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.

What we find in this text is the beginning of studies which were to be Freud's main interest for the rest of his life.


Text:

I: Freud beings the text with an observation of two characteristics of civilization. [1] First, he notes that it has developed the knowledge and capacity necessary to control and extract the wealth of the world and society to the satisfaction of human needs. [2] Civilization has also acquired all the regulations that are necessary in order to adjust the relationships of people to one another. This is especially so in terms of the distribution of wealth.

What this implies is that human beings are not independent of each other. [a] The mutuality of human relationships is influenced by the amount of instinctual satisfaction which the available wealth makes possible. [b] Because individual's can function as wealth in relation to another individual in terms of [i] economics-i.e., that capacity to work, and [ii]as sexual objects. [c] Each individual is considered to be an enemy to civilization. This is so even though civilization if supposed to be an object of universal interest. Therefore civilization must defend itself against the individual, and its regulations, institutions and commands which are all formed for and directed towards this task. (6)

From this Freud concludes that every civilization must be built upon coercion and renunciation of instincts. That is, we must recognize the fact that there is present in all humans destructive, and thus anti-social and anti-cultural, trends and that this is enough to determine the behaviour of a great many persons. To Freud, then, the question becomes on of whether and to what extent is it possible to lessen the burden of instinctual sacrifices imposed on us in order to reconcile people to those restrictions on life that must remain and provide then compensation for them. He notes that just as it is impossible to do without the control of the group by a minority, it is impossible top dispense with coercion in civilization. This statement is based on Freud's opinion that groups are inherently lazy and unintelligent, etc. (see: Group Psychology S.E:18). (7)

Since Freud thinks that groups are irresponsible and lazy, he notes that it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and who the masses recognize as their leader that a group can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations upon which the existence of civilization depends. Freud points out two characteristics of humans which are responsible for the fact that the regulations of civilization must operate by a certain degree of coercion. These are as follows: [1] that humans in general are not spontaneously found of work; and [2] that intellectual or moral arguments are of no avail against human passions or drives. (8)

Here we already see the beginnings of Freud's opinion of society. He thinks that humanity's baser nature is more powerful than all of our achievements. This opinion was informed partially by the emphasis of Darwinian theory upon Freud's psychology. That is, there is an inherent biological basis of understanding which leads to the notion that humans are. in general, strictly subject to their instinctual activities and desires. A second point of departure for this attitude is the disillusionment that resulted from the horrors witnessed first by the First World War and then by the atrocities of the socialist regime in Germany during the Second World War. By witnessing first hand humanity's wickedness as is evident in all war situations, the Enlightenment's idealism of humanity was ruptured and many people were forced to stare the human animal straight in the eye. It is not surprising, therefore, that the kind of attitude or understanding of humanity's nature which Freud represents in his writing is the end result of these historical events.

II: In this section Freud begins by listing the mental assets of civilization. they are as follows: [1] the coercion and other measures used to bring about instinctual renunciation; and [2] the means developed to re-compensate humans for their sacrifices. That is, since the instincts are not satisfied by the frustrations and privation of civilized life there must be recompensation. The next thing that Freud does is to distinguish between privations which effect everyone of us and those that only effect groups, classes and individuals. Those privations which only effect individuals is said to be the earliest form of coercion. These are the prohibitions that were established by humanity before civilization developed. Such prohibitions were formed when primal humanity began to detach itself from its primordial animal condition. To Freud such prohibitions are still operating today and are the basis of all hostility towards civilization. These prohibitions include those of cannibalism, incest, lust of destruction, and so on. (10)

Freud is of the opinion that there are certain mental developments that occurred as a result of cultural prohibitions. This is the development of the Super Ego as it relates to Freud's myth of the primal horde (Totem and Taboo). Freud sees this mental development so significant that for "Those in whom it has taken place are turned from being opponents to civilization to being its vehicles." Thus Freud concludes, the more that have internalized the cultural prohibition, the more secure is the culture and the more the culture can do away with external forms of coercion. Still, the internalization of civilizations moral demands differs greatly depending upon various instinctual prohibitions. Thus many people still obey such demands only under the threat of external coercion. (11)

