We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Critique Of Frued

The whole doc is available only for registered users
  • Pages: 12
  • Word count: 2882
  • Category: Theories

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

Sigmund Freud is part of a group of thinkers who have reacted against religion in its formal expression (E.g. Church, liturgy, the belief that God lives in the heavens etc.), but at the same time seeks to internalize key religious concepts and then relate them to the human psyche. However, unlike modern non-realists who see value in religion as a means for promoting certain social and moral values in society (see God as the Sum of our Highest Ideals), Freud saw religion as an immediate expression of some deeper human problem, which needed to be ‘cured’.

Although Freud was Jewish he never practiced his religion and in fact he believed that all religion was an illusion, which had developed to suppress certain neurotic symptoms in humans. He writes: ‘[Religion] must exorcise the terrors of nature, [Religion] must reconcile men to the cruelty of fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and [Religion] must compensate them for the sufferings which a civilized life in common has imposed on them’ (Freud quoted by Storrs p.89)

Religion, he claims, has ruled civilization for many thousands of years and had time to show what it can achieve. If it had succeeded in altering conditions and made the majority of people happy and reconciled them to life no one would dream of changing the situation. But, Freud asks, what do we see happening? Most importantly, however, is that Freud thinks that our acceptance of religion, as the universal neurosis, safeguard believers who have a high risk of certain neurotic illnesses.

Freud must have been impressed by the universal nature of religious phenomena, being on the interface between the biological and social realms. No doubt he suspected that religion, like literature, articulated in a disguised way some of the psychological truths he discovered in his own work. It could even be argued that the confrontation with religion was a spur to the development of psychoanalysis itself:

“In point of fact I believe that a large part of the mythological view of the world, which extends a long way into the most modern religions, is nothing but psychology projected into the external world. The obscure recognition… of psychical factors and relations in the unconscious is mirrored – it is difficult to express it in other terms, and here the analogy with paranoia must come to our aid – in the construction of a supernatural reality, which is destined to be changed back once more by science into the psychology of the unconscious. One could venture to explain in this way the myths of paradise and the fall of man, of God, of good and evil, of immortality, and so on, and to transform metaphysics into metapsychology.”[1]

To Freud the historical truths put forward in religion have become so distorted and systematically disguised that the mass of humanity cannot recognize them as truth. He compares religion to the practice of telling children they were brought by the stork . . . Just as there are people who are attached to their religious convictions by affective ties, there are people who are not in the same situation. The former individuals, Freud thinks, obey the precept of civilization because they let themselves be intimidated by the threats of religion, and they are afraid of religion so long as they consider it a part of the reality to which they belong . . . Freud notes, by the time that the child’s intellect emerges he or she is already been assailed by the doctrines of religion. What is the relative merit of closing off a mind by threats of hell-fire? Freud writes:

When a man has once brought himself to accept uncritically all the absurdities that religious doctrines put before him and even to overlook the contradictions between them, we need not be greatly surprised at the weakness of his intellect. But we have no other means of controlling our instinctual nature than by intelligence. How can we expect people who are under the dominance of prohibitions of thought attain the psychological ideal, the primacy of the intelligence?

He also suggests that perhaps the effect of the religious prohibition may no be as bad as he supposed. He writes: “perhaps it will turn out that human nature remains the same even if education is not abused in order to subject people to religion.” Although we cannot know the answer to this question, Freud suggests that it may be a good idea to make an experiment of an irreligious education . . .Freud rightly notes that to do so would be a cruelty. He does this by comparing the removal of such beliefs from an individual to the withholding of sleeping drugs for an addict.

Freud believed religion developed in response to human feelings of helpless in the face of a world they cannot control (E.g. earthquakes, disease and death). Just as children have their earthly father to protect them from the common dangers of life Freud believed this need is often carried forward into adulthood and subsequently projected into the heavens creating a ‘Heavenly Father’ who also protects and cares for people. Alongside this religious rituals were developed to protect the human ego from sexual impulses, thoughts and fantasies that had been repressed because the Church viewed such things as sinful.

These rituals were a defense against these impulses ever finding expression in reality. To compensate this ritualistic ‘castration’ religion promises an after-life, which will compensate the believer for the earthly pleasures they have given up. Freud also believed that the notion of an after-life had the additional function of reducing the fear of death. In fact, one could say that as far as Freud is concerned all religion is founded on the premise of fear (E.g. fear of living without one’s father, fear of falling into sexual ‘sin’ and fear of death).

