to know the unknowable Source.
The journey begins with being plunged into the depths of your personal unconscious, sorting through the origins of your patterns of thinking, behaving, assumptions, beliefs, finding ancestral and generational wounds, and assigning meaning to past experiences which your mind has only sought to confirm and affirm to protect you. Coming into relationship with what is in your shadow results in capacity to feel compassion for yourself, which then allows you to feel compassion for others around you that have been carrying the burden of your projections.
Now you’re ready to potentially be swept up by archetypal energies that will use your unique experience and suffering to help you fine tune your talents and gifts to share with those who need them. Your self-reflection brings you into connection with your Self, which is the bridge to Source, which wants to create through you in service to humanity, not your ego.
Join the Movement: There Are Millions of Us!
The good news is you’re not alone and there is a framework to help you navigate this powerful journey. There are also guides like Jungian analysts, depth psychology coaches (like me), and other resources. If you’re ready for a deep dive, get Dark Religion and before you dig in, maybe listen to my chat with Vlado.
If you’re a parent of a Generation Z young adult, they need a different kind of parental support than you’re likely providing. Their very existence is a pivot point. Their anxiety, depression, paralysis, and resistance to participating in systems they see as corrupt are invitations for you to understand their inner world, which contains the seeds of bringing new consciousness into the world. They are deeply in touch with the potential destruction of our species and our planet, and people’s annoyance, scolding, and denigrating words mirror back an inner knowing of the role all of us have and continue to play in the human family. Enjoy a chat with my son on Dose of Depth, and read my blog post: What is Generation Z Mirroring Back to Us? You can also listen to me read the post on Dose of Depth.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around what’s happening these days, but my depth psychology lens allows me to see the truth beneath the chaos, that the very real regression in the form of hatred and violence towards others, which is fueled by a warped sense of righteousness found in warped versions of religious doctrine is indeed being countered by a growing movement of self-reflecting individuals.
A single video of one white man arrogantly snuffing the life out of one black man named George Floyd ushered in a new level of consciousness about the undeniable truth of systemic racism.
That moment of truth prompted millions to satisfy their hunger for personal consciousness raising by buying books like Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm (2022, Robin Diangelo). I’m that white progressive the author is talking about. Would I have been ready for the nuance of this book five years earlier? I’m not sure I could have seen then what I know now.
As more and more individuals reflect about the source of their own suffering and potential for evil, they take back projections they unwittingly foisted onto others and begin to claim potentials that they never knew they had. They show up in the world in a new way with a sense of purpose that even they do not fully understand. Eventually all these efforts coalesce and unleash new attitudes out of the collective unconscious.
At the same time, those clinging to ignorance to protect themselves from the suffering that is required to explore their own dark side seek to cover up the truth. But it’s too late, the shift is happening, and everyone is playing their proper role, no matter what that is.
C.G. Jung suggested that the fate of humanity depends upon the self-reflecting individual. I’m taking that to heart as I pursue my new purpose of growing a movement of self-reflecting humans. Join the movement at www.deborahlukovich.com
If you got to the end of this post and were inspired by it, please share it to help me grow a movement of self-reflecting humans. The world depends upon your self-reflection.