Dipolar Theism: Psychological Considerations

by John F. Haught

John F. Haught, who received the Ph.D. from Catholic University, is professor of theology at Georgetown University. He has written extensively on religion and science. His books include The Revelation of God in History; What is God?, The Cosmic Adventure, Nature and Propose, and Religion and Self-Acceptance.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 43-48, Vol. 6, Number 1, Spring, 1976. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Many theologians who follow Whitehead and Hartshorne are largely concerned with questions of logical, theodicy, and compatibility with biblical and traditional theology. The author attempts to apply some basic Jungian criteria in evaluating the image of God in terms of these concepts.

Concepts are always somehow derivative from and accompanied by images. Even the most abstract thought is orchestrated by the imagination. For we cannot think at all without planting our minds against the backdrop of perceptual, visual, or imagined structures. Aquinas’ "conversio ad phantasmata" is a condition of human thought.

At the same time, however, we often do not sufficiently recognize that the horizon of our conceptual knowledge circumscribes to a great extent the scope and direction of our imagining. Especially to those who are theoretically oriented, a particular conceptuality can establish certain parameters with respect to the protean life of the imagination. Thus, the latter’s inherent demands and dynamics can become inhibited or split off from the totality of mental life and exercise a hidden and often perverse role if our explicit thought forms fail to mesh with them. This can certainly happen when concepts of God do not provide an adequate horizon for a proportionately vital imaging of God. It seems to be quite important for the religious and mental life of men that concepts of deity do not too narrowly circumscribe the requirements of imagination.

Depth psychology has increasingly alerted theologians to the complex relationship between one’s image of God and one’s potential psychic or personal freedom and maturity. Certain images of God, it is now clear, can function demonically. They can fortify the neurotic’s self-confinement, discouraging robust experimentation leading to psychic expansion (PAR 155-72). Neuroticized images of the sacred can legitimate numerous forms of personal stasis; or else they can become so enfeebled as to motivate the individual or group of the Dionysian conviction that "everything is possible." Some "religious" projections to the divine may envision God as the "all" in whom the individual becomes annihilated, whereas others may see him as the unapproachable "other," eternally standing over against and smothering the potential freedom of human personality (PAR 164f). We must inquire to what extent philosophical and theological conceptions of God have contributed to the emergence and nourishing of these Images.

Josef Rudin, a Jungian analyst, cautions that:

All religious teaching, whether instruction or sermon, faces the danger of presenting a figure of God that is "stylized" according to a specific section or even a single word of Holy Scripture, so that seldom is an integral God-image formed in one’s inner polarity.

Depending upon the individual’s preconditioning, it may be that at times the listener perceives and retains only one trait upon which he becomes almost fixated. (PAR 167)

Moreover, Rudin notes:

Clearly connected with this background of a sick God-image is, a further neuroticizing factor, the discrepancy between the transmitted and the personally experienced God-image. We know how often a God-image is transmitted and also accepted in an almost externally mechanical way without leading to an inner assimilation. . . . In this case; too, educators must ask themselves whether their transmission of the God-image was, perhaps, so conceptually abstract that a psychic integration, a true and integral experience of this image, became impossible. (PAR 168f)

The way in which philosophers and theologians conceive of God can have a considerable bearing on the imaginative and psychic life of those for whom such reflection is intended.

Whatever pathological shape one’s image of God assumes, this factor is probably also involved in its construction: a basic refusal to recognize and accept one’s own inherent proclivities for growth and psychic maturation. There is a flight from freedom (Fromm); a refusal to face reality (Freud); a retardation of the call to individuation and integration of the components of the psyche (Jung).

How can an image of God support this compulsive refusal to confront one’s possibilities?

If we recognize that it is through the imagination that a person presents alternatives to his present state of being (UMI 216), we may gain some idea as to how a neuroticized image of God can function as an inhibiting element. Whether we are referring to dream images or to images of authenticity imbibed through normal socialization processes, these typically have the effect of partially negating the envisagement of ourselves with which we have become comfortable. The imagination thus functions as a vehicle of anxiety. By presenting troublesome alternatives to our given state of being, images emergent from our psychic depths or from political and social visionaries, etc., constitute a sort of threat. The psyche responds to this threat either by accepting its challenge and participating in the vitality of the dialectic constellated by the power of imagination, or else it recoils from the negativity involved in the imaginative projection of further possibilities. In the latter case, mechanisms of defense come into play, and the elaboration of peculiar forms of deity can play a major role in establishing a resistance against one s own freedom to become. "God" can easily be exaggerated into a personification of prohibition and psychic circumscription. In this way the "no" to one’s possibilities and freedom, the hamstringing of creative imagination, can receive divine sanction. Of course, in the process of accepting or projecting such an image of God one turns him into a demon. But that does not seem to be too great a price to pay for evading the anxiety which could stir one toward a richer psychic synthesis.

