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Part 12: An Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle and Jung on the Existence of God
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-06-10 07:28:48
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Carl Jung: Good morning Professor Aristotle. If I may join this interesting conversation. I agree that the way religious thinking works is ok in religion but not quite suitable for findings things out in a scientific context; but as Aquinas I also believe that there is only one truth, not two different kinds of truths.

Aristotle: Indeed, we have already agreed on that.

J. In fact talking about two different truth can be misleading and misguided.

A. How so Dr. Jung?

J. Let’s consider Dante’s Divine Comedy which is obviously fictitious. Dante would be the first one to admit that he never went on a journey through hell, purgatory and Paradise, but he would insist that the work is true to life, that we all go on such a journey.

A. I get that. I wrote about it in my Poetics on Greek drama; but strictly speaking isn’t every sentence in Dante’s work false? While the characters are historically, the events Dante describes in his journey never happened.

J. That may a defect in newspaper which ought to report facts, but it is not a problem in a work of fiction which is not supposed to give literal truth. What an epic poem like the Odissey or the Divine Comedy gives us is not the literal truth. Those writings have other purposes. Just about every sentence in those writings are false, but they are not written to tells us what is literally true.

A. You are quite right Dr. Jung. Fiction can symbolically represent things that really happen and teach us crucial things about life and present us with a meaningful valuable outlook on life. Perhaps reading those works can change us for the better.

J. In some way all the arts are symbolical. Having read your poetics I think you’d agree Professor Aristostle; no need to reinvent the wheel. But what I am saying is that religious truth is something like that; it is symbolical language. Symbolic truth is what all religions are about. Lack of evidence, incoherence, and even falsehood which would mar any scientific work is irrelevant in religion.

A. Are you then affirming that everything in a religious text such as the Bitle is false?

J. You may put it that way, if you so wish, and I suppose as a rationalist you have to put it that way but I continue to affirm that the Bible is a very important book because of its symbolism, its poetical allusion, its metaphors, its allegories despite what the anti-religious people, such as Voltaire, have to say about its relevancy of our lives.

J. Maybe you need to think of it as a great work of mythology which ought not be conceived as falsehood.

A. I understand that mythology is symbolical and can give us insights in the human condition, but as philosophers or even as psychologists, ought we not prefer truth?

J. I have done research around the world and I know for a fact that every culture, even the most isolated, has a mythology which symbolized their values. Those fictional stories are about their values: what they think is most important in life.

A. I get your point Professor Jung. None of the Greek myths are literally true but I can appreciate them for what they represent symbolically. Of course mythology differs from culture to culture. Greek myths were certainly more important to the ancient Greeks than they are to modern people.

J. I couldn’t agree more. Well then, Professor Aristotle, think of the Bible as our mythology.

A. If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that it is not literally true that God exists.

J. Right, but I am afraid you are missing the point if all you get from that statement is that “God exists” is a false statement. But is that a reason from dismissing it from a novel or a poetic expression presenting us with attitudes that are meaningful to us? Empirical proof and evidence are appropriate when the truth of a statement is at issue. But one does not go and look for evidence and proofs in mythology or poetry or fiction. This is similar to the misconceptions about prayer and worship; the problem here arises only if one thinks of prayer as a way of getting something one does not have.

A. What then is prayer for?

J. It is good in as much as it expresses our desires. When people want something badly they vocalize it. In fact if the desire is strong enough it will take the form of singing; hence Italian opera which expresses by singing and music very powerful emotions.

A. Oh, I understand all about that. After all I invented the concept of “catharsis.” It was not the Italians who invented it and if they thought they did they were merely reinventing the wheel out of ignorance. My problem Dr. Jung is that I suspect that religious people believe that their beliefs are really true.

J. The solution to that conundrum lies in comparing religion and the literal truth activities such as science. Religion gets its stories from tradition and the heritage of the forefathers, science uses observation, experiment and experience. Religious stories are told in houses of worship, scientific stories are told in universities. In the former people even chant their religious beliefs, in universities nobody chants literal facts. In a church one prays for things one desires; in a factory we produce what we desire. Most factories, I dare say, do not have the awe inspiring architecture of a gothic cathedral with its stained windows and incense and music and chant. The whole apparatus of a religion is designed around symbolic representation, not literal truth and industrial production.

A. But are you saying that it is a good thing to believe in something that is false simply because one gets good cathartic feelings out of it?

J. Not exactly. Let me put it this way: when one is considering what to believe, truth matters a lot; but religion is not concerned with believing in that sense.

A. But most religious people I know think that what religion says is true, and they don’t mean it in a symbolical mode but literally. This is particularly true of fundamentalist Christians. They believe that some of the narrations in the Bible are literally or scientifically true.

J. That presents a problem that Aquinas solved by simply reminding us that the Bible is not a book of science but a book of symbols. However, you would be wrong in assuming that most Christians take the existence of a loving and compassionate God as a poetical statement.

A. Well then, in that case your interpretation of what religion is all about cannot be right.

J. Professor Aristotle, do not be misled by superficial similarities of how religious and ordinary beliefs get expressed. People assert propositions such as “I believe that Canada is in North America.” Others say “I believe God is a loving God and loves me.” Those two statements look similar; they have the same form. But they really different things. Much has been made about belief in rationality being at the very core of science; an unexamined belief on the part of science. But take notice that the language of religious belief is different from ordinary belief: when it’s an ordinary truth you say that you believe that, but when it is religious belief you say that you believe in God.

A. Plenty of food for thought here Dr. Jung. I’ll have to ruminate on it for a while and then perhaps we can get together to continue this interesting conversation.

J. It’s a deal. Good day Professor Aristotle.



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