06/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Our Relationship With The Church: Owning The Shadow And Growing Up

To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle. (Carl Jung)

One reason the church has been so wounding to so many people is because it has not owned its shadow. In Jungian psychology, the shadow refers to those dark parts of ourselves that we refuse to consciously recognize.

Institutions, like individuals, have shadows, and there is ample evidence that the shadow of the church has grown ominously dark and powerful. The shadow may not be in total control of the church's psychic house, but we can see disturbing flare-ups of this pent-up darkness when it comes to our most contentious social issues.

It would be enormously beneficial if the church would begin to own its shadow, acknowledging the harm it causes by colluding with our complexes and playing out the roles of negative mother and father. But there is little chance of that happening, so we must do for ourselves what Christ commanded and kill our mother and father -- symbolically, of course.

If we are to grow up, we must acknowledge that we have conspired with the church to create this neurotic, dependent symbiosis. We have projected our needs onto the mother church and expected her to fix us and take care of us. We create the same kind of projections with other institutions as well. From the "nanny state" to "Ma Bell," we have expected large, powerful structures to fulfill our needs. The reality is that these people and institutions can't and won't take care of us. They are just not capable of it. They have failed us always, and we can hardly blame them, because even if they have tried to seduce us with sugary gingerbread houses, we entered of our own free will.

If anybody ever got a whiff of the truly liberating message of the Gospels, they'd be free, and the last thing they would want to do is belong to a church whose primary mission seems to be to keep people from growing up. I don't mean that literally, of course. There are important things a consciousness-affirming church has to offer, such as ritual process, community, and helping us access the transcendent energy of sacred stories and symbols. But a free person would no longer willingly go to a church out of a superstitious fear of punishment or an obligation to legalism.

How do we free ourselves of the parental projections we make on the church? The answer is that each of us must ultimately become our own mother and father. It is as simple -- and as difficult -- as growing up.

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