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Skip to comments.Is Christianity Just Wishful Thinking?
Posted on 05/06/2018 1:49:30 PM PDT by pcottraux
Is Christianity Just Wishful Thinking?
By Philip Cottraux
Sigmund Freud devoted his life to studying the intricate workings of the human mind. He is responsible for many of the common psychological terms saturating modern culture: the id, the ego, the superego. The Oedipus complex.
But in recent years, many of Freuds ideas have come under scrutiny. Some have taken it as far as to suggest that most of his theories were made up. His influence has been so strong, however, that its hard to sort out what might have been pseudo-science. But I want to focus on Freuds other notorious reputation: his controversial views on religion.
To say that he despised religion would be an understatement. He viewed it as an aberration on humanity. He blamed belief in God on all of societys ills. Here are a few of his nastier quotes on the subject:
Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires (New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1933).
"The whole thing (religion) is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is still more humiliating to discover how a large number of people living today, who cannot but see that this religion is not tenable, nevertheless try to defend it piece by piece in a series of pitiful rearguard actions (Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929)."
Reading Freud, its surprising how much influence he has had not just on psychology, but neo-Atheism. Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris borrow directly from him, and Ive been surprised at how many atheists have challenged me with a Freudian theory, whether they realize it or not. According to Freud, religious rites attempting to achieve salvation are akin to obsessive compulsive rituals, such as constantly washing ones hands to get rid of imaginary germs. It was Freud who proposed that religion was holding science back; and that once it was gone, humanity could spring forward into a utopia of reason.
Im no humanist; and as a result, I would never buy into the last claim, even if I were an atheist. The reality is that there will never be a utopia and scrubbing religion from the face of the earth doesnt look very pleasant; North Korea, Cambodia, and the Soviet Union have all shown us that. Furthermore, even if a utopia were achievable, it would never be sustainable; the human mind isnt wired to just sit around and be content with biological needs being met. If humans ever built a perfect world, they would soon tear it apart again out of sheer boredom. And the results would be catastrophic; untold numbers dead to reach paradise, untold numbers more dead as paradise is lost.
But Freuds explanations of how religious thought emerges from the inner workings of the human mind were admittedly good points. So good, in fact, that they even had me questioning my own faith for a time, something I once never thought possible.
To sum it up, belief in God can be explained as an evolutionary trait that emerges from our inner desire to follow a strong alpha male. Our inner tribal man yearns to form packs; and as civilization advanced and tribes were no longer necessary, we created an imaginary one to replace male leaders. I personally find this very problematic (as its clear from history that any successful civilization had strong male leaders; I dont see how this ever needed replacing in the human psyche), but its the second part of the point that I find feasible. According to Freud, belief in the afterlife emerged from our basic fear of death. Sense the instincts towards survival and self-preservation are prevalent in all life, the concept of heaven emerged as a coping mechanism from our inability to accept the finality of death.
This is a good point, and considering it did once have a terrible negative impact on my faith. Freuds conclusion is that ultimately, Christianity is wishful thinking. He points to our belief in the afterlife as a survival mechanism and our talks of a loving Father as an attempt to recapture our childhoods, wanting to be loved by a parental figure that we project onto an imaginary pie in the sky.
(If you want to get technical, the wishful thinking argument can be traced as far back as German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in 1841; but since Freud is more famous for it, lets keep the focus on him).
But if Freuds psychological theories are finding increasing scrutiny by new researchers, can the same be said of his atheist philosophy?
Actually, it was within his own lifetime.
C.S. Lewis devotes all of chapter 4 of Mere Christianity (Morality and Psychoanalysis) to Freud. In his takedown, he says something that resonates with me today: And furthermore, when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur.
I think this all the time about atheists today. I dont deny that Dawkins knows a lot about biology. Or that Sam Harris is well-versed in neuroscience. But both men seem to think that makes them geniuses in all fields of understanding. In the realm of theology, neither clearly knows what hes talking about. Its the classic case of an emperor without clothes.
Back to Freud. He was born of a Jewish family in the heavily Roman Catholic of Freiburg, Moravia. Lewis noted that Freud showed a startlingly lack of understanding about Christianity when he wrote about it. Upon careful observation, I notice the same thing.
In Thank God For Atheists: How the Worlds Greatest Skeptics Led Me to Faith, Timothy Morgan makes a devastatingly good point about the wishful thinking argument: This worn-out argument has been thoroughly refuted over the last 175 years. Even Nietzsche called it preposterous. First, wanting something does not equate with the lack of its existence. Human thirst actually points to a need for water.
Lewis also had this to say: Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
After studying it closely, the real problem I have with Freuds criticism is that he assumed that Christianity is about the pursuit of comfort and pleasure. Its why he thought we view God as a warm, comforting presence that loves and accepts us for who we are. This, of course, overlooks the full, sometimes terrifying nature of the Almighty, that He is also capable of horrifying judgment and that Christians are, in some ways, to fear the Lord.
But theres two other critical points Freud ignored.
While Im a Christian, if I stand back and compare it objectively to all the other religions, I have trouble wanting it to be true. It contains perhaps the most brutal realities. Rather than a pursuit of comfort, it expects us to take on a life of pain, suffering, and persecution. It tells us people will hate us and reject us for preaching in the name of Jesus. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Mark 13:13).
There was no comfort for the disciples in what they endured for Christ. Stephen was stoned. Peter was arrested and beaten. James was executed. Acts 5:41: And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (II Corinthians 11:23-27).
