Religion's New Alternative

An essay by Ethan A. Bayer

The theorists Jung, Maslow, Wilber, and Bucke have unique theories, but they all share a common thread in that their purpose is to provide an alternative to traditional religion.

Jung was particularly adamant in his quest to find an alternative to Christianity, or rather, a transformation of Christianity (TTT, 127). He came up with the conclusion that psychology meets the same ends as religion, but takes a more rational approach. Unlike Freud, who denounced all therapies, Jung wanted to discover the mental states which would allow any therapy to be effective (TTT, 119-120). In his The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Phillip Reiff acknowledges that whether or not Jung was right, he did try to replace a myth (institutional religions) that no longer served its purpose, and replaced it with "his own private myth, and felt much better for it" (TTT, 114).

In fact, Jung encouraged everyone who was uncompleted by big religion to create his or her own fantasy as an escape from the world (TTT, 119). Because it can have no widespread societal effects (TTT, 139), this extremely personal faith is safe from valid outside criticism. His own personal faith centered around his desire to "externalize the religious life" (TTT, 109) and make the spiritual and the natural one. This is evidence that Jung sought "less to transform the modern world than to avoid it" (TTT, 139).

Jung disregarded the traditional churches and even their morals (TTT, 114), instead translating the gods into "suprahistorical" and "transcultural" (TTT, 130) archetypes that are present in everyone. With his psychology, loneliness is essentially impossible because one will never be without the company of his archetypes, "himself an entire church" (TTT, 136). Jung explained how Christianity, employing the "Christ archetype," has become useless in its therapeutic endeavors because it has lost its luster and emotional benefits (TTT, 135). As a result, Westerners have failed to engage their archetypes and so are left with unbalanced components of their psyches (TTT, 136).

Psychology, on the other hand, catalyzes our "creative impulse" (saving grace) (TTT, 119). Once someone accepted this psychology, his personality would transform into a therapeutic one so that he can examine his own myths as they relate to his psychological equilibrium (TTT, 113-114). Since every myth engages the unconscious (TTT, 129), the deepest and most fulfilling springs of illusions are "primordial and creative, unconscious though not rationalizing, and mainly anti-moral, remissive rather than controlling" (TTT, 121); he stresses regression along with passivity.

Maslow keyed in on the core of every religion, which he believed was the illumination in the first holy figure, who then proceeded to relate this experience and cultivate it through the masses (CR, 19). He narrowed religion down to "an effort to communicate peak-experiences to non-peakers" (CR, 24). 

Further, Maslow believed that since every religion has this fundamental sameness, they should collaborate and compromise to reach a general belief, based on "whatever it is that peak-experiences teach in common;" this universality is the "core-religious experience" or "transcendent experience" (CR, 20). 

An essential part of religion, Maslow though, was the peak experience. It is a process of individuation, helping one become the person he is supposed to become. This need for peak experiences makes Maslow's a religious psychology. 

During a peak experience, one experiences the unity of the universe and the purpose (RA, 59) and equality (RA, 60) of all its parts. It involves "tremendous concentration," and intense visual, auditory, and tactile perception (RA, 59). This perception is "egoless," impersonal, and not needing (RA, 62), and accompanies a confused awareness of time and space (RA, 63). The experiencer gains an optimistic outlook on reality-the world is seen "only as beautiful, good, desirable, worthwhile, etc. and is never experienced as evil or undesirable" (RA, 63). Maslow, like Jung, feels that evil has its place and purpose in the world, and this sympathy in turn creates a sense of god-likeness (RA, 63-64). 

A person surrenders to the peak experience, and comes to a fearlessness of death (RA, 65) and of other earthly things to do confusion and yielding of control. The consequences to the peak-experiencer are a more loving and accepting disposition, a truer sense of being, and gratitude to God (RA, 67-68). The polarity that troubled Jung is balanced (RA, 68), and one feels that his self is unique and sacred (RA, 61).

Even though these peak experiences are few and far between, they "give meaning to life itself" (RA, 62). Maslow is sure that everyone is capable of having them, just that non-peakers are afraid of them (CR, 22). Non-peakers characteristically think in logical, rational terms and look down on extreme spirituality as "insanity" (CR, 22) because it entails a loss o control and deviation from what is socially acceptable. They may even try to avoid such experiences because they are not materially productive-they "earn no money, bake no bread, and chop no wood" (CR, 23). 