Freud notes that this axiom applies to certain classes of a society. In this statement we find a parallel between Freud's and Marx's thought.... That is, Freud is of the opinion that the under privileged classes will envy the favored classes. They will, thus, do what ever they can to free themselves from their own surplus of privation.... Where it is not possible to do so a certain amount of discontent will persist. Such discontent, Freud thinks, could lead to revolt and other dangers to civilization. So Freud thinks that so long as civilization has an oppressed class, that class will develop a hostility towards a culture whose existence they make possible by their own work but in whose wealth they have to small a share. Under such conditions, Freud follows, the internalization of cultural prohibitions among the suppressed is not to be expected. Rather, Freud thinks, such classes are bent on destroying the culture.

His conclusion, therefore, is that the extent that a civilizations precepts are internalized is not the only type of mental wealth to consider when estimating a civilization's value. Freud points out, for example, a civilization's ideals, artistic creations and the satisfactions that can be derived from them as further examples of a civilization's mental wealth. (12) Ideals, he says, are based on a first achievement made possible by a combination of internal gifts and external circumstance. Such original experiences are held to be an ideal as something to be carried further. That is, they are ideals of a narcissistic (self involved) nature. This means that the narcissistic satisfaction provided by the cultural ideal is also among the forces which are successful in combating the hostility towards the culture within the cultural unit by both the privileged and suppressed classes. (13) Art, to Freud, is seen to be a substitute satisfaction for the oldest and deeply felt instinctual renunciations. For this reason art serves as nothing else does to reconcile people to the sacrifices made in behalf of civilization. Thus art heightens the individual's identification with the cultural unit by providing an occasion for sharing highly valued emotional experiences. Thus art also ministers to the culture's narcissistic satisfactions. (15)

III: Freud begins this section with the question "In what does the value of religious ideas lie?" For Freud the raison d'Ítre of civilization is to defend us against nature. But, he follows, nature is very powerful, it is not at all under our control. Still civilization relieves each and every one of us from the task of defending ourselves from the superior powers of nature and fate. It does this, in Freud's opinion, by removing the terrors, etc. of nature. For example, the personalization of nature offers to humanity a way of understanding what it is we are so powerless over. This also permits the development of some form of control over nature. Thus it is through what Fraser calls "sympathetic magic" that humanity come to gain a feeling of some kind of control over nature. (16)

The situation or relationship f humanity to nature, as understood by archaic personifications, is one of the child to the parents. This infantile prototype, Freud says, gives rise to an understanding of the forces of nature having a paternal aspect and hence the focus of nature are eventually turned into gods and goddesses. For Freud this is not only an infantile prototype of understanding nature it is also a phylogenic on. (see: Totem S.E. 13:146ff) (17) From this perspective Freud attributes to the deities three tasks: [1] they must exorcise the terrors of nature, [2] they must reconcile humanity to the cruelty of fate and [3] they must compensate humanity of the sufferings and privations which a civilized life has condemned them. But, Freud notes, the role of the Gods and Goddesses have over time evolved away from their relationship to nature (the divinities and nature have become autonomous of one another). Thus it has become the task of the divinities to even out the defects and evils of civilization, to attend to the suffering which we inflict on each other, and watch over the fulfillments of each civilizations particular precepts (which incidentally were give divine origin--i.e., they have been elevated beyond human society and extended to rule over nature and the universe).