The question that Freud poses in The Future of an Illusion, is what is religious? Freud, remaining loyal to his realist beliefs, views religion as one of the major wish fulfillments inside the Western Cultural Tradition. Religion allows humans to tolerate their repressed and instinctually repressed life within society. The individual must renounce his/her instinctual desires, namely sexual ones, and channel their energies into more socially acceptable, “higher” and productive activities.

A person naturally or instinctively desires to be self-serving and desires to exploit the fight for self-preservation. In many ways, the individual is the “enemy of culture,” since culture itself demands that a person denounces his/her individual and autonomous search for personal gratification. Within society, a person seems to conform and appears to forfeit their personal goals. However, this is quite the contrary to the reality of an individual’s psychological and emotional state within society.

The instincts, which a person cannot express, are repressed but not forgotten. Indeed, these hidden feelings or instincts are the source of neurotic suffering and asocial acts which they threaten the very framework of western civilization. When one defends the preservation of a instinctually repressed feeling or desire, the very fabric of society is tested and endangered; this may provide insight into one of the many negative general reactions towards political radicals and such like persons who live on the fringe of society.

The social “Band-Aid” which bridges the gap between society’s restraining of instinctual desires and the disoriented feelings, which result from this displacement of desires, is religion. Religion reconciles the everyday sacrifice of one’s individual freedom and constant constraint upon acting on natural or instinctual desires, by the promise of a better life to come and the religious sanctions or taboos which declare the social and moral order to be God-ordained.

The other main question within Freud’s The Future of An Illusion, is the relationship of religion to science. Freud asserts that we must accept the reality of science as opposed to religious doctrine. I claim that the purpose of this work, is to assert the claim that humans must subject religious phenomena and dogma to psychoanalytic scientific investigation. During this inquisitive process, we are returned and subsequently confront our infantile unconscious mental life of humanity and its primary mechanisms, wish-fulfillments. In order to properly follow the investigative process of religion, one must define illusion and delusion within the religious realm.

Freud suggests that religion is not entirely erroneous in its conception of reality. A delusion is just such an error about the nature of reality. An illusion is a manifestation of our unconscious wishes and a projected fulfillment of infantile needs. Therefore, the typing of religion as an illusion can be regarded as a factual representation of reality. However, one must takes into consideration that religion gives a complete expression to an unconscious psychological reality and not objective reality.

From a scientific psychoanalytic point of view, when findings pertaining to reality conflict between those from religion and science, only the discoveries stemming from physical science are valid. When one thinks of religious dogma, one realizes that its teachings, beliefs and scope extend beyond the spiritual realm and flow into the physical. Freud claims that only science is qualified to investigate and represent this earthly reality. However, when the subject pertains to ontological matters, religion remains the champion in this field. Religious illusion must bow before scientific truth. It is in total error about the nature of the true world. Only science is not illusion.

Although Freud’s theories have been accepted by many people in contemporary society he was severely limited by research ‘tools’ and many of them are no longer accepted as a sound basis for study today. For example, his book ‘Totem and Taboo’ uses Fraser’s ‘The Golden Bough’ as a key source despite the fact that this text was comprised of largely secondary sources. (According to Anthony Storr in his latter works Freud’s religious views even take on a speculative tone.) Freud wrote three books, which are particularly noted for dealing with religious issues. These are ‘Totem and Taboo’ (1913), ‘The Future of an Illusion’ (1923) and ‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939).

Having outlined Freud’s theory of religion it is important to note his understanding of how the religious instinct arises in people. Although we have touched on a number of the reasons so far Freud actually relates all these ‘neurotic manifestations’ to an event in humanity’s past when the ‘primal group’ consisted of a dominant male who retained exclusive rights over the females of the group. In order that they could gain access to the females it was necessary for the sons to join together and kill their father (and as they were cannibals eat him as well).

In time the sons became guilty over their ‘crime’ and so as a result substituted and killed a Totem figure as a symbol of the crime and as means of paying for their crime. In primitive groups the Totem was a symbolic figure (usually an animal) and an object of worship or reverence and was protected by Taboos which forbid touching and eating it. Allegiance to a Totem also defined social relationships. As far as Freud is concerned the Totem has come to represent a child’s father figure and represents the ‘return of the repressed’ (guilt which is usually kept hidden in the human psyche). Freud believed the origins of all religion and morality could be traced back to this primal event.

