|Freud and the Fatherhood
I will be the first to admit that the title of this
handout is a bit loaded and doubtlessly reveals my own distrust and
antagonism towards Freud's position, but I think it is worth subjecting
him to something like his own analysis. What might even a brief study of
his own neuroses and defensiveness reveal?
Read through the following materials. What do they
suggest about Freud's view of God and his own father? Likewise, what do
they suggest about Freud's view of human (and theistic) hypocrisy? Can
Freud be said in any way to lack self-awareness? What do his own slips
"My dear Son: It was in the seventh year of your age that the
spirit of God began to move you to learning. I would say the spirit of
God speaketh to you: 'Read in my Book; there will be opened to thee
sources of knowledge and of intellect.' It is the Book of Books; it is
the well that wise men have digged and from which lawgivers have drawn
the waters of their knowledge."
--Jacob Freud, Sigmund's father, inscribed in the front of his Jewish
Bible, sent to his son on his 35th birthday
"The derivation of religious needs from the infant's
helplessness and the longing for the father aroused by it, seems to me
incontrovertible. . . The common man cannot imagine this Providence
otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father."
--Civilization and Its Discontents
"In the second half of childhood a change sets in in the boy's
relation to his father--a change whose importance cannot be exaggerated.
. He finds that his father is no longer the mightiest, wisest and
richest of beings; he grows dissatisfied with him, he learns to
criticize him and to estimate his place in society; and then, as a rule,
he makes him pay heavily for the disappointment that has been caused him
. . he becomes model not only to imitate but also to get rid of, in
order to take his place."
--Some Reflections on Schoolboy Psychology
"In your case, they are young persons faced with conflicts of
recent date, who are personally drawn towards you and are ready for
sublimation, and to sublimation in its most comfortable form, namely the
religious. . . [Y]ou are in the fortunate position of being able to lead
them to God and bringing about what in this one respect was the happy
state of earlier times when religious faith stifled the neuroses. For us
this way of disposing of the mater does not exist."
--Letter to good friend and pastor, Oskar Pfister, 2 September 1909
"I do not break my head very much about good and evil, but I
have found little that is 'good' about human beings on the whole. In my
experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly
subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is
something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think, though your
experiences of life can hardly have been different from mine. If we are
to talk of ethics, I subscribe to a high ideal from which most of the
human beings I have come across depart most lamentably."
--Letter to Pfister, 10 September 1918
"I see in life a continual struggle between Eros and the death
instinct, the outcome of which seems to me to be indeterminable, I do
not believe that in coming to those conclusions I have been influenced
by innate constitutional factors or acquired emotional attitudes. I am
neither a self-tormentor nor am I cussed and if I could, I should gladly
do as others do and bestow upon mankind a rosy future, and I should find
it much more beautiful and consoling if we could count on such a thing.
But this seems to me to be yet another instance of illusion (wish
fulfillment) in conflict with truth."
--Letter to Pfister, 2 July 1930
The Future of an Illusion--Key
- Human civilization is necessary to control the
forces of nature as much as possible for human needs, and this
requires protecting it against the individual animosity of those whose
desires it controls or denies.
- Only the determined leadership of the few can
make civilization more adaptable to the needs of the greatest number.
- Civilization must frustrate the felt needs of
many, which requires a set of prohibitions and privations. The
super-ego must include these commands, and the more these are
internalized, the less external coercion is needed.
- However, many are motivated by only external
coercion, and the underprivileged classes growing in envy of the
privileged, may revolt with intense hostility.
- Civilization may offer forms of compensation for
this felt privation, including a sense of inherent superiority and the
consolations of art.
- Without civilization, ultimately only a tyrant of
ultimate power could fulfill his own instincts, so the abolition of
civilization would be a destructive answer.
- Civilization must defend us against the
inescapable pains of nature, including natural disasters, disease,
death, and psychological suffering.
- Civilization consoles our suffering by humanizing
nature, first as Fate, then as personal deities. This dream-work is
especially pronounced in the making of divine fathers.
- Eventually, a cosmic deism results with a faith
in a well-ordered cosmos, a moral law, and the promise of eternal
- Those who advance to this position, begin to see
themselves as a chosen people.
- Human beings are born into a heritage of
religious ideas. Primitive human beings have no other way of thinking,
being the only means of compensation.
- However, science is a later stage in human
evolution that better assists civilization in mastering nature, both
as compensation and through physical technology.
- The gods are creations of the ambivalent
father-attachment, who is both respected and dreaded, a source of
emulation and terror.
- There are any number of beliefs that we must take
on the good testimony of others, though we know we could establish
them for ourselves; however, the claims of religion cannot be
subjected to this test.
- Many beliefs of our ancestors have fallen into
disrepute, and the scriptures themselves are full of errors and
- The claim that theology is above human reason or
that philosophically one best continues "as if" they were
true only further reveal the lack of verification religious
ideas can provide.
- Religion is, then, large-scale
- An illusion may not be an error since it can
connect with reality; rather, illusions neither seek nor answer to
- "Scientific work is the only road which can
lead to a knowledge of reality outside ourselves" (40).
- Sensible, rational people who claim to believe in
the claims of religion are acting out of intentional ignorance, hiding
behind deism or a broader religious existentialism.
- Hard to believe that our "wretched, ignorant
and downtrodden ancestors" could have real answers here.
- Is Freud's Hobbesian view of civilization and
nature convincing? Why or why not?
- Are human beings best understood as a collection
of instincts and frustrations?
- Does theism offer any the compensations that
Freud charges it with? Is there another way to understand its
- Do "sensible people" really act toward
religion in the way that Freud describes?
- Conduct the following thought experiment:
Substitute the words "religion" and "belief" in
Freud's claims with "psychotherapy" and
"disbelief." Do his own claims take on a different possible