To Freud the possession of such ideas of divinity protects humanity in two directions: [1] it protects humanity against the dangers of both nature and fate, and [2] it protects humanity against the injuries which threaten us from human society itself. Once divinity has been given such attributes, Freud follows, everything that occurs is understood by humanity to be an expression of an intelligence superior to us and death is no longer seen as the extinction of life. Rather death is seen as but the beginning of a new kind of existence which lies along the path of development to something higher. This view, thus, announces that the same moral laws of civilization, also govern the whole universe. Hence there evolves an understanding of a kind of superior wisdom which directs the course of things, an understanding of s superior goodness and justice, and all other attributes of the divine beings who created us, the world and the universe. (Or for that matter of "the one divine being into which, in our civilization, all the gods of antiquity have been condensed." From this point of view--i.e., divinity as monotheistic--humanity's relation to the divinity come to recover the intensity and intimacy of a child's relation to her or his parents. (19) To Freud this is the most precious possession that a civilization has to offer to its members.

IV: In this section Freud proceeds to attempt to show that religious ideas arise from the same needs as have all other aspects of civilization--i.e., from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushingly superior forces of nature. But he notes that there is a second motive involved. That is, there is a motive which derives from the urge to rectify the shortcomings of civilization intrinsic to religious formation. for example, one of the problems of civilization is that it hands its ideas and mores over "ready made" to its members. In such situations the individual would not be able to discover them herself or himself. (21)

Freud suggests that it is natural for humanity to personify nature and the like as humans know from the beginning that the way to influence nature is through the establishment of relationships. The feelings of helplessness and weakness that humans feel does not argue against the notion of the exalted totem but it also has a lot to do with the relationship between the child and parents--or for Freud the Father. (22) In what we understand of Freud's notions of the Oedipal Drama, we know that the mother is the child's first object choice. Mother, however, is soon re-laced by father who is seen to be stronger, from Freud's point of view. As we remember, the particular relationship of child to father is coloured by ambivalence. Thus, when he growing child learns that he (or she) is to remain powerless forever (a child), dependent upon superior powers forever, he (or she) lends to this divine figure the powers that belong to the father (projection). "He creates for himself," Freud writes, "the gods who he dreads, in whom he seeks to propriate, and whom he nevertheless entrusts with is own protection." (24)

V: In this section Freud asks the question as to the significance of religious ideas and how they are to be classified. To Freud Religious ideas are teachings and assertions about facts and conditions of external (or internal) reality which tell one something one has not discovered for oneself and which lays claim to one's belief. (25) Still religious ideas produce claims for such beliefs as they are put forward as there epitomized result of larger processes of thought based upon observation and influences.

From Freud's point of view, religious beliefs are said to be formed of three characteristics. First, that religious teachings deserve to be believed because they were already believed by our primal ancestors; secondly, we posses proofs that has been handed down from those same primordial times; and third, it is forbidden to raise questions as to their authenticity at all. Freud finds this third point most interesting. He thinks that there can be only one reason for such a statement and that is the insecurity of the claim it makes on behalf of its religious doctrines. It is due to a feeling of mistrust that is justified by one other claim of proof for religious belief: one, that we ought to believe because our ancestors did, but the ancestors were ignorant and there is no reason to assume that their religious doctrines may also belong to such a class--i.e., untrustworthy. Freud points out that this position is not new: many of our ancestors "probably nourished the same doubts as ours, but the pressure imposed on them was too strong for them to have dared to utter them." Since countless persons have had such doubts there is nothing surprising in the fact that such ideas have been suppressed. (27)

Freud notes that there have been two responses or attempts to justify the religious point of view. The first, credo quia absurdum, is said to be of a violent nature. This perspective maintains that the religious doctrines of the early Christian church are outside of the jurisdiction of human reason. It is a position that says that their truth must be felt inward, it need not be comprehended. But this is surely an absurd position. If the truth requires something above reason--an subjective experience--how can we expect that reason has any value at all, and what of those who have not had such an experience. There is no obligation for humanity to employ reason at all, and there is an exclusive means of determining what truth is--those that have not experienced it as the church says it is do not know the truth.

The second attempt is the one made by Philosophy of "as if." This position asserts that our thought activity includes a great number of hypotheses whose groundlessness and even absurdity we recognize, but for a number of reasons we behave 'as if' we believed in these fictions. This is the case with religious doctrines, says Freud, because of their incomparable importance for the maintenance of human society.

