Monday, November 8, 2010

Paradox as Religious Experience

"Every human experience can be expressed in terms of paradox." Owning Your Own Shadow by R. Johnson

Writing about the all too human experience of strong and contrary emotions appearing simultaneously, Robert Johnson, Jungian analyst and author, writes in his book, Owning Your Own Shadow, that when "we approach the shadow, we examine a very powerful aspect of our personality, almost universally shunned and avoided. And in this way we enter into the realm of paradox."

As many have repeated over millena with a biblical reference, 'What good could have possibly come from Nazareth?' What value is there in the 'same old, same old' of our everyday lives? Johnson gives his answer, "strangely, the best." Yet he notes that most persons go to great and extended lengths to avoid contact with the shadow, or its paradox. "Contradictions [often] bring a crushing burden of meaningless-ness." Humankind can and often does endure vast amounts of suffering, injustice and misery, often perpetrated by their fellows; when it has some meaning, most can endure. But when it does not, it is initially at least, crushing, meaningless, unbearable.

That I suffered, suffered greatly and unjustly
because of some others is bearable because of love, because of a search for justice, because of a friend, because of my own moral beliefs, all are some reasons to go beyond the empty destructiveness of contradiction. And while contradiction may be scarcely tolerable, paradox is ultimately wondrous and creative. "All religious experience in the historical [dimension] is expressed in paradox... Paradox makes room for mystery and grace." Johnson gives further examples of creative paradoxes: masculinity has relevance in contrast to femininity; north is possible only because of south, and 'no' exists because of 'yes.' Polar opposites, or the other side of the very same coin? All paradoxes.

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