|God as Trauma|
|Written by Brewster Y. Beach|
| Monday, 06
The problem of crucifixion is the beginning of individuation: there is the secret meaning of the Christian symbolism, a path of blood and suffering, like any other step forward on the road of the evolution of human consciousness. Can man stand a further increase in consciousness? Is it really worthwhile that man should progress morally and intellectually? Is that gain worth the candle? That is the question.
A Talk Given by Brewster Y.
Humans As Victims Of What We Call "God," But Who, By The Transformation
Of Ourselves,Become The Agents Of God's Transformation:
The material which I have prepared, if not caused, was surely activated greatly by the events of 9/11. At their core those events have shocked us by their horror and by their proximity to our daily lives as Americans, leaving us with persistent and profound anxieties. But certainly they have as well reminded us that the whole of human life, from its very beginnings, has been lived to a large extent in fear and anxiety and untold suffering at the hands one kind of fatal event or another plagues, floods, earthquakes, fire; not to mention those fatal events caused by human beings murder, rape, pillage, child abuse, car, plane, rail and boat accidents and of course planned terrorism. Yes, oh yes, thankfully, there are caring and sacrificing love and all manner of beauty among humans as well, and we will not forget those...but these fatefulnesses of life are my focus of attention for now.
We call them "fateful" because, unlike ordinary accidents of this kind or another, these things seem so unexpected and undeserved, fall upon us with such overpowering weight, and leave us so desolate and devastated, leave us traumatized . That's the word for it, from the Greek word for to wound , the wounds being less physical than emotional, covering a vast range of profound feeling - terror, helplessness, confusion, guilt, inability to cope and much, much more. It's a frightening phenomenon which the news reminds us of daily, in gruesome detail, right down to this very day!
The stark realities we traditionally call acts of Fate have always been uneasily associated with the actions of God. In the face of the stark realities of the traumas laid on us humans (and of course on the whole of creation in one way or another as well) the ancient question and cry goes out: "How can we reconcile a benevolent God with the evil that is wreaked on all life?" Where was God in all this? Why didn't He do something to stop it? Can God be trusted?" And most shocking of all, the appalling possibility that God Himself has an evil side and so is somehow involved in these horrible things. The Church Fathers hastened to get around this by splitting the dark side into a separate entity which they called Satan, but early on many theologians chose to hold these opposites in tension, affirming that God has indeed a light and a dark side.
Yet such a tension of opposities has, then and now, so offended philosophers and theologians, certainly those in the Christian tradition, that they composed all manner of circuitous arguments to reconcile the awfulness of fatalities with the notion of a loving God. Such attempts are formally called "theodicy": coming from the words theos god, and dicta, words, meaning "the attempt to find the right words which will vindicate divine justice in the face of the universal existence of evil".
The orthodox Christian theodicy is simply that out of all evil God will bring eternal good. A more secular version of this is the saying we still hear these days, "Well, I'm a great believer that most things are ultimately for the best." The atheist theodicy, on the other hand, comes to an opposite conclusion: God and Evil are incompatible, Evil clearly exists, thus, there is no God! The Book of Job is a classic theodicy, in which God's unbelievable treatment of Job is justified by God's powerfulness, a conclusion which many of you know Jung deeply questions in his Answer to Job , and which playwright Archibald Mac Leish underlines in his remarkable play about Job, "JB", with this couplet: "If God is good, he is not God. If God is God he is not good. Take the even, take the odd." Which is to say, "If God is good then he is surely not all-powerful for he allows all that evil to happen. But if God is that all-powerful then surely he is not good, else he would not have allowed all those dreadful things to happen to his people." A double bind for sure.
Then there are folk responses to the fateful things which befall us which emphasize resignation to the sheer is-ness of those things rather than any real explanation, thus giving these responses a certain cynicism. The Japanese, for example, say, "Shikatganai", which means "It can't be helped", and the Muslim cry, "Inshallah", "It is God's will." And of course there is the all-to-familiar American response, the stark "Shit happens!"
I found this conversation between a daughter and her father in a novel:
I know that some of you were able to watch PBS's Frontline TVprogram several weeks ago titled "Faith and Doubt". It was about 9/11 of course, and remarkably well done, we thought. Hear some of the voices, wrestling, wrestling with how all this could be:
"I couldn't believe that this God that I'd talked to in my own way for 35 years turned this loving man into bones, and now I can't bring myself to speak to him anymore because I feel so abandoned."
"I never questioned why God didn't intervene. I often ask why he picked my 23- year-old daughter, but I have come to the conclusion that God knew something I didn't know I felt god knew best that when he takes someone he knows better than we do."
"I can't see the purpose why all these people had to die I knew close to 30 people who died at the Word Trade And I had to come down to the beachfront just to let loose, and it was brutal. I let loose at God. I fired all my barrels at him. I cursed him. I damned him it was too barbaric, the way the lives were taken. So I look at him now as a barbarian I think I'm a good Christian but I have a different image of him now...I can't replace the old image."
