Navigating a Breakpoint in History we look towards the coming decades, we cannot escape the fact that some great phase of the human experience is dying, while some new stage seeks to take shape....

Navigating a Breakpoint in History
William Van Dusen Wishard
WorldTrends Research (

July 2005


Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate’re you may believe.
There is an inmost center in us all,
Where truth abides in fullness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception – which is truth.
A battling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and, to KNOW,
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape,
Than in effecting an entry for a light
Supposed to be without…

‘Tis time
New hopes should animate the world, new light
Should dawn from new revealings…

From “Paracelsus”
Robert Browning

Robert Browning’s words describe a process that has repeated itself numerous times throughout the ages.  This essay will suggest that once again, the world is in the midst of a similar unfolding.

Such a development is at the heart of much of the public anxiety in America today; a concern caused by our inability to understand the seismic upheaval the world is experiencing.  The media daily pummels us with the effects of multiple tectonic plate shifts taking place: from a relatively slow pace of technical change, to an exponential rate; from ultimate destructive power held only by states, to such power held by individuals; from economic development solely a national endeavor, to such development as part of a global system; from the masculine/patriarchal epoch, to the feminine instinct playing an increasing role in shaping collective attitudes.

 Those who have even a minimal acquaintance with Analytical Psychology and the life of C.G. Jung, however, are privileged to have a broader context within which to understand the inherent meaning of these shifts.  For one of Jung’s great gifts to the world was the development of understanding how the collective soul expresses its worldview, as well as how the psyche develops and matures over time.  History has seen several such shifts in orientation, periods of a broadening out of the collective soul.  Such psychological reorientations have been times of uncertainty and upheaval, times when the psychological subsoil out of which emerges all value and meaning is ploughed up, ultimately leading to the emergence of a completely new historical epoch.  We are in the midst of another such reorientation—a heightened activation of the Self (the regulating center f the psyche), which brings with it a new worldview, a broadening out of the human personality.  It is a time, as Walter Truett Anderson has written, “of rebuilding all the foundations of civilization.”  One of Jung’s most succinct encapsulations of this process at work in our time was offered in 1956 when he noted that there is “a mood of universal destruction and renewal that has set its mark on our age.  This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically.  We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods,’ of the fundamental principles and symbols.”

 This essay will consider three aspects of the contemporary “psychological reorientation”—globalization, the human-technology interface, and the worldwide spiritual upheaval.  But first, a brief glance at earlier periods of reorientation, which offer perspective on the contemporary process.

Breakpoints of History

When we look back over past millennia, distinctly different worldviews, expressions of the soul, stand out.  These worldviews were considerably different than ours today.  The Mythic Age (circa 1200 BCE), for example, clearly exhibited a pre-conscious mind.  Consciousness as we know it had not yet evolved.  Indeed, as Thomas Cahill has written, the story of the Hebrew Bible is “the story of an evolving consciousness, a consciousness that went through many states of development.”  One thinks of Moses experiencing “a flame of fire coming from the bush,” his “staff becoming a serpent,” Yahweh as a “pillar of fire,” the “waters of Egypt turning into blood,” and the “parting of the Red Sea.”  Such symbolic descriptions are expressions of an elemental psychology in an earlier stage of development, and still bound to a certain extent by its identification with its environment and surroundings.

At roughly the same time, the battle of Troy (12th century BCE) when, as Homer described four centuries later, Greek gods roamed the battlefield instructing Achilles, Hector or Odysseus to take this or that particular action.  That was not a literary construct to enliven Homer’s Iliad; it was the way the Greek psyche viewed reality.  Again, an earlier psyche somewhat identified with its surroundings, and which saw gods as “living presences.”

Several centuries of psychic reorientation and maturation brought forth the Axial Age (700-400 BCE).  The defining characteristic of the Axial Age, according to the German philosopher Karl Jaspers who coined the term “Axial Age,” was the move out of the Mythic Age, into an era when “man becomes conscious of Being as a whole, of himself and his limitations.”  Consciousness, Jaspers wrote, became “conscious of itself.”  This was the age of the birth of Buddhism, Taoism, and Zoroasterism.  The great symbolic Hebrew stories and traditions of earlier centuries were collected together in the Pentateuch.  Confucius became the first person to articulate the Golden Rule as a social ethic.  Science, philosophy, astronomy, cosmology were born, as were the very concepts of nature, truth, opinion, mind and consciousness.  History’s first scientific questions were asked, questions such as, what are the basic elements of existence?  Water? Fire?  No one had ever before asked such questions.  Pythagoras articulated the concept of “opposites,” an expression of the prime attribute of a developed consciousness—the power of discernment and discrimination.  By the end of the Axial Age, a new orientation had emerged.

Several centuries later a further reorientation brought a disruptive shift when the multiple Greco-Roman gods, which had provided meaning for the Greco-Roman world for a millennium, lost their hold on the imagination and soul of the Greco-Roman world, and, eventually, monotheistic Christianity became the official religion.  More on this in a moment.

Closer to our own time came another shift in worldview—the psychological shift from the Middle Ages of Dante and the building of Chartres and the great cathedrals of Europe, to the worldview of Petrarch and the Renaissance.  It was a monumental shift from emphasis on the vertical perspective—man’s relation to a God in heaven—to a horizontal perspective—man’s relationship to the natural phenomena of Earth.  The historian Will Durant summarized this shift saying, the Renaissance “replaced the supernatural with the natural as the focus of human concern…”  Edward F. Edinger noted that the God-image (Self) was withdrawn from metaphysical projection, and became available for direct conscious experience.  As Jung saw it, “Consciousness ceased to grow upward, and grew instead in breadth of view,” both philosophically and geographically. The age of exploration—both of earth and of the human body—began.  “Meaning” was found less through spirit, as a metaphysics of matter and material causation grew in authority.  It is perhaps symptomatic of this shift that this was when the Faust legend—representing an enantiodromia—was born in the Western psyche.  Jung described this whole period as “an unexampled revolution in man’s outlook.”

These shifts in orientation are offered simply as examples of what we’re experiencing today.  The contemporary psychological  reorientation is perhaps divided into two overlapping phases.  On the one hand, disintegration, psychic rupture, and destruction have become not only cultural motifs, but an inherent and essential part of the process a culture and civilization must experience if the birth of a new worldview is to take place.  This is in keeping with the progression of the four symbolic phases of the Apocalypse archetype, which manifests itself in the Revelation of new truth about life’s origin, development and potential; Judgment of existing beliefs and institutions against the background of the new truth; Destruction of existing beliefs and institutions that are no longer functionally an expression of the new truth; and Rebirth of belief, culture and civilized order in accord with the archetypal expression of the new truth.  This sequence is a process embedded in the nature of the archetypal psyche.

