Jung in the World Interview: Fundamentalism’s Dark Side. George Didier & Vladislav Šolc

Two Jungian analysts discuss fundamentalism, shadow, and a new way forward. George Didier and Vlado Šolc, authors of the book Dark Religion: Fundamentalism from the Perspective of Jungian Psychology, join Patricia Martin for a conversation about the psychology of religion as a destructive force and why it is important to understand the shadow side of fundamentalism.

  1. What got you interested in this topic? Vlado Solc
  • I grew up in what we would refer to as "communism." I was young and naive and thought that the truth is something so obvious that it is virtually impossible to avoid it. There was a consensus among—I believe—most of us that it was a game of the powerful, who pretended that the King had beautiful clothes on. But when I moved to the US, I realized that this phenomenon, the phenomenon of Dark religion, permeates the whole society, and it does not evade places of the highest politics. During my studies at the institute, I connected Jung’s opus dot with what I saw around me and in me. I had a profound dream (a door in the cave dream).
  • What signaled to you that the collective was ready for a book that explores this topic?
  • Ready or not, here we come. Of course, there have been many writers who took upon the topic of fundamentalism. Marty and Appleby looked under the lid of fundamentalism in their comprehensive study—the fundamentalism project (1991). Karen Armstrong (2001). Chris Hedges (American Fascists, 2008). Jung himself wrote on this topic; it was his take, par excellence, and then Jungians such as Lionel Corbett or Roderick Main. I believe that our contribution is in bringing it home and pointing out that we all can be fundamentalists to a lesser or greater degree. What we call Dark religion is a stage of individuation. It is a matter of reconciliation between symbolic reality and something that we can call consensual reality. There is a thin thread between them, and maybe that is the thread that the world is hanging on, as said by Jung.
  • Tell us how the book defines fundamentalism.
  • We would like to get away from the historical and sociological definition of fundamentalism and rather coin the term DR that speaks to inadequate or unhealthy religious expressions. We can equally call it a “shadow” religion. It is when ego-consciousness creates all kinds of defensive positions. Numinous energies of the Self are broken into many parts and operate unconsciously, serving ego-goals. Phenomenologically there are three factors involved: inflation, the imago dei, and the ego. DR is when the ego is hiding behind God, but actually, it is all just a selfish, self-serving game.
  • You write about the reality of evil. Why is it important for individuals and the collective to come to grips with the shadow side of religion?
  • DR is a defense against full religious experience. Believing in the Great God does not make people great. It is really a deed that ultimately speaks for the religion people stand by. Shadow always harms, always creates consequences. George and I write about our patients who come to therapy to heal the shadow placed on them by their God-loving parents. The shadow of DR is particularly painful because it stands in opposition to God that is supposed to be the greatest.
  • Your book also looks at the positive force that religion can be in a person’s life. Given that Carl Jung was raised in a Christian home and, in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, writes about his upbringing as the son of a Protestant pastor. How would you describe Jung’s stance on the value of religion to the psyche?
  • Jung believes that religions are psychotherapeutic systems of mankind. Religion as a process of consciousness can contain affect and turn into a beautiful experience, but as an unconscious energy, it can be abused in the most horrific way. We can consider religion to be a response to archetypal powers that are universal. Opus contra naturam. So, it is a natural, instinctive response, but as it becomes more conscious, we talk about spirituality.
  • I want to raise the question of goodness. There is a common thread that runs through organized religion that is about doing good, being a good person, being a child of God, and the divine benevolence bestowed upon those who practice their faith. How does dark religion frame the idea of goodness? What happens when the faithful are made aware that they’ve invested their faith in something that also does harm? Does it give license for their followers to do the same? Or does it cause a psychological breach?
  • Goodness is a philosophical concept, and just like the perfect circle, it does not actually exist in reality. It is an ideal to strive for, but it is always a process. There is always a shadow hidden even in the best intentions because the shadow is a twin brother of ideals. We see in our offices children of perfect parents. Individuation is about recovering oneself from the illusion of a false self. The Imago Dei of a perfect God puts a lot of pressure on folks who genuinely seek.
  • Last Easter, I was very conscious of the power of ritual and symbols during Lent, from the ashes on my forehead to the sacrament of reconciliation, to the stations of the cross. The Catholic Church, for all of its epic corruption, did understand the human yearning for ritual and symbols, right down to the sensory signals of incense and beeswax candles. Personally, I get a lot out of that. What’s the benefit of participating in dark religion? How much of the recruitment and participation in dark religion is driven by the need for identity among the followers?
  • To be clear, religion is only “dark” when the ego hides behind it. Symbols can be wells of life and offer numinous transformative energies. If those energies are used by the ego for its purposes, they become dark; if they serve the process of the enlargement of consciousness, they become light. The Catholic Church grew out of the same fertile ground as every other religion. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
  • When it comes to religious institutions these days, corruption of mission and misuse of power are very much in the news. Do religious institutions corrupt themselves first and then become the source of cultural corruption? Or is corruption the milieu, and religion is just in the mix?
  • The need for control goes hand-in-hand with the need for growth. There is a will to power but also the religious function of the psyche. Dark and Light, rational, and irrational are different sides of the same coin. The paradoxical nature of the psyche is thus present in religion; religion is the expression of the psyche. There has always been corruption, but religion seems to be a perfect “object” to hide behind because it is attractive and promises something awesome. Just like money, power, or sex, religion offers deep unconscious yearning that can be, at the same time, a trap.
  • Taking a look at how the tenets of dark religion spread—religious cults, supremacist organizations, and fundamentalist spiritual leaders have taken to the internet to spread their message. It strikes me that we are in a cultural moment when religion is organized and expressed virtually. How will that alter the experience of spirituality? What about the numinous in that realm?
  • Take, for example, conspiracy theories. It is so easy to spread them. They are growing in countless variations. Anonymity together with lies helps them grow on the internet easily, like fungus.

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