Neurotic Disturbances

On the difficulties of becoming God


As time permits over the past couple of years I’ve been looking at whatever essays I can find that shed light on the significance of sacrifice in the Catholic Mass - things that don’t assume that sacrifice is a universal concept that everybody basically already understands (I don’t), and which are not also over my head. So for the past couple of weeks I’ve had my college anthology of Jung at my bedside, and have been chewing my way through his brilliant little piece - Transformation Symbolism in the Mass - in the rare moments of clarity which life grudgingly grants me to do any reading. The psychological perspective has been very illuminating, and when I feel I have grasped it better I will make a report of it to Father Joe, although it will entail steering the conversation into perilous waters for him. His pastoral function tends to override his love of speculative thought when it comes to encouraging the uninitiated in a premature or misguided imitatio Christi. Mystical transfers of substance must surely interest Father Joe in secret, but professionalism dictates that he stubbornly refuse to explicate religion on any but historical ground.

“Neurotic disturbances” was the word Jung used to describe the obtrusion of the unconscious into human affairs. The Jungian unconscious was not some unexplored compartment within the human psyche as Freud understood it, underlying and conditioning our behavior in the form of a hidden repository of repressed memories and oedipal disappointments. Reality, for Jung, was a psychic phenomenon, and the unconscious was its irrational ground. Analogous to the Atman or the Indwelling Christ, it constituted a vaster event for Jung than bits of unfinished business that make us sick when we try to bottle them up. When Jung’s unconscious makes an end run around our repressive devices it does so at all levels, creating a “dissociation” in the form of both a splitting of individual personalities and, simultaneously, the appearance of iron curtains physically splitting the consciousness of the entire world. Scornful of distinctions between inner and outer, the substrate of experience includes the dionysian, untheologized origins of religion, presenting itself to us as our own dark and unruly underside, as well as untamed nature - the elements, the wild beasts, the unreflecting creatures from whom everybody, Jung included, is at constant pains to distinguish noble man. It appears to us as everything unexplained and sinister, the terra incognita beyond the frontier, the Third World with its strange beliefs and incomprehesible passions.

The mere fact of his passing has not diminished Carl Gustav’s knack for getting into the old brain pan and waking everything up. A whole range of disparate themes, conundrums, gripes, fears and current events, embracing the temptation of Eve, the United States Senate, the Maryland Sniper and the dangers of gnosticism, joined hands like a glee club this morning as I lay in bed relentlessly finishing up the Jung essay while downstairs Barney and Lucille attempted to break my concentration with ear rattling shrieks, asserting their disdain for philosophy and their belief that Saturday mornings are to be spent entertaining parrots.

So. Let’s get back to these neurotic disturbances. Readers steeped in my clever opinions will recall my take on the so-called “War on Terror,” that our fears have suddenly begun to jump out from behind the bushes at us in the form of outright hallucinations or the actual materialization of sixty years of xenophobic fantasies. The “terrorists” are our bogeymen. They are neither real nor unreal. They are being realized. We think we see them out there in the darkness, and at some point in the creative magic of our consensus, their molecules come together like clots in the cosmic soup. I’m speaking psychically, being full of Jung this morning. Actually we create them by converting our fears into bombing raids, which in turn generate the actual terrorists. Congress this week handed George W. Bush, a confirmed killer, permission to use our military to go to war against our own hysteria, pure and simple. The people who will die (in countless thousands no doubt) are not people who have done anything to harm us, or people who have been planning to harm us, or who possess the means to harm us. They are people who will die merely because we are afraid of them.

Because we will have killed them for such insane reasons, the world will perceive that nobody is safe from us. They will wish us gone from existence, and a vast reservoir of human ingenuity will go to work on the problem of bringing us down. That hour is right around the corner. And when we enter into that dreadful state of affairs we will finally have good reason to be afraid. I will waste no more time trying to convince anybody to reverse this disastrous course, since we are now at the brink of the falls. At this point I only want to observe it and make some clinical sense of it. What I want to understand this week is why Dubyuh and his robotic Congress and most, apparently, of my fellow Americans feel we have the right to go out and murder people who haven’t done anything to us - what satisfaction we expect to take from such megalomaniacal behavior, and what we hope to accomplish by it.

