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Dreamwork: Psychology and Religion


To Charles Fillmore, there was no separation between psychology and religion. Writing in 1939 he said, “Then the carping critic cries, ‘Your religion is psychology instead of Christianity.’ Our answer is that the new Christianity includes an understanding of psychology but does not stop with an analysis of the mind. It goes on to the highest phase of mind’s possibilities, unity with Spirit” (Fillmore, 1939, p. 143-144). Moreover, in speaking directly about the relationship between religion and psychology, he said:

Thought control is imperative, and there is urgent need of teachers on both the mental and spiritual plane of consciousness if the race is to go forward in development. To this end there needs to be more co-operation between these two schools, because they complement each other. Religion becomes practical and effective in everyday life when it incorporates psychology in its litany. Without religion psychology is weak in its fundamentals, and without psychology religion fails to give proper attention to the outlet of its ideals. The fact is that religion, comprehended in its fullness, includes psychology. Jesus was a profound psychologist (Fillmore, 1953, p. 75-76).

Jung shared a similar point of view as is illustrated in his essays “Psychoanalysis and the Cure of Souls” written in 1928 and “Psychotherapists or the Clergy” written in 1932. He said, “It is high time for the clergyman and the psychotherapist to join forces to meet this great spiritual task” of leading individuals to reclaiming their religious outlook (CW 11:510). Echoing the Fillmore quote noted above is this exhortation from Jung:

The Protestant minister, rightly seeing the cure of souls the real purpose of his existence, naturally looks round for a new way that will lead to the souls, and not merely the ears, of his parishioners. Analytical psychology seems to him to provide the key, for the meaning and purpose of his ministry are not fulfilled with the Sunday sermon, which, though it reaches the ears, seldom penetrates to the soul, the most hidden of all things hidden in man. The cure of souls can only be practiced in the stillness of a colloquy, carried on in the healthful atmosphere of unreserved confidence. Soul must work on soul, and many doors be unlocked that bar the way to the innermost sanctuary. Psychoanalysis possesses the means of opening doors otherwise tightly closed (CW 11:544).

If, as Fillmore and Jung both say, psychology and religion are complements, it is necessary to know how the theologian Fillmore understood psychology and the psychiatrist Jung understood religion. From that point it will be appropriate to investigate the place of dreams in the teaching of each.

Fillmorean Psychology

Since he was not formally educated as a psychologist, and in fact had no college education at all, it may be surprising to discover Fillmore did teach a coherent theory of the mind and how it functioned; however, articles from Unity magazine and Weekly Unity indicate that he was well versed in the advances of psychology in the first half of the 20th century. In fact, Unity magazine, while under the direction of Fillmore, had psychology as a principle focus. Its raison d’être was noted in this way:

Unity is a handbook of Christian Healing and Christian Psychology.

The purpose of Unity is, not to found a new sect, but to give people a practical application of what they already have through their church affiliations.

Unity therefore stands independent as an exponent of Practical Christianity, teaching the practical application of the doctrine of Jesus Christ in all the affairs of life; explaining the action of mind, and how it is the connecting link between God and man; how mind action affects the body, producing discord or harmony, sickness or health, and how it brings man into the understanding of Divine law, harmony, health and peace, here and now.

Unity explains how this power of mind action by every man and woman, for it is as operative today as it was two thousand years ago (Fillmore, 1921).

Although his knowledge of psychology did not reach the depth or breadth of that of Jung, the volume of similarities is of note. Many of them will be noted in the discussion below.

To Fillmore, the mind of man consisted of three distinctly different, yet interconnected phases: superconscious, conscious, and subconscious. In the September 1915 edition of Unity magazine, this insightful presentation of the three phases of mind was offered:

While there is but one mind, it has three distinct phases in man. These the metaphysician has named superconscious, conscious and subconscious. The majority of people know nothing about any department of mind except the conscious, and they know little about that because they do not study it. Every thought passes through the conscious mind sinks back into what is called the subconscious, or memory, and makes up a great internal realm of forces that are always at work in the man to build up or tear down, according to the character of the thoughts he has held. In this great unknown, inner realm lie all the causes of joy and sorrow, peace and pain, sickness and health. Ignorance has always led men to look outside of themselves for the cause of all their troubles. Now we are entering a new dispensation of life and the wise are learning to correct their past errors and cleanse their subconscious with the Word of Truth, which enters into the conscious and sub-conscious from the superconscious or Christ Mind (Fillmore, 1915).

