The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung
by Richard Noll
New York: Random House, 1997
(334 pages; $25.95, cloth)
reviewed by Richard Kew
Usually I review a book within days of finishing it, but it took nearly a month since reading The Aryan Christ for me to begin getting it into some kind of perspective. Richard Noll, its author, is a psychologist, teaches the history of science at Harvard, and this is his second book about Carl Gustav Jung. If a recent interview with Noll on Mars Hill audio tapes is anything to go by, his delving into the intimacies of Jung’s life has not gone down well with some devout Jungians. It was that interview that piqued my curiosity.
The first time I came across the work of Jung he entranced me. I had already developed a deep animosity toward Freud, but here was a man who seemed to realize that the human psyche was not as earthbound as the Viennese thought it. As I read bits and pieces that Jung had written, something seemed to nag in the background, but I pushed those doubts aside and defended the great man against all comers. He couldn’t be as bad as some of those detractors suggested, I rationalized. Weren’t men like Morton Kelsey and John Sanford, both Episcopal priests, among his most ardent admirers?
Life moved on and other interests pushed Carl Gustav to the periphery of my thinking—that is until I started asking questions about the manner in which secularity has elbowed Christianity to the fringes of our culture, in the process enabling the reentrance of 57 varieties of paganism. The more I read and looked under stones, the more I found the bespectacled Swiss explorer of the human mind in some form. I realized last year that the time had come to revisit the sage of Zurich and see what folks were getting so hept up about.
I finished reading The Aryan Christ while in England with my ailing mother in January. The dark, wet, stormy weather seemed to match the brooding darkness of the book. I came away more fearful of Jung than anything else. The picture I had once had was of a quaint old Swiss scholar, the son of a pastor, and a man who may have had some odd ideas, but who was at heart a seeker after truth and health. Over the years my image of him had become steadily less favorable, but I was hardly ready for the details Noll uncovers.
Let me just say a word about Richard Noll. He is a highly intelligent and articulate man, but I did not have the impression while reading this book that he is a particular friend of Christianity. He seemed neutral to the faith rather than antagonistic, as are so many academics in his particular field. He began by asking some questions about the nearest thing to an autobiography that Jung ever wrote, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Published posthumously, this book purports to be an honest statement about Jung’s life, but as Noll researched an array of background documents, correspondence, case histories, and so forth, he realized that a great deal of unflattering material had been left out.
Jung presented himself in Memories, Dreams, Reflections as a sage and a man of deep, but slightly heterodox, spiritual instincts. Noll concludes that this is a whitewashing, and that “he ranks with the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (fourth century A.D.) as one who significantly undermined orthodox Christianity and restored the polytheism of the Hellenistic world in Western civilization” (page xv). Noll goes on to say, “I realize this is quite an incautious statement, reflecting the hubris of the historian who succumbs to the fantasy of being a demiurge. Nevertheless, I believe that, for a variety of historical and technological factors—modern mass media being the most important—Jung has succeeded where Julian failed.”
The Aryan Christ is his fleshing out of this assertion. The book is not a biography in the accepted sense of that word; rather it provides some background information about Jung’s formation and antecedents before plunging into the development of his spirituality and psychological theory. Perhaps a third of the book profiles women who were profoundly influenced by Jung and his ideas—Carl Gustav appears to have had a mesmerizing effect on large numbers of females. The conclusion one comes away with from these cases (and others that are alluded to) is that far from being more integrated people as a result of their contact with Dr. Jung, the mental health of these individuals was less cohesive than when they began their pilgrimage.
Noll mourns that he did not have access to all the primary documents he would have wished. The Jung family has released none of the materials their famous father left behind, including his “Red Book,” a compendium of words and illustrations in which he explored his inner life, especially his dreams, visions, and discussions with the dead. However, his correspondence with women like Edith Rockefeller McCormick, and the journal entries of herself and her first husband concerning Jung, provide a vivid illustration of the way his mind and soul played against theirs, forming them into his own image.
I had always imagined Jung to be the unexpected genius son of an obscure Swiss Reformed pastor, but in the first chapter of The Aryan Christ I discovered how wrong I was. Carl Gustav came from a long line of German physicians, but these were no mere country doctors, they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Goethe and the father of liberal Protestantism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Their nineteenth-century journey took the Jungs from Prussia and Roman Catholicism to Switzerland and Protestantism. Via Paris they ended up in the Alps, influenced, it seems, by everything from pietism to the nascent romantic movement and even freemasonry.
When a medical student, young Carl dabbled in the occult in the parsonage where he grew up, even as his father, the Reverend Paul Jung, lay dying upstairs. From there he went into psychiatry in Germany, where he became friend and disciple of Sigmund Freud. By 1912 that relationship had soured, and Jung in that year abandoned all pretense of Christian belief, although he publicly used the language of Christianity and science to shield what was happening internally. He threw himself into the study of paganism, Gnosticism, and even a deep fascination with sun worship and the ancient Mithras cult. He had his own familiar spirit named Philemon (no relation to the New Testament figure to whom Paul wrote), and developed a covert lifestyle with a strong polygamistic flavor. Noll comments dryly, “Emma Jung did not choose polygamy freely. The situation was presented to her by her husband. At best, she freely chose to adapt to it” (page 96).
