Thoughts on Jung, Ideas, and Responsibility

by The Jester

I’ve just made the rather surprising decision to retract my last article and I’m going to try to explain why I did that. I’m in favor of ideas. I like anything new, exciting, and exploratory, although that can be a fault. However, it’s the willingness to plunge into the chaos of unexplored ideas that attracted me to the fool motif in the first place.

Once afloat in a world of thought, I find that the barriers that we naturally recognize in reality or physical reality or the everyday world, whatever you prefer to call it, are distinctly hazier. For one thing, in the everyday world we are constantly shaping and reshaping our conversations under the immediate influence of external circumstances, like the place you are sitting in or the temperature of the room, and the influence of the people around you at the moment. This is one of the great benefits of society and people and friends and enemies. We are constantly telling people what they are up to and whether or not we like it. Much of this occurs unconsciously through body language and subtle tone changes.

While writing, I often think of one or a couple people as the audience. The conversation in my head between myself and those few people direct the flow of written thought. This is usually a good thing. English professors stress the importance of knowing your audience. The writing world is always part of a long form conversation. I can read books written hundreds, even thousands of years ago and in a way that writer is communicating with me. The internet has increased the phenomenon of long form conversation as well as the difficulty of knowing your audience by exponential numbers. This compounds the problem of knowing what to say to who.

Ideas are dangerous things even in the hands of well-meaning people whether they are authors or readers. Both parties have a responsibility toward the content that they produce and/or read. Even the best philosophies have groups of followers that emulate them very badly. To what extent is the thinker/writer responsible for this? I do not know; I only know that it is a complex problem. Should only the most cautious ideas be given to the world at large since people might miscarry them? Should radical or unusual ideas be kept guarded by a few people who are willing to risk themselves on thin ice? Is it laughable arrogance for anyone to ever take on such responsibility? Please feel free to respond with your thoughts in the comment section. These are necessary conversations.

I do not wish to undermine the immense responsibility of handling ideas, thinkers, and writing with care and precision. I decided to retract the article, “Frankenstein and the Trickster Within”, because I couldn’t be certain that I was as careful as I should have been, either in considering the complexities of a diverse audience or in dealing with difficult and dangerous material. I think that Carl Jung is a brilliant thinker, and his exploration of archetypes has resonated with me because they gave category and explanation to numerous puzzling phenomena about human nature.

However, I think more attention should be given to reading Jung within the framework of a Christian worldview. One reader did us the favor of expressing concern about citing a man such as Jung and after consideration of his objections I concluded that I was not as careful in my scholarship as I would aspire to be. To be clear, I neither support nor decry Jung. I believe that it is useful to study and understand philosophy, theology, literature, and history because we and our culture are made up of such things. In fact, many opinions and ideas which we as Christians hold to be entirely our own tradition have interesting origins in philosophers and societies we have chosen to ignore because we assume that they cannot have influenced us. The world is infinitely connected and I believe it is useful to look through the layers of ideas as they have arisen throughout time if only to establish a meta narrative that helps us to see our own beliefs as they really are.

However, when you take risks, you need to decide whether the end in view is worth it—and you need to make sure adequate precautions are taken against the risks. It is complex under the best circumstances to facilitate ideas wisely and well, and on a more careful examination of the risks, I wish to retract this article.

“That he’s mad, ’tis true,
’tis true ’tis pity,
And pity ’tis, ’tis true
—a foolish figure,”

I can never express myself so well without a quote. I’m not mad, at least I’m not certain that I am mad, but I suspect foolishness. But it is “willingness to be a fool” that gets me writing at all. If it weren’t for that I couldn’t write, because I would have to try desperately to get it all right the first time. That would be unbearable responsibility for me and besides we would never talk, because I wouldn’t have started the conversation.
You see, writing is like an ongoing conversation that can be referenced to see how the trajectory is coming on. You, as a reader, are part of the conversation and you may also become “willing to be a fool” and then we could talk about anything really, because you know, there is no need to get it right the first time.

Artwork by anonymous

3 thoughts on “The Jester: Thoughts on Jung, Ideas, and Responsibility”

  1. I appreciate this thoughtful essay.
    “The world is infinitely connected and I believe it is useful to look through the layers of ideas as they have arisen throughout time if only to establish a meta narrative that helps us to see our own beliefs as they really are.” –Absolutely.

    On the power of ideas: I think the person who introduces a new idea (or, as is more likely, a new twist on an old idea) is responsible in some sense to be careful and clear in presenting it, and should also be sensitive to the correct time and place to do so. (And audience of course–but it’s true that gets so much harder with modern technology. )
    But I also believe that the listener has a responsibility to think for himself. In too many Anabaptist contexts, it seems there is the idea that whatever comes from a fellow Anabaptist is going to be solid, and whatever comes from anyone else is questionable. I cringe when I hear people say that they read only books by Anabaptist publishers ‘because you can trust those books’. Really? You mean what you want is a book you can just swallow mindlessly? Just because a person looks the same as I do and follows some of the same traditions doesn’t mean that he’s any less prone than anyone else to have the occasional idea that needs to be called into question.
    My point is that people need to learn to think for themselves and from the Bible even–and especially–among their peers. Also to learn to respect differing view points on things that aren’t necessarily a big deal to the central gospel message.

    But it’s also true that people will form opinions about you and your worldview and the organizations you represent by the ideas you express….so yes, it’s complex no matter which way you look at it.
    Sometimes I wish we could look at ideas on their own without forming judgements about the people who suggest them, but ideas do shape us–what we believe and express about the world affects how we interact with the people and situations in it.

    Don’t know if this really adds much to the conversation, but they were a few of my thoughts=)

    1. I’m just now circling back around and seeing your comment. Thanks for responding! It sounds like you’ve been wrestling with similar thoughts. I really resonate with the idea that we should be willing to look critically at any writing or idea no matter if they seem to be coming from “safe” people. My thought has always been, sure this person wishes me well and I trust that they have my good in mind, but that warmth doesn’t insulate either of us from simply failing to understand or convey something. My good feeling toward you may coincide with giving you the wrong medicine. So, check the label. 😉

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