Freudian Slip

  "Religion is nothing but a crutch." How often have we heard that sneer directed at the faithful? The jibe reflects the teachings of Sigmund Freud—that belief in God is nothing more than wish fulfillment, a projection of a childish need for security. But now a psychologist is turning the tables on Freud's followers. It turns out that Freud's teachings were based not on psychoanalytical evidence, but on his personal hostility towards religion. In his new book, Faith of the Fatherless, psychologist Paul Vitz describes Freud's theory that religious people suffer from unconscious and infantile needs. Freud's disciples have promoted this theory so successfully that today it's taught in many a college classroom. But according to Vitz, Freud's "interpretation of religion is... unsupported by psychoanalytic theory or clinical evidence." It's "not really a part of psychoanalysis—and hence cannot claim support from psychoanalytic theory." Instead, Vitz writes, Freud's rejection of religion is "rooted in his personal predilections." Surprisingly, Freud himself acknowledges this. He once wrote a friend that his views on religion "form no part of analytic theory. They are my personal views." Nevertheless, Vitz writes, "Freud implies... that he is very familiar with the psychology of belief in God." In reality, "Freud had very little psychoanalytic experience with patients who believed in God or were genuinely religious." Why was Freud so hostile towards religion? Vitz's own research provides an answer. In a study of more than a dozen of the world's most influential atheists, including Freud, Vitz found that all had defective relationships with their fathers—fathers who were weak, dead, abusive, or who abandoned their kids. Clearly, one's relationship with one's father has a tremendous impact on one's attitude toward God. This finding is certainly true of Freud. He despised his father, a devout Jew who was a weak, passive man, unable to support his family. Moreover, Freud claimed his father was a sexual pervert. According to Vitz, in Freud's mind, his father's passivity and perversion was "clearly connected to Judaism and God." Is it any wonder that in proposing the Oedipus complex, Freud places father hatred at the center of his psychology? Ironically, Freud himself provides evidence that supports Vitz's theory. He once wrote that psychoanalysis "has shown us that the personal god is... nothing but an exalted father" and claimed that this demonstrates why children lose their religious belief as soon as the father's authority breaks down. According to Vitz, Freud is acknowledging that "a child's psychological representation of his father is intimately connected to his understanding of God." That "once a child... is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible." Freud's story illustrates the fact that for many an atheist, barriers to religious belief are not rational, based on empirical evidence. Instead, their atheism is based upon a non-rational need to reject God. So when you hear those old stereotypes about religion being a crutch for people with infantile needs, be sure to set your friends and neighbors straight: It's atheists who engage in unconscious "wish fulfillment." And that's a "crutch" that only the healing love of Christ can overcome.


Chuck Colson



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