VI: Freud asks the questions "In what does the force of such doctrines lay?" and "To what is it that the owe their efficacy, independent of recognition by reason?"

To Freud the psychical origin of religious ideas is that they are the fulfillments of the oldest and strongest wishes of humankind. As wishes, Freud notes, they are thus illusions. That is, they are illusions or wishes for the protection of humanity against the forces of nature. They are the moral justification and prolongation of earthly existence. As such wishes Freud claims that they issue from the infant's conflicts of the early father-complex. That is, religion is the phylogenic equivalent to the ontogenic conflicts with one's father during the Oedipus drama. (30)

To Freud an illusion is an error in terms of wish fulfillments. That is, illusions are derived from human wishes and therefore approach psychotic delusions. The difference between psychotic delusions and religious illusions is found in found in their relation to reality and falsity. A delusion is said to contradict reality utterly. Illusions, Freud points out, need not necessarily be false in relations to reality. That is, they could be either un-realizable or contradictory to reality. Freud writes:

We call a belief an illusion when a wish fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations to reality....(31)

Therefore, Freud concludes that religious doctrines are illusions. That is, on the one hand, no one can be compelled to believe (?) in them and that they cannot be proved or refuted. On the other hand, no one can be forced to disbelieve religious doctrines.

Freud then notes an interesting thing. He suggests that it is only the highest and most sacred things of a civilization that humanity allows itself the irrationality of belief. (32) Thus it is something that is religious or approaching religious dimensions that we suspend disbelief and become, as Freud would put it, irrational. An example f this activity is belief in religion as Freud sees it. But there are other examples that may not be as persuasive or all-encompassing. For existence there is the sincere belief by certain individuals that Elvis is alive, that the earth is flat, and so on.

VII: Freud next questions "What other illusions could there be in civilization?" Pointing out the illusions of sexuality, politics and so on, he quickly backs out of such an investigation, wisely noting that it is much too large a topic. What does this suggest? To me it suggests that Freud thinks that there is a lot in civilization which is illusory in nature. We just do not recognize it as such, and in fact are forbidden by unwritten social reuses to even talk about the fact that we do not recognize it.

A critique of Freud's point of view might be on that notes that the doctrines of religion are a subject that one question as well as any other. This is so because our civilization is based upon them, and the maintenance of society is dependent upon our believing in them. And if there is no belief in a higher authority does this not lead to social anarchy? If we do not believe in a divine world order and in a future life, we would feel exempt from all obligation to follow the precepts of civilization. Everyone will, without fear, follows his or her asocial, egoistic instincts and seek to exercise their power. The critique goes on to say that even if we could prove that religion was not in the possession of the truth, we ought to conceal the fact and behave in a way proscribed by the philosophical "as if" in the interest in the civilizations preservation. (34-35)

Freud's reply to such a criticism, such as it is his anticipation of criticisms, is to assert that "civilization runs a greater risk if we maintain our present attitude to religion than if we give it up." Freud follows with a justification of this exposition by saying that he does not offer anything different than many others have before him, in terms of a critique of religion, rather all he has done is place this argument in a psychological context. He also notes that this book will really harm no person other than himself. (we see one of Freud's specialtieshe is eliciting our sympathy by showing that we will be and always has been wronged for his thoughts). (36) HE also notes that nothing that he has said about religion really needs psychoanalytic support; "it had been said by others long before analysis came into existence." (37)

Freud's defends his position by initially giving religion its due. He writes: "Religion has clearly performed great services for human civilization. It has contributed much towards the taming of the asocial instincts. But not enough." (37) 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? There are an appealing number of people that are dissatisfied with civilization and unhappy in it, and feel it is a yoke that must be shaken off. Such people do everything in their power to change things and may even go so far in their hostility as to isolate themselves from civilization and have nothing to do with the restriction of instincts. A usual critique that may appear at this juncture is precisely because of science that religion no longer has the influence that it once did.

