Religion Types

A pseudo-quotation (I’m not willing to call it a quotation until I find a source) from Carl Jung:

“If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotions will be fear and trembling. If our religion is based on wonder, our chief emotion will be gratitude.”

As so often with Jung, I feel that he makes a good point but ever-so-slightly misses the real underlying issue. The division of religions is not, I think, between those that are salvation-oriented and those that are wonder-oriented; the division is between those that are oriented towards the attainment of something that the practitioner does not have and can (supposedly) only attain through the medium of the religion, and the rest. The “salvation” mechanism is just a special case of this, especially so when “salvation” is something administered by a priesthood in the name of the religion. Whether it is salvation, enlightenment, life everlasting, the effect is the same: the object becomes a means of social control, is offered as a carrot and withheld as a stick — from the latter come the fear and trembling that Jung mentions.

Post-Scriptum. I’m not making a moral judgement about whether or not the use of religion for social control purposes is “a good thing”; the answer to that depends upon circumstances far too much for a brief universal answer. My point is that fear isn’t a consequence of salvation-fetishism per se, but rather (the social consequences of) attainment-fetishism more generally.


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