During the period of the First World War Jung went through a nightmarish rearrangement of his inner “furniture.” “Wild visions from within and the hurtful attacks from without began to take their toll. He kept a loaded pistol next to his bed and vowed to blow his brains out if he ever felt he had entirely lost his sanity” (page 151). Yet, with the help of his paramour, Toni Wolff, he emerged from this wilderness with an entirely different understanding of the inner world, and the conviction that the integration of human personality could only take place if it joyfully rooted itself in the collective unconscious. Thus it was that he plunged into ancient religions, Aryan beliefs, and the puzzling thought world of the Teutonic peoples from whom he and all Germanics had sprung.
Noll suggests that Jung had Messianic delusions, and that he, at least for a time, considered himself as something of an Aryan Christ offering psychic salvation to his disciples and patients. “Jung considered himself a heresiarch of the first order, a redeemer who offered redemption to others so that they, too, could be involved in the grand work of bringing to life the new god that was trapped within everyone, waiting to be released” (page 251).
There are too many facets of Jung’s development to outline in a short piece like this. But it is clear he plugged into the dark spiritual currents of his age, tidal flows that threw onto the beach of the twentieth century such monstrosities as Nazism, its glorification of the German Volk, and anti-Semitism. (Although I hasten to add that Jung was not a National Socialist). He blamed Christianity, a “foreign growth,” for felling the gods of the Germans, and as a result “the Germanic man is still suffering from this mutilation. We must dig down to the primitive in us, for only out of the conflict between civilized man and the Germanic barbarian will there come what we need: a new experience of God” (page 264).
A female disciple of Jung for forty years wrote of him that he “behaved as if his psychology was another religion,” and no one coming away from this book could believe otherwise. Neither was Carl Gustav the man of principle that most would have hoped. There is undeniable evidence of both intellectual and academic dishonesty on Jung’s part, as well as sexual involvement with his clients. He was an overpowering and coercive figure, utterly prepared to use people to advance his cause, more than helping them when they came seeking healing—the way he got his fingers into the pockets of the McCormicks and Rockefellers is an example of this. History and facts were of limited importance to him; he seemed not to want to be “bogged down” by them.
Where does this leave us? Jung has had a profound influence on a broad band of religious and spiritual thinking in today’s world. Jungian thinking has certainly affected our own Church, and as I have pointed out already, noted Episcopalians have functioned as counselors in the Jungian tradition. I know countless priests who have become fascinated by the teachings of Jung, and have attempted to integrate them with the gospel.
But if what Noll says is even half true, then in company with Carl Gustav Jung we have slid down a deadly trough into syncretism. One observer has commented, “It is no exaggeration to say that the theological positions of most mainstream denominations—in their approach to pastoral care as in their doctrines and liturgy—have become more or less identical with Jung’s psychological/symbolic theology.” Meanwhile, Noll quotes various examples that suggest Jung is at least one of the midwives of the new age, while providing a veneer of respectability to occultism in sundry forms.
Perhaps we have reached this impasse because of naïveté among Christians on both the left and the right of the spectrum.
Those on the left have tended to take on board any ideas that attract them, regardless of the way they measure up to the faith as spelled out in the Creeds and Scriptures. Weakening the churches may have been furthest from the minds of those who pushed in this direction, but there is a pervasive law of unintended consequences. Noll writes, “For the first sixty years of his life—the period of his ‘secret life’ largely lost to history—Jung was openly hostile to Judeo-Christian orthodoxies, particularly Judaism and Roman Catholicism. Contemporaneously, the patriarchal monotheism of the orthodox Judeo-Christian faiths has all but collapsed. Filling that void, however, we increasingly find Protestants, Catholics, and Jews adopting alternative, syncretistic belief systems that often belie a basis in Jungian ‘psychological’ theories” (page xv).
Those on the right have been simple-minded and unwilling to do the hard intellectual work required. What I call the I-Wanna-Be-A-Baby-For-Jesus syndrome reaches far beyond aging Christians mindlessly swaying to tired renewal music. The style of conservative Christianity is too often akin to a title I saw at the Christian Booksellers Expo in Nashville just recently: The Bible Made Easy. From the pastor’s study to the pew, few people are doing the intellectual footwork necessary to understand how the ideas of a Jung can so hollow out the churches. These Christians do not take the mind seriously, and their theological reflection is surface-deep; ultimately, the touchstone seems to be a positive answer to the question, “Does it work?”
Even if Noll is only half right, and I doubt whether he would have been attacked by Jungians as ferociously as he has if he were only half right, he has a lot to tell us. We need to be attentive, because Jung crept under the wire when we believed Western thought and Christendom were coterminous. Alas, both on right and left, some of us still function as if this were the case.
Of related interest: “The Swiss Maharishi: Carl Jung” by Philip G. Davis was published in the Spring 1996 issue of Touchstone.
The Reverend Richard Kew is Director of the newly formed Anglican Forum for the Future and also serves as an honorary associate priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He speaks widely, especially in the United States, Canada, Britain, and Russia. English-born, he has ministered in the United States since 1976, helping to found the South American Missionary Society and the American Anglican Council. He coauthored New Millennium, New Church and Toward 2015: A Church Odyssey. He writes for a number of periodicals and moderates Toward2015, an interactive on-line forum and magazine about ministry and the future. He is married and has two grown daughters.
Not a subscriber? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of content!
Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!
Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access for only $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
*Transactions will be processed on the secure server of The Fellowship of St. James website, the publisher of Touchstone.
from the touchstone online archives