Theologians have at times ignored the extent to which such images of God are available to those who would find them satisfying to their taste for personal and social immobility. Thus the ongoing theological reconceptualizing and reimaging of God is a task of no small interest to those who are concerned with guaranteeing the vitality of psychic and social structures.

It is in this connection that we might examine some aspects of the concept and pursuant image of God in "dipolar theism." Without assuming that every thinker associated with this movement presents an identical position, we may make some general observations concerning the possible psychological impact of the image of God which most of them somehow silently project.

These inferences can best be made if we contrast central features of the dipolar picture of God with some of the imaginative characteristics of the traditional "classical theism." What strikes us most immediately is the "impurity" of the former compared with the "purity" of the latter. This is a matter of major consequence for a psychology of religion, especially from the point of view of Jungian analytical psychology. The connection between imaging God in accordance with a dipolar theism on the one hand and a person’s psychic vitality, individuation, and freedom on the other may not appear initially obvious. The following, then, attempts to portray some of the major steps involved in drawing this relationship.

Dipolar theism, according to Charles Hartshorne, understands God as both absolute and relative, abstract and concrete, eternal and temporal, necessary and contingent, infinite and finite (DR). The being of God does not exclude but rather includes the being of the world (PSG 1-25; 499-514). It is not necessary to pursue the logic of this conception here. We are interested primarily in the psychological significance of the possible imaginative overtones of such a notional representation of God. For the psyche may react to or resonate with an image of God irrespective of its logical or ontological coherence and in a manner which reason itself cannot quite control.

One of the basic images suggested by dipolar theism is that of the embodied God. God’s being is imaged as including the physical cosmos, with all its richness of texture as well as its imperfection and chaotic elements. It is pictured as embracing humanity, man’s glory and man’s failures, his ecstasy and tragedy, the totality of nature’s and man’s being. The "pure" images conjured up by many traditional theological formulations, on the other hand, situate Cod outside of the physical cosmos. In spite of its explicit confessions of his involvement with the world, classical theism is not always congenial to an imaging of God as radically assuming and integrating bodiliness and the cosmic process into his being. Theologians have had to go through a dizzying series of contortions in an often futile effort to implant a vital theology of incarnation into imaginations shaped in the context of Western classical philosophies of God. As a result, at least for many Christians, the deeper dimensions of their psychic makeup have often had little resonance with their vision of God, even though their conceptual understanding may have appeared

quite adequate. A truly liberating image of God, however, would have to penetrate to every level of one’s personal makeup. And the one-sided image of the unwordly, absolutely "pure" being, by nature immune to bodiliness, temporality, and sensuality can hardly satisfy this requirement.

It would be naive to suggest that dipolar theism is alone capable of providing the conceptual context for a psychologically adequate imaging of God. Nevertheless, it seems to allow more scope for such than a conception which excludes world, finitude, temporality, and negativity from the inner life of God from the very outset and thus somehow renders his relationship to creation a secondary matter, an adventitious maneuver of divine afterthought. There seems to be no question that the conceptual parameters of classical theism have exercised an inhibiting effect at times on the deepest religious sensibilities of countless individuals. Thus a readjustment of conceptuality may be a necessary step in the release of a vitalizing imaging of God.

Various forms of what Hartshorne includes under panentheism (PSG) might provide notional schemes more resonant with psychic and religious requirements than traditional philosophies have allowed. But Hartshorne’s neoclassical theism seems to me to have the added advantage of anchoring latitude of notion to a logical rigor unexcelled in recent philosophies of God. The categorical breadth of dipolar theism satisfies exigencies both of logic and of the imagination. It allows us to entertain what I have called "impure "images of God without fear that we are thereby absolving ourselves of rationality.

Erich Neumann, a Jungian analyst and writer, has vigorously propounded the need to transcend the exclusively "pure" image of God as a condition of moving toward psychic integrity. His defense of this iconoclasm is somewhat complex, but we shall present an abbreviated adaptation of it at this point. Subsequently we shall inquire as to whether the dipolar conceptuality and imagery of God provides a psychologically feasible form of theism in the Jungian context. Although Jung’s thought is often justifiably viewed as esoteric and without adequate ties to clinical experience, its central notion of individuation is indisputably a most important one; and it is primarily because of the significance of Jung’s highlighting the process of individuation that I am using his psychology as a base for evaluating Hartshorne’s thought. Since he is the undisputed, though usually unrecognized, father of the therapeutic ideals of self-actualization and self-realization (CGJ 101, CGJSA 27n), it seems appropriate that his psychology be employed as a critical tool. As E. D. Cohen acknowledges in a recent work on Jung: "The terms ‘self-actualization’ and ‘psychological growth,’ which have become Shibboleths in contemporary American psychology, have their origin in Jung’s work, although he is rarely given credit for it" (CGJSA 27n). I shall try to compensate somewhat for this injustice by using in ‘my evaluation of Hartshorne some of the ideas Jung associated with the process of individuation, even though I recognize that the same points could be made by using the insights of other schools of psychotherapy.