Such disintegration is simultaneous with a new and greater integration seeking expression.  Humanity is seeking a more common and complete manifestation of our relationship to our individual  self, to each other, to the planet, and to the universe.  In essence, the embryonic form of something approaching a global consciousness is evolving.  As Lewis Mumford wrote in 1956, “Nothing less than a concept of the whole man—and of man achieving a consciousness of the cosmic and historic whole—is capable of doing justice to every type of personality, every mode of culture, and every human potential.”  Mumford was talking of “the creation of unified personalities, at home with every part of themselves, and so equally at home with the whole family of man, in all its magnificent diversity.”  Such a perspective is at the very core of the new orientation seeking birth.


In the 1940s, Sir Fred Hoyle, the eminent British astronomer, noted: “Once a photograph of Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”  Increasingly, the defining reality of our time has been learning how to cope with this “new idea”—the awareness of the human community as a single entity.  As Brian Swimme has written, we are incorporating the planetary dimensions of life into the fabric of our economics, politics, culture and international relations.  For the first time in human history, we are forging an awareness of our existence that embraces humanity as a whole.  What is emerging is “a new context for discussion of value, meaning, purpose or ultimacy of any sort.”  The shorthand for this process is “globalization.”

Mention globalization and we immediately think of global economic and financial integration, currency valuations, job displacement/creation, intellectual property rights, and much more.  Such acronyms as IMF, NAFTA, WTO, as well as the World Bank come to mind.  The economic dimension of globalization is what most occupies the attention of business leaders and government policy-makers.

But the essence of globalization—its very core—is the Self’s intensified activation, which is expressed in an expansion of individual awareness of other peoples, cultures and religions, greatly facilitated by technological advances in communications and easy travel.  This process began very slowly in the 16th century when, as noted in Jung’s comment above, consciousness ceased to grow upward, and grew in breadth of view, thus increasing the energy available to the individual ego.  This led to European exploration and colonialization of Africa, South America and Asia. In the nineteenth century this process was accelerated with the technical shift from wind to steam driven trans-Atlantic ships, as well as with the invention of the telegraph and telephone, the first components of what is now the world's electronic information communication system. Clearly, in the 20th century globalization moved at an exponential pace.  Across the globe, as people become more familiar with other modes of thought and belief, and with other cultures and religions, their allegiance to earlier forms of identity begins evolving into an appreciation for, and identity with, a larger cultural and political realm.

This process of a widening identity is not new to Americans.  Before 1776, Americans didn’t find their identity in relationship to the United States (there was no United States), but in relationship to the state in which they lived—Virginia, Massachusetts or Georgia.  After the establishment of the United States, people slowly grounded their identity in a wider context, a new entity called the United States of America.  This widening process took time.  Indeed, the historian Daniel Borstin tells us it wasn’t until nearly ninety years later, at the end of the Civil War that a distinctly American identity emerged.  Even today, sectionalism still vies with a sense of national identity, which is fragmenting under the pressures of information technology.

In essence, all people are going through this same process, albeit on a far wider and more diverse dimension.  The pace of this process varies depending on numerous factors such as depth of culture and tradition, the degree of technological development, linkages with the rest of the world, etc.  But it is happening to all peoples, if for no other reason than a nation can no longer develop economically on its own; economic development requires a nation to be linked to the globalized economic and financial system.

For many in the Muslim world, globalization, and the modernization it brings with it, confronts them with an excruciating choice.  On the one hand, they want the economic and technological—even some of the social and cultural—benefits globalization brings.  On the other hand, they are asking themselves, “Will globalization, based on the Western, rationalistic, consumerist, hedonistic ethos, ultimately mean the end of Islam?  Yet, how can we modernize without globalization?”  Such unknowns form a significant part of the psychological dynamic fueling terrorism.

Globalization means that, whether we’re Parisian or New York sophisticate, African Bushmen or Alaskan Inuit, we are all being forced into the same global, technological, postmodern, digitalized context of life.  Some African chiefs jump a century of telephonic development dependent on wire, as they advance from drum or messenger, to the cell phone.  The tribal leader in Papua stands with his shield and spear in a TV store bewildered as he stares at a scene from “Baywatch” projecting images of he knows not what.  Time, place and historic contexts of life are disappearing as the instruments of globalization force us into some unfamiliar frame of reference.

It’s not only the Papuan or African whose identity and context of life are being jumbled by globalization.  Profound questions arise for all people as globalization collapses the national, racial and religious barriers that heretofore protected—and even defined—identity.  “Who am I?  Who is my group?  Do I even have a group any more?  Is national allegiance still primary in a globalized era?  What does ‘race’ mean in a world where people of all shades of skin color are increasingly inter-marrying?  What is my sense of who I am when computerized global information systems merge all religions, philosophies, social theories and cultures into a ‘pick-and-mix’ smorgasbord of identity?”  The whole human race—whether pre-modern, modern, or postmodern—is involved in a vast learning process.

Over time, many people find their own sense of identity widening as they travel to other nations, meet people of unfamiliar cultures, and daily scan the world on the Internet.  As cultures and religions interpenetrate, the “broadening out process” enlarges people’s horizons.  Yet an inherent part of any archetypal expression of this maturing process is psychic reaction, in this case expressed in what can only be called a “national fundamentalism.”  As David Ignatius of The Washington Post notes, in some ways the current reassertion of nationalism is “a kind of geopolitical fundamentalism—in which people cleave to old identities as a way of coping with the new stresses of globalization.”

The Human-Technological Interface

At least since Francis Bacon in the seventeenth century we have viewed the purpose of science and technology as being to improve the human condition.  As Bacon put it, the "true and lawful end of the sciences is that human life be enriched by new discoveries and powers."  Four centuries later, Einstein echoed Bacon in a speech at Cal Tech: “Concern for man himself and his fate must form the chief interest of all technical endeavors.”

Human life has indeed been enriched.  Take America.  During the last century, the real GDP, in constant dollars, increased by $48 trillion, much of this wealth built on the marvels of technology.

But along with technological wonders, uncertainties arise.  The question today is whether we’re creating certain technologies not to improve the human condition, but for purposes that appear to be to replace human meaning and significance altogether.  Consider the following comments from some of the world’s leading scientists and technologists.