Other non-peakers have the problem of immaturity in spiritual matters, and hence tend to view holy rituals and events in their most crude, external form, not appreciating them for the underlying spiritual implications. Maslow despises such people because they form a sort of idolatry that hinders religions (CR, 24). This creates a divide in every religion and social institution. 

Maslow suggests that this severance can be undone perhaps by the use of drugs like LSD to artificially induce peak experiences in non-peakers (CR, 27). The most important thing for a peak experience, however, is to ensure that one's basic needs are taken care of so that he can come in with a good understanding of himself.

Wilber presents a model of the personality that has many layers without definite boundaries (PP, 113) that are derived from and are various expressions of one consciousness-like beams of light going through a prism. He calls this the "Spectrum of Consciousness (PP, 106).

Of all the bands, the Level of Mind mirrors the deepest reality, where the mind becomes a grand ocean. It is "infinite" and "eternal" (PP, 106). Man is one with everything, both external and internal-"he is the All" (PP, 107). This is the only true state of consciousness. In therapy at this stage, patients overcome archetypes to break through the bottom of the bucket (PP, 124) and resolve the dualism of subject and object.

The Transpersonal Bands encompass the archetypes. Here, man's boundaries are not limiting, yet he is not aware of this freedom. The goal for someone troubled at this level is to distance himself from his depression or anxieties and look at them objectively (PP, 121) by going outside his body and observing himself. Of course, Jungian analysis is implemented here (PP, 123).

On the other hand, the boundaries in the Existential Level are clear and rigid (PP, 109). Its purpose is to create an awareness of the separation of mind and body (PP, 113) and to examine each as a separate entity. Within this level lie the Biosocial Bands, which retain information about relationships and interpersonal interaction (PP, 109), acting like a "filter of reality" (PP, 117). Existential therapy works at "actualizing the concrete, full human being" through activities like Gestalt therapy and hatha yoga (PP, 116-117).

The Ego Level is born of a fear of death and an attempted escape from it (PP, 112). It contains the "picture of his total organism" as man knows it (i.e. how his ego is aware of it) (PP, 109). This band bears the more abstract mental processes (PP, 110). Here, therapy addresses pathology as the cast aside Shadow and helps one to reaccept it as a necessary part of the self (PP, 115-116).

The final level is that of the Shadow, which is created in the "ultimate act of dualism" (PP, 112). It is essentially the parts of the personality too destructive for the Ego to handle, like aggressions and desires, so they are discarded here (PP, 110). Psychoanalysis can help unearth underlying problems in the Shadow level.

In general, healing involves moving down through the levels, and trading a partial view of reality for a clear, broad view (PP, 127). Wilber's theory changed therapy as a whole, because it forced institutions to cater to the individual.

Bucke's "baby" was Cosmic Consciousness-basically, the knowledge of the essence of life (FW, 2) and the "savior of man" (FW, 5). This illumination is a profound experience. It delivers new life and spiritually elevates those who it touches (FW, 9). One "becomes overcrowded with concepts" (FW, 14). Bucke himself remembers being spontaneously engulfed by brightness and feeling bursts of joy (FW, 8). He thought that the saints were the forerunners to this evolutionary trend; consequently, his racism and sexism is apparent in the people he claims to have achieved Cosmic Consciousness. 

Cosmic Consciousness, Bucke believed, marked one as part of a "new species" (FW, 2); he went so far as to say that it is "capable of transhumanizing a man into a god" (FW, 14). Once it has spread among the intellects of the world, he envisioned the disappearance of big cities and their industrial civilization as the cause of a great migration to less inhabited locations (FW, 4). "Religion will absolutely dominate the race" and dissent or doubt will be logically impossible (FW, 4). Instead, he imagined a secularized version of Christianity, where churches will be unnecessary; for their current purpose is as bridges to a new humanity, but we will not need bridges once we have reached our destination.

All four theorists chose different paths, but ultimately come to the same conclusion that psychology can replace religion. It can fulfill the needs of the people without the rigidity and institutional structure of modern Christianity.

Works Cited