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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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Freud's style of writing is a bit hostile at times, but mostly well-meant and easy to read. I spent a good portion of the book noting how Freud seems to relish the notion of bringing up sex and the need for fatherly love in seemingly unrelated topics. He takes a few logical leaps throughout the essay, but overall, he mostly proves his point, and if you want a quick, narrow view of how the father of psycho-analysis viewed religion, you should check this book out.
The Future of an Illusion is one of several extended essays by Freud outside of his medical and psychological studies. It is not his only work to address the role and root causes for religious belief. He embraces the social utility of religion as a major factor above nation and therefore above question in its authority over certain socially necessary values.
Of we accept a purely logic driven basis for religion and play down any human need for magic or extra logical stories and authorities, It is possible to project a time when people stop needing or desiring religion. However I think Freud steps too quickly from the individual, psychologically driven purpose for religion into it as role in smoothing social conformity. Freud concludes that religion is seized upon by an immature person to give a more identifiably human identity to the indifferent blank stare and harsh hand of nature and fate. The more god<s> are like humans the more likely the human can seek exception to the random violence of nature.
So far so good. But as much as the religious like to evoke their ‘fear’ of god<s> just as many extoled the majesty and beauty of a magic that lights the life of the believer.
Ultimately in a choice between logic and magic. It seems unrealistic to believe that the one will ever remove the other as operating force among humans. Freud recognizes that many become religious before they are old enough to question it. He does not seem to grasp that humans are varied and that a individual preference for logic over religion implies that there will always be others with a preference for religion over logic.
"... 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.