Free Essay: Freud’s Understanding of Religion
Question 4: What is Freud’s understanding of religion? Do you think it is reductive? (Students who attempt this question should consult The Future of an Illusion, and/or Totem and Taboo.)
Before analyzing Freud’s Understanding of Religion , it is important to understand certain things concerning him. First, Freud has a religious background. He had parents who were devout Catholics and Jews. As such, Freud understood religion properly. Thinking that he argued about this matter from an atheist basis would be wrong (Paloutzian & Park 2005, p. 82).
What is worth noting is that Freud was a good scholar because he underwent formal training in languages and medicines. When it comes to religion, his understanding was that it was a means that was developed by humans to serve as a method of controlling the sensory world. It enabled them to establish a wishful world because of their biological and psychological needs (Nelson 2009, p. 145).
Freud observed that religious individuals would establish a father-like figure as a way of protecting themselves from hopelessness. This is similar to the way children have fathers who they depend on for protection. The focus of this paper is on illustrating this while arguing that Freud considers religion as hopelessness’ protection that is similar to the protection that children get from their fathers.
Freud and Religion
On turning attention to the understanding of religion by Freud, you face a sharp paradox. Freud speaks about religion in a disapproving manner at some point. He dismisses religion as an inefficacious that the lives of people have and he goes ahead to consider it a human evolution’s obstruction. However, Freud could not keep from writing about religion until his death. Throughout his life, he published three religious books. These are: The Future of Illusion, Totem and taboo as well as Moses and Monotheism. These books tackled religion and its origin (Bingaman 2003, p. 27). He also wrote other books like Civilization and its Discontents as well as letters and essays that in some parts talk about religion. In terms of these essays and books, the understanding of religion that Freud depicts is that of having a father-like figure that is exalted above humans. His claim is that a personal God is a father that is exalted above person.
The understanding of religion by Freud is that it is an illusion that is based on the desire to have a father-like and powerful figure. His claim is that religion is used by individuals in fulfilling wishful desires. He considers religion as a deep desire for human fortification against natural dangers by having a father-like figure that is ranked higher than humans (Poloutzian & Park 2005, p. 83). With illusion serving as the basis, Freud notes that with the complexity of life, people were forced by civilization to renounce certain basic satisfactions. People were hurt by some of them because they were threatened with forces that were untamed by nature. In addition, the darkness of death and grave awaited people regardless of where they went. Consequently, their self-esteem was damaged and this caused helplessness that needed repair and religion came into being out of curiosity (Fuller 1994, p. 40). This formed the basis of understanding religion for Freud.
Based on this understanding, the argument of Freud was that people encountered suffering as well as weaknesses just like children. Simply put, people fear a father-like figure when it comes to religion while depending on that father-like figure for protection just like children depend on fathers for protection while still fearing them. This nature is seen in all life’s aspects. Freud acknowledges that there are forces that are past the control of humans. Considering their pre-eminence, such forces and humans having equal powers can be unjust. Freud notes that a father-like figure was bestowed powerful forces by humans making it a religion. Thus, the powerful and natural forces were turned into gods by humans replacing their fathers. This established religion (Nelson 2009, p. 145).
Freud developed a basis on which religion originated in his book, the Totem and Taboo. His claim was that totem served as the primal father though he was murdered by some people at some point. As such, his belief is that each religion longed for a primal father. Prehistoric murder was recapitulated by religious ceremonies and celebrations of atonement (Nelson 2009, p. 145). As such, the aspect of a God that replaced totem was developed by religion. The assumption of Freud concerning this issue was that there existed a collective mindset that ensured that the original murder’s guilt was retained and passed down the generations.
Freud addressed civilization’s future later in the book entitled, the Future of an Illusion. Freud’s argument in this book is that nature was combated and tamed by civilization. He calls civilization a destroyer that was fought by people in their lives. In the book, Freud restated the essence of a father-like figure when it came to combating the helplessness feelings. Freud argued that religion provided protection via a father that he considered protective (Belzen 2009, p. 143). Nevertheless, he noted unconfirmed issues and contradictions in religion which justified that science was the sure way through which reality would be understood regardless of the existing limitations.
Religion’s understanding by Freud was never based on a detailed or systematic observation. Instead, his understanding was based only on the philosophy of rationalistic enlightenment. He was pushed by this philosophy to handle religion completely. Paloutzian and Park (2005, p. 83) note that this contrasted his frequent view that psychoanalysis never represented a complete anthropology or a worldview. His opinion was that psychoanalysis ought to maintain a neutral stance on religious matters. It also contrasted his way of comprehending phenomena because he did this via in-depth analysis. Nevertheless, he approached religion in a way that raised fundamental questions in psychology (Paloutzian & Park 2005, p. 83).