According to Neumann, who follows Jung quite closely, the superficial and at times disintegrated character of much modern Western life is, to a great extent, the result of the repression of the "shadow side" of our existence. Refusing to face the dark yet simultaneously potent and creative side of our nature, we have projected it in monstrous form onto any number of scapegoats, especially racial, political, and religious minorities of various sorts (DPNE 50-58). This is an externalizing of what is in fact interior. That the "shadow" is part of our own natures is evidenced in the dark dreams and fantasies which spring from our own mental life. But, being insufficiently expansive and courageous to appropriate the otherness within, we allow it to split off and take up an autonomous existence in projected, externalized form. Then we proceed to militate against it, oblivious of the fact that we are thereby engaging in divisive action within ourselves, using up endless amounts of energy in keeping our own psychic and social existence internally fissured.

Part of the motivation for our refusal to assimilate the "shadow" is the pervasive ideal of "purity," an ideal closely related to classical Western theology. Going beyond Neumann here, we must note that often the ideal of purity has meant the repression of ambiguity, duality, polarity, and internal contradiction. This "purity" and a simplistic metaphysical dualism are intimate associates. Immunity to the "imperfections" of multiplicity, temporality, bodiliness, and relativity is the philosophical expression of this vacuous purity and perfection.

"The time has now come," Neumann insists, "for the principle of perfection to be sacrificed on the altar of wholeness" (DPNE 134). When the perfect is sealed off from the imperfect, whether in religion, philosophy, ethics, or one’s psychic life, the result is deadening and perhaps catastrophic. I cannot associate myself wholly with Jung’s or Neumann’s refections on God, partly because they are not entirely clear, nor conceptually well elaborated. But if we understand the following as psychologically rather than philosophically oriented, it may assist us in the assessment of the therapeutic value of a dipolar notion of God.

It is precisely when the dark side of life is accepted that possibilities of new experience begin to open up -- not only in ethics but also in religion. These possibilities run counter, it is true, to the old ethic and the old type of religion associated with it; they have the advantage, however, that they are in a position to combine the vitality of our new image of man with the new and transformed image of God which is emerging. (DPNE 131)

The new ethic of appropriating, rather than casting off the "shadow side" of human existence

is in agreement with the original conception of Judaism, according to which the Deity created light and darkness, good and evil, and in which God and Satan were not separated from one another, but were interrelated aspects of the numinous. This apparently primitive trait in the Jewish conception of God implies that, side by side with the image of God the Father, God’s irrational power aspect was explicitly retained, as a matter of living experience. (DPNE 132)

Such an ambiguous ("impure") notion of God

puts an end once and for all to the naiveté of the traditional ethical conception that renders God’s world asunder into light and darkness, pure and impure, healthy and sick. The creator of light and darkness, of the good and of the evil instinct, of health and sickness, confronts modern man in the unity of his numinous ambivalence with an unfathomable power, in comparison with which the orientation of the old ethic is clearly exposed as an excessively self-assured and infantile standpoint. (DPNE 133)

Some theologians probably still quake at such imagery. It correlates so poorly with their inherited theological formulations. Quite often underground currents of mysticism and popular piety in effect have repudiated sterile dualisms and whitewashed images of the "good God." But the prevailing conceptualization of God in philosophy and theology has not interlaced well with these images which seem, according to many psychologists and therapists, best attuned to psychic growth and individuation.

The task of the philosopher of religion or theologian today involves as a major priority the conceiving of God in accord with the innate demands of man’s psychic life. This does not imply any simplistic pruning down or facile accommodation of the concept of God to infantile demands of the psyche. Increasingly psychologists have discovered the need to grow, the longing to overcome domination by infantile urges, to be a basic factor both in precipitating internal tension and conflict and in bringing about its resolution. It is to this basic need to grow that any viable concept or image of God must be "accommodated."

Hartshorne’s dipolar theism provides a conceptuality congenial to the recovery of an "impure" image of God, a recovery which is indispensable to the psychic health and growth of religiously oriented individuals today. A Jungian might say that Hartshorne’s philosophy allows for a reassimilation of the "shadow side" of God into religious imagination. Hartshorne, of course, allows no place for the caprice which Jung and Neumann attribute to the God of Job and primitive Judaism. The God of dipolar theism is not the creator of evil. But God does include evil within his consequent nature, even though he is not an agent in its production. And the life of becoming in God involves his embracing evil rather than any embarrassed expulsion of it from himself.