Freud's response is that it is doubtful that people were happier in a time when religious doctrines held unrestricted sway; more moral they certainly were not. Religious functionaries used all sorts of coercive means in attempts to limit the individual's nature and externalized such coercion on the notion of divine grace. It is no secret that the priests could only keep the masses submissive to religion by making large concessions as these to the instinctual nature of man. Thus it was agreed: God alone is strong and good, man is weak and sinful. In every age immorality has found no less support in religion than morality has. If the achievements of religion in respect to man's happiness, susceptibility to culture and moral control are no better than this, the question cannot but arise whether we are not overrating its necessity for mankind, and whether we do wisely in basing our cultural demands upon it. If we consider the concession that religion no longer has the sway that it once did, it is not because its promises have grown less, but rather that they have become less credible. It may well be that the scientific enterprise has exposed the holes in religious doctrines. But the scientific spirit has a particular attitude toward worldly matters; it admires the search for truth. Freud thinks that so long as there are people that place truth above religious sentiment, there will be a further falling away from the religious point of view.

To Freud civilization has little to fear from educated people and brain workers. He claims that it is in them that the replacement of religious motives of civilized behaviour by other, secular, motives would proceed and that such people are to a large extent vehicles of civilization. It is, in Freud's opinion, the larger masses of the uneducated and oppressed who have every reason to be enemies of civilization. Is there not a danger, he speculates, that when such people discover the untruth of religious doctrines that they will thrust their hostility at this weak spot in their oppressors? The whole reason not to kill your neighbour because god willed it, but when there is a realization that there is no God, there is no longer any reason to follow such precepts. So Freud concludes that there are two possible responses:

VIII: In order to carry out this proposal there would have to be a certain amount of instinctual renunciation. But, as Freud notes, more may be gained than would be lost and a great danger would be avoided. Society laid down its precepts clearly for the benefit of communal existence. It is through the insecurity of life, which is an equal danger for each and everyone of us, now unites humanity into a society which prohibits us from killing each other for violations of prohibitions. Here, we have what Freud calls, justice and punishment.

But, Freud follows, we do not admit to this rational explanation of the prohibition against murder. Rather we assert that it is something that has been issued by God. Thus we take it upon ourselves to guess at God's intention. (40) By doing this we are investing the cultural prohibition with a quite special solemnity, but at the same time we risk making its observance dependent upon belief in God. Freud proposes if we avoid this step--no longer attribute to god what is our own will and if we are content with the social reason--then we have renounced the transfiguration of a cultural prohibition, but we have also avoided the risk attached to it and gain something else as well. Freud feels that since it is difficult to separate god from cultural rules, because so many of these rules are contradictory in nature, and all show the signs of human inadequacy, it is perhaps best to remove god's all powerful authority from these prohibitions and honestly admit the purely human origin of all the regulations and precepts of civilization. Along with loosing their pretense at sanctity, Freud argues, they would also loose their rigidity and unchangeableness. People could come to the recognition that they are there to serve us and not rule us. Hence we would adopt a more friendly attitude towards them and aim for their improvement rather than their abolition. To Freud this is an important advance along the road of civilization. (41)

On page 42 Freud makes what could be a continuation of the argument he put forward in Totem and Taboo. He does so by stating that the relationship we have to our father, ontogenically, is paralleled by the phylogenic relation to the primal father. Thus it is true that God and religious doctrine represent a historical truth--albeit disguised--whereas his rational doctrine disavows it. This is, of course, dependent upon one's acceptance of his poor anthropology and the conclusions he leads the reader of Totem.

