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Dawkins, Jung and Religion

February 20, 2011

So you’ve found The Uncommon Citizen – good! The new site works pretty much the same way. If you want to leave a comment (and I hope you will), click on “comments” at the end of the post. This week’s post falls in the category of essays, and that’s pretty much all I need to say. Let me know your thoughts, particularly if you disagree.


A friend of mine is a member of a fundamentalist, Pentecostal church. Its beliefs are his beliefs and the direction it provides is the direction he follows. The support of his church community is essential to his well-being. His church is the cornerstone of his life, providing a deeper meaning to his existence. Because he feels secure in his church and its beliefs, he feels secure in this life and the next. In these respects his church and its beliefs are good, in the same way that most religions provide these comforts for their believers. He volunteers considerable time to the church and travels on church business, again, as a volunteer. He supports his church financially by tithing (something he can ill afford to do). He neither questions his church’s beliefs nor explores other beliefs. He can imagine no other way of living, no other way of believing. Everything he needs, intellectually and spiritually, is provided by his church. And therein lies the darker side of not only his particular denomination but of conservative, fundamentalist religions everywhere.

This was brought home to me again after reading a quote from Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion). He says, “I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect.” (Quote taken from a lecture based on his book. Emphasis mine.)

I believe it does much more than that. Fundamentalist religions of any stripe, whether in this country or elsewhere, insist that theirs is the one and only true way to believe, all others are infidels or heretics or pagans or atheists or worse. And, as Dawkins points out, they teach followers not to change their minds, that not only is there no need to examine other ways of believing, but that doing so may even be harmful by tempting followers down the “wrong” path. But a mind that won’t be changed refuses to entertain new ideas, refuses to see other people, other lives, other cultures from a different perspective. “Others” are different and therefore a potential danger, possibly even evil.

Carl Jung described evil (and I don’t recall where I read this) as a shadow that exists in all of us, a dark side. We find it very difficult to live with that shadow so we project it on to others and those others become the shadow (the evil) within us. The more “different” an individual or a group is from “us,” the easier it is to project that shadow.

Fundamentalist religions are particularly good at this and examples abound. Historically we can look to the Crusades of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, waged primarily against Muslims but also against other “others” (Jews, Mongols, and Orthodox Christians to name a few) who were “different” and not of the “true faith.” The Inquisition is another example of projecting that shadow of evil onto others. It began in Spain in the late 10th century, with the final Inquisitorial act being the hanging of a “heretic” in 1860, some 900 years later. Today, radical Moslems vow to kill all non-believers and destroy Israel; Sikhs, Baha’is, Hindus and Jehovah’s Witnesses, again, to name only a few, are persecuted because they are “different.” Perhaps in our country the most outrageous current example is the stance of the Hillsboro Baptist Church against gays and lesbians, which wants them all dead. Jung’s “shadow of evil” can be all-consuming.

But what would happen if, instead of casting our shadow onto others, we recognized it in ourselves? Would we not do the same as we do when there exists within us a cancer, a virus, an injury? When we experience these, we recognize that something is wrong with us and then we do something about it. Why can we not (or, why will we not) do the same with that shadow of evil within all of us? We can and we must. We must first recognize that it exists, and then we can remedy it and the remedy also exists within us: the ability and the willingness to entertain new ideas, thoughts and opinions, explore them in the light of our current beliefs and biases. Our minds should never be so made up that they are sewn shut and put on a shelf. The only thing that happens then is that they gather dust. When new ways of thinking about something or understanding something are better than the old, then we take out the old and replace it, or modify it, with the new. We recognize that “others” are, indeed, different and that, we, too, are “others” and just as “different.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. NRJ permalink
    February 26, 2011 11:43 pm

    As someone who attended a Pentecostal church (the real talking in tongues kind), often not by choice, and who has seen many people and friends tied into various religious sects, I would offer the following comments:
    Almost all religions rely on some “messenger of god” to tell its members what to believe and how to act. They do not encourage discussion, nor even education, except within the confines of their bubble. From the earliest times religions have worked to keep their audience ignorant. (For example, the Catholic church insisted on using Latin for services and texts, but refused to teach it to anyone except the clergy, in an effort to keep all education relating to their system residing in the hands of “learned” priests, etc.). Most Christian religions will not allow any revised (corrected) translation of the biblical books, even though even religious scholars acknowledge that there are major errors in texts dating to the King James era. The preacher is the only one who can give a proper interpretation of these mis-translated texts, which is, of course to their extreme advantage.
    I have had interesting debates over some very basic scientific principles – astronomy, evolution, etc. with fundamentalists who insisted that our most current science is wrong. When asked how they know this, they always say that there are accredited scientists out there who have proved all these theories to be false. When I asked who these scientists were, I have always been told that their preacher had a list and had told them about it. Then they would assure me they could go to that preacher and produce this magical list, but they have not been able to produce one for me. The few “scientific” assertions that I have seen made have always been cited back to discredited theorists, especially as involves the proofs that evolution is wrong.
    Therein lies the problem with almost all religions (and now-a-days often political beliefs too) – we want someone to tell us what to believe, relieving us from having to think and make choices, and subsequently be responsible for them ourselves. Ever notice how much Fox news feature programming is like a televangelical church service? Instead of fleecing us for god dollars, they fleece us for commercial money – but it’s all the same system. Tell people the “truth”, insist it is true, ban those who may argue, and ask your audience to just believe, believe, believe.
    On the other hand, there is something physically and psychologically empowering to “feeling the spirit”, even if it is really only group energy pumping us up like dancing or loud music. If religion inc. would merely say “here are some principles we should follow if we all want to get along in this world”, which is often how religions were originally formulated, and forget all the other dogmatic crap, they would have much more value to society today. Christians seem to have decided to forget the new testament stuff and have reverted back to the old. And many muslims are doing the same thing. Instead of loving our brothers and sisters we are killing the enemy. Can’t we all learn to dance together, to a that great variety of wonderful music that is in our world, instead of insisting there is only one true (mythological) way of acceptably doing the old two step?

    Hawk-eye Klingerman

    • February 27, 2011 5:14 pm

      Amen, Brother! (So to speak.) We are being overwhelmed with religious and political fundamentalism, coupled with a strong, growing and well-funded anti-science movement. I subscribe to two magazines that help keep things in perspective: Skeptic and The Skeptical Inquirer. Aside from being interesting and entertaining reader, they provide me with additional arguments (proof, actually) to counter all the spurious claims being made.


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