Psychology and Religion

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  • Psychology and Religion
    • Religion as a collective neurosis.
      • Freud's work with his patients suffering from hysteria led him to conclude that as well as conscious areas, the mind also contains unconscious parts which we cannot normally access.
        • Through his work on hypnosis and dreams he realised that the unconscious mind comprises a vast store of information about events which we consider long forgotten.
          • He went on to suggest that unpleasant memories which are trapped in the unconscious can surface later in the form neurotic and hysterical behaviour.
            • Freud's conclusion is that religion itself was a form of neurosis, caused, as in the case of other hysterias, by traumas deep within the mind of psyche and invariably sexual in nature.
      • Freud believed that neurotics perform ritual actions, like obsessive hand washing, in the same way each time.
        • If the ritual is broken or is not performed correctly, the neurotic feels an overwhelming sense of guilt.
          • In the same way, religious people perform religious rituals and if they are not performed they feel guilty.
            • Freud described religion as "universal obsessional neurosis".
              • He believed that there are links between religion and the "obsessive actions in sufferers from nervous affections".
                • Freud's conclusion is that religion itself was a form of neurosis, caused, as in the case of other hysterias, by traumas deep within the mind of psyche and invariably sexual in nature.
    • The Oedipus Complex.
      • The suckling child is used to having its mother's sole attention.
        • However, there is an already present rival in the form of the father.
          • The child develops acute feelings of jealousy and hatred.
            • These feelings lead to the desire to kill the father.
              • These feelings are combined however, with great respect and fear for the father.
                • The combination of jealously, hatred, respect and fear results in a deeply traumatic sense of guilt.
                  • This desire to possess the mother and the ambivalence towards the father is the Oedipus Complex.
      • Freud feels that the oedipus complex led to an act in the past, the guilt of which has been passed on to all human beings.
        • The guilt is repressed and so manisfests itself in the neurotic behaviour of the religious person.
          • In his famous book, Totem and Taboo, Freud describes the past act which led to the repressed guilt shared by all humanity.
            • He draws on the ideas of Charles Darwin, who suggested that primitive men lived in hordes like apes.
              • These hordes were ruled over by a powerful father who had many children and wives. The father was jealous of the sons, as he wanted all of the women for himself.
                • He drove them out of the tribe to prevent them from having sex with any if other women. The sons felt a mixture of feelings towards the father.
                  • They felt admiration for him, as the most powerful man who could perform the act of sex with the women that they themselves wanted to sleep with.
                    • However, they also felt bitterness, as he was preventing their sexual desires from being fulfilled.
    • The terrible act: Animism.
      • One days the sons get together and kill the father.
        • They eat his body as they want to absorb his strength and power. They feel incredibly guilty for the crime they have committed.
          • They create a totem animal to worship as a father substitute. The animal is sacrificed each year in the special totem meal which commemorates the original crime of killing and devouring the father.
            • For Freud, this act is the beginnings of religion. Freud believed that feelings of extreme guilt cause humans to create idols which can be prayed and worshipped too to appease the guilt.
              • The first stage in the creation of religion is called animism, the guilt of the action of killing the father is passed on to all future generations. This guilt is repressed but is too powerful to stay hidden.
                • Therefore, it shows itself through the collective neurotic behaviour of the religious.
    • Development into religion.
      • The second stage following the terrible act was a move toward the concept of religion.
      • As time passed the totem proved unsatisfactory. As the longing for the father grew, so did his reputation. Eventually he took on the divine significance and became transformed into the Gods of religions.
        • Freud points out that the God's of religion are treated with the same ambivalence as was the original father figure, proving that there is a connection.
          • A favourite example of this is the Christian God who is treated with great reverence. Every now and then, however, he is ceremonially killed and eaten in a communion feast/
            • This example provides an exact link with the animist ritual killing (sacrifice of the totem).


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