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Morton Kelsey: The Importance of Jung on Consciousness after Death

December 28, 2017

You may be aware that depth psychologist, Carl Jung, brought a lot of attention to what he called “synchronicities” (and Christians often call “God things”). I noted it in my recent review of a fascinating book on his body of work in relation to a patient and later collaborator, physicist Wolfgang Pauli, found here.

I was intrigued to find that, a few days after writing my review of the book on Jung’s and Pauli’s pursuits, I accidentally unearthed some more material on Jung I’d had over 2 years but not remembered about, from the estate of a neuroscientist friend who had died.  It was very pertinent (synchronicity or subconscious memory, triggered?)… on Jung’s work on death, dying, and continuation of consciousness.  In addition, it was by a professor whose work I’d been impressed with in the past, Morton Kelsey, an Episcopalian who taught at the University of Notre Dame.

It’s also interesting that what I’d been given may never have been published except for students or interested parties at Notre Dame, in the 1970s.  It is a copy of a typed manuscript, on legal size paper. With at least an unofficial (default) copyright, I will treat it as any publication for review.  Undated, it appears to have been written around 1972. Kelsey published books after this date, most of which I’ve not read to know if he later published this or similar material. (Title: “FACING DEATH AND SUFFERING: The Christian Hope, Part 1”, n.d.)

What is worthy to note is that Jung was both particularly science-oriented (collecting lots of data, weighing it analytically, researching, etc.) and spiritually-oriented.  He had broken from his mentor, Freud, over the “spirit/materialist” worldview issue.  In this, he stood over against most other analysts and psychiatrists of the day and since, who tended to be materialists or favored determinism, ignoring any realm of spirit.  They were, and a majority still are, reacting to the sloppy mix of wise mythology, silly superstition and confused conjecture with legitimate spiritual sensing that constituted most of Christian and other religion.  (Jung himself was far from any kind of traditional Christian, though raised in such a family and environment.)

It’s not easy to unravel this messy interwoven fabric. Jung knew this and was gifted with focus and persistence… and fortunately, a long life.  In this short paper on the impact of a course of his on death and dying for a class of pre-medical Notre Dame seniors, Kelsey points out that Jung had his own experience of being close to death for about three weeks during his sixties (he lived to 85).  He already had decades of research and similar impressions from reading and many interviews, to what he experienced directly at this time, during a series of vivid “visions”.  One with the strongest of impressions Kelsey summarizes as seeming “to portray his departure from this world in the most universal images, and then his return.”

He then quotes Jung from his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963, posthumous), “‘It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had the quality of absolute objectivity.'” (p. 275)

Now Kelsey had met Jung on more than one occasion.  Jung did not share Kelsey’s views of Christian faith. However, he notes that Jung can hardly be charged with being either naive or mad. It would also have been totally out of character for Jung to have lied about his experiences.  “In talking with the man, I found it difficult to imagine a more down-to-earth person, or one more realistically critical and less naive. He gave himself no airs…. I found that I must take these experiences seriously and also other experiences of the same kind which have come to me through twenty-five years of pastoral experience, and longer than that reading and pondering the subject. For those who have not put on the blinders of a naturalistic world view, the evidence is there to read.” (p. 13)

In fact, there already were lines of evidence, many of them outside of organized religions, when Kelsey wrote this in the 1970s.  However, it appears Raymond Moody’s famous book of 1975, Life after Life, had not yet been published.  It was first of a long and increasingly detailed and verified series of studies of evidences for survival of consciousness beyond clinical death.  Perhaps not scientific-style “proof” of continuation of consciousness or “life after death”, but a welcome shift to curiosity and serious study of the nature of consciousness and how it may exist in both an “individual” identity (a “person”) or collectively, or both.

People of professional science need to give “spirit” and “paranormal” phenomena their due, and people of faith need to pay close attention to the findings of science.  That is, when it properly exhibits humility about the limits of its methods and refuses speculation and unwarranted conclusions as much as it expects that of religion.

Jung, along with Kelsey (also now passed), are prime exemplars in this endeavor.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2017 12:29 pm

    Good stuff!

    Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

  2. Nick G permalink
    January 31, 2018 9:32 am

    In articles Jung published in the Zentralblatt fur Psychotherapie he said: “The Aryan unconscious has a greater potential than the Jewish unconscious” and “The Jew, who is something of a nomad, has never yet created a cultural form of his own and as far as we can see never will”.
    But of course he wasn’t antisemitic or anything like that, good heavens no, how could anyone possibly think that?

    • January 31, 2018 3:18 pm

      From what I know (I’ve not actually read a lot by Jung) that’s a valid criticism, and one which Jung himself later moved totally away from and regretted… He’s certainly not a perfect person but learned as he went and made some important contributions.

      • Nick G permalink
        February 1, 2018 9:31 am

        Actually, none of his supposed findings are supported by anything in the way of empirical evidence. And a lot of people “totally moved away from and regretted” antisemitism and proto-Nazi ideologies when it bacame politic to do so.

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