Friday, March 18, 2011
What Freud Taught Me About Faith
I have been fascinated with Sigmund Freud since my first encounter with his writings while attending a small Christian liberal arts college (1985-1989) in preparation for ministry. The following passage seared its way indelibly into my new-forming pastoral psyche.
We know already that the terrifying effect of infantile helplessness aroused the need for protection -- protection through love -- which the father relieved, and that the discovery that this helplessness would continue through the whole of life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father - but this time a more powerful one.
That idea literally exploded in my mind. What? Is he saying that religion is rooted in the infantile wish to be protected from the dangers of life by a divine father. What a wonderfully subversive idea! I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that criticism of my faith but I knew instinctively that I couldn't ignore it. The idea struck me with all the force of a divine revelation and has continued to shape my faith from that moment to the present.
The idea that religion is a childish illusion that keeps humanity from falling into the abyss of despair touched a deep nerve in me. In retrospect, I understand now that on that day Freud became my lifelong teacher, a creative catalyst that opened a door in my mind, altered my thinking and enlarged my understanding. Freud taught me that there is a vital connection between our beliefs and our deep-seated needs and desires.
That single sentence started a long process in which I began to think about the the inner significance of my religious ideas. Thanks to Freud, I have no doubt that the idea of a divine heavenly father speaks to the human need for security and protection. Such faith can be part of a healthy life as long as it doesn't lock us into childish ways of thinking that keep us from developing a mature perspective and taking responsibility for our lives.