In the notion of a "shadow side" of God we do not necessarily have to envision the caprice and primitive, irrational power which Jung and Neumann find in the God of certain segments of the Hebrew religious tradition. We can mean simply that God does not separate himself from the darkness as he does in the dualistic schemes which linger on in Western spirituality. Rather he includes it so as to allow for the continuing emergence of newness within himself. I think this is the point that Neumann is trying to make. In this sense God becomes a paradigm of self-actualization rather than an already fully pure and perfected being whose rock-like presence to consciousness could stand only as the frustration of human growth. God himself has abandoned the ideal of "holiness" for that of wholeness. We humans may now have the courage to do so too.

The schemes presented by both Hartshorne and Jung-Neumann present the goodness and integrity of God as consisting in his preservation and progressive integration of the polarities within his own being. From a Jungian point of view Hartshorne’s God is a model of psychic individuation and wholeness. Not only does divinity not evade universal metaphysical principles; God is also the supreme exemplification of pervasively applicable psychological principles rather than an exception from these. The freedom of God is not his "pure" immunity to corporeality, temporality, etc. Rather it is his processive assimilation and wholesome utilization of what from an infantile psychological perspective would appear to be insurmountable threats to be evaded at all costs.

According to much contemporary psychology the growth, freedom, and maturity of the individual entail an embracing of polarities and antitheses in one’s psychic life. Inevitably such expansiveness of soul means acquiring a certain vulnerability to what is envisioned prima facie as perhaps the very opposite of one’s "primordial" self-image. Such sensitive openness to the otherness within oneself is not easily achieved, and the incursion of "shadow" images in dreams and fantasy is typically met with an initial (and sometimes permanent) resistance. It is tempting to hypothesize that one-sidedly "pure" images of God may involve projections unconsciously fabricated to legitimate reluctance to accept the "shadow side" of our own being. Moreover, it may be that theistic conceptualities within which such images are encased also subliminally function to ward off innumerable growth-oriented challenges to our psychic being. Why should the individual undertake the agonizing process of facing and appropriating the otherness within himself, the multiplicity which he is, if the Godhead himself is understood and imaged as beyond such courageous integration of internal polarities? If God, as in the Stoic conception, is "beyond fear and desire," then "the wise man who courageously conquers desire, suffering, and anxiety ‘surpasses God himself’" (CTB 16).

Hartshorne’s polarized conception of God poses a healthy challenge to reappropriate the split off portions of our own psychic structures, and it provides a paradigm for assuming them into higher and richer syntheses. In his "consequent nature" there is suggested a vulnerability in God which can motivate the individual to break out of the safety of the maternal, static world of infancy. And in the notion of a "becoming," continually expanding, and self-integrating God there is a possible model for breaking through what Jung calls the "persona," the hardened mask our egos cling to in order to avoid confrontation with the real world.

Various process theologians who have followed Whitehead and Hartshorne have been largely preoccupied with questions of logic, theodicy, and compatibility with biblical and traditional theology. The psychological implications of their panentheism have not yet been fully explored. We have attempted here to apply some of the most basic Jungian criteria to the important task of evaluating the image of God allowed for by Hartshorne’s conceptuality. Other psychological schemes could have made the same point that we have. Expansiveness, a certain vulnerability, openness to challenge by one’s possibilities, appropriation of the multiplicity within oneself, acceptance and affirmation of oneself in spite of negativity, all seem to be essential to personal freedom and mental health -- not only in Jungian but in existential, psychoanalytic, Gestalt, and other therapeutic circles. Thus, a conceptuality elaborating such expansiveness and vulnerability in God may be an important factor in giving scope and flexibility to religious imagination.



CGJ -- Storr, Anthony. C. G. Jung. New York: The Viking Press, 1973.

CGJSA -- Cohen, Edmund D. C. G. Jung and the Scientific Attitude. New York: Philosophical Library, 1975.

CTB -- Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952.

DPNE -- Neumann, Erich. Depth Psychology and a New Ethic. Translated by Eugene Rolfe. Harper Torchbooks. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

DR -- Hartshorne, Charles. The Divine Relativity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948.

PAR -- Rudin, Josef. Psychotherapy and Religion. Translated by Elizabeth Reinecke and Paul C. Bailey, C.S.C. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.

PSG -- Hartshorne, Charles, and William Reese, eds. Philosophers Speak of God. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.

UMI -- Hart, Ray. Unfinished Man and the Imagination. New York: Herder and Herder, 1968.