Jungian analysts Vlado Solc and George J. Didier set out to explore the psychological dynamics and causes of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. The book offers an in-depth psychological analysis of what happens when a person becomes possessed by the unconscious energies of the self. Dark Religion also reveals that spirituality is an inherent dimension of human life and one of its most essential needs. It only becomes "dark" when it denies, ignores, or separates itself from its vital roots. The authors coin the term "dark religion" to describe all forms of fanatical, radical, and extreme religions. Their study shows how dark religion leads to profound conflicts on both the personal and cultural level—including terrorism and wars. The book surveys the vast contemporary cultural and religious landscapes, all the while discovering the emergent forms of spiritual praxis in light of postmodernism and the rise of fundamentalism in the new millennium.
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.
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 the void left as traditional religious traditions are unable to remain relevant to more and more people is being aggressively filled by fundamentalist and radical forms of religion that effectively calm the real fears of many.
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.
Ep. #87 A Jungian Perspective on Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, and Addiction with Vlado Šolc
In this episode, Vlado and Shane explore a Jungian perspective on a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and trauma. They discuss how Jungian Analysis facilitates the process of recovery, healing, and individuation.
Individuation is a psychological process of development through which an individual becomes a unique, self-aware and autonomous person. It was first described by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst, who saw it as a central aspect of the human experience.
Individuation involves the differentiation of the individual from the collective unconscious and the development of a sense of individuality, which includes the integration of conscious and unconscious aspects of the self into a coherent whole. This process can involve the exploration of one’s personal beliefs, values, desires, and fears, as well as the resolution of conflicts between these aspects of the self.
Individuation can be a lifelong process and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including cultural and societal influences, past experiences, and personal growth. It is often seen as a key aspect of personal growth and self-discovery, and can lead to greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a deeper understanding of one’s place in the world.
Conspiracy theories have been gradually occupying larger domains of cultural and political life. This presentation will take a symbolic perspective and offer a non-dismissive understanding of the reasons for strong adherence to conspiracy theories. Solc uses the term “dark religion” to describe all forms of fanatical, radical and extreme religions. His research shows how dark religion leads to profound conflicts on both the personal and cultural level—including terrorism and wars. surveys the vast contemporary cultural and religious landscapes. In this program he will discuss different psychological phenomena and dynamics underlying religious extremism and fundamentalism; show how the Self influences the way one holds onto a radical creed; introduce some mythological and clinical parallels, and explore our own feelings when confronted with Dark religion.
Vlado Šolc is a psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst practicing in Glendale, WI. Vlado received training from C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and Charles University in Prague. Vlado is an active member of IAAP and Aurora Medical Group. Vlado focuses on psycho-spiritual crisis (loss of life’s meaning and direction), mind-body connection (psychosomatic issues), immigration & cultural issues, and women empowerment (emancipation). His specialties also include treatment of addictions, individual and marital psychotherapy with adult, and youth populations. Vlado lives in constant awe about the miracle of existence. Vlado has presented in North America, Asia and Europe. He is an author of numerous articles and depth psychology-oriented books: Psyche, Matrix, Reality; The Father Archetype, In the Name of God – Fanaticism from Perspective of Depth Psychology, Dark Religion, Individuation and Democracy in the Time of Conspiracy Theories.
Participants will learn:
The psychological phenomena and dynamics underlying dark religion and conspiracism.
The definition of the ego and the Self as used in Jungian theory.
How the Self, namely non-credible representations of numinous energies, influences the way ego holds onto the dark religion & conspiracy theories.
What constitutes that adherence to be considered excessive, unhealthy.
The mythological and clinical parallels of the phenomena.
How to identify the difference between spirituality and Dark religion.
Where conspiracism and creed overlap.
The basic idea of numinosum in Jungian psychology.
The phenomena of identification, inflation, possession, and split-off.
All along, you’ve been learning about Jung’s theory of individuation, which is the framework for exploring your unconscious. I didn’t start using that exact term until my last interview with Dr. Joli Hamilton. That episode is number 48 and titled, Staying Committed to Self When You’re in Relationship. It was a fun conversation about individuation not only being an individual experience, but individuation of a relationship too.