Freud then moves on to observe that the store of religious ideas includes not only wish fulfillments but also historical recollections. I do not think that there is anyone who would argue this point in general, but like I indicated, his specific belief in a primal deed is another thing altogether. Still he notes that the concurrent influence of past and present gives religion incomparable power and wealth. Although Freud notes that it is not wise to take ideas out of their context, he finds a conformity that he must point out. It is this: a child cannot enter maturity without entering into some form of neurosis of some degree or another. This is a result of the many instinctual demands that cannot be suppressed by the rationality of a child's intellect. These instinctual trends, therefore, must be tamed by repression behind which, as a rule, lies the motive of anxiety. Most of these are resolved spontaneously as one grows and others can be dealt with through analysis. Well Freud applies this same notion to the evolution of our species as well. He parallels the development of humanity as having had gone through a stage analogous to the neurosis for the same reasons--i.e., in the time of humanity's ignorance and intellectual weakness (were we truly weaker or was it just another way of seeing the world) instinctual renunciation was necessary for communal existence. In such a situation, Freud writes, religion could be seen as a "universal neurosis of humanity; like the obsessional neurosis of children, it arose out of the Oedipus complex, out of the relation to the father." If this is true, he continues, it could be supposed that a turning-away from religion is bound to occur with the fatal inevitability of growth. To Freud we are in the middle of such a phase of development. And our behaviour should be modeled on that of a sensible teacher who does not oppose this new development but seeks to ease its introduction and mitigate the violence that may accompany it.

Freud notes that the parallel between religion and obsessional neurosis has often been made and that a great deal of understanding of the dynamics of religion can be uncovered by this comparison. 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. That is, "their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing a personal one."

Thus to Freud the knowledge of the historical worth of religious doctrines does not validate their being put forward as the basis of our civilizations precepts. "On the contrary!" he writes,

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.
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.

Here, too, we are telling the truth in symbolic clothing, for we know what the large bird signifies. But the child does not know it. He hears only the distorted part of what we say, and feels that he has been deceived; and we know how often his distrust of the grown-ups and his refractoriness actually start from this impression. (44)

IX: This section begins in a dialogical manner in which Freud's critic is speaking. He points out the contradictions of Freud's thinking in this book: [1] dangerous not to believe in god while the notion that precepts come out of religious background is dangerous to civilization; That men are ruled by passion and yet Freud would replace the affective basis of obedience to civilizations precepts with rational reasons. He also critiques Freud's point of view for neglecting the admitted other side of religion other than the neurotic.

Freud's defense: Freud still thinks what he has written is harmless as no believer will let him or her self be led astray from their faith. 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 has no intention of depriving people of instinctual satisfaction, rather he asks the question why we must be like this--i.e., why should we deprive ourselves and does our inner nature necessitate such an approach to ourselves? Freud notes that the weakness of our intellect to a large degree may be due to religious education. He compares the relative spontaneity of the uneducated child to the mental atrophy of the adult and suggests that perhaps a child's thoughts would naturally turn to god, but we, nonetheless, do not wait for such developments. Rather it is our custom to introduce the child at a young age to the doctrines of religion, at a time where the child is not interested in them or capable of apprehending them. Thus, 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?

After making some comments on women--intellectual atrophy as second nature due to their repression of the sexual instinct something, he says, that "would most have interested them"--Freud admits that he may be chasing an illusion as well. He also suggests that perhaps that 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 notes, if this experiment were to fail, that he is ready to give up this position and return to his earlier point of view that humans are creatures of weak intelligence who are ruled by instinctual wishes. (47-48)

Freud goes on to agree with his critic on another point. namely, that religion cannot be doe away with in a single blow. "The believer," he writes, "will not let his belief be torn from him, either by arguments or prohibitions." (49) 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 a addict.

