In his text entitled, “A Philosophy of Life”, Sigmund Freud clearly states that religion is nothing more than an illusion created by man in light of psychological needs. In Freud’s opinion, religion simply serves certain functions in society, and does not stand up to scrutiny of science. He also attacks the “religious Weltanschauung” (world view), saying that it is does not allow for thought and therefore is a threat to mankind. Whether Freud is correct in his opinions is up for debate, however, what he has to say is both intriguing and logical.
The first matter Freud discusses is the purpose of religion. According to the author, the functions of religion are as follows: (1) to satisfy the human thirst for knowledge,(2) to give people happiness and sense of comfort, and (3) to set up rules and restrictions to govern behavior. Religion provided answers to the many questions that could not be answered by man prior to science. Religion answered the many questions people had about nature, life, and creation. In addition, religion also acted as a comfort to man.
It offered a happiness and sense of protection to people in times of woe or uncertainty. And lastly, faith and organized religion set up rules and prohibitions that gave men advice on how to live life. ( Freud 135) These three purposes of faith tell the reader that it serves a social function as opposed to being in place because of its truth. Freud also applies his psychoanalysis to the second and third function of creed. He connects the “father”, or creator of the universe, to a person’s actual father. Fathers are seen as all-knowing protectors to their children.
This sense of security gives a child the ability to go out into the world with the belief that his father will protect him. In the same sense, a full grown man seeks the comfort of a great creator to be a shield against harm in life. This allows a person to feel safe in the belief that his/ her “father” is keeping them defended against the evils and tragedies of the world. This father scenario is reinforced by a system of rewards and punishment. It is believed that if you serve God you will be rewarded in life and the after life and punished if not.
Similarly, in childhood a person learns how to act and behave in society by a parental figure that rewards and punishes them for right and wrong actions. On that note, the love a child feels when rewarded by his parents is the same sort of love he/she will seek from God. In the belief that he will be cherished by God, the person obeys his “ethical demands”. However, Freud goes on to prove that this system of rewards and punishments does not to be true when he states: ” ? the system of rewards and punishment which religion ascribes to the government of the universe seems not to exist.
“(137) He supports this declaration with some examples. When a natural disaster strikes, like a tidal wave, it does not differentiate between believers and non-believers, and thus it seems all are punished. The author also points out that good things happen to bad people and vice versa, so indeed this system mustn’t be real. (137) The last argument Freud makes against religion is that it does not allow for growth because it prohibits questioning and thus thinking. If a religion says, for example, that homosexuality is wrong; people just accept this as true.
The religion would not reform itself even if the whole of society said it was acceptable. There is not room for growth, for representation of changing times, and as a result, it retards itself. Personally, I agree with Freud’s logic. I am not religious and so it is easier for me to recognize and appreciate his ideas. To me, organized religion is a social tool. Like Freud said, it helps to comfort people, enforce ? ethical’ behavior, and it once answered questions that didn’t have any other responses. Thank goodness for Freud, thank goodness for science!