Ray Kurzweil, recipient of ten honorary Doctorates, honors from three U.S. presidents, and is one of the world’s foremost authorities on artificial intelligence, predicts that by mid-century you may be talking to someone who is of biological origin, but whose mental processes are a hybrid of the person’s biological thinking process and the electronic process embedded in their brain—the two processes working intimately together.  Adds Kurzweil, “When machines are derived from human intelligence but are a million times more capable, there won’t be a clear distinction between human and machine intelligence—there’s going to be a merger.”  After that, he says, we will enhance our own intelligence by putting small computers in our brains and introducing calculating machines into the blood stream…nanobots will go to the brain and interact with biological neurons.

In Kurzweil’s view, what we are dealing with is not a “constant” rate of technological change, but an “exponential” rate, the acceleration of acceleration.  The rate of technological change doubles every decade.  At today’s rate, Kurzweil says, the world will experience one thousand times more technological change in the 21st century than took place in the 20th century.

Computer speeds will be increased millions of times in the next three decades, Kurzweil predicts, thus taking us to a point where everything is ratcheted up so fast that the totality of life changes, and some new context of existence emerges that we can’t even begin to imagine at this point.  This will bring the world, he says, to “a rupture in the fabric of history,” to what he terms the “Omega Point.”

Kurzweil’s use of “Omega Point” emits familiar echoes of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who coined the term well over half a century ago.  For Teilhard, the “Omega Point” is that point in the future when time, space and energy converge.  It’s a time of super connectivity, organization and complexity when a new context of existence for man will emerge.  For Teilhard, however, the “Omega Point” would introduce an era of the “spiritualization of matter” as well as the “creative union” of all humanity.

Whatever the differences between Kurzweil’s and Teilhard’s use of the term “Omega Point,” it’s fair to ask whether both men have been influenced by an archetype of transcendence.  Indeed, is the entire “post human” movement (see following commentary) a projection of what Edinger called “the transformation fantasy”?

Kurzweil is by no means alone in his pursuit of the “post human” future.  Marvin Minsky, co-founder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, writes, “Suppose that the robot had all the virtues of people and was smarter and understood things better.  Then why would we want to prefer those grubby, old people?  I don’t see anything wrong with human life being devalued if we have something better.”

Gregory Stock, Director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA School of Medicine; his latest book: Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, suggests, “Within a few years, traditional reproduction may begin to seem antiquated, if not downright irresponsible.”  Stock sees a time soon emerging “when humans no longer exist . . . Progressive self-transformation could change our descendents into something sufficiently different from our present selves to not be human in the sense we use the term now.”

British Telecom’s Ian Pearson predicts that the completed human genome project will enable “a combination of man and computer search to identify the genes needed to produce a people of any chosen characteristics.”  Someone, somewhere, Pearson says, “will produce an elite race of people, smart, agile and disease resistant.”  Pearson calls such an optimized human “Homo Optimus.”

MIT’s Sherry Turkel sees the “reconfiguration of machines as psychological objects and the reconfiguration of people as living machines.”  James Hughes sees the “right to a custom made child” as merely the “natural extension of our current discourse of productive rights.”  Hughes contends that women  “should be allowed the right to choose the characteristics [of their child] from a catalog.

Perhaps Jaron Lanier, the person who coined the term “virtual reality” and founder of the world’s first virtual reality company, best assesses what’s happening when he says, “Medical science, neuroscience, computer science, genetics, biology—separately and together, seem to be on the verge of abandoning the human realm altogether . . . it grows harder to imagine human beings remaining at the center of the process of science.  Instead, science appears to be in charge of its own process, probing and changing people in order to further its own course, independent of human agency.”

Concludes Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired magazine and author of Out of Control, “In the great vacuum of meaning, in the silence of unspoken values, in the vacancy of something large to stand for, something bigger than oneself, technology—for better or worse—will shape our society.  Because values and meaning are scarce today, technology will make our decisions for us.”

Thus arrives what some scientific intellectuals call the “Post-human Age.”
If this scenario materializes, it won’t happen in the next decade; it is something being developed for our grandchildren’s time.

A few voices are being raised regarding the dangers of an uncontrolled rush to technological bliss.  Writes Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and who The Economist magazine describes as the “Edison of the Internet,” “I think it no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states.”  Ray Kurzweil himself suggests we only have “a better than even chance of making it through” the technological changes he sees coming.

Sir Martin Rees, England’s Astronomer Royal, a Professor at Cambridge University and one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists, surveys current scientific experiments and writes, “The ‘downside’ from twenty-first century technology could be graver and more intractable than the threat of nuclear devastation that we have faced for decades…I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilization on Earth will survive to the end of the present century.”  Such risks, Rees contends, are the price that must be paid for “personal freedoms and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.”

While a full discussion of technology is beyond the scope of any one essay, it is worth commenting on the world’s first global electronic information system.  Electronic information systems have a fragmenting effect, thus shattering the cohesion of national myths, political philosophies, social theories, cultural styles, as well as religious beliefs.  It’s this fragmenting effect that has helped create the whole dissonance of our postmodern world in all its forms.  One result is that we no longer collectively agree what truths are “self-evident,” or even what constitutes “truth.”  Thus we can no longer define the world in terms of what we “are,” but only in terms of what we have ceased to be—“postindustrial,” “post-Enlightenment,” “post-ideological,” “postnational” or “postmodern.”

Yet still we must try to understand what has happened to humanity that we stand at the point of potential self-annihilation.  Vaclav Havel suggests an imbalance in our underlying concept of a technological society.  Writes Havel:  “Science as the basis of the modern conception of the world is missing something…It fails to connect with the most intrinsic nature of reality, and with natural human experience.  It is now more a source of disintegration and doubt than a source of integration and meaning.  It produces what amounts to a state of schizophrenia: Man as an observer is becoming completely alienated from himself as a being…The abyss between the rational and the spiritual, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective, the technical and the moral, the universal and the unique constantly grows deeper…There appear to be no integrating forces, no unified meaning, no true inner understanding of phenomena in our experience of the world”

Or, as Houston Smith writes, technology, and its scientific source, are honored for what they can tell us about nature, but as that is not all that exists, science and technology cannot provide us with a valid worldview.  “The most it can show us is half of the world, the half where normative and intrinsic values, existential and ultimate meanings, teleologies, qualities, immaterial realities, and beings that are superior to us do not appear.  Where, then, do we now turn for an inclusive worldview?”