The subconscious realm of mind, which corresponds to the use of the term “unconscious” by Jung, was of particular interest to Fillmore and his contemporaries within the Unity movement. In 1914 the Unity Tract Society, noted above as owned and operated by Fillmore, published the 40 page booklet The Subconscious Realm of Mind written by Unity worker J.R. Rude. In it Rude says, “All the great psychologists agree that there is a phase or stratum of mind known as the subconscious, which is capable of independent action and which has powers distinctly its own. They have deduced this from certain psychical experiences and observations carried on by themselves” (Rude, 1914, p. 7). Regrettably, Rude does not name the “great psychologists” or their experiences; however, this quote does suggest that Fillmore knew that the subconscious functioned independently of the conscious mind. [TruthUnity note: see The Subconscious Realm in April 1912 issue of Unity magazine, p.285]

Although Fillmore did not teach a clearly defined concept akin to the archetypes as did Jung, he did make mention of the many “types” of man found within the subconscious. Writing in 1920 he stated that the subconscious contained, “the wise man and the foolish man, the kind man and the cruel man, the loving man and the hateful man, the stingy man and the generous man” (Fillmore, 1920).

In August 1915, Unity magazine reprinted an article entitle “Exploring the Soul and Healing the Body,” written by philosopher Max Eastman that was originally published in Everybody’s Magazine. The article discussed the new field of healing called “Psycho-analysis,” which, in Eastman’s words:

…means analysis of the soul, or mind. And the theory of it is that countless numbers of diseases that we call nervous, or mental, and countless others that we do not name at all, are caused by desires which dwell in our minds without our knowing they are there; and that if we can be made clearly aware of these desires, their morbid effects will disappear (Eastman, 1915). N.B. italics in text

Unlike Rude’s booklet, Eastman’s article goes on to name the specialists in this new field: Freud, Charcot, and Janet in Europe along with several American doctors. And Jung. An exhaustive search of Unity literature for references to Jung has produced this one reference in Eastman’s article that occurs in a discussion of Freud:

Freud is now a professor of nervous pathology in the University of Vienna. But his psychological theories, his interpretation of dreams and his method of treating nervous and mental disorders, developed not out of professorial speculations. They are the result of twenty years’ practical experiment and concrete observation not only by himself, but by a distinguished group of physicians who have surrounded him.

The most notable of among these is Dr. Carl G. Jung of Zurich, who stands at the head of another “school” of Psychoanalysis. For in Europe this movement has gone so far as to produce two, if not indeed more than two, different groups of physicians, emphasizing different parts of the theory and its method of application (Eastman, 1915).

To Rude and Fillmore, a central issue was how to control the subconscious. One reason for this was that “the objective mind has been pouring into the subconscious a stream of errors, false beliefs, and the husks of materiality…As these errors are incorporated into the organism, their blighting influence is seen” (Rude, 1914, p. 19). Thus to live a healthy life, one would want to ensure that whatever was put into the subconscious were words, concepts, ideas and the like that promoted good health and abundant living. Additionally, Rude recognized that “when the conscious mind loses control of the subconscious, insanity is the result” (Rude, 1914, p. 21). In other words, psychosis.

Although Jung was clear that the unconscious mind did contain potentially damaging elements and energies, it would appear by the following comment he was ambivalent about value of full cohesion of consciousness:

It is a long way indeed from primitivity to a reliable cohesion of consciousness. Even in our days the unity of consciousness is a doubtful affair, since only a little affect is needed to disrupt its continuity. On the other hand the perfect control of emotion, however desirable from one point of view, would be a questionable accomplishment, for it would deprive social intercourse of all variety, colour, warmth, and charm (CW 18:443).

In a Weekly Unity article from 1921 entitled “The Subconscious Realm of Mind”, Doratha Avery, though not using the terms collective unconscious or archetypes, implies their existence:

The subconscious realm of mind is the storehouse of all the knowledge which a soul has gathered from its experiences and wanderings since it left the Father’s house in the Edenic garden of innocence, up to the present time.

Many true and beautiful gems of thought are hidden away in the recesses of this wonderful storehouse. There are also hung on its walls undesirable, crude and ugly thought pictures of man’s emotional nature (Avery, 1921).