People keep asking me, "Where was God?" and they think because I'm a rabbi, I have answers. I actually think my job is to help them live with those questions. If God's ways are mysterious, live with the mystery. It's upsetting. It's scary. It's painful. It's deep. And it's interesting."
"I have to tell you that the twin towers is a lot more acceptable fact because you don't hate your God for having allowed that, because you know that it's nothing to do with God, in the way I believed before."
And from our own Ann Ulanov, a Jungian Analyst: "Evil is a mysterious force. How else could one fly a whole plane full of people into a building where thousands of people are working?...How could you do that? You'd have to go against every instinct So I believe in evil...It's like an undertow of the ocean a force that invites you to join it. As our feet are being pulled out from under you get caught in that. The personal explanation is not enough. Even the psychological explanation the archetypal pattern of energy unconscious instincts of hate and cannibalism even that isn't enough It's as if one has a spell cast on one...It's a power that catches you, and you are not enough by yourself to defeat it."
And the cries and struggles to come to term with the kind of world we live in continues.
O.K.! That's for introduction.
WE HUMANS AS VICTIMS OF WHAT WE CALL "GOD": JUNG'S UNDERSTANDING OF "GOD" HAVING TO DO WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF FATEFULNESSES AND TRAUMA
Now! If the events of 9/11 were the immediate impetus for what I have prepared for our gathering, the content of what I have prepared is an exploration of the meanings of these words of Dr. Jung's:
They came originally from a letter Dr. Jung wrote in December 1959, two years before his death, to a man described only as "M. Leonard", an Englishman located in King's College, England. Listen to them again:
When I first read them they just blew my mind away and they continue to do so. Certainly they fly in the face of almost all we have been taught as Christians from year one that God is love and love alone. These words are so rich in meaning that I want to subject each part of the quotation to our scrutiny and discussion.
All right, we start with the word "God" "To this day "God" " . One thing is sure, throughout his writings Jung invariably uses the word God to describe immediate experiences and never some Being in the sky or an entity. He all but cries out:
And then he gets shockingly specific:
And in the same letter from which our quote comes Jung wrote these words. Having acknowledged that he is, quote, "obviously confronted with a factor unknown in itself, which I call God", he then says:
And then these revealing words:
So, there it is! The key to understanding what Jung meant by God. He is not talking about a metaphysical being in whose existence we believe. No! He is talking about the powerful emotive states which are present in our created nature, deep in the unconscious depths of us human beings, over the control of which we are at best only partially capable, and then not without considerable inner work. This, I propose, is the existential connection between human experience and what we have traditionally called "God" that marks Jung's quite drastic re-imagining of God. In the course of my preparations of this talk, I discovered a book, by a Canadian Jungian Analyst named Greg Mogenson, which is titled starkly God Is A Trauma. I couldn't believe it, but there it was! Listen to what Mogensen says right at the beginning:
"We experience traumatic events as if they were in some sense divine." So however shocking and irrational and the rest, this is the way the human psyche responds. "We experience traumatic events as if they were in some sense divine." I find that most important. Evidently since the traumas of fatalities transcend our capacity to experience them directly, our psychological response is to conclude that at some deep level, in spite of all the contradictions, our gut response relates them to the influence of the Divine notwithstanding other more rational evidence or ways of explanation. And regarding that, Mogenson writes "The psyche is irrational. It constantly makes distinctions and ellipses which philosophy and theology would judge to be mistaken. But these identifications are the facts of the psyche, regardless of their value to other disciplines". (ft nt 2, p. 1)
To continue. This "God" is experienced in all those "things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly". What "things" we ask? There are of course the natural phenomena of life earthquakes, tornados, floods, fire all sheer acts of fate, phenomena which we humans do not basically cause, "though how we treat our fragile eco-systems has some effect on activating them.
But to Jung, "God" is as well experienced in the trauma which those things produce in us, in "all the overpowering emotions which subdue my conscious will and usurp control over myself".
And there is a third set of "things" in which God is involved in the all too familiar human actions with which we are daily being confronted terrorism, child abduction, rape, murder, and of course all manner of drink-and-drug-induced accidents and their traumatic consequences, which, don't forget, the perpetrators as well as their victims experience.
And now a most important and difficult distinction: where do these roiling emotions come from? When we become angry or fearful or frantic and the rest, our tendency is to blame ourselves, as if somehow we create these emotional reactions. Jung's thinking is clearly otherwise, namely, that those emotions are at base givens and as such can be attributed to "God" Himself. "Man's suffering does not derive from his sins but from the maker of his imperfection, the paradoxical God", says Dr. Jung. (CW 18 por.168)
This used to be a shocking idea for me, yet when I began work on this material I recalled an incident at Virginia Seminary in which my theology professor, Dr. Cliff Stanley, fifty years ago, passionately cried out in a lecture, "My friends, God is acting in the hand of the murderer as he plunges a knife into his victim's body!" I didn't understand at all what that meant then, but I never forgot it. But what I conclude now is that Dr. Stanley meant is exactly what Jung is saying the capacity for murderousness, for example, is a given in human experience, and as such an act of "God".