Which brings us, naturally, to the Maryland Sniper, a microcosmic example of the expropriation by some arrogant fuck, of the right to terminate the existences of innocent people. The Sniper is eight for ten as of this writing. Ten shots, eight kills.

I may never again have the opportunity to digress about snipers, so pardon me... I’ve actually met a few snipers, and whenever I do, it gets my curiosity up. I was briefly involved a few years ago with a predatory young woman named Lisamarie who subsequently failed to become the last significant sexual experience of my life. Her love for intrigue and rough action seemed to run in the family. I met her kid sister one afternoon. She came by with her fiancee, a nondescript crewcut who was off to Fort Bragg to be all that he could be by attending Sniper School. I didn’t try to engage him in conversation, perceiving that he was the noncognitive sort. But a couple weeks later I went to dinner at Lisamarie’s mother’s house. “So,” I ventured, by way of getting acquainted. “your son-in-law’s a sniper. What’s that like for you?” Lisamarie’s mother’s reply was: “Somebody’s gotta do it.”

There are, it turns out, sniper societies out there, which exist for no other purpose than to handle America’s sniping needs. Highly motivated, skilled men (mostly) who train every weekend in both urban and rural sniping environments. The tv showed pictures of them, decked out in non-glare camo gear, lying patiently in the grass like high velocity rattlesnakes. Attuned to every change in the breeze, every beat of their heart, these people have achieved absolute mastery of their instruments. They can put a hole in a dime at 150 yards. Their motto is “One shot, one kill.” So our Maryland guy is good, but not the best. Early on he took out a school kid, then some lady coming out of a store, and lately a run of people standing beside their cars at filling stations. The media is gathering like a swarm of storytelling buzzards, bringing us the faces of the victims, experts and profilers, a smothering foam of hackneyed theories. We know all about these sick individuals. He leaves tarot cards behind, on which he writes “I am God.” The mood in the Washington D.C. area is a brave and thin denial of outright panic. The odds still favor any given person making it through the day, so as far as danger is concerned we are much more likely to be killed by our HMO physicians. What bothers us is the irrationality of it. We work very hard to build repressive bulwarks in our society, and neurotic disturbances like snipers and cannibals and suicide bombers freak us out.

Last week, I should briefly add, the new Hannibal Lecter flick hit the theaters. It was about yet another nut case who thinks he is the dragon of Revelations and goes on a slasher spree wasting innocent families while the good guys try to track him down by understanding his demented thought processes. Isn’t it strange that “things” happen in synchronous clusters like that?


Let’s chat a little bit about being God. We have, to start with, this quintessentially demonic bit from Genesis:

And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

The meaning of the fall is contained in this curious piece of scripture. I can’t make it out myself, and I have never encountered anybody who was able or willing to explain it to me. How did the eating of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil make men “as gods?” Why did this anger God? Growing up, I was taught that knowledge in general was a good thing, and that knowing right from wrong was essential to being a good and moral person. Does God not share this view? Why does the innocence that allows us to remain in paradise entail ignorance and blindness? How can it be said that man was made in the image and likeness of God if such important attributes as omniscience and omnipotence were omitted from his engineering plans? I mention these questions only to dispel any impression I might give that I know what I’m talking about.

Having, at any rate, opened up the possibility of sin, we proceeded to immerse ourselves in it. Nibbling the apple doesn’t, frankly, seem all that bad to me, whereas whacking our brother in a jealous rage is something we should have known better than to do. Down the centuries we fell, into the inevitable swamp of error and evil, until relatively recent times in which the idea of being restored to our original nature began to occur to us. We became interested in metaphysical maps, dialectical devices, messianic avatars, virtuous disciplines and Gnostic intuitions. Being “as gods” began to sound pretty good to us, considering the ruinous alternatives. But then the wish to be “as gods” was what got us in this fix to start with, wasn’t it? Didn’t the God of Abraham create us out of the dust? We resembled Teletubbies more than cocreators of the world, frolicing in a garden prepared for us like a zoo exhibit, with nothing going for us but our sappy innocence.