The other uncomfortable reality Christian doctrine is a place called hell. Every day, I wish hell werent real. I take no pleasure in the thought that anyone will burn in eternal darkness. I sometimes cant believe that the God I love so much created it. The thought of how many people have gone there, and how many are going there every day, and how they will never escape, is incredibly disturbing. More than I can bear.
But what I think, or what I want, is irrelevant. Hell is real, whether I like it or not. And my discomfort has to motivate me to preach as hard as I can. I want the Lord to use me to save as many people as possible from that eternal place. And I must be willing to pay the same kind of price the apostles were to keep as many from going there as possible.
And why I think its real isnt a coping mechanism, but as Ive mentioned in earlier blogs, based on the evidence. The simple logic I keep reiterating is that by examining the historical evidence, Jesus clearly was a real person in history who actually rose from the dead, proving He was who He said He was. Which means all things He says are truth. Which means heaven is real. And so is hell. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: (Matthew 25:41).
-Cherry, Kendra. Freud and Religion: What Did Freud Believe? verywellmind.com. Last updated March 26, 2018. Accessed May 5, 2018. https://www.verywellmind.com/freud-religion-2795858
-Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing Company. Copyright renewed 1980. First Touchstone Edition, 1996. Page 85.
-Morgan, Timothy. Thank God for Atheists: How the Greatest Skeptics Led Me to Faith. Eugene, Oregon. Harvest House Publishers, 2015, page 157.
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Ideas on wish fulfillment were among Freud’s more simple minded.
Sigmund apparently didn’t grasp the fact that wish fulfillment works both ways.
His wish was to be his own ruler.
If you pretend God doesn’t exist, you can fulfill your wish to create your own rules.
Commonly, this has to do with rules about sexual behavior.
Allowing a cocain addicted adulterer to ever effect ones faith is a sad state for any human
Freud’s ideology was founded on his premise that God doesn’t exist. From this flawed premise proceeded all his ideas about religion.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Freud was some brilliant thinker who was able to derive a particular wisdom about God’s existence.
Here’s the Freudian thought process on the matter:
1) I want to make my own rules (the product of Sigmund’s id)
2) If I convince myself God doesn’t exist, I can convince myself God’s moral law doesn’t exist (this occurs in Sigmund’s superego)
3) If God’s moral law doesn’t exist, I can construct my own morality (here Sigmund’s ego receives the integration of his id and his superego)
Meanwhile, Sigmund is lying to himself.
And to top it off, Sigmund stole the idea of id-ego-superego from the Biblical concept of body-mind-spirit.
Please add me to your list
Utopia then is either an ideal place of perfection or an ideal place that can never possibly exist.
I appreciate your view that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. St. Paul correctly stated that if there is no resurrection and if we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable, the most miserable (I Cor. 15:19). BUT...now Christ IS risen! The world without Jesus Christ offers nothing but temporary pleasure. Our souls are meant for eternity.
Each individual needs to ask themselves whether the risk of it being true is worth taking...
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history.There is no wishful thinking about it.
If I were to wish for something, I would wish for something Easier and more Guaranteed. Christianity is neither.
Mere Christianity is a fantastic book.
Thank you. Comments: just because faith can provide comfort in this life or an answer to its mortality does not mean these bebefits are false or illudory, or even mere coping mechanisms. Rather, these results of religious faith may be additional Benefits or even side- effects, if you will, of an underlying true message. The analysis logic is flawed by failing to reach or even address this possibility.
Christianity is guaranteed for the believer in Christ.
My journey to Christ as my Savior.
I was raised by Christian parents but the Bible was never taught or even discussed.
I was raised to figure things out for myself with love and varying degrees of forgiveness.
It was later in life that a personal crisis, and serendipity, Charles Stanley’s sermon collided in my mind.
Suddenly everything made sense and at the same time nothing made sense.
I went to a great Bible Church every week and quickly discovered that my belief required me to “Spread the Word”.
I need to do some homework.
I spent the next 4 or 5 years studying. Reading the Bible, reading Christian Apologist, reading and watching countless videos of their debates.
Prior to my “Crises” I had watched and actually bought this 6 VHS tape set of Joseph Campbell on Mythology. Extremely well done with a final conclusion that “I am my own God”. It’s pure Buddhism that never found any traction even before my Re-Birth but became critical in my Affirmation of Christ.
IMHO, it all comes down to Darwinian evolution or Creation.
When I read and listened to the Darwinist, their “Science” and “Reason” didn’t add up. The math alone didn’t add up, never-mind their conclusions about human nature and Free will.
Back to the Buddhist and “Spirituality”.
IMHO, Buddhism is based on the “uncertainty” found in “Theoretical Physics”. A belief in a possibility without certainty.
If Freud demands certainty then he need only look at himself.
The Darwinist attempt to destroy all meaning of mind. Including their own minds.
The Buddhist/Humanist take the other extreme. There is no right or wrong and in a world of uncertainty everything is possible.
I came to Christ, once again, through the process of elimination.
I wasn’t “Told” what to believe.
I didn’t “Need” anything.
God has Created Man with an extraordinary ability, the ability to consider all the evidence, to thoughtfully self reflect and come to Him by Faith.
“Some have taken it as far as to suggest that most of his theories were made up.”
Of course they are “made up”. All theories are made up by someone. Then you test them to see if they are right. That’s how science works.
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