Richard Tarnas, professor of psychology and philosophy at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and author of the highly acclaimed The Passion of the Western Mind and the soon-to-be-released Cosmos and Psyche, suggests that as scientists and technologists pursue their vision of technological transcendence, “unconscious factors are ignored.  It’s just these unconscious factors that will eventually disrupt the developmental trajectory so confidently predicted by technologists.”  Tarnas then offers a thoughtful comment about the psychology behind the quest for technological transcendence: "Purveyors of such future scenarios are blissfully--and often manically--unaware of the deeper psychological impulses driving their quest, the shadow side of their aspirations, and the superficiality of their understanding of either evolution or consciousness.  When one is unconscious of so much, one can be certain that one's plans will not go according to schedule.  A deeper knowledge of history would tell them that, but historical myopia is a self-affirming attribute.  This does not mean that their visions are harmless, only that they are distorted and, in that sense, likely to be highly inaccurate--though not without consequences."

What Tarnas suggests is illustrated in the career of Steven Shafer, formerly a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  According to The Washington Post, Microsoft hired Shafer as a researcher.  It seems that Professor Shafer was unhappy at Carnegie Mellon, as he complained that “teaching steals from research time.”  At Microsoft, however, Shafer appears happier.  “To me,” he confided to the Post, “this corporation is my power tool.  It’s the tool I wield to allow my ideas to shape the world.”  My power tool.  What better example of the inflated power drive.  It brings to mind one of Jung’s most profound insights; that the opposite of love is not hate, but power.  “Where love stops,” he wrote in 1957, “power begins, and violence and horror.”  Thus the archetype may not be so much a “love-hate” as a “love-power” archetype.

Freeman Dyson, one of America’s foremost theoretical physicists, and present at the first test of a nuclear bomb, gives a graphic example of how power can inflate the ego.  Speaking in the documentary film The Day After Trinity, Dyson said, “The glitter of nuclear weapons.  It’s irresistible if you come to them as a scientist.  To feel it’s there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding.  To perform these miracles, to lift up millions of tons of rock into the sky.  It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles—this, what you might call technical arrogance that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.”

One effect of the computer and Internet, says Stephen Talbott, editor of the online NetFuture, is that it represents a “disembodied rationality, which “tends to be abstracted form with little depth of humanly felt content.”  In this sense, he says, the computer is not “neutral.”  It expresses primarily one side of the human character.  It tends to express “surface,” but not “interior.”

Is it possible that Kurzweil and the scientists/technologists quoted above have developed a theory, a belief system based on what they are skilled at doing, and what captures their minds?  This then becomes a kind of “technological determinism,” which, at best, is only a partial view of reality, and which may turn out to be even more misleading than Marx’s “economic determinism.”

Jung, of course, was always leery of the proliferation of technology and what harm it might eventually cause.  In the abstract, he saw technology as “neither good nor bad, neither harmful nor harmless.”  The danger, Jung wrote, “lies not in technology but in the possibilities awaiting discovery.”  Those possibilities are now here and are leading to what some scientists term the “Post-human era.”

While Jung didn’t live to see “the possibilities awaiting discovery,” Edward Edinger, who died in 1998, did.  On the one hand, Edinger saw the World Wide Web as “a material reflection of the growing collective individuation in the world that is taking place.  There is a worldwide impetus to a new individuation.  All the cultures will eventually be assimilated into this new individuation.”  Edinger knew, however, that “eventually” could be an extremely long time.

On the other hand, he thought “man has decided to subordinate himself to his machine.  He has abdicated his own center of being, and he’s handed it over to his machine.”  Edinger felt the modern ego is “infatuated with its tools.  We’re totally preoccupied with ‘means,’ and ‘ends’ has been completely lost.  It’s the ego dissociated from any transpersonal dimension.”  As to the “Post-human” impetus, Edinger had a clear view: “The impulse to succeed ourselves through technology reflects the collective unconscious’ goal of destruction.”  Thus Edinger believed the vital question for everyone is “Do I have a relationship with that life-giving source in my unconscious?”

In the long sweep of time, we must ask whether we’ve created a scientific culture that is an immense complex of technique and specialization devoid of any guiding ethical framework.  The highest standard appears to be efficiency; the defining ethic, “If it can be done, it will be done.”  It is as Kevin Kelly suggests: “We have become as gods, and we might as well get good at it.”

What does it mean to be a “god”?

 In the Introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of the Iliad, Bernard Knox offers a description of what being a god entails: “To be a god is to be totally absorbed in the exercise of one's own power, the fulfillment of one's own nature, unchecked by any thought of others except as obstacles to be overcome; it is to be incapable of self-questioning or self-criticism. But there are human beings who are like this. Pre-eminent in their particular sphere of power, they impose their will on others with the confidence, the unquestioning certainty of their own right and worth that is characteristic of gods.”

Is this a description of that miniscule percentage of the human race, the scientists and technologists, who accelerate the pace and character of change for everyone else on earth, and who are altering the basics of human existence, while pursuing the “technological imperative” regardless of the human cost?

It’s not as if we haven’t been warned—including by some of our most prophetic voices—about the consequences of overreaching.  In a prescient comment, Herman Kahn and Anthony Weiner concluded their 1967 magnum opus by observing that in the final decades of the twentieth century, “we shall have the technological and economic power to change the world radically, but probably not get very much ability to restrain our strivings, let alone understand or control the results of the changes we will be making.”  Alvin Toffler noted in 1970 that by “blindly stepping up the rate of change, the level of novelty, and the extent of choice, we are thoughtlessly tampering with the environmental preconditions of rationality.”  (Emphases added.)

Centuries earlier, however, everything in human myth and religion warned about trying to become as the gods.  (See Icarus and Frankenstein.)  These myths and stories caution that there are limits to both human knowledge and endeavor; that to go beyond those limits is self-destructive.  No one knows exactly where such limits might be.  But if they don’t include the effort to create some technical/human life form supposedly superior to human beings, if they don’t include the capacity to genetically reconfigure human nature, if they don’t include the attempt to introduce a “post-human” civilization, then it’s hard to imagine where such limits would be drawn.

Myths emanate from the deepest realm of the psyche, that level which connects us to transcendent wisdom.  The record of five thousand years of human experience suggests that at the heart of life is a great mystery that does not yield to rational interpretation.  This eternal mystery induces a sense of wonder out of which all that humanity has of religion, art and science is born.  The mystery is the giver of these gifts, and we only lose the gifts when we grasp at the mystery itself.  Nature may not permit man to defy that mystery, that transcendent wisdom.  In the words of Francis Bacon, “God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world…The subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of the [human] senses and understanding.”

The Spiritual Reorientation

The third issue at the heart of the psychological reorientation mentioned at the outset is the spiritual turbulence taking place worldwide, albeit at differing rates of speed.