Perhaps the “soul” she references is the soul of every person (the collective) and the “gems” and other “thought pictures” could be the archetypes.

The other two phases of mind Rude identified in this manner: “The superconsciousness is the Mind of Christ, Heaven, the kingdom of God, the Holy of Holies. It is the realm of Divine Ideas. From it all things proceed and all things are enveloped in it” (Rude, 1914, p. 10). “The conscious mind knows itself as a living, intelligent being at work in the outer world. It reasons, compares, weighs, measures. It gathers its information through the sense from the surface of things. It is well fitted to cope with the changing environment of this life. In man’s normal condition, the conscious mind is at the helm…” (Rude, 1914, p. 4-5).

It is helpful to understand the three phases of mind as understood by Unity because Fillmore taught, as psychologists still teach, that dreams emerge from the subconscious mind. Moreover, dreams emerge from the subconscious to help man know himself and his wholeness. In 1915 Fillmore wrote:

Even when one understands that he has a great mental housecleaning to do he discovers that he has much to learn about what is really within him, and he is glad for every means of finding out in his overcoming what he has stored away in his subconscious. Just here dreams are of value. When the conscious mind is still in sleep, the subconscious has the opportunity to be very active and it expresses itself in dreams; therefore one can readily see that by studying his dreams he can get a great deal of information about what is going on in his subconscious mind (Fillmore, 1915).

Another central aspect of Fillmore’s psychology was the importance he placed on man’s capacity to think and the power of words. “One of the axiomatic truths of metaphysics is that ‘thoughts are things.’ That the mind of man marshals its faculties and literally makes into living entities that it entertains is also a forgone conclusion” (Fillmore, 1959, p. 193). In his first book, Christian Healing published in 1909, he said, “…every word has its effect, though unseen and unrecognized… and a close observation of the power of the mind proves this to be true. What we think, we generally express in words; and our words bring about in our life and affairs whatever we put into them” (Fillmore, 1909, p. 64). Fillmore’s focus on the creative power of one’s thought process could be considered a forerunner to the cognitive behavior therapy developed by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck. No discussion of Fillmore’s psychology would be complete with mentioning this crucial fact.

Jungian Religion

Carl Jung’s exploration of Eastern, Western and primal religion and religious traditions is vast. His interest in religion was concentrated on effect of religious experience on the individual. “Religion, as the Latin word denotes, is a careful and scrupulous observation of what Rudolf Otto aptly termed the ‘numinosum,’ that is, a dynamic existence or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will…The numinosum is either a quality of a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence causing a peculiar alteration of consciousness” (Jung, 1938, p. 4). A full volume (number 11) of his Collected Works is dedicated to the subject of Eastern and Western religion and his psychological treatment of religion garners mention in other volumes as well as countless articles and lectures. Jung was a baptized Protestant, but on account of his focus on the psychology of religion, he was sometimes questioned about his own personal views. Answering a question about his belief in the existence of God he said:

I am sufficiently convinced of the effects man has attributed to a divine being. If I should express a belief beyond that or should assert the existence of God, it would not only be superfluous and inefficient, it would show that I am not basing my opinion on facts… I am well satisfied with the fact that I know experiences which I cannot avoid calling numinous or divine (CW 18:1589).

Since Jung was an empiricist, his interest in religion was predicated on the facts of religious experience. He was of the opinion that humans only were able to conceive of an image of God, not totality of God. Because the facts surrounding God’s existence could not be fully known, discourse about what God is or is not would be generally untenable; however, there was some hope.

What God is in himself nobody knows; at least I don’t. Thus it is beyond the reach of man to make valid statements about the divine nature…I strongly advocate, therefore, a revision of our religious formulas with the aid of psychological insight. It is the great advantage of Protestantism that an intelligent discussion is possible. Protestantism should make use of this freedom. Only a thing that changes and evolves, lives, but static things mean spiritual death (CW 18:1595).

Regardless of his personal religious views, Jung recognized that one's mental health was often a result of one’s religious or spiritual sense of well being. He said:

Among all my patients in the second half of life – that is to say, over thirty-five – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and not of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church (CW 11:509).

Jung’s statement is a powerful witness to his belief that clergyman and doctor could and should work together.

© 2007, Russel D. Heiland, Jr.
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.