A friend of mine is something of a seeker, entertaining and exploring Christian faith and often apparently inhabiting it—but still struggling in a move from darkness to light. That’s the best way I know how to describe him.
He wrote me an eloquent letter in which he used his training in philosophy to wonder out loud if Christianity is merely a set of Jungian archetypes, a set of myth-making stories that echo something deep in the human psyche that somehow over evolutionary millennia we have found useful. This is the way Jordan Peterson treats the biblical narrative, too.
He couldn’t bring himself to conclude that Jung and Peterson are right, but he had to work through their ideas nonetheless.
Here was my response.
You can play this game of spotting the True Truth underneath the mere stories until you are blue in the face—and blue in the spirit. Who’s to say that the materialist/scientistic viewpoints aren’t equally beholden to archetypes encoded by evolution into the human psyche over millennia? They aren’t “true,” just exceptionally and demonstrably useful for the survival and propagation of the species.
In this “seeing behind the veil of archetypes” view, I think you end up having to say that materialism explains all, that none of our thoughts is reliable, only useful. Whether our internal states (thoughts, ideas, imaginations, beliefs) match the outer world or not we can never know, and it doesn’t matter. We are part of the system; we can’t stand outside it. In fact, nothing “matters.” “Mattering” involves value judgments, and to posit any value is to bridge the unbridgeable gap between “is” and “ought.” There is no oughtness in a world that just is. Make peace with pointlessness, buddy. And whether you do or not is actually solely and completely determined by the immutable laws of cause and effect that generate all your behavior.
I gather that you’ve tried this materialistic approach to life and found it wanting. You affirm clearly and passionately and with a palpable sense of personal relief that there must be a bridge between is and ought. There must be meaning. And I say, along with the Bible, that meaning is something only persons do. If there is meaning and purpose overarching human activity (and gravity and supernovae and animal death, etc., etc.), there must be a God of eternal power and divine nature who is doing all the meaning and purposing we know exists.
In the biblical view, men are adept at—and eager to—suppress these truths about God that they can’t not know. So I’m not at all surprised to see someone as smart as Jordan Peterson (and I do enjoy hearing him; he’s so close to the Truth because he seems to have extra willingness to face culturally uncomfortable truths—perhaps because his work on totalitarianisms made him face undeniable moral truths that provide him an epistemological tonic) damning the Bible with faint praise, as it were. I’ve got a clear, biblical answer to all attempts to make Jesus’ story archetypical rather than actual. It comes from Paul.
He said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)
It doesn’t really matter if the story of Buddha “really happened” in space and in time for Buddhism to retain its power as an archetype. But it decidedly matters whether Jesus really incarnated, really died, and really rose again. If the Christ event did not occur, we might as well worship Harry Potter instead. He died and rose again just as much as Christ did—and his books are more entertaining. (By the way, I like Harry Potter!) Or maybe we should worship the trinity of Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf. Gandalf is the Father archetype, Frodo the Son archetype, and Sam the “Paraclete” Spirit archetype. We could go on and on. All cultures have had their world-making myths.
But Christianity claims to be “True Myth,” to use a phrase from my beloved C.S. Lewis. It is myth, because it is archetypical: the Bible provides a story that orders our reality. But it is true myth, because it all really happened the way the Bible says it did.
So… your final sentence is where I land, too. Things fall apart with Christ, the center cannot hold. In him we live and move and have our being. In him all things cohere. I shouldn’t take the existence of archetypes as a way to relativize Christ: they are precisely what I would expect given the ordered world God gave us. I should instead see alternative archetypes, from Buddha to Bill Nye, as “principalities and powers” that are trying to overturn the True story of our world.