Totem and Taboo was one of Freud’s favorite studies: here Freud combines social anthropology, philology and folklore with psychoanalysis in order to “deduce the original meaning of totem’s from the vestiges remaining of it in childhood”. He examines a wide range of totemic practices drawn from Australia, Africa, Malaysia, Melanesia and Polynesia, correlating the development of civilization with the prohibition of instincts. The most famous, essay attempts to solve the “enigma” of the horror of incest by locating the origin of ethics, law and religion in the ambivalent relation to the father that lies at the root of the Oedipal complex.

Freud suggests that the murder of the father need not have taken place in historical reality to found religion, law and morality: the memory of this “crime” may have originated in a hostile unconscious impulse against the father sufficient in its force to create remorse and the totemic system of taboos. In his concluding remarks, Freud speculates about the extent to which the survival of “creative guilt” in neurotics arises from an inherited “psychical disposition” formed in the wake of this primordial act of violence.

Freud relegates the religious experience as the “oceanic feeling” in ‘Civilization and its Discontents”. The oceanic experience is the experience of floating in a sea of connectedness, where all is interconnected. This is fine, this is Sophia, or observational wisdom, and Freud also comments too that all civilization is a form of repression of the instinctive in humanity that is the unconscious dreamtime of undifferentiating of imagery, ancestry, and recurrence. The discursive faculty closes off the depth dimension-meaningfulness of existent, by order thoughts, by setting up rules, or taking positions, and initiation, or enflaming thoughts during reflection.

James relegates the religious experience as the ‘melting heart’ or life as a  constant series or repetitions of conversion, or turnings. Each time a hard place, each time a melting, a liquid, or dissolution, in a sense to an ‘oceanic feeling’, as a movement of the spirit or turning of the sides from one-sidedness to many sidedness, or completion of the sense of transience.

Freud did see religion as an important part of human existence, but more from a psychological perspective than a philosophical one. He felt that religion not only taught man to appreciate morality as a doctrine, but to investigate the morality within himself. However he also made the point that he did not find that religion was a necessary force for order or morality. On the contrary, he did not find any evidence that religion made people any happier or more moral than nonreligious or less religious peers.

“The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life”[2]

Freud considered science and religion to be polar opposites and mortal enemies. He felt that since hundreds of years of believing in God had not yet served to solve mans many problems, perhaps a transition to a belief in science would. Freuds desire for a society that had matured past the need for religion and had embraced science instead is manifested in his contentions about the nature of violence in man. He attempts to understand mans propensity for violence from the perspective that the roots are within our physical and psychological makeup, not in our lack of spiritual piety.

Of course, the fact that environment plays a key role in violence and aggression is significant as well. This is especially true in our modern times. For example, violence on television has a great influence on an individual’s perception of life and death. We tend to become anesthetized to the value of human life after watching it be disparaged over and over in the name of entertainment. If television had been around in Freuds day, he would have been forced to integrate the effects of violence in the media into his suppositions about hostility and aggression.

In the end Freud believed, as did Marx, that the religious instinct in people was curable (even childish), and so at some point in the future could be abandoned. This would happen once people left behind their psychological illusions and live as restored people in a world of scientifically authenticated knowledge. Yet despite this negative assessment of religion Freud’s theory can open up other possibilities for explaining why humans have the religious instinct. As John Hick notes:

‘If the relation of a human father to his children is, as the Judaic-Christian tradition teaches, analogous to God’s relationship to humanity, it is not surprising that human beings should think of God as their heavenly Father and should come to know God through the infant’s experience of utter dependence and the growing child’s experience of utter dependence and the growing child’s experience of being loved, cared for, and disciplined within a family.’ (Hick p.35)

Worked Cite:

  1. L. Davidson Sigmund freud: civilization and its discontents
  2. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, trans. and ed., James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1961), pp. 58-63
  4. Philip Rosenbloom Sigmund Freud the Jew
  5. Rusty Wright Freudian Slip
  6. The Freudian Theory of Religion Anthony Storr
  7. Totem und Tabu: einige Ăśbereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker [Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics], (1913)
  8. Pruyser, “Sigmund Freud and His Legacy,” in Beyond the Classics? ed. C. Y. Glock and P. E. Hammond (New York: Harper, 1973): 243-290.
  9. Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Volume 21. The Future of an Illusion (1927). Translated by James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1968.

[1] The Psychopathology of Everyday Life(1901)

[2] Civilization and its Discontents 1930

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59