Profiles in Jungian-Christian Dialogue:
Adrian Cunningham - DVD (transcript online)

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Profiles in Jungian-Christian Dialogue with Adrian Cunningham
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Profiles in Jungian-Christian Dialogue: Murray Stein
28 Minutes

Profiles in Jungian-Christian Dialogue: Adrian Cunningham
17 Minutes

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 Christianity has a tremendous need for a psychology like Jung's, and the wide-spread interest on the part of Christians in his psychology can be taken as a recognition of that fact. But the Jungian-Christian dialogue has been going on for more than 40 years and something keeps it from flourishing. In this series of profiles we are going to meet people involved in different facets of this dialogue, try to discover what is happening in it today, and what hopes there are for it in the future.

In this video we are in Lancaster, England, visiting Adrian Cunningham, a professor of religious studies at the University of Lancaster. As a teenager he knew Victor White, the Dominican priest who had a close but stormy relationship with Jung which symbolized many of the problems and promises of the Jungian-Christian dialogue. Adrian Cunningham is currently editing White's letters to Jung.

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Online Transcript:

Christianity has a tremendous need for a psychology like Jung’s, and the wide-spread interest on the part of Christians in his psychology can be taken as a recognition of that fact. But the Jungian-Christian dialogue has been going on for more than 40 years, and something keeps it from flourishing. In this series of profiles we are going to meet people involved in different facets of this dialogue, and try to discover what is happening in it today, and what hopes there are for it in the future.

Jim: Today we are in Lancaster, England, to visit Adrian Cunningham. The relationship between Victor White, the Dominican priest and Thomist philosopher and C.G. Jung sums up the problems and promises of the Jungian-Christian dialogue. Their warm friendship was to end in estrangement. Tell us how you first met Victor White.

Adrian Cunningham: I was spending a lot of time in the Dominican House in London around 1957. I had a very typical male adolescent interest in the occult. I got Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy that had just been recently published out of the public library. I was getting into trouble in school, and I had one of these books confiscated at lunch time, and it was suggested that Victor White could either straighten me out or offer some helpful advice. And he offered, as best as I can recollect, very helpful advice, and suggested that I just kept quiet about what I was thinking. I went on with it.

Jim: What was he like?

Adrian Cunningham: He lived for ideas. He was quite a humorous person, and had a lot of very good friends, A couple of people told me that if he really had a philosophical problem he could be in his room for two or three days lying on his bed thinking about it. He lived a very intense philosophical life. He was quite slightly built, some people referred to him as birdlike, but also he had – I am rather embarrassed to say, I think I followed him – he used to smoke with a cigarette holder. He was a rather slightly built person, about 40 years older than myself, giving me a reasonable amount of time – 2 or 3 rather long conversations. What I still remember is the cigarette holder, and the good humor.

I was having a series of arguments, including Dominicans, about various things, including the problem of evil. I was simultaneously asked to contribute to a collection of magazine articles for another Dominican, and I thought, well, I’ll go back and have a look at the Victor White – Jung stuff, and I thought it would be nice to just put in a few little academic footnotes and new stuff, from the correspondence between Victor White and Jung that went on for a good 20 years, and the papers couldn’t be found. They were supposed to be in the Dominican House in Cambridge and couldn’t be found. I left it for a bit, and then I thought I’d have another shot at it. What did survive were myriads of sermon notes which I don’t think would ever be read by another human being, and thousands of photographs. He was a great photographer. But of all the famous correspondence, not a trace. Then someone remembered that it had last been looked at – sorry, maybe one person had looked at it, one of the people doing the Jung Selected Letters. By a series of moves and inquiries I discovered that they weren’t with the main Jung papers in the Zurich university library. They ought to be in the private archive of the Jung family, if anywhere. They weren’t there. I eventually found that a member of the family got interested in this old dispute, and had taken them away. But eventually they had gotten back together. They should never have left Cambridge, of course, and I don’t know quite how they did. It is still a mystery. Apparently, when he was getting towards the end Jung said to his son that he wanted Fr. White’s papers kept separately from the other correspondence. Why Jung wanted that I don’t know. He did somewhere say he had numerous acquaintances and thousands of correspondents, but only had two real friends that he could talk about his own problems to. One was Erich Neumann who was then in Israel, and the other was Victor White, and my best guess is he thought the correspondence was personally important to him. Other people thought there must be something scandalous or discreditable in it, but there isn’t. I think there has been more a mystery of what might be in the correspondence that is actually the case, fascinating, informative as they are.

While I was looking for the things in Cambridge - we had just discovered these sermon notes and no signs of the letters - there was an aged Dominican who had been in the House at the time Victor White died in ’61, and he remembered that the stuff was all in a tin trunk, and he probably told me that it was a jolly useful tin trunk, and he had used it to take his belongings to Leister. He said he was going to show me the trunk, but he had taken all of Victor’s stuff out in order to put his in. Dominicans, like many other religious orders, are not totally a stickler about keeping records. So I might somewhere have a photograph of a tin trunk, but there were no letters inside it.

