Things That Exceed Us
The wind is invisible but we can tell it’s there because we experience the effects that it produces. For example, this morning while walking the battlements of Vyšehrad, I saw the wind lift up a bunch of autumn leaves into the air and twirl them around, forming a beautiful bright yellow mini-tornado. The sunlight is invisible, too, moonlight is invisible, atoms are invisible to the naked eye, the sound of the ocean waves (and indeed, music in general) is invisible yet we know all these things exist because we can feel their effects: the sunlight warms our skin, the moonlight turns everything silver and sends shivers up our spine, the sound of the ocean rocks us to a peaceful sleep or else infects us with memories of when we were a tadpole in our mother’s womb, and atoms constitute our body and allow us to walk around without turning into a puddle of goo.
Science is on board with all the assessments above; science is OK with these things being invisible and yet, paradoxically, still in possession of a verifiable existence. But when it comes to transpersonal divinities known as archetypes, science becomes very skeptical. Suddenly, the same criteria for verifying the reality of invisible things like the wind are no longer valid. That all humans, for example, including scientists, can simply wake up one day and feel like weeping for no apparent reason, this emotional reality being an effect of the archetype of Grief which empirically proves its existence — since here we are with an inexplicably heavy heart that might break at any moment — this science cannot tolerate. According to science, there must be a direct causal reason emanating from the physical world of the subject which makes him or her want to weep, it cannot be the result of an autonomous, non-human, and invisible power standing beyond the limits of understanding giving rise to the effect.
Many scientists deny the validity of the concept of god. Isn’t that funny? I think it’s because they cannot explain what god is, they cannot measure it in test tubes, they cannot determine where it comes from or how it beahves. This is threatening to the scientist whose only cognitive avenues for apprehension are logic and reason. A scientist sitting in a concert hall listening to an achingly beautiful piece of music and shedding hot tears — what is this person experiencing but a god? Beauty is a god (or a goddess, whatever you prefer), and the reason we call it a god is that it has power over us, it can affect how we feel, it can affect our bodies and make us weep or it can inspire us and make us move in new directions, it can make us say and do things differently from how we would have done if we had not experienced the influential and generative presence of Beauty. I think reductive scientific materialists who dare to call themselves psychologists will say that something is going on in the brain while the music plays, some chemical or other is being released and that’s what’s causing the tears.
Why is it so hard for us to imagine that we are powerless before certain invisible factors? I feel like science and rationalism are ways to control the wild, immodest, and insane fecundity of natural expression. For scientists, everything must be harnessed, categorized, finally understood, brought under firm control, well-managed so we no longer feel terrorized by faceless unfeeling universal powers. I continually harp these days on a commencement speech for Pacifica Graduate Institute written by Dr. Bayo Akomolafe, but in this context, I especially love what he said about “being met and exceeded by things that defeat us.” Things that exceed us. This is a reality of life — there are things in this world more powerful than we are — invisible things! Why can we not accept this with humility and grace? Death is more powerful than we are. Loss, Grief, Beauty, Hate, Love — all these archetypal forces, these theophanic entities are stronger than we are, when they come around we cannot get rid of them, we cannot escape their all-consuming presence. How many times have we tried to talk our way out of grief or fear while secretly knowing (in our heart of hearts) that it’s no damn use? How many times have we used denial as a way to escape how we feel?
I think that’s what science ultimately is — it is denial — an expression of fear, and a way to avoid experiencing it, a way to avoid the reality of powers beyond our control, like death and loss and grief.
I’m not saying that science is not good for anything. Of course, it is. But I still believe that behind many of our highly scientific and rational behaviors and attitudes lies this secret fear of “god,” which is what we call the mysterious powerful forces beyond our ken. In a 1961 interview from Good Housekeeping Magazine, comes Jung’s interesting definition of god:
“To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans, and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”
So god is a conglomeration of forces or powers that can cross our “willful path,” meaning they can stand in the way of what we want to do, change or alter the path we want to take, for good or ill. Jung was also careful to point out that god is not this angelic being the way certain theologians and religious practitioners wish he would be, a benevolent grandfather in the sky who just wants what’s best for us. This is wishful thinking and one of the aspects of the question of religion that probably annoys scientists to no end. But god is ambivalent — like everything else in the universe, god is a paradox: sometimes loving, sometimes hateful; sometimes generous, sometimes stingy as hell. For example, the image Jung portrays of the Biblical god Yahweh in Answer to Job is quite spectacular. Here, god is petty, mean, and psychotic. No wonder people fear him! But this is more accurate since the archetypal forces of which the universe is composed are exactly like this, they exceed us in power and we — that is to say, our willful path, our ego-selves — are defeated by them.
In image after image portraying the heavenly sometimes immortal bliss of the “penitent man” who bows before god, we see the way forward into a life of peace, joy, and stable reliable harmony. The way to achieve this kind of life is not by denying the reality of powers beyond our control, but through an appreciative creative collaboration that begins and ends with perfect humility. Jung famously wrote that “those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad,” which madness, to me, can only mean the madness of inflated egoism. And at the end of the day, that’s what scientific materialism is, it is the madness of human egoism that cannot accept the limits of its understanding and therefore cannot respect the reality of invisible forces.
Is there a force more invisible than climate change? Scientists call it climate change, but I call it the justifiable wrath of god. We will all be exceeded by this final judgment, even those half-human, half-cockroach beings who end up living on a different planet.