At the center of this turbulence is a staggering reality that’s difficult to grasp: We are living through nothing less than a redefinition of the human relationship to God.  Such a redefinition has happened several times before in history, and it’s always been a disruptive and disorienting period.

Such a thought—a change in the human relationship to God—or to be more precise, to the God-image—is by no means original with this essay.  Throughout the twentieth century, thoughtful people—Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, C.G. Jung, Adlai Stevenson, Rollo May, Peter Drucker, Joseph Campbell to name just a few—have, in one way or another, raised this possibility.

Most of the above-mentioned people spoke of this prospect in terms of Christianity and Western civilization.  However, Joseph Campbell, who was possibly the world’s foremost authority on the psychological and symbolic meaning of myths, clearly believed this spiritual reorientation, this change in the God-image, is a worldwide phenomena.  In a 1962 New York speech, he observed, “The world is passing through perhaps the greatest spiritual metamorphosis in the history of the human race.”  Campbell referred to the change he saw taking place in the spiritual attitudes of the Moslem, Hindu, Jewish and Christian students he had been teaching at Sara Lawrence College over some four decades.  Jung clearly shared Campbell’s views, and Jung’s seminal book, Answer to Job, is probably the most authoritative exposition of the psychological phenomena underlying such a shift.

But as the spiritual/psychological reorientation we’re considering is clearly most pronounced in the Christian world, it is from that experience examples are drawn that may offer helpful perspective.  If a change in the human relationship to the God-image is in fact taking place, it is by no means the first time such a change has occurred.  Jung suggests we are, in fact, experiencing the sixth major change in the Western God-image.

A change in the God-image is a cataclysmic development.  The God-image is the primary expression by which humans orient themselves to the basic questions and mysteries of life—Why am I here?  What happens to me when I die?  Does life have any meaning, and if so, how do I find it?  How should I live my life?  In this sense, the God-image should not be confused with the word “God.”  They are totally different phenomena, and are not interchangeable.  When the God-image changes, it brings with it a cultural transformation in worldview.  For many people it literally is the end of their world as they have interpreted it.

Part of the last such shift was evident when the Greco-Roman multiple gods of antiquity ceased to resonate in the depths of the Greco-Roman soul.  This was a time of prolonged disintegration and disorientation.  The cry, “Great Pan is dead” was heard throughout the Greco-Roman world.  The Roman poet Lucretius observed that “in every home doubts arose which the mind was powerless to assuage.”  There was a loss of collective meaning; a disappearance of what had represented life’s highest value.  The God-image that had informed the inner life and culture of the Greco-Roman world for a thousand years lost its compelling force, especially for the leadership class.  This led to a breakdown of the historic psychic structures that had been the source and container of Greco-Roman morals and beliefs.  A collapse of the ethical and social guidelines underlying civilized order took place.

This breakdown was followed by the collapse of life’s physical structures—the Roman roads, aqueducts, farms, and even the Roman army, which required “mercenaries” to maintain the Roman military machine.  Numerous cults, philosophies and religions vied for supremacy.  Over time, “spirit” and “matter” were torn apart from the psychological unity they had enjoyed in both the Old Testament and in Greek mythology, and Christianity became all “spirit.”  Finally, three centuries after Jesus, Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Even so, it was another five or six centuries before “Christendom” reigned throughout Europe.  From Ireland to Italy, Europe underwent a wrenching transformation of basic symbols and meaning.

When this reorientation took place, the process was confined to a relatively small proportion of Earth’s population, basically to Europe, including Russia.  If a similar process is in fact happening today, it’s taking place on a worldwide basis, and all the world’s major religions are affected.

 One reason for suggesting that the terms “God” and the “God-image” are different phenomena is that even the Catholic Church has suggested that God is beyond the capacity of human comprehension.  In 1215, at the Lateran Council in Rome, the Catholic Church stated that God is “ineffable and unknowable.”  A few decades later, Thomas Aquinas was writing his magnum opus, Summa Theologica.  Aquinas never finished Summa Theologica.  He simply quit writing.  He stopped, he said, because “One can know God only when one knows that God far surpasses anything that can be said or thought about God.”  (Italics added.)  In Aquinas’ view, God is beyond all thought, even beyond all categories of thought.  In other words, he’s saying the word “God” is a metaphor for the Mystery of Eternal Being, for that Unknowable Divine Immensity that created all life.

 Jung’s views about God are clear.  In a 1955 interview with the London Daily Mail, he said, “All that I have learned has led me step by step to an unshakable conviction of the existence of God.”  In a 1959 BBC interview, Jung was asked whether he believes in God.  He replied, “I know, I don’t need to believe.  I know.”  He subsequently outlined the psychological experiences, the soul experiences, on which that understanding was based.  For Jung, it was not a matter of faith, but of experience.

If in fact God is “unknowable” in the cognitive sense, what is it we’re referring to when we talk about God?  The Book of Genesis gives a clue when it says man is created in “the image of God.”  The “image of God”—the God-image.  It’s this God-image in the collective psyche that is the cohesive force of every religion, and it’s this God-image, in all it’s varying expressions, that has been changing.  Jung’s research suggests such a change is not only a cultural process, but is also an evolutionary process that includes both biological and psychological developments.

As to what is responsible for a change in the God-image, Edward Edinger suggests two factors: first, the God-image contains a “latent dynamic tendency” to evolve and develop; second, such development partially results from “the feedback it receives from conscious egos.”  Thus Edinger posits that while the Self, the pivotal archetype of orientation and significance, is always manifested to one degree or another, there are times in the history of a cultural worldview when the Self becomes activated to a greater degree than normal.  Such times represent the great spiritual/psychological transition points of history.

Historically, religion has been the central, life-forming, cohesive force of all great civilizations.  It constituted the formative dynamic and informing source of all our institutions and moral precepts.  Every culture has originally been the outward expression of some inner spiritual conviction.  So it is not surprising that when a particular spiritual dispensation atrophies, the culture and institutions, as well as the moral conventions derived from that religious impulse, lose their cohesion and authority.  This is an archetypal process that has played itself out several times in human history.  This archetypal process is again working itself out as is suggested by the “hollowing out” of at least five of the foundational areas of Western civilization, i.e., religion, culture, the family, education and self-government.