Eventually when the Jung family found them, and I went on to the large piece of paper rubber stamped by Dominican officials saying that I was the right person to do this sort of stuff, which is to say, what to do with the letters that should have been in Cambridge when Jung’s originals went out in Zurich. I went out to the famous Jung house in Kusnach, and I think everybody knows it has the plaque above it, but I got off at the wrong station, and I asked someone where this number was, and they said, "Ah, the Jung house. Opposite the gas station." Here’s what you don’t see in the documentaries. (laughs) I felt it sort of gave a 1990s, or whenever it was, touch to this place that otherwise looks like it is in the depths of the countryside. And certainly there is a beautiful lake outside.

It was quite uncanny sitting in Jung’s consulting room talking to his son who looks remarkably like him. It was a strange sort of time warp, but it was son I was talking to, not the father. Obviously the Jung’s side, at least 90% of it, is available in the Selected Letters. White’s side of it I hope to get published with some other material of his perhaps in 2 or 3 year’s time. Looking through it I was struck that White’s misgivings about some of Jung’s views about the relationship between psychology and theology, and especially about the question of evil, were there from 1942 when he gave his first talk on Jungian things after being in formal analysis the previous 2 or 3 years, and so White was very, very quick off the ball as to what he saw as limitations in Carl Jung’s approach. They were intensely close. White went to stay on many occasions at the tower at Bollingen which very few people were ever invited to. They talked about dreams. The famous dream of Jung being with his father and being unable to get his head the last millimeter to the floor in the presence of the all High which most people will remember from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and that he sent to White in 1947. I think that was possibly the beginning of the Answer to Job book, so they were very close. Jung was sending White some of his dreams, and White was sort of talking about his. Jung showed him how to use the I Ching, and they did some other form of divination, of which I still can’t decipher what the system was. The idea that Victor White was a straight-laced arid intellectual theologian was just mistaken. Not many Catholic priests at that time were going around operating the I Ching and other forms of divination, discussing dreams, and so on. It was a very close relationship. It was very lively. Jung in words – dangerously, to me – replayed what Freud said to him. He thought of White as his bridge to the Catholic world, and I think White was the only person of that kind to be asked to join the board of the Institute when it started. So Jung saw him very much as a bridge, or an emissary, to the Catholic world.

It was all mixed up towards the end with all kinds of complicated philosophical, theological ins and outs and tos and fros, but towards the end of it I thought they had fallen out so bitterly. Victor White was one of the very few, possibly the only person in the inner circle who really stood up to the old man, and slugged it out over a period of years until they were both exhausted with it. In that sense the relationship was tragic, and in the last few years they did not meet.

I don’t want everything to hinge on the correspondence because historically I think it was important, and personally it was important to both of them. That question about how you describe the place of evil and the idea of God, I think it is almost an archetypal question in the sense that we will be arguing about it until the last minute of recorded time. There are certain issues that have been going around for centuries, and I am no more likely to wrap this up than they were, or perhaps anyone else will. As a record of a sustained attempt to argue a certain psychological position and a certain philosophical theological one I think is a classic. I am also aware that now, 30 years later, the Catholic world that Victor White was operating in could belong to another century rather than just a few decades back so much has changed. Also analytical psychology has changed, and occasionally I have a crazy thought, what would a dialogue between James Hillman and Victor White be like? In a way you can’t do this. You’d have to move everything into the 1990s.

One of the things which I find quite difficult for myself is that the kinds of material or the kinds of therapists who were operating when Jung was alive seemed to have changed quite significantly, or it may be that the classic analyses and dream accounts are coming out of a process of editing so that 200 dreams are all sort of just flim-flam, and the one that sticks out is the one that gets written up and is classical. But the old-fashioned crudely put "Beam me down, Scotty," Star Trek idea of archetypes are certainly held by some of the classical Jungians like M. Esther Harding. I think the work of the last 10 years has suggested that it was deeply flawed from the outset, and that Jung got a lot of his founding data profoundly wrong, or slightly fudged. But part of me is still that 17, 18-year-old person who in an off moment still would like to think of the collective unconscious as some kind of quasi-entity, popping the stuff up like carrots. That’s not a very good metaphor, but I in my own experience don’t find this. I think an increasing numbers of people don’t find it, either, so how you account for this I don’t know, but the context of the discussion would have to be very different. We no longer have a classical Jungian thing. You’ve got 3 or 4 very, very different ones, and you no longer have an agreed philosophical framework. You’ve got half a dozen or more. So I’m afraid I haven’t got any specifics or recommendations for the next stage. There seems to be a degree of either creative disintegration or decomposition going on on both sides.


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