The Psychology of Religion is a fascinating topic. I find it interesting how psychologists of the past have used psychology to either explain religion or explain it away. To me, there is no-one more interesting in the field of psychology and religion and Sigmund Freud. With a deep rooted psychology based on the super ego, sex and the Oedipus complex, Freud’s views on Christianity and religion will intrigue any philosopher.
At this point, I should say that although I enjoy studying Freud, I do disagree with his views. I will let you know the reasons why in my future blogs!
Background on Sigmund Freud
Freud was born into a large Jewish family in Freiburg (now Pribor, Czechoslovakia). At the age of four, his family moved to Vienna, with his father who was a wool merchant. Freud graduated from medical school in 1881 and later married Martha Bernays. Under the persecution of the Nazis, Freud fled his home and left for London, where he died on the eve of World War 2.
Freud and Religion
We know two things about Sigmund Freud and his religious upbringing. First of all, he had a Catholic nanny up to the age of three, he took him to church regularly. Secondly, although he was born into a large Jewish family of modest means, the atmosphere was almost entirely secular. Freud confessed that he did not have any supernatural belief or religious belief. However, he was interested in religion more so than any other cultural manifestation.
Totem and Taboo (1913)
To put it simply, Freud believed that religion was the projection of the child’s physical relationship with its father. He recorded his first thoughts on the nature of religion in total and Taboo published in 1913. In Totem and Taboo Freud attributed the origins of religion to the psychological connection between the Oedipus complex and totemism.
This stems from the primitive hold mentality in which the tribe leader would have many wives and many children. Young males were forced to leave the tribe in order to find a mate and young females would only mate with the horde leader. This prompted young man to have a murderous mentality against the father in order to gain possession of women. Yet after they had killed their father, they would be overcome with a sense of guilt.
From this arose their endowment of the Totem, with the qualities of the previous father leader of the tribal hoarde. The function of the totem was to remind the tribe that although the single authority of the father had gone at a human level, it must be preserved at a religious level.
Eventually, the taboo of desiring their mothers and wishing to kill their fathers entered the individual consciousness and is known as the Oedipus complex. In the Oedipus complex, the child desire is the mother and wishes to kill the father. The Oedipus complex is the basis of Freud’s view on the origins of religion.
The Future of an Illusion
In Freud’s next book, the Future of an Illusion (1927), Freud stated that religion was an illusion and had no future. It is essentially an attempt at escapism. Religion exists in order to avoid the hard facts of life and retreat into wishful thinking. Freud stated that modern man should grow up, use reason, and consign religion to the place where it belongs -childhood.
Civilisation and its Discontents (1930)
If you are interested in Freud and would like to read more of his original works, I highly recommend civilisation and its discontents (1930). In this essay, Freud wrote that…
“…the ordinary man cannot imagine providence in any other form but that of a greatly exalted father, for only such a one could understand the needs of the sons of men, or be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of their remorse.” Sigmund Freud
Basically, Civilisation and its Discontents generalises Freud’s psycho-sexual theories on the Oedipus complex, relating it to the neurotic aspects of society itself.
Moses and Monotheism (1939)
Freud’s last book on Psychology and Religion was ‘Moses and Monotheism’. Freud was skeptical about the name Moses referred to in Judeao-Christian teachings. He believed that Moses was an Egyptian name, meaning ‘child’.