Lyall Watson, a biologist and naturalist, adds support to this notion by grounding these violent emotionst in our very genes. He says:
The poker metaphor helps, too, namely, that it is as if each of us is dealt a hand of cards which we cannot change, and we surely don't blame ourselves for having been dealt that hand. So, all we can, and must, do is play our hand as well as possible. The full range of our emotional responses and behaviors are givens in us; what we do with them are our responsibility.
God is the name by which I designate all things. . .WHICH CROSS MY WILLFUL PATH VIOLENTLY AND RECKLESSLY
We've described the "things" to which Jung is referring; what, then, do we make of the impact on us of those things "which cross my willful path violently and recklessly"? The main feature of the traumatic events which can at any moment befall us is their very violence and recklessness, both in what actually happens but even more in their emotional impact. And to make it worse, this archetypal violence and recklessness runs straight into our own willfulness, provoking a mutual reaction. As Jung says in Answer:
I can identify with that, can't you? When my "subjective views, plans and intentions" are threatened by the overpowering action of one fatefulness or another which crosses my path violently and recklessly, I cry out, inwardly at least, "How dare You give me cancer and wreck all my plans and intentions? "How dare You allow that car accident to kill my beloved daughter? It's not fair, it frightens me, and it tangles my whole life up. Or, more immediately, "how dare You allow those terrorists to bring that devastation down on us? Or, even, "Why couldn't You have stopped it from happening? In both instances our willful paths are continually crossed by one trauma or another, and we're left to our own devices. And more often than not, we are left just devastated.
When I was a student at The Virginia Seminary, an unforgettable experience happened to me. I wandered one morning into the chapel, and from the back I noticed a classmate, Bob Coleman, kneeling at the altar rail and in a paroxysm of desperate fury he kept crying, again and again, "God, damn you! God, damn you! God, damn you! Of course I immediately retired, and never mentioned the incident, but I often wondered what possibly could have provoked such deep and angry and desperate emotions in him. My conclusion now is that in one way or the other "God" was his problem, and it was to that "God" that he addressed himself. A further mystery in all this, but I suppose a clue too, is that after two years of fruitful work in a parish of Japanese people, Bob was sent home for intensive psychotherapy, and one day hung himself!!
On the wider mythical level, there's the figure of Job himself which so preoccupied Jung over the years. I've often identified with him in his despair and anger at Yahweh for the violent and reckless treatment Job received at his hands and is courage in standing up to Him.. Listen to Job's words: "He crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause; he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless he would prove me perverse...If I wash myself with snow, and cleanse my hands with lye, yet thou wilt plunge me into a pit, and my own clothes will abhor me I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death he mocks at the calamity of the innocent".
Then there are Jung's words about Job in his own mythic work Answer to Job. His introductory words bespeak the extent to which Jung was almost beset by the Job story. First he tells us that what he is going to say is not "a cool and carefully considered exegesis that tries to be fair in every detain, but a purely subjective reaction (which he hopes) "will act as a voice for many who feel the same way as I do, and to give expression to the shattering emotion which the unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness produces in us." And then he says,
Puts me in mind of Theresa of Avila's words addressed to God: "If You treat others the way you treat me, it's no wonder You have so few friends."
I suppose the most shocking way one could put all this contemporaneously would be to say, "Look what God did on 9/11 God in 19 of his human beings were acting out of their God-given natures", (as were, of course. those who were their victims and the victims survivors). It's a dreadful thing to say in that way, but it is c ertainly makes vivid what Jung means about this dark side of what he calls "God". Of course that doesn't free those perpetrators from responsibility; it just locates that responsibility farther down the road, so to speak. What putting it that way does, however, is to not blindly brand them as pure evil, but allows for the possibility that under certain circumstances we too might act that way as well. Mei Lai certainly demonstrated that.
. . . WHICH UPSET MY SUBJECTIVE VIEWS, PLANS AND INTENTIONS AND CHANGES MY LIFE FOR BETTER . . .
The consequences of God's crossing our willful paths violently and recklessly are that almost all our "subjective views, plans and intentions" are knocked galley west. When the fates of God befall us all the goals towards which we were moving, the joys of friendship and love and good health and prosperity we enjoyed, everything is turned upside down, inside and out. We are usually just prostrated by such occurrences, sometimes for a very long time. Yet, somehow it is given to us to begin to take our lives up again, in however changed a fashion. Jung would call that "givenness" the working of a capacity in us which he called the transcendent function, a capacity originating in our depths which enables us to transcend our present states. I suspect each one of us here has more than one story to tell of such a nature.
