Freud’s Anti-Religous Foundation

Dark WisdomI feel like a 7th grader writing a Social Sciences report rather than a freewheeling blogger, and quite honestly I would prefer not to bother compiling all this research on Freud. But here we are, with me remembering surrounding myself with World Book Encylopedias in preparation for a 100-word essay. Now I have five open tabs on my computer, thinking, “Only the technology has changed in fifty years.” But okay, let’s spend five or six hundred words talking about Freud, shall we?

Most people would consider Sigmund Freud to be the father of psychoanalysis, and therefore of modern psychology in general. Therefore, we need to spend some time discussing Freud’s belief concerning religion, as well as the influence Charles Darwin had on him. I know…really dry  subject matter. But I believe we need to consider the  foundations of psychology in order to determine whether or not we should incorporate it into Biblical counseling.

Freud was born on May  6, 1856 to a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, living most of his life in Vienna, Austria. Although he called himself a Jew in response to the Anti-Semetic attitudes that gave rise to Hitler, he fundamentally embraced atheism. His writings displayed absolute contempt for religion of any sort. Most famously, in The Future as an Illusion (1927), he said, “Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis.”

In that same work, Freud also wrote:

The idea of God was not a lie but a device of the unconscious which needed to be decoded by psychology. A personal god was nothing more than an exalted father-figure: desire for such a deity sprang from infantile yearnings for a powerful, protective father, for justice and fairness and for life to go on forever. God is simply a projection of these desires, feared and worshipped by human beings out of an abiding sense of helplessness. Religion belonged to the infancy of the human race; it had been a necessary stage in the transition from childhood to maturity. It had promoted ethical values which were essential to society. Now that humanity had come of age, however, it should be left behind.

His contempt for religion is unmistakable. Freud had no use for religion of any sort, thus developing psychoanalysis on the presupposition that it offers answers that one could never find through something as childish as religion. He directly stated this conviction in The Future as an Illusion:

Our knowledge of the historical worth of certain religious doctrines increases our respect for them, but does not invalidate our proposal that they should cease to be put forward as the reasons for the precepts of civilization. On the contrary! Those historical residues have helped us to view religious teachings, as it were, as neurotic relics, and we may now argue that the time has probably come, as it does in an analytic treatment, for replacing the effects of repression by the results of the rational operation of the intellect.

Freud’s trust, as evidenced by this quote, resided wholly in human intellect rather than in God’s wisdom. Indeed, he saw human intellect as vastly superior to religious constructs.

We can better appreciate Freud’s position that humanity should outgrow its dependence on religion when we realize the influence that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had  on him. Frank J. Sulloway, in his book, Freud, Biologist of the Mind (Harvard University Press, 1992) wrote:

It is certainly fitting that the influence of Charles Darwin, the man whose evolutionary writings did so much to encourage young Freud in the study of biology and medicine, should have been so instrumental in turning psychoanalysis into a dynamic, and especially a genetic, psychobiology of mind. Indeed, perhaps nowhere was the impact of Darwin, direct and indirect, more exemplary or fruitful outside of biology proper than within Freudian psychoanalysis. Yet it was not until Freud had freed himself from the quest for a neurophysiological theory of mind that he finally began to reap the full benefits of this Darwinian legacy within psychoanalytic theory. By then—the late 1890s—Darwin’s influence upon Freud’s scientific generation had become so extensive that Freud himself probably never knew just how much he really owed to this one intellectual source … Freud, toward the end of his life, recommended that the study of evolution be included in every prospective psychoanalyst’s program of training.

Freud’s reliance on Darwin’s theory of evolution, not very surprisingly, feeds into his animosity toward religion. Let me demonstrate this point by quoting from Freud’s 1939 work, Moses and Monotheism:

Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities.

[…] If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.

I realize my post barely scratches the surface (but remember that I compared this post to a 7th grade essay, not a post-graduate dissertation). Yet I believe I’ve successfully shown that this father of modern psychology developed a discipline founded on principles that resist Biblical Christianity. Since Freud so strongly opposed any form of religion, I see no reason that evangelicals should incorporate psychology into Christian counseling. In fact, I believe doing so violates Scripture’s injunction against unequal partnerships.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” ~~2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)

One thought on “Freud’s Anti-Religous Foundation

  1. Many years ago I read about the life of Freud, quite depressing. There was a period in his life that he got both his mom and wife addicted to cocaine, believing it to be some miracle drug. If you believe your own intellect above what the Bible offers, your feet are firmly planted in thin air. Better to be firmly planted on the Rock instead. 🙂


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