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Thomas J. Farrell
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More than three decades before the Fifth Dimension recorded their hit song "The Age of Aquarius" (1969), C. G. Jung (1875-1961) pointed out that we are entering the Age of Aquarius. No joke. Let me explain.
In the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler's Nazis were rising in Germany, Jung conducted a seminar in English about Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra in Zurich. They used an English translation. But of course Jung's native language was German, and he had studied Nietzsche's works in German. Therefore Jung was not bashful about criticizing the English translation when he thought it was deficient.
In the seminar on May 22, 1935, Jung made the following statement: "The symbol of our time and the coming time is Aquarius, the man with the vessel to catch whatever flows, and he must transform it into the fertile water of life. The symbol of the time before was the Fishes, and they are able to swim. . . . Therefore we must be careful not to swim as if we were fishes, but remember that we are human; and we must not resist by shutting ourselves up and defending ourselves blindly."
These cooments by Jung appear on page 140 of the 1998 abridged edition of Jung's Seminar on Nietzsche's Zarathustra, expertly edited by James L. Jarrett. They appear on page 500 of the 1988 two-volume edition, edited by Jarrett.
In the two-volume edition (on page 1165), but not in the abridged edition, Jung refers to the pope as the Fisher King (in the seminar on June 16, 1937). Evidently, many of the followers of the historical Jesus were fisher people. To this day, the pope of the Roman Catholic Church is a fisher of people - the Fisher King, figuratively speaking.
So today Pope Francis is the Fisher King. As Jung says, "we must be careful not to swim as if we were fishes" - so that we don't get caught by the Fisher King - Pope Francis. He's fishing for people, you see.
In the United States today, there are many former Roman Catholics. Basically, they are on the right track - get away from the Fisher King, Pope Francis. (Disclosure: I come from a Roman Catholic background. However, for many years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic.)
Of course there are also many former Protestants in the United States today. Perhaps we could refer to former Protestants and former Catholics as former Christians. All former Christians could be eligible for living in the Age of Aquarius, but they must not be careful not to swim as if they were fishes.
Figuratively speaking, we could say that orthodox practicing Christians swim as though they were fishes. But Christianity is the religious movement of an early age, not a religious movement suitable for the Age of Aquarius. But people today who want to enter into and live in the Age of Aquarius must be careful not to swim as though they were fishes, as Jung says.
However, in the Age of Aquarius, you must enter the sea, the symbol of the collective unconscious. But how can you enter the sea, but not swim like a fish? Perhaps we could imagine ourselves as surfing the sea, figuratively speaking - but dealing with and working through whatever may rise to the surface as we go.
Fortunately for all former Christians and secular humanists from other religious backgrounds, or no religious background, both Nietzsche and Jung have surfed the sea of the collective unconscious long enough to report back to us about their respective experiences.
Jung's report can be found in his recently published Red Book (2010), edited by Sonu Shamdasani.
Nietzsche's report can be found in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Tragically, Nietzsche (1844-1900) subsequently descended into madness in 1889.
Arguably the most famous idea in Nietzsche's Zarathustra is the idea of the Ubermensch, which Jarrett says translators today prefer to render as the Overman. But in Jung's day, this term was rendered in English as the Superman.
In the 1988 two-volume edition of Jung's seminar, Jung on December 5, 1934, suggests that Nietzsche's Superman is a super-Protestant (page 286). But Jarrett, perhaps wisely, omits this passage from the 1998 abridged edition. (Like Nietzsche, Jung was the son of a Protestant pastor.)
Over against Jung's suggestion, I would propose that the Overman is post-Christian.
However, for all people whose cultural conditioning has taken place in one Christian tradition or another, the process of initiation into becoming an Overman in their actual lives will probably involve undergoing an inner experience that may resemble being crucified, but hopefully without actually dying physically - but dying figuratively instead, to their old Christian cultural and personal conditioning.
People who dot not come from a Christian background will probably have to undergo a comparable inner experience.
Now, in a footnote for the seminar on May 5, 1937, Jarrett says, "Emerson was a particular favorite of Nietzsche" (page 268 of the 1998 abridged edition; page 1049 of the 1988 two-volume edition).
As a result, we can say that Emerson's idea of self-reliance is basically on the trajectory of thought out of which Nietzsche's idea of the Overman emerged. For a thorough discussion of the spirit of Emerson's idea of self-reliance, see Lawrence Buell's fine book Emerson (2003).
I would align both Emerson's idea of self-reliance and Nietzsche's idea of the Overman with the essential Greek spirit that Pericles expresses in his famous "Funeral Oration" (as remembered by Thucydides).
In addition, I would align John Winthrop's famous imagery of a city on a hill with the essential Greek spirit that Pericles expresses, even though Winthrop extracted his famous imagery from the Christian gospels.