One such instance comes to me from a conversation with the grandfather of a hopelessly brain-damaged grandson, Preston. He told me how horrified they all were initially about this child, particularly since the father of the child would not marry their daughter and knowing its damage beforehand from sonic tests, the mother of the child could have had an abortion. Yet when push came to pull the mother would not hear of it, and now, a year later, this child, all but brain dead, has trans-formed the whole family, especially the grandfather. With tears in his eyes he said, "I'm an agnostic. I don't know what I believe, but in spite of my initial hope that the child would be aborted, and then when born, would die soon, all I can tell you, Brewster, is that that child has brought a joy and a love into my life that just overwhelms me."
"Shit happens", yes, indeed, but there's no telling what wonders can come from it, given one's ultimate attitude. That's the key, of course: our attitude toward what crosses our paths makes all the difference, and not only to us but to "God". And I must say that my most recent re-imagining of my image of God is that the capacity of us humans to transcend all that seeks to overwhelm us, from within and without, is a large part of what "God" is for me.
Then, finally, there are those lives are changed by what crosses their willful paths violently and recklessly for the Worse! That is, they are just unable to recover from the trauma which has swept over them. There are of course many factors involved in such a worsening, but one thing we know is that the traumas which fatefulness activate in us can so consume us with anger and despair and hopelessness that our egos just won't move aside, can't move aside. And we may become overwhelmed by it all and just give up. We all know people who have fallen into that state suicide, yes, drink, yes, but perhaps almost worse, collapse and withdrawal.
One's attitude toward people in such situations then becomes one of resignation, and we thing, and sometimes say it just isn't going to work this time around for them if we have another shot at life on this planet as the reincarnationists say, then that's what's going to have to happen. There's no blame, but there is a great sadness to it all.
And a propos of this, Jung says this:
. All right! We've finished the "lining" of Jung's words:
"God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans, and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse."
And to summarize:
For Jung the word "God" refers not to an external force or being, but to those events which are seemingly unbidden and thus "fateful:" and those violent and reckless emotions which are capable of upsetting our views, plans and intentions in all kinds of ways, and, 12 indeed, have the capacity to change the course of our lives drastically, sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse, depending on how we respond.
WHO BY THE TRANSFORMATION OF OURSELVES BECOME AGENTS OF GOD'S TRANSFORMATION
"Depending on how we respond". That's the key to the whole matter as Jung saw it: we human beings are the key to the transformation of the dark traumatic powers of God as Self and to the activation of Its light forces as well. Looked at in this sense, what I'm talking about, (and more importantly what I hope Jung is talking about!) is not the transformation of an external "God" figure up there, but a change in the stuff of human nature itself, which if it were possible would in turn amount to a transformation of God as well! How is that for an undertaking?
In Jung's language, the stuff of human nature consists of archetypes whose images give rise in us to the whole range of feeling, thought and action. Archetypes are, he said somewhere, the images of genes, so basic are they. So what we're talking about is a ground change in our human nature, affecting our genetic structure as well, and thus a very long evolutionary development.
But such changes are possible because they have always resided in our deep unconscious depths waiting to be recognized and realized. The dark and the light forces reside in us, often hidden deep in our unconscious depths, waiting for some of us at least to confront the dark forces and activate the light ones. I find such a notion particularly fascinating.
Yet what Jung is particularly talking about is a change in those archetypal impulses which give rise to violence and hatred in us and inflict vast trauma on a great scale, and, those impulses which are capable of countering those violent impulses loving kindness, insight and creative power, for example. Is it possible, Jung asks again and again, that humankind can find ways to transform those darkest impulses in such ways? And his answer is a ringing "Yes", and not just any time, but particularly now, in our time, when we are faced with the greatest evils possible and thus are ripe for transformation.
Let Jung speak some here. In Answer he says:
And then he says this:
There is no better way to end this section than to hear Dr. Jung in his letter to Elined Kotschnig, a Jungian analyst of an older generation, a letter which Dr. Edinger describes as "perhaps the single most explicit description of Jung's vision of the evolving Godimage and of the human ego's relation to it". Listen:
So, friends, it would seem that in a profound sense it is up to us human beings, of all things, in a mighty way! Yet not just any human being, but only those who, as he puts it, "can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have played into his hands... he can make no progress with himself unless he becomes very much better acquainted with his own nature. (CW 11, para 746)
I want to end with two words from Dr. Jung first from his lectures on Nietzsche's Zarasthustra, which speak eloquently to me and I hope to you.
And, I would add of the transformation of our world as well!
The second word of Dr. Jung comes from an unpublished letter which he wrote toward the end of his life. Listen:
© Brewster Beach 2002.