The holiday-season tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut must give any scribe pause. Especially someone writing a blog-diary called "Jesus Thoughts." I began this thread around Halloween, going into the Advent season leading up to Christmas. Now the news is filled with the funerals of little children, and with journalists floating Job's old question, what kind of God permits such evil, such grief?
As it happens, I've started reading another book by Carl Jung, called Aion. I have very mixed feelings about Jung, as noted before - my final personal judgement is still out. He begins this book by arguing that psychology can offer a path by which modern humanity can comprehend certain realities symbolized in traditional Christian faith and ritual - eucharist, heavenly beings, redemption, etc. - which in the course of 20 centuries, he says, have lost their meaning for everyday modern life; we no longer understand them, they do not touch us or help us. Jung is writing around the time of WW 2, when it seemed that all vestiges of "Christian Europe" had been scattered, reversed - and modernity exhibited a truly "anti-christian" spirit (epitomized by totalitarian fanaticism and global violence).
Jung sometimes seems more of a pagan or Gnostic than Christian, but maybe his heart was in the right place. In any case he posits a kind of Gnostic dualism of good and evil at the roots of reality, in which the spirit and doctrine of Christ would inevitably be confronted by its deflected, repressed opposite - absolute evil, the anti-Christ. He sees this as working out historically in the culture of the West. Fundamentally he understands this as a problem of the human psyche : how to acknowledge and integrate the shadow, the dark side, of human nature, into a more complete psychic and ontological wholeness (Jung's "Self")?
I think the fundamental problem I have with all of this is that, in the process of exploring the dark side of the human psyche, Jung reifies spiritual reality within his own architecture of fixed categories (animus, anima, shadow, self, quaternion, mandala, etc.) - resulting in a kind of timeless psychic domain which seems to bear more resemblance to Greek mythology or to alchemy than to the (perhaps more simple) truth of the Gospels.
I'm not ready to deny that there is a dimension of psychological truth in Jung's doctrine. His idea that a basic quaternion - a 4-sided, cruciform geometry, which resolves the 3-sided Trinity by way of a 4th point (the personal, the individual, the singular, the excess, the shadow) - appeals to me, to a certain degree.
But I want something more. I want a wholeness which is not simply a metaphysical or psychological construct "beyond good and evil." I want a wholeness rooted in the fusion of divine and human consciousness : the fusion represented by the formula Jesus, Son of God.
It seems Jung's mistake might be that, in the labor of constructing his intellectual edifice, he loses sight of the primary reality : a divine and benevolent Mind-Person - a Creator-Spirit - from which we have come, and in whom we dwell (as "images" of same). This primary reality is personal and relational : the geometry of such inter-personal affinity, sympathy, and fusion is the very ground of our existence.
One is called into a personal relation with the conscious Source of all goodness - and draws life and truth from this deepening bond. This is the communal "Body of Christ" we share.
So to return to where we began today : how can religion, Christianity, personal "spirituality" respond to, give an answer for, the enormity of evil which just happened in Connecticut? Jung tries to re-interpret religious symbols from 2000 years ago in order to re-imagine their relevance. But after immersing myself in John Meier's reconstruction of the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew (see previous posts), I want to try to imagine the reverse : not "how do we interpret Jesus for today?", but rather : "how would Jesus respond to the Newtown tragedy?"
Obviously, neither I nor anyone else can "imagine" accurately, in its fulness and variety, how Jesus might respond. But I will hazard an imperfect hypothesis.
For Jesus, the "kingdom of God" is a living, embodied, communal reality, which the coming of the Messiah has actually brought to earth, brought to historical actuality. This, I take it, is one of the meanings of his mysterious Gospel saying : "the Law and the prophets were until John; and from the days of John until now, the kingdom of God has suffered violence, and violent men plunder it." In other words, with the coming of the Son of Man, the eschatological age - the end-time - has irrevocably appeared on earth. The kingdom of God is at hand, is "in your midst." And precisely because the kingdom is no longer merely a hope of the future, but is here - is now embodied in Jesus and the people of God - it suffers violence : violent men attack it by force. The struggle for the redemption of the world is now fully engaged : Jesus has come.
What was the witness to Israel of both John the Baptist and Jesus? : that divine Judgement is at hand. Jesus only differed from John in the unaccountable lovingkindness he offered - the healing ministry, the casting out of illness and evil - as signs of the presence of God's reign.
How would Jesus respond to the horrors and sadness of the massacre of innocents? he would say come closer : come into the reign of God, into the rule of God's love. Save yourself from the old human habits which open the door to evils such as this.
I think Jesus would look at the town of Newtown as a kind of Everytown, USA. What happened in Newtown could have happened anywhere in the United States. There is no special sinfulness to the place where this occurred : yet this violence might be a sign of spiritual sickness which the whole nation (the whole world) - and every person - needs to address.
What are the dimensions of this spiritual illness? First, an attachment to the self and its pleasures - say, for example, guns, shooting, the collection of weapons of mass killing. But these are not the only superficial, materialistic and selfish pleasures which corrupt the soul : they are only perhaps the most obviously dangerous (or seem to be, after this tragedy). John the Baptist and Jesus both consistently preached the necessity for repentance and spiritual change - for turning toward a new communal life in God - if one hopes to see and experience the reign of God's benevolence.
A second dimension is related to the first : in our attachment to our selfish pleasures, our personal self-pleasing, we neglect those deeper values of charity, love and understanding, generosity, and justice - which are at the very root of both Judaism and Christianity. What does Jesus call the Great, the central Commandment? "Love God with all your heart; and love your neighbor as yourself." Judaism (along with many other ancient faiths) emphasizes the great duty to welcome the stranger in our midst : to help the poor, to heal the afflicted.
And who is the stranger in our midst today? There are many : but certainly one of those strangers was Adam Lanza. The troubled, the afflicted, the mentally-ill young person. The loner, the outcast, the self-outcast : like that sufferer in the Gospel, possessed by a demon, who kept hitting himself with stones. Where were the helpers, the interveners, the welcomers for Adam Lanza - when he needed help? Why was he living in solitude, at age 20, with his mother - and going to the rifle range? Obviously it's too early for me to speculate on these matters : but the outlines of this situation are clear not only in the Newtown event but in other such recent tragedies all around the country. And woe be to us, if we convert this moral crisis into some kind of mere surveillance or punitive control of the afflicted in our midst. This would be merely the next anti-Christian, anti-Judaic step. No : we must find ways to love the stranger, and heal the afflicted, and draw the loner into the circle of hope and joy.
We are all selfish; we have all gone astray.... like the wicked of the Old Testament, we are captured in the nets of our own wicked imaginations. As Jesus said, when someone addressed him as "good rabbi" : One is good, the Father only. (This statement, by the way, is a very concise rebuttal of some of Jung's speculations about the "blind idealism" of Christianity). We need to turn in charity - me, you, every one of us - to those in need, and cease treating life as a free ride for our own complacent hobbies and pastimes.
I think these are some of the things which Jesus might have said about the Newtown tragedy. But he (along with Martin Luther King) would have summarized by proclaiming, again : the reign of a loving God is here. God is my father and mother, and yours, too. All things are possible through faith in God's love. God is the creative Spirit who has brought all this about - to redeem the world. Come into the living body of faith, into the community of the kingdom - and together we shall overcome.