Incidentally, in an address on January 9, 1961, Harvard-educated President-elect John F. Kennedy invoked both Pericles and Winthop's famous imagery. It may strike some people today as elitist to quote Pericles. So we need to remember that Athens had its own experiment in democracy as the form of government.
By contrast, Winthrop and the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony had their own experiment in theocracy. Today in the United States, certain Roman Catholics represent their spirit of theocracy, as Damon Linker reminds us in his book The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege (2006).
Today in the United States, self-described libertarians would probably claim that they represent Emerson's spirit of self-reliance. Up to a point, they may.
My impression is that Emerson's idea of self-reliance and Nietzsche's idea of the Overman will appeal most strongly to people who are chiefly developing their sense of agency, primarily through their own personal choices in decision making. Stereotypically, agency is the primary orientation of the masculine dimension in the human psyche.
Stereotypically, the feminine dimension in the human psyche involves the spirit of communion and relatedness. Jung identifies Eros as "the principle of relatedness" (page 102). According to David Bakan, we need to develop both of the dimensions in our psyches, both agency and relatedness, as he reminds us in his book The Duality of Human Existence: An Essay on Psychology and Religion (1966). Martin Buber commemorated the spirit of relatedness in his famous account of I-thou encounters.
But the danger involved in over-developing one's sense of agency involves a certain tendency to characterize more conventional people in negative terms - for example, as slaves or as part of the herd or as like sheep or as the collective. Hey, we're all part of the herd, part of the collective. In plain English, we are all in this world together. As John Donne famously quipped, no man is an island.
Now, this overly strong tendency toward agency manifested in the ancient Greeks in their characterizations of barbarians. Non-Greek bipolar characterizations from the ancient world would also include the contrast Jew/gentile and Christian/pagan.
Due to this strong bipolar contrast of Christian/pagan, Christians to this day still suffer from a strong tendency toward Christian missionizing. Here's how Jung describes this Christian missionizing tendency: "If you are inclined to be a good Christian, naturally you get the savior delusion. You think you are, in a way at least, a little savior, and that you must missionize the world and tell people what is good for the good cause" (page 35). Jung refers to this Christian tendency as an inflation. In effect, Pope Francis embodies this inflation, and so do the Roman Catholic bishops.
Now, Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003) works with the Greek/barbarian contrast in the title essay of his collection of essays The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (1962, pages 260-285). Ong goes back and forth as he works out his comparison and contrast of the basic Greek orientation and the basic barbarian orientation.
Historically, the view known as American exceptionalism represents the essential Greek spirit as expressed in American culture. However, this view can turn ugly, as Stephen Kinzer shows in his book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (2013).
Oddly enough, the basic barbarian orientation that Ong describes in his title essay "The Barbarian Within: Outsiders Inside Society Today" has become extremely fashionable in American culture over the last half century, as Grace Elizabeth Hale shows in her book A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America (2011).
Now, in addition to being trained professionally in classical philology, Nietzsche also studied ancient Persian. The semi-legendary Zarathustra (also known as Zoroaster) was the founder of the Zoroastrian religion. Nietzsche thought that Zarathustra was the source of the Christian tendency to think in terms of good and evil - that is, a strong tendency toward either/or thinking.
Jung says, "Nietzsche himself says that he chose Zarathustra because he was the inventor of the contrast of good and evil" (page 5).
Jung also says, "It is true that one would not be able to indicate any thinker earlier than Zarathustra who stressed the contrast between good and evil as a main principle" (page 5).
The Zoroastrian religion was also the source of the Christian conception of the devil. In the Christian imagination the devil has had a long and colorful history over the centuries. Jung notes that the "Christian concept of the devil in not in the Jewish religion" (page 200). In the prologue to the book of Job, the Adversary is not portrayed as God's enemy. But in the Zoroastrian religion, the devil represents cosmic evil, which is what the devil represents in the Christian tradition.
Today Pope Francis also refers to the devil. But this just shows that Pope Francis represents the previous age - but he does not represent the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Now, I would say that there is a lot of evil in the world today, as there always has been. It is good for us to be able to recognize evil. However, it is an entirely different matter to structure one's own thinking along the lines of a strong contrast of good and evil, as Kinzer shows in his above-mentioned book.
In other words, there is all the difference in the world between thinking of evil in a strong dialectical way and thinking as Ong does in his back and forth dialectical comparison and contrast of Greek and barbarian.
Now, Ong himself embodied the Greek spirit that Nietzsche's Overman represents, but Ong also celebrated I-thou communication. So Ong can be seen as the prophet of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius celebrated in the Fifth Dimension's song.
Jung says, "Nietzsche, in having a conscious idea of the cause of his inflation, is . . . ahead of his time" (page 157).
I agree. Amen.