A Different Context

To help gain perspective on why a change in the God-image has been taking place, consider what life was like for the average person between two and three thousand years ago, when our religions came into being.  The average person never traveled more than perhaps thirty miles from their home in their lifetime; they thought the earth was flat; they lived in an agricultural society, which means they had an organic relationship to earth and natural phenomena; their only source of education or intellectual stimulation was the priest; there were no books, newspapers or “news of the day”; they had no idea of what was going on in the rest of the world—indeed they didn’t even know there was a “rest of the world;” the population of the entire world was smaller than today’s U.S. population, so there were none of the “population pressures” we experience; they knew nothing about the universe or the beginnings of life on earth; and on and on one could go.

Contrast that with the context within which we live today.  We can see billions of miles into space, and in so doing, we’ve made contact with radiation left over from the “big bang” some 14 billion years ago; religions which were born and flourished in total isolation from each other are now intermingling, thus offering everyone sort of a “do-it-yourself” potpourri of religious mix; anyone with a computer has access to all knowledge, philosophies, religions, political theories, and cultural expressions; we have become as “gods” ourselves with the power to destroy the earth, and perhaps even knock the solar system out of balance; we shall soon have the capability to create “designer babies,” and perhaps eventually eliminate the requirement for the male sperm in the creation of human life; and television, the Internet, the cell phone and easy plane travel have virtually eliminated time and space, giving us all an instantaneous electronic global reach.  One could go on, but the point is clear.

We live in an age that in every way is totally different than those times when our spiritual expressions were given us.  Our psychological orientation is vastly different.  We possess abilities and face circumstances that were simply unimaginable even five hundred years ago, to say nothing of two thousand or more years ago.  So it would be unnatural if there were not some change taking place in how man relates to the God-image, and to Transcendent Reality.  As Joseph Campbell put it, “Nothing really means anything because the images of all our religions refer to millennia past.”  Everyone on earth—from the indigenous people of the Amazon basin, to the “sophisticates” of Paris and New York, are being forced into a new global, electronic, instant information, technological context of life, which bears no relationship to that context of life when our religions evolved.

Thus the religious life across the world is in turmoil.  In India, the passive belief that one must accept the circumstances of this incarnation of life in order to find greater peace and happiness in the next incarnation, this belief is giving way to the realization that one can indeed change one’s circumstances in “this life.”  Thus the age-old pattern of adapting to one’s “proper role,” as defined by dharma, need no longer apply.  And so Bangalore is crammed with young “techies”—making salaries their parents could only dream of—providing “back room” services for American companies via computer.  In Israel, secularism and Judaic fundamentalism vie for political supremacy, while Islam could eventually become Israel’s major religion if Israel’s Arab population continues its present growth rate.  In China, where Confucianism and ancestor worship have been such a significant underpinning of culture and spiritual heritage, the whole structure of family, family authority, and the moral discipline of Confucianism, as well as acceptance of the wisdom of one’s elders, has been atrophying under the influence of, first Communism, and more recently, modernization, affluence and globalization.  And while the Tao (or the “Way”) tickles the spiritual fancy of many Westerners, the influence of the Tao has long been waning in China as people search for some more “modern” meaning to life as the country ascends to the peaks of world economic and military power.

In Europe, “secular fundamentalism” reigns, and a major concern of the Catholic Church is whether Islam will ultimately become Europe’s dominant religion.  In sub-Sahara Africa, they long ago lost their instinctual native ways of relating to the “Divine Unknown” as Europeans imposed Christianity and Western rationalized modes of administration and education on a people who instinctively operated on a more non-rational decision-making basis.  Right now, Christianity is growing rapidly in Africa, but it remains to be seen how deeply this “foreign” religion becomes embedded in the African psyche.  And in virtually every Muslim country, significant debate of Islam, democracy, modernity and globalization is under way.

A Copernican Revolution

But Jung has pointed to something even deeper going on.  The evidence indicates we are in the midst of a Copernican revolution of the psyche/soul, and it’s generating the same disorientation, bewilderment and conflict that followed the original Copernican revolution in the sixteenth century.

At its deepest level, religion is the language of the soul, the center of which is the Self, the archetype that functions as the God-image.  What the world is confronted with in the so-called “clash of civilizations” is, at a deeper level, the conflict of different God-images, or, in psychological terms, different expressions of the Self.  That is the heart of every religious conflict.  It is a split in humanity’s God-image.

At the center of this split is the psychological reality that, as one analyst puts it, what we perceive as “God-phenomena” are in point of fact “Self-phenomena.”  Behind such a statement is a totally new fact of history: for the first time, as a result of Jung’s discoveries, we have come to understand some of the psychological reality of the human interpretation of the Divinity; a reality based not on the actual existence of the Divine Unknowable Creator of the universe, but on our perception of that Unknowable. That perception, by definition, is not the Unknowable Creator itself, but is the God-image as rendered by the Self.  The split in the God-image is, psychologically, a split in humanity’s collective Self.  Historically, this split has been caused by many factors, including geography and environment, varying human characteristics, cultural and religious development, as well as the nature of evolution and emergence.  But over the past two or three centuries, the split has been intensified by activation of the Apocalypse archetype mentioned earlier.

What we may be facing now is the effort of this split Self, this divided God-image, to seek a greater degree of unity and wholeness, even while the destructive phase of the Apocalypse archetype continues.  Given the unfolding of some sort of global stage in human affairs which has been emerging over the past several centuries, such a move towards a greater unity in the Self, in the God-image, would not only be natural, but is essential if humanity is successfully to realize the vital new life this unfolding offers.  This does not necessarily mean any particular God-image must be lost; rather that as cultures and individuals, we must move to a higher level of consciousness at the same time as the differing God-images mature and are reinterpreted to express themselves in a broader, deeper and more organic unity.  In this sense, a God-image need not be static; it is responsive to the demands of evolution of the human condition, new circumstances, and the evolving needs of the human soul.

Part of the maturation of the God-image is the need for reinterpretation of spiritual scripture.  Scripture is the expression of an earlier consciousness just as it emerged from the mists of the Mythic Age.  In this sense, besides its spiritual significance that is an expression of the transcendent dimension, scripture is as well a psychological manifestation.  As was said above, religion is the language of the soul, and as the soul (psyche) seeks a greater maturity of expression, traditional scripture must be reinterpreted in terms that resonate in the depths of the contemporary human spirit.  This reinterpretation is far more than a matter of language, of just re-writing the scripture in modern language.  It involves taking the original scriptural expressions, breaking them out of the archaic, pre-modern context in which they are embedded, and expressing them in terms that resonate with the contemporary psyche.

