Jung: I do not believe, I know.
In an interview in 1959, when Jung was in his 80’s, he was asked the question if he believed in God. Famously, he replied that he did not ‘believe’, he “knew’. This led to a predictable outcry in the media and necessitated a written response.
It is worth reading slowly, as it explores some of the most fundamental issues of what might be meant by our universal use of the word ‘God’, even when this word means something very different to different people of different faiths.
Here is Jung’s letter to “The Listener” on January 21, 1960, after his comment was misconstrued subsequent to the BBC Broadcast:
Sir – So many letters I have received have emphasized my statement about ‘knowing’ (of God) [in Face to Face, The Listener, October 29]. My opinion about knowledge of God is an unconventional way of thinking, and I quite understand if it should be suggested that I am no Christian. Yet I think of myself as a Christian since I am entirely based upon Christian concepts. I only try to escape their internal contradictions by introducing a more modest attitude, which takes into consideration the immense darkness of the human mind. The Christian idea proves its vitality by a continuous evolution, just like Buddhism. Our time certainly demands some new thought in this respect, as we cannot continue to think in an antique or medieval way, when we enter the sphere of religious experience.
I did not say in the broadcast, “There is a God.” I said “I do not need to believe in God; I know.” Which does not mean: I do know a certain God (Zeus, Jahwe, Allah, the Trinitarian God, etc.) but rather: I do know that I am obviously confronted with a factor unknown in itself, which I call ‘God’ in consensu omnium [consent of everyone] “‘quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditur”). [“What has been believed always, everywhere, and by all”] I remember Him, I evoke Him, whenever I use His name overcome by anger or by fear, whenever I involuntarily say: “Oh God!”
That happens when I meet somebody or something stronger than myself. It is an apt name given to all overpowering emotions in my own psychical system subduing my conscious will and usurping control over myself. This 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. I accordance with tradition I call the power of fate in this positive as well as negative aspect, and inasmuch as its origin is beyond my control, ‘god’, a ‘personal god’, since my fate means very much myself, particularly when it approaches me in the form of conscience as a vox Dei, with which I can even converse and argue. (We do and, at the same time, we know that we do. One is subject as well as object.)
Yet I should consider it an intellectual immorality to indulge in the belief that my view of a god is the universal, metaphysical Being of the confessions or ‘philosophies’. I do neither commit the impertinence of a hypostasis, nor of an arrogant qualification such as: ‘God can only be good.’ Only my experience can be good or evil, but I know that the superior will is based upon a foundation which transcends human imagination. Since I know of my collision with a superior will in my own psychical system, I know of God, and if I should venture the illegitimate hypostasis of my image, I would say, of a God beyond good and evil, just as much dwelling in myself as everywhere else: Deus est circulus cuius centrum est ubique, cuis circumferentia vero nusquam. [God is a circle whose center is everywhere, but whose circumference is nowhere]
Carl Gustav Jung