Freud, Lewis, and the Ivy League

For many of us, it's hard to imagine a place less receptive to Christian ideas and the difference that those ideas can make -- both in individuals and the life of a culture -- than Harvard University. Yet one of the most popular courses at Harvard is about precisely that: the strength of a Christian worldview when measured against the secular alternative. The course is entitled "Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis: Two Contrasting Worldviews" and is taught by my good friend Dr. Armand Nicholi. Nicholi is a professor at the Harvard Medical School, editor of the Harvard Guide to Psychiatry, and a committed Christian. In the course, Freud is Nicholi's symbol for the secular worldview that sees traditional ideas about God as "embarrassing" and even infantile. As Nicholi puts it, "Freud remains the spokesman for moral relativism and materialism." In contrast, he calls C. S. Lewis "one of today's primary spokesmen for absolute truth and religious faith." What makes studying the two together so fruitful, says Nicholi, is that Lewis "responds to Freud" because "Lewis knew Freud's theories." After his conversion, a lot of what Lewis wrote was a direct response to the Freudian worldview he found all around him. For instance, Freud wrote that religious belief was absurd and a sign of intellectual weakness. Lewis, in contrast, said that "anyone who is honestly trying to [live a life of belief] will soon find his intelligence sharpened." And Lewis can testify to that from his own experience. Freud wrote that "sexual love [is] the prototype of all happiness . . ." Lewis, on the other hand, wrote that "for any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary [and] . . . surrender to all of our desires leads to . . . everything that is the reverse of health." This kind of honest comparison, a dialogue between worldviews, is desperately needed on college campuses. Someone who appreciates this need is Ray Hornblower, an opera singer and entrepreneur who took Dr. Nicholi's class in the 1970s. Hornblower notes that "the two great scandals in this country today [Enron and the Boston Archdiocese] both have Harvard men at their epicenter. When you educate without exposure to moral issues, you get people who are very intelligent but for whom success is everything." Amen. And Hornblower is far from alone in his assessment. The seminar is so popular that there's only room in the class for one in four of those who sign up. And while you may never enroll in the seminar, you can still benefit from Nicholi's work. That's because the material is now available in Nicholi's outstanding new book, The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. What makes the book so compelling -- and a great gift to your friends -- is that Nicholi, though a believer himself, simply compares what Lewis and Freud have to say about life's most important questions. Two men present their views: Freud and his relativism; Lewis and his Christian faith. And that's the best kind of apologetic. Let people come to the truth on the strength of the case made. And in this event, there's no worry, because Lewis makes the better case -- because it is true. For further information: Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (Free Press, 2002). Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., " When Worldviews Collide," The Real Issue, January 1998, part one of a speech delivered at Southern Methodist University, 23 September 1997. Part two of the speech appeared in the March 1998 edition of The Real Issue. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., "C. S. Lewis vs. Sigmund Freud on good and evil," American Enterprise, March 2002. Learn more about the Harvard Guide to Psychiatry. Jack Thomas, "Nicholi's Believe It or Not," Boston Globe, 13 May 2002. (The article is archived and costs $2.50 to retrieve.) Gina Dalfonzo, "Lewis vs. Freud: On God, Love, Sex, Etc.," Boundless, 9 May 2002. David Neff, "The Dour Analyst and the Joyous Christian," Christianity Today, 19 April 2002.


Chuck Colson


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