But Freud contradicts his critic over the point that men are completely unable to do without the consolation of the religious illusion--that it is necessary for humanity to deal with the troubles of life and the cruelty of reality. He admits that this may be true for individuals brought up with in a religious system, but asks what about those that have been brought up "sensibly?" Such individuals, he thinks, will find themselves in a difficult situation. They will have to admit to themselves the full extent of their helplessness and their insignificance in the machinery of the universe; they can "no longer be the centre of creation, no longer the object of tender care on the part of the beneficent providence." What Freud is calling for, in his own terms, is a 'education to reality.'(49) Freud is positive that humanity will be able to stand up to this task. When one is thrown to his or her own resources, he notes, "one learns to make a proper use of them. And men are not entirely without assistance..." there is science. (50)

X: This section begins with the critic turning the tables an accusing Freud as adhering to illusions and he standing for reason and skepticism. It is an illusion, the critic claims, to believe in the primacy of the intellect over the life of the instincts, and in fact, he follows, those that have been brought up outside of religious systems approach this ideal no more that those from the religious background. The result being, if one wants to expel religious doctrines from European civilization, it must be replaced by another system of doctrines, and that such a system would, from the outset, take on the characteristics of religion--rigidity, intolerance, prohibitions of thought--for its own defense. The critic also notes that it is an ineradicable and innate defect of our and every civilization, that it imposes on our children, who are driven by instinct and are weak in intelligence, the making of decisions which only mature individuals can vindicate. (51)

The critic then pleads on behalf of religious systems as the basis of education and communal life. This is, he claims, a practical problem and not a question of reality value. that is, since for the sake of preserving civilization, until he is ready on his own (Is Freud talking only about men here...?) we are obliged to control human behaviour, and religious systems are the best way of doing so. The critic points out another advantage of religion. That is, it allows for a refinement and sublimation of ideas, which make it possible for it to be divested of most of the traces which it bears of primitive and infantile thinking. Something which science, the critic maintains, is incapable of doing. Thus the critic concludes that he has shown that Freud's "'endeavors come down to an attempt to replace a proved and emotionally valuable illusion by another one, which is unproved and without emotional appeal'." (52)

Freud responds but admitting that he is not inaccessible to such criticisms. He admits that perhaps his point of view is also illusory, but he notes one distinction that separates his thoughts from religious ones. It is this: "My illusions are not," he writes, " like religious ones, incapable of correction. They have not the character of delusion." Freud follows by noting that if experience should show that he is incorrect or mistaken, he will give up his expectations--i.e., that religion is a neurosis and the hope that humanity will overcome it.

Freud brings up two other points for discussion. First, the weakness of his position does not imply any strengthening of the religious one. He admits that the primacy of the intellect is off in the far-flung future but it is not in an infinitely distant one. He expect that it will set the same aims as have religions--i.e., the love of humanity and the decrease of suffering. (53) If this is so, then the antagonism of the religious and Freud's points of view is only temporary and they are not irreconcilable--after-all they desire the same things. Still, Freud notes, on the way to this distant goal religious doctrines will have to be discarded, no matter whether the first attempts fail or if the substitutes prove to be untenable. The reason being: "in the long run nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction which religion offers to both is all to palpable."

The second point is as follows: there is a difference between the illusion from religion and Freud's illusion. The critic, Freud maintains, has defended his illusion with all his might. "If it become discredited--and indeed the threat is great enough--then your world would collapse." Freud notes that he is free of such bondage as he is prepared to renounce a great deal of infantile wishes and thus he can bear it if a few of his illusions are shattered.

Freud then confronts the notion that education freed from the burden of religious doctrines may not effect humanity's psychological nature. Freud notes that there has been some value in the belief in god, but does not think that this is reason enough to lose interest in the world and life, as he has one support that the religious person does not. That is, Freud believes that it is possible for scientific work to gain some knowledge about the reality of the world, and thus increase our power. "If this belief is an illusion," he writes, "then we are in the same position as you. But science has given us evidence by its numerous important successes that it is no illusion." In science's relatively short life span, Freud continues, it has clarified much that had been hidden. It is a system that is based upon laws and proofs which are said to be testable. It is a system that is said to develop hypotheses which are pout forward for criticism and which evolve as they are proven false. Freud goes on to argue the case for science.


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Last updated: April 22, 1996.
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