Richard Noll’s Intro to The Jung Cult

This will be a quick run-through of Noll’s introduction in his book, The Jung Cult, a book which purports to demonstrate that Jung’s followers are members of a cult, and that we do not understand just how much Jung was a product of his times and not as original as all that. Noll will attempt to do this by laying out the culture, academic and socio-political, of the late 19th and early 20th century. Noll uses Tonnies, the 19th century sociologist, as an example of what we as followers of Jung are. In this case, Tonnies, who had been so smitten, as it were, of Nietzsche from his book, The Birth of Tragedy, that he was unable to approach Nietzsche when he saw him on the street. Nietzsche became Tonnies’ spiritual rector, but he eventually came to reject Nietzsche, as elitist and worse when his subsequent works came out. Noll implies we will lose our cultish admiration of Dr Carl in due course as well.

Ha! Yeah! Sure thing. Smile.

Summary. In the intro, Noll lays out his basic model of his explanation of how and why people come to be members of a cult. Well, at least, he tries to do just that.

As just mentioned, Noll takes example from the life of Ferdinand Tonnies, a sociologist of significance, the one who developed the ideas of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. This is a good explanation here. The former refers to a very traditional society based on long-held norms, where everything is somewhat personal. The group is inclusive and never impersonal as such.

But, the Gesellschaft society is the one that came into being as a result of the industrial revolution and the movement of people into towns. You don’t know your neighbor, and what you seek is largely for yourself. The sense of being a member of an overall group is diminished.

This conflict in perspective and experience accounts for a lot of what is wrong with modern life. The concepts are extremely useful. But, that is not what interests Noll.

What Tonnies experienced in regard to Friedrich Nietzsche as a spiritus rector is what concerns Noll. Tonnies apparently was so taken by Nietzsche’s book, The Birth of Tragedy, and, so in awe of Nietzsche that he could not approach Nietzsche when he saw him on street. Nietzsche was, in effect, an Olympian, someone he held in such total awe that Nietzsche’s actual presence invoked some sense of unworthiness in him.

At a certain point farther on in time, post the publishing of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Tonnies could no longer hold Nietzsche in that kind of esteem, having come to see Nietzsche’s point of view regarding individuality, the Ubermensch, and the need to break taboos as a “cult”, something irrational and contradictory as well as elitist.

Noll makes the point, borrowing from the historian Thomas Carlyle, that Tonnies had a personal religion, a creed representing his actual values and orientation as a man in the world that was based on The Birth of Tragedy. Once Tonnies lost that admiration, he saw Nietzsche’s writings and the people who read so much into them that as a cult.

This becomes the model for Noll’s take that Jungians are a cult. We have established Jung as our spiritus rector and have a modified version of Nietzschean overemphasis on individuality and “breaking bonds”.

Noll maintains, arguing the point very well, that Jung’s ideas changed over time and that he basically reflected the ongoing currents of his time and times previous.

Jung was not the great innovator that we hapless Jungians believe him to be. He further maintains that the lack of perspective is demonstrated, in contrast to Freud, by the absence of chronological development as Jung rewrote material in such a way to reduce our chance to understand just how much and in what way Jung changed his stance on key aspects of his overall theories on the psyche. I do agree with this.

Noll sees the Jung centers with their courses on palmistry, the I Ching, Tarot, etc, as being places focused on something outside the realm of science, centers of the “cult”, as it were.

My take is that Noll believes that people such as myself, if we were better informed, would understand Jung better and see him as outside of science as he understands it, and would cease to see Jung as holy man or divine man of antiquity. That is the model he offers us. Not exactly without some validity.

What I would like would be information as to what Noll’s perspective was on the psyche, God, good and evil and the soul. Is this man even capable of allowing traditional psychological perspective to be understood and reinstated with a new context? We see much of the ancient point of view regarding the psyche as valid.

We will see that Noll does not even mention Jung’s concept of the Self.

What then does he understand? How then, without this essential concept as one example of basic Jungian thought, has he come to judge Jung?

This “awakening” to the real Jung, and this overthrow of his statue in our pantheon, as it were, will not happen.

I laugh.

What I intend to demonstrate is that Noll does not understand Jungian psychology as process at all.

Noll is right that there is a certain “cult-like” aspect to the central Jungian community. I have personally interacted with many and there is a total lack of curiosity as to how an eclectic (me!) had such “Jungian” experiences while doing a very Freudian therapy known as “primal therapy”, the therapy John Lennon went through before coming out with his album, Imagine.

I maintain that people who lose their faith, their core sense of their own psyche, will go looking for their historical roots in the attempt to restore the sense of wholeness that they had in the Gemeinschaft communities. Jung and Noll both believe this.

I can say that Jung’s perspective, added to what I have come to understand, use and appreciate of my own therapy, has very much substituted for the loss of my own traditional Christian religion. It happened when I was all of 14. As a matter of fact, much younger than either Nietzsche or Jung, but, very much along the same lines.

So, read this book for its great information on late 19th century culture, the breakdown of traditional, literal religion and its perspective on Jesus. It is very important to see all these attempts at creating a new worldview in place of the old one. Furthermore, it is this lack of the legitimate aspects of traditional religion as applied in daily life that created the space for Nazi pseudo-mysticism, an approximation of what many people sought, designed, however, to lead them to substitute a “Fuhrer” for the missing guiding light. Even to their death and destruction.

This is exactly the opposite of the process of individuation. Exactly, the opposite of what Jung intends. It’s the very reason that Jung’s work cannot be made into a cult. It is at its core anti-cult.

Published by Roy Cameron

Janus “Bi-Facciale”, as the Italians call him. Gatekeeper. Looks out from and into the courtyard. He is, in fact, the “janitor”. Born on the East Coast, but lived on the West Coast for a decade before living in Italy for a decade. Science, psychology and extreme history buff. Presently, in the Northwest. “Fourth Way”, Jung, primal therapy. Eclectic. Very, very eclectic. “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

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