Edward Edinger has in fact done this to a certain extent, and his collected works on this subject mark a historic beginning of a monumental task.  Take, for example, Edinger’s reinterpretation of the biblical passage we know of as the Lord’s Prayer.  He notes that it is divided into seven petitions, and is “a formula for maintaining a connection between the ego and the Self.”  He suggests that the phrase “Hallowed be thy name,” means I must remember the transpersonal sacred dimension of life.  “That is what the ego is reminding itself—to remember that life is not just secular, it has a transpersonal dimension,” writes Edinger.  The phrase, “Thy kingdom come,” suggests that the ego is announcing that it recognizes that the rule of the Self should prevail.  “Forgive us our trespasses,” emphasizes the nature of the ego’s sin against the Self.

We began this essay with a glance at earlier seminal shifts in human perception and orientation that involved a heightened constellation of the Self.  We are once again experiencing an accelerated activation of the Self that is seen in a broadening out of the human personality, and in a widening individual identity. Given that religion is the language of the soul, the psyche, one is hard pressed to remember any time in the past half century when there has been as much public discussion in the world about religion as there is today.  From a psychological standpoint, what we’re witnessing is the Self searching for a greater maturation and wholeness.

The Fundamentalist Phenomenon

An inherent aspect of any archetypal expression of the maturing process is reaction, in this case expressed in the more rigid manifestation of religious fundamentalism’s resistance to such a new maturation.  Various people are inclined to equate fundamentalism with radicalism, even terrorism.  This is a distinction that can be both false and harmful.  For many people, fundamentalism simply means adhering to the fundamentals, the basics, of a given religious expression, whether Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Christian.

Whether moderate or fanatical, however, fundamentalism poses different reactions to the psychological reorientation under way.  This is due to the numinous nature of the archetypal experience, which yields a variety of expressions.  If the numinous experience is consciously integrated, then individuation takes place, strengthening the “ego-Self axis.”  If, however, one’s ego identifies with the numinosity of the experience, then inflation takes place and the chance for individuation is minimized.  The ego then expresses itself in a certain dogmatic rigidity.  It identifies with a psychologically archaic belief system residing in the collective unconscious, rather than moving forward and engaging individuation and its process of increasing consciousness.  The individual then feels he has assumed the spiritual “high ground.”  Thus, all fundamentalisms tend to divide the world between “us” and “them,” between the “saved” and “damned,” between “those who are with us” and “those who are against us.”  For inflation has diminished the room for acceptance of the “other.”

One characteristic of fundamentalism is the literal interpretation of scripture, whether the Bible, the Koran, or Bhagavad-Gita, rather than a symbolic interpretation, which, for example, is how St. Augustine interpreted scripture such as the book of Revelation and its description of the Apocalypse.  This is a critical distinction, as many people are inclined to interpret the book of Revelation literally.  This difference between literalism and symbolism is one element at the core of the difference between fundamentalists and “traditionalists.”

A basic psychological law says every psychic condition exists simultaneously with its opposite.  So the maturation and broadening out, the evolution towards a more whole and complete God-image taking place in the collective psyche, brings with it a regressive movement towards an archaic reaching back for a more familiar expression of the God-image.  Essentially, religious fundamentalism reaches back for thought-patterns that originated at least two thousand years ago, that were expressed in a manner relevant to the psychological need and development of that time, but which fail to resonate with much of contemporary society—especially in the “creative minority” which sets the tone and culture of any society.  Indeed, the present-day psyche is actually seeking to reformulate such thought-patterns as it seeks maturation and a higher state of consciousness.

But the more energy acquired by the embodiment of the “new,” the more fiercely its opposite clutches to the safer and more familiar “old.”  In other words, the maturation to a new and more complete God-image, and the fundamentalist reaction are two sides of the same coin.  As he desperately strives to keep the old faith, the fundamentalist clings to the certainty of the very spiritual symbols that have lost their collective numinosity and are thus in need of reinterpretation.

That the whole world should be experiencing this spiritual/psychological reorientation simultaneously—even if at differing rates—is not surprising, as Analytical Psychology suggests that the structure of the psyche is the same for all people everywhere, even though the psyche has manifested itself in different cultural and spiritual inflections over the millennia.  In this sense, the psyche is comparable to the human body, which has evolved into different sizes, features and colors, but in its essential attributes is basically the same everywhere.

The Terrorism/Religion Relationship

Part of the contemporary psychological reorientation is the question of why there appear to be two completely different ways in which Muslims react to their perception of America, globalization and Western civilization?  All Muslims, generally speaking, appear to share a similar assessment of what they perceive to be the materialism, secularism and general spiritual disintegration of Europe and the United States.  One section of Muslim society—a minority—reacts to this perception by being prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to kill as many of the “infidel” as possible.  These are the so-called “terrorists.”  Another section of Muslim society, which perhaps could be described as “traditionalists,” and which shares the same assessments of the West as held by the terrorists, responds by diplomacy, cultural interchange, political action, editorial commentary, and dialogue.  Why this completely different response to shared or similar assessments?  Are we asking this question, and do we evaluate the significance it implies?

One hypothesis in answer to this question could be that the terrorist processes his reaction to perceived ills directly from the unconscious portion of his psyche.  It is an instinctual reaction.  Analytical Psychology has helped us realize that the unconscious is raw nature, and as such, it has no moral structure.  The traditionalist, on the other hand, processes his reaction through his consciousness, and consciousness does contain a moral structure.  As is pointed out in Edinger’s book, Archetype of the Apocalypse, “The psychological root of terrorism is a fanatical resentment – a quasi-psychotic hatred originating in the depths of the archetypal psyche and therefore carried by religious (archetypal) energies…. Articulate terrorists generally express themselves in religious (archetypal) terminology.  The enemy is seen as the Principle of Objective Evil (Devil) and the terrorist perceives himself as the ‘heroic’ agent of divine or Objective Justice (God).  This is an archetypal inflation of demonic proportions, which temporarily grants the individual almost superhuman energy and effectiveness.”  (For a graphic example of this, see Time magazine, “Inside the Mind of an Iraqi Suicide Bomber.”  July 4, 2005)

Edinger then goes on to say, “We need a new category to understand this new phenomenon.  These individuals are not criminals and are not madmen although they have some qualities of both.  Let's call them zealots.  Zealots are possessed by transpersonal, archetypal dynamisms deriving from the collective unconscious.  Their goal is a collective one, not a personal one.  The criminal seeks his own personal gain; not so the zealot.  In the name of a transpersonal, collective value – a religion, an ethnic or national identity, a ‘patriotic’ vision, etc. – they sacrifice their personal life in the service of their ‘god.’  Although idiosyncratic and perverse, this is fundamentally a religious phenomenon that derives from the archetypal, collective unconscious.”

