It is simply amazing that eighty-one years after his death, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) continues to be part of American pop culture. The term “Freudian slip” is still used by professionals of all walks. It has been many years since I have read his work, in fact my memories of studying Freud come mainly from my time in college. A neighbor in my building needed to off-load some books and among the prized possessions was a group of Freud’s works. I picked them out rathern than see them head off to recycling, believing that even in the digital age, good books in print still have a place in every library.
Freud was an avowed atheist and made his disbelief in God clear. In this short but insightful book, he discusses the relationship between religion and science, religion and nature, and why religion can be seen as an illusion. Those of us with strong religious convictions may believe Freud is completely wrong in his assessment of faith. And while I personally believe that religion should be a deeply personal matter, he does offer solid arguments to support his position. But would we truly expect anything less from Freud?
As a bonus, a short biography is provided by Peter Gay to give readers some insight into the life of Freud. The write-up is good and just long enough to get a feel for the material that lies ahead. I personally enjoyed the short bio but in no way is a complete examination of Freud’s life. After the introductory biography, the book moves forward and Freud takes over the show.
As he formulates his argument, he provides a brief discussion of the concept of civilization. To some it might seem like an open and shut case. But Frued is not attempting to change the definiton of civilzation but rather show how its construction and religion are connected. By examining the first, we can proceed to discuss the second with analytical thought. Freud is no under illusions that his arguments will change he minds of everyone that hears his argument. In fact he states clearly:
“No believer will let himself be led astray from his faith by these or any similar arguments. I believe it is bound to the teachings of religion by certain types of affection. But there are undoubtedly countless other people who are not in the same sense believers. They are precipitates of civilization because they let themselves be intimidated by the threats of religion and they are afraid of religion so long as they have to consider it as a part of the reality which hems them in. They are the people who break away as soon as they are allowed to give up their belief in the reality value of religion”
Today this still holds true and each reader may possibly take something different from the book. Some will find more solace in their faith and others might decide that it no longer holds the same place in their lives. It is an entirely personal decision that should never be made rashly but with deep introspection. Freud has only opened the door, it is up to you whether you choose to go through it or close it shut.