So today, we’re going to go deeper into Jung’s theory of individuation in a way that you’ll be able to relate to and will enhance your practice of self-reflection.
In this episode, Shane and Vlado discuss the psychology behind conspiracism, fundamentalism, and mythologies. Using a Jungian framework, they examine how and why conspiracy theories become powerful psychological tools. Other topics include the religious instinct, the unconscious, morality, individuation, purpose, meaning, and psychological defense mechanisms.
To understand the profound rise in conspiracy theories in recent times, Vlado explores how conspiracies function as an unconscious protective mechanism against the inferiority of consciousness and subsequently also inflates the ego. Conspiracy theory adoption is archetypal in nature and parallels mythological structures. The strong resistance of conspiracism to rational correction can be understood by examining how the “Inadequate and noncredible representations of numinous energies in consciousness unwittingly contribute to the creation of structures with notable mythological parallels” (Šolc, 2019).
“Thinking is free from the unconscious influence of the Self only to the extent that it is able to recognize and to relate to numinous contents, on one hand, and to withdraw projections from the object, on the other. A symbolic perspective offers a nondismissive understanding of the reasons for strong adherence to conspiracy theories. Exploring conspiracy theories as symbols rather than rational constructs offers more fruitful solutions to our current social problems.” (Šolc, 2019)
Conspiracy Theories and Unconscious Suffering: An interview with Jungian Analyst Vladislav Šolc
“I try to approach them the Jungian way – with understanding and love. I try to involve them in a dialogue but also to listen. Attempting to convince someone about the opposite only increases mutual resistance.”
Bizarre conspiracy theories, but also fundamentalist religions are found in history of humanity from times immemorial. Many different fields strive to understand those phenomena better. One of them is psychology. Jungian analyst VLADO ŠOLC examines them from the perspective of depth psychology.
How did you become interested in conspiracy theories?
Basically, through Jung. When I studied at the Jungian Institute in Chicago with George Didier, a colleague of mine, we researched fundamentalist forms of religion. Then we discovered various interesting parallels between those aspects of religiosity and conspiracy theories.
What are those similarities?
They manifest through archetypal patterns. These are for example demonization of natural events, the fight between good and evil, solutions to big cosmological questions, grandiose heroic fantasies, promise of salvation or redemption. Or a belief that a politician is a chosen saviour. Take for example QAnon’s conspiracy theory that claims that a powerful pedophile [democrats] satanists bleed children and extract from them adrenochrome, a substance that assures immortality. It is an ancient idea of the elixir of life. You see they perhaps envy that democrats have access to this divine privilege while they suffer and have so much anger. Conspiratorialists believe that Hollywood celebrities, influential philanthropists or billionaires are part of this cult. Well, a person who is going to bring an end to this is Donald Trump. During the final judgment day that Q called a storm all of them will be brought to justice and America restored to its lost greatness. Note the parallel with the apocalypse (Biblical revelation). The QAnon movement compounds too many parallels with the cult.
What role does the Dark Religion play here?
We can see it in the mode of how people approach such “theories”. We speak of archetypal fantasies. The main attributes are rigidity, literal and concrete thinking – remarkable lack of symbolic comprehension. Ego thus adheres to those contents through fascination and almost unshakable “faith.” Authorities and teachings are idolized and deified. They are elevated to the realm of gods. Then there is no questioning them as they hold the “truth.” Take for example the Flat Earth theory; its followers close their minds to any evidence or critical reasoning. They do not want to have their beliefs questioned. The truth is not as important to them as the benefits they receive from their theory. It’s a matter of immediate gratification. All investments would have to be replaced by higher value to be abandoned. They do not see it at the moment. All criticism is thus rendered as scam and manipulation. Here’s a strong similarity with fundamentalist creed that we termed Dark Religion, or theocalypsis.
What was your way of understanding those phenomena?