This brings us to Moore’s Dilemma, which is discussed at length elsewhere in this slough of verbiage. Briefly it is my standing argument with Father Joe, my spiritual mentor (and a man twelve times smarter and better educated than me) to the effect that religion which is merely historical can appeal only to my credulity with regard to the factuality of certain past events. Such a flat affirmation, that something happened or did not happen, lacks transformative efficacy. Since I am helpless to be anything but a spectator to history, I am necessarily unmoved by the presentation of such outward facts, whether they are true or false. Religion which does not approach me metaphysically, mystically, psychologically or noetically, does not really reach me, or present me with the possibility of conversion, enlightenment or inward change. I was raised on Eastern religions, which are not at all shy to declare that in our inmost selves we burn with the divine fire. I resist the acceptance that I have been placed, like a hamster, in the box of history.

Jung cautions against proceeding carelessly down this road. The conscious ego exists by virtue of having staked out a capsular claim in the flow of things. It exists in this mode by identification, thinking of a finite amount of itself as a particularity. Wishing to overcome its defining limitation, it seeks to transform itself into the unconscious self, an inclusive and subsuming unity that does not utilize thought at all, as we know it. It seeks to bring about the identity of its own center with the source of itself, with the center of the universe. To the extent that it goes about this by yet another “identification,” in this case with its inner self, its Atman, its higher man, it merely inflates, imagining itself to comprehend the mysteries and to wield the unlimited power of God. Jung calls this the “danger of inflation, which, as we have experienced to our cost, can seize upon whole nations like a psychic epidemic.” Snipers, one imagines, must be men possessed by the intoxicating wish to actually loose the destructive power available to them. By extension, imagine holding the power to annihilate whole countries just by picking up the phone. Look at Bush getting off his plane. He’s so full of himself he can’t get his elbows down to his sides any more.

Man’s original unity, symbolized by the Gnostic Christ of the Acts of John, makes him the agency of a purposeful creation by which order is brought into chaos. Focusing on the cross as both a common center and a boundary, the ego can find its connectedness to its source and reach the goal of its salvation, provided it can resist the temptation to identify with the inner Christ. For its purpose, as per Philippians 2:5-8, is to empty itself, in imitation of Christ the Nazarene for whom equality with God was not a thing to be clung to.

In order to exorcise this danger (that one might wish to become God for worldly reasons) the Church has not made too much of “the Christ within,” but has made all that it possibly could of the Christ whom we “have seen, heard, and touched with the hands,” in other words, with the historical event “below in Jerusalem.”

You have to be careful, says Jung, about wishing to depose the king within.

The ego is dissolved in the self; unbeknown to itself, and with all its inadequacy and darkness, it has become a god and deems itself superior to its unenlightened fellows. It has identified with its own conception of the “higher man,” quite regardless of the fact that this figure consists of “Places to the right and left, Authorities, Archons, Daemons” etc., and the devil himself. A figure like this is simply not to be comprehended, an awesome mystery with which one had better not identify if one has any sense. It is sufficient to know that such a mystery exists and that somewhere man can feel its presence, but he should take care not to confuse his ego with it. On the contrary, the confrontation with his own darkness should not only warn him against identification but should inspire him to salutary terror on beholding just what he is capable of becoming.

The Gita is still on my desk. I am reminded of the vision of Arjuna, given divine sight by his friend, the wise and sublime Krishna, to behold all of the worlds within the body of the God, worlds of glory and worlds of horror, knowledge of good and evil alike:

Now with frightful tusks your mouths are gnashing,
Flaring like the fires of Doomsday morning -
North, south, east and west seem all confounded -
Lord of devas, world’s abode, have mercy!

Lust, rage and greed are the doorways to hell in any religion. The demonic usurpation of the seat of godlike power produces monsters. Some sit in stuffed executive chairs contemplating maps of Middle Eastern oil fields that will soon be theirs. Others sit in white vans in roadside parks, peering down between corridors of leaves to the spot just in front of the ATM machine where any minute now a random mortal will step into the path of a divine thunderbolt. Stupid white men become Shiva, destroyer of worlds.