Table of Contents
In this book which was published in 1927 Freud discusses his theory about the origin of religious thought and human need for religion.
Freud starts by discussion about the characteristics of civilisation and how it developed to extract wealth from the world and to control power of nature to satisfy human needs. Freud believes that humans by nature will not be able to achieve civilisation without coercion because of human weakness and intrinsic laziness. Such rules of civilisation are necessary to regulate the relationship between one individual and another for the welfare of everyone in society.
Freud states his view that the individual is an enemy of civilisation and that civilisation must defend itself against the individual by these regulations and by its institutions and commands. Individuals must renounce their instincts which manifest in the form of destructive, antisocial and anticultural trends. Individuals must make sacrifices by restricting their instincts. However this is a task of a minority of the group to control the masses by giving an example of their and renunciation of their own instincts. Freud believes that groups are inherently lazy and unintelligent.
So the leaders of the group must motivate the masses to work as Freud believes that humans in general are not fond of work and no way any arguments or persuasion would work to make them renounce their passions or instinctual drives.
Civilisation has to provide compensation for such instinctual enunciation for the masses to be under control. With that civilisation develops some mental assets and try to satisfy their renounced instincts mind making the masses believe that their privations has to be accepted for the good of the whole society. As individual develops his super ego so the society has has to internalise the cultural prohibitions. The more secure the culture the more it can do away with external forms of coercion. However internalisation of the moral demands may not be successful in every individual and there is a need for some degree of coercion in many people. Some people only will be such demands under the threat of external coercion.
In that way civilisation develops its ideals and artistic creations. In that way art serves as a way to reconcile people with their sacrifices made on behalf of civilisation. Art makes individuals identify with his cultural group by giving it a chance for sharing emotional experiences which provides the individual with cultural narcissistic satisfactions.
Freud believed that religion also serves as means to defend civilisation against enemies. In the face of terrors of nature and fate, religion relieves us from the task of defending ourselves against the superior powers of nature. Personalisation of nature make it possible for us to understand what is the nature of the power against which we are so powerless. This personalisation of nature gave us a chance of some form of control over nature.
Freud compares the archaic personifications of man and nature and the relationship between the child and the father. This infantile prototype of the child and parent relationship gave rise to understanding of nature in in its paternal aspects and the forces of nature are turned into gods and goddesses. So according to Freud, diet is exorcise the terrors of nature, reconcile humanity to the cruelty of fate and compensate for human sufferings and privations imposed on man because of his civilised life. During human history the role of dieties has become detached from their relationship to nature and it has become their tasks to correct the evils of civilisation and heal the sufferings we cause to each other and at the same time the rules and commandments of each civilisation were given a divine origin and raised to a level far from the reach of human society beyond nature and the universe.
Freud believes that such ideas of Divinity and to humankind against the dangers of nature and fate and the threats coming from the human society itself. Once this is established; the humankind start to believe that everything has to be understood as an expression of a superior intelligence which prevails on the universe and that power would help to protect from death itself. In this way the more laws of civilisation are seen to govern the whole universe in the form of a superior wisdom which direct the course of things along a path of superiors goodness and justice. That's the moral code of civilisation which is provided to its members "ready-made" so that the individual is not taking part in its formation would be given as superior unquestionable origin. Humans start with the relationship of helplessness and weakness between them and their parents in their relationship characterised by ambivalence. The growing child learns that he is powerless and dependent upon superior powers and later in his life he projects to the divine powers the feeling he has towards the father. He creates the gods he's afraid of and at the same time put into the hands of the task of protecting him.
The ideas and teachings of religion are trusted because they are handed down from ancestors and it is forbidden and it is forbidden to question their authenticity. Even if there is doubt which properly arise in people's minds; it is suppressed because this means that our ancestors are and trust worthy and probably those ancestors had the same doubts about were unable to express them with the same reasons.
Freud goes on discusses the attempts to justify the religious point of view by the claim that religious doctrines are outside their ability of the human reason to judge. This claim is based on the idea that truth has to be subject to the feelings and not the intellectual judgement. The argument against this is as follows: it's a truce requires something above reason then there is no need for reason at all. And thus those who are unable to experience it at all have an obligation to accept it.
Probably, Freud says, the incomprehensible religious doctrine can be accepted on the basis that it is fictitious and has to be considered as a hypothesis or a philosophical "as if" position.
In another chapter, Freud examines the reasons behind the power of religious doctrines and how they defy reason. He organises their psychic origin of religious ideas in that they fulfil all and strong human wishes which are actually illusions seeking protection of the humankind against the forces of nature. On other hand such wishes reflects conflicts of an infantile position in the child father complex. In that way religion is equivalent to the phylogenic conflict between man and nature and the ontogenic conflict between child and father during the Oedipus drama.
Freud differentiate between an illusion which is an error in judgement based on which fulfilment and a psychotic delusion which is based on false concept which contradict reality. Illusions may not be false in relation to reality but they may be contradictory to what can be realised in reality. So Freud concludes that religious doctrines are illusions and and they cannot be proved or disapproved and no one is compelled to believe in them. It is only the highest and the most sacred things of civilisation that humanity allows itself to be a rational about it.
Later Freud points out that there is a lot of other illusions in society which are made in to talk about or even challenge such as sexuality and politics.
In the later chapters of this book, Freud takes on the task of defending his views against arguments put by critics. And finally he admits that perhaps his point of view is also a illusionary. However he stresses that his illusions are not inaccessible to correction like religious ones. And he accepts to give up his view that religion is neurosis and the hope that humanity will overcome it; if experience would sure that he is mistaken.