In his book Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud critique uses his method of psychoanalysis on religion. By comparing the relationship between human and religion to that of a child and his parents Freud effectively demonstrates that religion is a product of the human mind. After exposing religion as a an illusion Freud concludes that humanity will be better off when it has forgone religion. This paper will argue that Freud's assertion that religion is an illusion is correct because of it's blatantly traceable evolution through the history of the human civilization and psyche.
The first argument that Freud makes in his assault on religion regards civilization. Freud argues that human civilization arose as a result of mankind's needs to protect itself from nature. "It was precisely because of these dangers with which nature threatens us that we came together and created civilization." (Freud 19) As a result of the need for organization and manpower to prepare defenses against nature, the instincts of men had to be controlled. He furthers this argument by saying that two human traits, laziness and the unwilling nature of the masses to listen to reason are responsible for the necessity of the rule of law. Freud then describes the various methods of coercion that can be employed by civilization to halt instinctual privation. The most important of which he points out as being religion.
The main reasons that Freud ranks religion as being/having been the most important tool in civilization are it's ability to explain the various inequities and inexplicable phenomena that afflict human civilization. Freud points out how ancient civilizations used religion to "humanize" nature. By making these natural terrors beings that could be dealt with just like men it allowed people the chance to react to and have the illusion of influence on nature. He also illuminates with slight sarcasm how convenient religion is in it's ability to rectify all the trials and tribulations of life for us. "Everything that happens in this world is an expression of the intentions of an intelligence superior to us, which in the end, though its ways and byways are difficult to follow, orders everything for the best." (Freud 23) The existence of this divine creature who creates justice for us ensures that the masses will not stray from the laws and tenets of religion and society for fear of being judged by this entity. Religion is also valuable to civilization for it's ability to explain death. Thanks to religion, death became something other than simply the termination of a life. Death stopped being the end and was recasted into the role of a doorway to another existence. As though knowing that the continuation of life were not enough, religion furthers it's own appeal by promising that the afterlife will be better than life on Earth. The afterlife itself also serves a function as well. A desire to gain entry into this afterlife will cause many of the masses to renounce their instincts.
Another argument Freud makes is how religion is an attempt to fill in the gaps where civilization and the pursuit of life cannot make individuals happy. He says that, "The urge to rectify the shortcomings of civilization which made themselves painfully felt" is fulfilled by religion. (Freud 27) This can be seen throughout modern society in many different forms. It is telling that quite often individuals who are extremely ill, paralyzed, poor, or otherwise frowned upon by civilization and culture tend to be more religious.
Later Freud turns his argument to the legal historical proof surrounding religions. Using an analogy of a child learning geography and simply accepting on faith that the places he sees on a map exist rather than going on a journey around the world, Freud attacks religious doctrines. He does this by pointing out that though the child takes on faith what he sees on the map, he could take a journey around the world and see for himself that these places...
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