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The Future of an Illusion (The Standard Edition) (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud) Paperback – September 17, 1989
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About the Author
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is one of the twentieth century's greatest minds and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. His many works include The Ego and the Id; An Outline of Psycho-Analysis; Inhibitions; Symptoms and Anxiety; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis; Civilization and Its Discontent, and others.
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"... If you wish to expel religion from our European civilization you can only do it through another system of doctrines, and from the outset this would take over all the psychological characteristics of religion, the same sanctity, rigidity and intolerance, the same prohibition of thought in self-defence."
(This is not Freud speaking, but his "imagined antagonist." Still, I admire the equanimity with which Freud states objections to his thesis. This too, is more than we get from other militant atheists:)
... There is another point in which I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is, to be sure, a senseless proceeding to try and do away with religion by force and at one blow—more especially as it is a hopeless one. The believer will not let his faith be taken from him, neither by arguments nor by prohibitions. And even if it did succeed with some, it would be a cruel thing to do. A man who has for decades taken a sleeping draught is naturally unable to sleep if he is deprived of it. That the effect of the consolations of religion may be compared to that of a narcotic is prettily illustrated by what is happening in America. There they are now trying—plainly under the influence of petticoat government—to deprive men of all stimulants, intoxicants and luxuries, and to satiate them with piety by way of compensation. This is another experiment about the result of which we need not be curious.
I admire the brevity, and dare I say, the grandeur of this book, written by Freud when he was seventy. His theory of society is positively Hobbesian:
"... Insecurity of life, an equal danger for all, now unites men into one society, which forbids the individual to kill and reserves to itself the right to kill in the name of society the man who violates this prohibition. This, then, is justice and punishment."
Worth reading, and re-reading.
Freud’s theories, interesting as they are, are more built more upon his interpretations of ancient mythology and enlightenment philosophy rather than having a factual basis. Perhaps in other works Freud at least supports his theories with case studies of his patients or scientific anthropology. Not so in The Future of an Illusion.
That being said, Freud has interesting theories and is a good crafter of prose so the book is a pleasure to read. Modern anthropology, to my knowledge, agrees with Freud’s theory of notions of divinity originating from animating the forces of nature but disagrees with his theories of father abandonment and patricidal guilt.
If theorizing without much recourse to facts about such big questions as the origin of religion is the kind of material you like to read then by all means read this book. But there are contemporary writers who provide much more scientific insight into these matters than the speculations of Freud.