Our approach was a priori Jungian. We recognize and study the role the unconscious plays when it comes to human behavior, including feelings and cognition. We were concerned especially with unprocessed emotional contents that are consequently projected onto the outside world where they are perceived as images and form mythical stories. Such images often find archetypal expressions precisely in what we call conspiracy theories. To their followers they serve as containers for holding disturbing, unprocessed negative emotions; those can be now under certain control in the mind of a conspiratorialist. Conspiracy theories allow for the creation of superiority feelings and help relieve anxiety and the like. Conspiratorialists consider themselves a special, strong persons capable of accepting the “dark truth” of a given conspiracy. In their own eyes of course, they stand on the side of good; they are heroes of their own myth.
How can contents of personal unconscious lead to adherence to conspiracy theories?
Self-Reflection in a Time of Conspiracy Theories: A Conversation with Vlado Solc, Jungian Analyst & Author of Dark Religion: Fundamentalism From the Perspective of Jungian Psychology
Enjoy my chat with Vlado Solc about what's beneath the surface of fundamentalism and conspiracy theories. He is the author of (written in partnership with George Didier). Dark Religion: Fundamentalism from the Perspective of Jungian Psychology.
Dark Religion: The Psychological Roots of Fundamentalism and Conspiracism
Conspiracy theories have been gradually occupying larger domains of cultural and political life. Conspiracism seems to replace or supplement fundamentalist religious beliefs while it supplies material that is in turn used for endorsing political and ideological agenda.
This presentation will take a symbolic perspective and offers a non-dismissive understanding of the reasons for strong adherence to conspiracy theories. Approaching conspiracy theories as symbols rather than rational constructs offers more fruitful solutions to given problem than put forward by traditional psychological schools.
Is global warming a hoax? Is Earth actually flat? Is the CIA responsible for the attack on the WTC in New York? What is Quanon? Why do many adhere vigorously to conspiracy theories? The rise of irrational beliefs, fake news, alternative facts, and conspiracy theories, along with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and propaganda of governments calls for a no-holds-barred depth psychological exploration. This course will examine depth-psychological phenomena and dynamics of dark religions and their connection to conspiracism.
Three Ways of Why
“I no longer seek the cause of a neurosis in the past, but in the present. I ask, what is the necessary task which the patient will not accomplish?”
Jung, CW 4, par. 570
Precise questioning is conditio sine qua non of successful analysis. When asking questions, the analyst not only asks the client, but also poses questions to his or her own self. While communicating with the client, the analyst “looks” inside, and there, asks questions and “listens” for answers. The analyst not only actively searches in his memory, where he/she seeks understanding, but also observes feelings, images and ideas that passively arise from unconscious. The analyst’s psyche mirrors and at the same time complements missing links of the complex life situation of analysand and also his/hers own. The analyst not only helps the patient to find a new, “broader” meaning of his problem, but also enters the field in which both could undertake transformation.
The analysis is a creative team-work. In a way it is a maieutic, Socratic method of dialogue with the difference that the objective of analysis is to ask questions in such a way so they contribute to the revelation of a fuller life story, i.e. self-knowledge. The aim is not to achieve some kind of logical truth, but rather a new attitude; the greater degree of freedom that includes the acceptance of painful also-truths. The so-called behavioral therapies basically focus on the patient’s conscious intentions and analyze whether these intentions are in conflict with the demands of the given reality. In Jungian analysis there is a third variable that enters the healing process, and that is unconscious. The unconscious has its own intelligence: it can have its own will, its own intentions and secrets, or even an “opinions,” which could often be at odds with the opinions of the ego. It is the “Other” that we also dialogue with during the process of analysis.
Conscious and unconscious
Let’s ponder for a moment on the paradoxical relationship between conscious and unconscious. Conscious, just like the unconscious, has no “substance” that we can quantify, measure or localize per se. We can only know about it via our own conscious medium and thus through its own subject. The very fact that the psyche can never be objectified – even though it can be perceived that way during the states of extended consciousness – by definition makes it an unconquerable mystery.