He established a connection between visionary pictures, moral values’ imposition, drives’ frustration, social adaptation and religion. At some point, Freud argument was that religion originated from anal drives’ protection. As such, he established a relationship between aggressions’ subjugation and religion. Similarly, he considered religion as ancient purification rituals (Belzen 2009, p. 143). His understanding was that religion had foundations on the effects that childish formations and reactions have and these were vital in ethics.
Another account indicates that the understanding that Freud had of religion was that it was a practice that demanded and extracted superfluous happiness’ sacrifices from man. This understanding was based on the analogy that exists between religion and obsession neurosis. His argument is that childish obsession is replaced by religion. As such, he argued that people abandon childhood wishful and fanciful beliefs while finding them in religion. He argued that this was important in taming certain powerful feelings (Fuller 1994, p. 288).
Similarly, he argued that social practices that are based on immature thinking make science to have analogous impact on them since institutionalized reason is developed. Consequently, the understanding that Freud had of religion was that of a practice that was constantly changing. However, he acknowledged that it extended to some thought areas that were past the science range. As such, Freud acknowledged that religion is important and it taught in areas that could not be comprehended in science. Nevertheless, he contrasted the support that religion has. Specifically, he contrasted ethics’ teachings of religion and morality foundation. These did not impress him. As such, although these teachings are interpreted by religion as the necessary truths, he considered them as historical facts (Carter 2002, p. 288).
In general the understanding that Freud had of religion was that of a collective neurosis acting as a protection that the society has against anxieties. His argument was that religious people felt helpless like children. On realizing that they cannot address their state of helplessness, they established a father-like figure that they worshiped. Abandoning religious traditions became difficult because the relationship developed by religions people with their father like figure was psychological.
Origin of Religion
Understanding the Totem and Taboo is important in determining the understanding that Freud had about religion. This book is based on the Australian ethnographic content which gives the understanding of religion by Freud. This book shows that Freud believed that totemism is a correspondence of the ancient stage in religion. His argument is that other religions were interpreted using the insights acquired from totemism. He depicted totemism as beliefs and practices that have totem as their core interest or the totemic clan’s progenitor. Considering the role played by totem in the clan, touching or killing it was considered a taboo except in extraordinary occasions.
Additionally, having sex with clan members was considered a taboo as well. The totemic clan members expected protection from the totem on adhering to the rules and the vice versa occurred if they did not (Carter 2002, p. 141). Freud argued that there was a coincidence of two taboos and the crimes committed by Oedipus. He further argued that the oedipal complex and infantile sexuality psychological system marked totemism’s origin. As such, Freud’s argument was that there was a regression of brothers to infantile stage and when this occurred they killed and ate their father so that they can engage their mother sexually. After doing this, they felt guilty and thereby established ceremonies for eliminating this guilt. This is where sacrifices originated from in the other religions and therefore modern religious sacrifices originated from totemism.
Based on religion’s understanding by Freud, it is evident that he perceived it as taboos that existed in form of beliefs. One gets this impression from religion’s origin. Freud established different totemism taboos. He developed what could not and could be done by clan members. He understood religion as having sacrifices with oedipal wish to kill and devour the father so as to restore a father that was killed by the brothers (Belzen 2009, p. 143).
The Nature of His Understanding
This subject is illustrated in a simplified form by reductive understanding. A simple language is used to interpret the issue to make it understandable to everyone. To a larger extent Freud has a reductive understanding of the subject which is religion. He does this by tracing religion from an easy-to-understand thing and elaborates it completely. He argues that the origin of religion is totemism. Understanding this was easy for Australians and others following his analysis regarding religion’s origin.
Thus, despite basing religion’s origin on totemism other people found it easy to comprehend the subject since they had similar stories and they practiced religion as well. He also based the analysis on a common thing. His argument was that religion’s origin was the desire for a father-like figure providing protection. He based this argument on the behavior of a child that needs protection. Thus, his argument was that individuals need father-like figures for protection due to their helplessness status (Carter 2002, p. 141). Understanding this is easy. Thus, he understood religion in a reductive way.
From this analysis, the understanding that Freud had towards religion was that it was a fundamental psychological neurosis and distress. His suggestion was that religion depicted the attempt by individuals to control oedipal complex and that religion depicted wishful fulfillment of wishes and a means that people used to structure social groups as well as their infantile delusion. His understanding was that totemism was the basis of religions that exist in the current world. Generally, to Freud religion was an illusion. His argument was that it originated from an infantile helplessness’ state and the desire for having a protective father.
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Carter, J 2002, Understanding religious sacrifice: a reader. New York, London, Continuum.
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