 What Edinger is highlighting applies to more than terrorism in the Middle East.  It plays a part in many of the “religious” conflicts in the world today—Chechen Muslims v. Orthodox Russians, Jews v. Muslims in Palestine, Orthodox Serbians v. Muslims in the Balkans, Hindus v. Muslims in Kashmir.  In all of these conflicts, there is at least a significant element of what Edinger describes as “transpersonal, archetypal dynamisms deriving from the collective unconscious.”  No assessment of the terrorist phenomenon is complete without including Edinger’s general analysis.

Shadow Projection

Critical to understanding the role the unconscious plays in all we’ve discussed is to study our “shadow”, both in its individual and collective expressions.  One analyst suggested that if we want to know what our personal shadow looks like, just draw up a list of the characteristics we least like in other people.  That list will represent our shadow, the repressed qualities our ego-defense mechanism denies in ourselves, and thus projects onto other people or nations.  The psychiatrist Anthony Stevens writes that the shadow  “underlies all kinds of prejudice against those belonging to identifiable groups other than our own, and is at the bottom of all massacres, pogroms and wars.”  In this way, he says, “we deny our own ‘badness’ and project it on to others…”  (Emphasis added)

The most heinous example of collective “shadow projection” in our time was Hitler’s ability to induce a sizable portion of the German people to project its shadow onto the Jewish people.  On a considerably less catastrophic basis, shadow projection was more recently represented by Iran’s use of the term “Great Satan” in describing the U.S., and the U.S. retort of “Axis of evil,” both of which locates the evil “out there” somewhere, and relieves Iran and the U.S. of considering their own evil.  Stevens suggests that what makes phrases such as these so devastating is that they can “activate the archetype of evil” which then gets “projected onto the ‘enemy’ in addition to the projection of our personal shadow.”

The question arises as to whether we Americans are capable of or are willing to confront our own “shadow” in an objective manner, with no value judgment reinforced by any emotional attachment.  Seeing the “American shadow,” while not difficult, takes moral courage, as it means confronting the source of malevolence in ourselves, which is uncomfortable, to say the least.  Just as the shadow is integral to individual existence, so it’s part of a nation’s collective personality.  Examples abound: the brutality of Native American genocide, of slavery and modern day racism; the arrogance of the “Ugly American” abroad; an excessive “power-lust” for knowledge and the domination of nature—expressed in the amorality of the sciences, and in the unreflecting exploitation of technology by business; the selfishness of our maximization of growth and progress regardless of the cost; our unbalanced way of thinking reflected in environmental degradation; the greed and disregard of consequences that lead to our oil addiction; and the absence of love for our children that tolerates our daily TV menu of violence, sex and death, to offer but a few examples.  These are all individual and shared shadow aspects that, in our collective denial, we refuse to confront—at our and the world’s peril.  As Marie-Louise von Franz put it, “I think that if more people do not make the effort to reflect and take back their [shadow] projections, and take the opposites within themselves, there will be a total destruction.”

Edinger gives helpful insight on understanding one’s shadow.  “We must ask ourselves,” he writes, “Whom do I hate?  Which groups or factions do I fight against?  Whoever or whatever they are, they are a part of me.  I am bound to that which I hate, as surely as I am bound to that which I love.  Psychologically, the important thing is where one’s libido is lodged, not whether one is for or against a given thing.”  (Italics added)

Marie-Louise von Franz comments on Jung’s reaction to the accumulation of collective shadow projection:  “Jung saw this present-day culmination of evil as typical of the historic catastrophes that tend to accompany the great transitions from one age to another… Jung also did not have a simple answer, but he was convinced that every individual who undertook to come to terms with the evil in himself would make a more effective contribution toward the salvation of the world than idealistic external machinations would.  Here we are talking about more than just insight into one’s personal shadow; we are speaking also of a struggle with the dark side of God, which the human being cannot face but must, as Job did.”  Perhaps Jung’s most succinct prescription for confronting the shadow was, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness [the shadow] conscious.”  That is the heart of “individuation,” Jung’s term for achieving the most complete development of individual personality.  That is certainly a task any individual can undertake.

Summing Up

To sum up, as we look towards the coming decades, we cannot escape the fact that some great phase of the human experience is dying, while some new stage seeks to take shape.  We daily watch and experience the trauma of this historic shift expressing itself in cascading world events, in our changing institutions and human relationships, and in the ethos of destruction that has become such a cultural motif.  At the deepest level, what we’re experiencing is a sign of humanity’s collective soul passing through the throes of a reorientation, a death and rebirth.  We shouldn’t be surprised, as it’s happened before in history, albeit on a more limited geographical basis.  But now the whole human family is experiencing such a critical moment.  And although we have no map of the wider historical space into which the world is moving, the process itself reflects some new hope, some new context of life coming to birth.  Like all births it’s painful.

We all are living between two ages.   There’s a new epoch of broader and deeper meaning struggling to take shape for all humankind.  What we’re experiencing is a broadening out of the human personality to a new orientation that brings with it a sense of the whole person, as well as that person’s relationship to the whole of humanity.  It’s an enlargement of personality and perspective bringing with it a more inclusive and complete transcendent expression.  This is the expansion of consciousness so urgently needed.  It’s a process of inner transformation and rebirth.  It’s that larger and greater personality maturing within us.  With all our problems and possibilities, the future depends on how we—each in his or her own unique way—tap into the eternal renewing dynamic that dwells in the deepest reaches of the human soul.

Such a moment of intense possibility is, as well, a moment of grave danger.  The question that hangs over humanity is whether we shall wake to this process and engage it in time, or continue blindly down the road of past orientations and perspectives.  It is unrealistic to expect what we’ve been discussing to come to fruition in the lifetime of anyone reading this essay, for history suggests changes in worldview and consciousness take time to grow and mature.  But if enough people—especially in America and Europe—realize what’s happening, and internalize the symbolic meaning of the new orientation, then perhaps we might avoid the worst, and contribute to the new level of consciousness and moral maturity a new epoch of history is demanding.

© William Van Dusen Wishard 2005. All rights reserved.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I am not an analyst.  Over the past thirty years, however, I have studied the works of C.G. Jung, Marie-Louise von Franz, Edward F. Edinger, as well as the writings of the more contemporary generation of analytical psychologists.  Whatever truth the above essay may express, it is to Jung and those who followed, the credit goes, for they have pioneered what I believe to be the only realistic path to the new era now seeking birth.  Any errors of fact or interpretation this essay may contain are strictly my own.