This is the second installment in this series, begun here. Freud has had a huge impact on thought in the 20th century. He was a truly revolutionary thinker, to such an extent that the statement “We are all Freudians now” certainly rings true. Among the many subjects he treated, religion was a particular interest for him. He dealt with it in three books, Totem and Taboo, Future of an Illusion, and Moses and Monotheism.
Freud’s theory of religion was, like Tylor and Frazer, reductionistic. He sought to explain the entire phenomenon of religion through a single observation. While Tylor and Frazer sought to explain religion as a pre-scientific understanding of the world, Freud appealed to individual psychology, deeply hidden images, needs, and desires in the human brain. His explanation solved the puzzle created by Tylor and Frazer’s evolutionary view of human society, namely, why does religion persist after it has been discredited by science?
Freud theorized that religion is a neurosis that develops in early childhood. He argued that the idea of God was simply a projection of an ideal Father-figure, one who is loving and just. This particular idea seems to have a lot to do with Mormonism, and the literal belief that God is our Father. We seem to take this traditional Christian notion of God as Father to its logical extreme, and believe that we are of the same species as God. Thus, we are able to return to the days of the security of childhood where our father protects us, tells us what to do, and explains the world around us. Freud calls such beliefs an “illusion” that we allow ourselves to believe to escape reality. He suggests that religion must be discarded and replaced with more rational forms of thought.
Does Freud’s assessment of the Father-God have any merit? Is there any use in reconciling Freud with a legitimate form of belief? Is this possible or even desirable?