Freud and Religion

Freud often compared in his writings (in his book “The Future of an Illusion, eg.) religious belief as a delusion and intoxication, which results in his addiction. Freud considers like an incurable disease to one that is determined mentally, from an early age, by this belief: in the same way that it is difficult to sleep without sleeping pills, when we used to take, it would be difficult to confront life without the help of religion. Presumably because that religion provides an explanatory framework, a worldview, it is a way of thinking that makes sense and it is therefore difficult to extract because it is then necessary to put everything back question. But why use similar analogy in which religion is treated as a narcotic poison, unhealthy addiction?

Initially, Freud seeks to define and assess the nature and function of religious illusion. This function has a “therapeutic” consolation and refuge against an imaginary reality of the world is experienced as cruel. But in what sense the reality is it cruel? The sense that it is tragic or disappointing in the sense that it does not meet our expectations and necessarily reveals our helplessness, our fundamental finitude. Indeed, man is constantly exposed to natural and social constraints that frustrate his desires ongoing. The man does not accept death as nothingness; religion offers him eternal life, man does not accept the injustice of religion offered him the last judgment, the man is not happy now, the religion offers him eternal happiness … Religious ideas to compensate so that frustration by offering a human symbolic satisfaction to the believer who is going to feel protected by “a welfare volunteer” and was taken to the center of creation. Belief in God is seen by Freud as a cultural product that allows mental anguish to appease. It is a sin offering but neurotic response to the anxieties that men experience. Thus, Freud believed that this illusion, which confines man in a dream world, has a major psychological function, but despite its reassuring character, is deeply damaging because it keeps man in a state of dependence (in fact of alienation ) and inability to face reality itself: it is a leak in fiction. That is why Freud compares religion to a negative poisoning: poison, drunkenness, narcotic, sedative, these are just some of the terminology it uses. Thus the dual effect of the illusion that Freud compares to a kind of drug: on one hand it seems positive because it reduces the pain of reality can cause but at the same time it appears as soon as negative as far where it prevents man to confront directly the reality and keeps man in a lack of insight which prevents him real happiness. There is a vicious circle: the fiction enables man to overcome his suffering but maintains the fiction at the same time it prevents the man to provide the means to directly confront the real and therefore n have no need for drama, no more suffering.

Such a view of religion thus leads Freud hoped that men emerge from the grip of this infantilizing “poison” that is religion. It will then pass to an analysis of religious alienation to consider, in a second step, the conditions of possibility of a break with it. The difficulty is that to do without the religious illusion, it would no longer have need of comfort: How is this possible? Freud imagines that the man who would be high in the absence of religion, would just not need to use them. Having become accustomed from the beginning to see the world without the aid of fiction that is to say by educating the child face to face adversity, do not overprotecting, not hiding him difficulties of life, by not telling him not “stories,” brief in the educating in atheism, it does not arouse in him the need for the religious imagination to face life. Certainly, Freud tells us, the private man of God will start out as the child who is away from his “father’s house” and can feel his smallness without the help of divine protection. It seems more difficult to think that there is no divine providence over us to ensure the welfare of humanity, that there is nothing after death, that men are microscopic beings lost in the infinity of space … Such an atheist perspective can lead us to experience the loneliness of humanity, the relativity of the value of our existence, “our smallness in the whole of creation,” says Freud : we are no longer the center of the world where creation of a loving God would establish justice by means of the Last Judgment by rewarding good and punishing the wicked … But if religion is the stage of infantilism must be exceeded and “” Man can not remain forever a child, he must finally venturing into the hostile world,” he wrote.


Perhaps it is here also to eliminate the idea of ​​education that childhood is the “golden age” of life, an innocent and happy state in which the adult should have the nostalgia . It is this mechanism that infantilises, maintains the need for protection provided by God, when adult, we can no longer ask his parents. God is indeed Freud for a “more powerful father,” he reveals the longing for the father and the need to feel supported by a higher power … To break this dependency will be difficult for one who was raised in religion in “the rapture” that lightens the burden of life, and who has always felt protected by the love of the Father, who has always believed occupy a vital place in the universe. Private protective father, he could not but feel some distress and feelings of loneliness … This will be easier for those who from the outset, has been educated outside of religion. Freud seems to opt for an education “to reality” that is to say, for an education that allows out of religion (“leaving father’s house”) and access to the maturity of the man who no longer needs illusions.

Education for the real one can face reality without having to make up for the illusory consolations according to Freud is difficult, but possible. It is even deemed necessary to human progress for the man to turn his own story, he no longer seeks to serve a supernatural power, but he behaves like an adult, he ventures into “the ‘hostile environment’ is looming then a rationalist conception of man who should have access to independent thought, self-control: it could then talk about science and psychoanalysis as one of the ingredients to man to establish this project. Freud is reaching into the Enlightenment project which invites man, by means of critical reason, to challenge their own prejudices, their roots in a culture.

So here we see that Freud was indeed one of the most ardent opponents of religion and thought that has had considerable influence on 20th century, probably fed to a large extent the current atheism. Believe in God reveals to Freud of a psychological disposition which would deprive him of himself and his true potential. Truly, the religion, because consoling, offers a solution to the difficulty of living, can take on death and the nothingness that awaits us, assuming our insignificance in the universe, but it offers us a happiness illusory in the guise of a consolation, not a true liberation. To qualify for a certain freedom and happiness that is not false, we must dispel the illusions of infantilism, access a certain realism, we must have the courage to think for themselves and cope with life without the Using this fiction. Thus Freud is he doing here criticism of reassuring illusions preferring the lucidity of human life, and invites us to realism even if it is harder to bear.

Freud comes along with Marx and Nietzsche in a critical perspective of religion as Marx stated that religion is “the opium of the people” and called for its overcoming in communist society, as in Nietzsche gay-knowing announced the “death of god”, Freud invites men to remove religion from the culture of the idea that this is a form of “collective neurosis”. To understand Freud’s position, we must rediscover the meaning of his analysis of the guilt that arises in the child at the time of the oedipal crisis. This feeling arises in children because of his love for the parent of the opposite sex and the fear that the parent of the same sex in return for inflicting retaliation punishment (castration). The father and one who punishes and banned, just as it protects and rewards if we submit to His law. To overcome this fear of punishment, born of incestuous desires, the child learns to renounce same-sex parent to submit to the law. However, this guilt can become neurotic according to Freud, who noticed a link between neurosis and guilt religious behavior: in religion, death is imagined as the punishment of original sin. Caught by the man breaks the law of God and takes his place. This symbolic murder of God is death unless by morbid self-denial, by the acceptance of suffering atoning found access again to the mercy: religion is a kind of expiatory logic of submission (forgiveness , salvation come at the cost of self-sacrifice), it is neurotic mechanism of the need of expiation due to original feeling of guilt.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Freud and Religion, April 3, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 3, 2012,

Leave a Reply