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Freud and Tillich Essay

S. Freud’s The Future Illusion and P. Tillich’s Religion as a Dimension in Man’s Spiritual Life carry on about an important question of what religion really is, what is its meaning in a cultural, psychological and scientific aspect and how it relates to a society and an individual. In this paper I will try to prove through an analysis and comparison of both texts that although their approach to the subject is different they both regard religion as an important aspect of human life.

Freud in Illusion touches on things that to some may be an unquestionable truths; a meaning of life, a reason to be a good citizen – a good human being. Freud strips religion of its “holiness” but not of its power over a culture and a human life. He argues that religion in its essence is nothing more than an illusion – a wishful thinking based on a subconscious hope for a reward (the afterlife). According to Freud, religion is an aspect of culture – civilization, defending us against nature and each other.

Civilization is a necessity that was socially constructed in order to explain and control the unknown and scary forces of the world but more importantly to cage our primal desires of: incest, murder, cannibalism which lay deeply in our unconscious. Therefore, to save humanity civilization created laws. At first the forces of nature were given human characteristics to make the assimilation easier and simpler to comprehend. The so called totemism was clear and understandable serving a purpose of control and protection from the environment and ourselves.

But who would obey the laws if there was no fear of punishment for doing wrong and a reward for doing good. That is when religion came in handy. Now the gods have been replaced by science and a singular God (a father), who became more sophisticated than his predecessors, promising compensation for all the hard aches. Freud claims, that religion isn’t the essence of morality, that society didn’t adapt to the Ten Commandments but the other way around. It served as a tool supporting the reasonable laws of civilization, making living in society more bearable seen through perspective of fulfillment in the afterlife.

Therefore, its function plays a crucial role in sustaining society and preventing civilization from destruction by individuals acting on their animalistic instincts. If a person is being left to his own devices without laws, regulations and fear of punishment he will act egocentrically causing chaos and destruction for the entire population. However, the more educated the society becomes, the more it expects from religion. Its promises are less reliable than scientific evidence and once the fruit of knowledge becomes accessible to masses the trust in religious explanation declines.

This may cause danger and a cultural collapse if people’s belief in God fails, it threatens not only religion but the original source of common law – civilization. They realize there is no need to be afraid of punishment any longer, therefore, who or what would stop them? What may seem as a law of God is actually in the best interest of human social existence, otherwise civilization would not have survived. The creation of rational attitude of not killing got ascribed to God, despite rationalizing it as a purely human creation that relates to all rights and cultural institutions.

Freud claims, that people will not need religion when they realize that those rules were not created to rule them but to serve in their best interest. Men act under the influence of impulses and desires, therefore, rational explanation is not powerful enough, nevertheless, Freud thinks that with the progress of science there will be less demand for the illusion and eventually no religion at all. Tillich on the other hand has a more romanticized view on the aspect of religion. He admits that the word itself gets misinterpreted and abused in many ways, therefore, decides to call it the ultimate concern.

For Tillich religion is something much more personal, intimate, it is a sphere in human spiritual life (inner) that is being filled accordingly to ones needs. He doesn’t insist that the ultimate concern must relate directly to God, on the contrary it can be anything as long as it is: ultimate, infinite and unconditional. He says that there is more to a human being than flesh and blood, to be fully satisfied one must find and nurture his faith. The spiritual life, the inner needs are equally as important as satisfying human physiology.

Tillich despises theologians who stay faithful to the approach that religion is a gift from God, something sacred and pure because it was not created by any mortal but God himself, that religion is not a matter of choice. He also disagrees with the scientific approach regarding religion as nothing more than a stage in human development, socially constructed based on rituals and tradition. According to Tillich, dimension of man’s spiritual life is something uniquely human that it is inherent, and we can not get rid off because it’s already within us, it is a part of who we are.

Therefore, religion as an ultimate experience can not be ascribed to one particular realm of human life; knowledge, aesthetic, morality and most importantly emotion all express the ultimate concern. Therefore, the ultimate concern isn’t something one could grasp and reassemble to pieces in order to understand it better. The task of religion is to fulfill our inner needs in all four aspects, as any human can not survive without food, water and shelter. We can not be fulfilled as humans if our spiritual life isn’t satisfied, therefore, no man can be happy without religion.

As easy as one may think that finding out what the ultimate concern is it is actually quite complicated. Because for those who truly believe and don’t deny the existence of God it is even harder to rich that fulfillment than for those who strive for answers. The ultimate concern is simply a human’s true nature, it is a part of you that can not be forgotten, diminished or simplified into an institutional religion and its doctrines, the ultimate concern fulfills your spirit making a man’s life meaningful.

Both Freud and Tillich discuss the matter of religion as an important aspect of human life. Freud claims that religion is an illusion, nothing more than a fairytale for kids who long for a happy ending, a compensation for the crappy life we all have to deal with . Where Tillich approach differs from Freudian perspective like day to night. Nevertheless, both scholars claim the necessity for religious experience as long as according to Tillich an individual fulfills his inner spiritual needs and according to Freud if it guards societies from killing each other.


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