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"Freud's understanding of religion presents a convincing challenge to religious belief."
Freud believed that religion is an illusion, a belief derived from human wishes. He thought it to be self
created in the mind to help overcome certain aspects, the inner psychological conflict, the conflict
between our natures and civilisation and the helplessness and fear of natural forces. However, he
states that to describe religion as an illusion doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't true, but that it
answers people's inner needs. There is no reason why an illusion should not be true. Freud believed
that religion was created to solve the three conflicts above.
Freud's theory of religion is largely based upon his idea of a collective neurosis, otherwise known as
the Oedipus Complex. It came from the baby's desires, the libido (human's most basic urge), which
centres on the mouth, and the desire to suckle from the mother. This changes as the child develops and
is gradually transformed to the mature desire among adults to reproduce. When the libido is
transformed to the sexual organ, there is an already present rival in the form of the father. The acute
feelings of jealousy and hatred lead to the desire to kill the father. These feelings mixed up with the
great respect and fear they have for the child results in a strong sense of guilt. The desire to possess
the mother and the ambivalence to the father is the Oedipus Compex. Unable to carry out the child's
wishes, the child represses the conflict and the guilt deep into the unconscious mind.
While the body and mind work hard in keeping the conflict buried in the unconscious mind, they are
eventually channelled out in the form of neurotic symptoms. And one of these symptoms is Religion,
which, for Freud, was the "universal obsessional neurosis of humanity" that "arose from the Oedipus
Complex, out of the relation to the father".
Animism is the first stage of the development of religion coming from buried trauma. Freud believed
that, when we suffer from guilt, we create idols as a defence mechanism in the form of stones, trees,
animals with spirits. After doing this, the mind can redirect feelings of guilt on to the idol and can make
amend by giving sacrifice and praying to them. The mind is therefore able to control the guilt. The idol
is in fact put in place, recreating the fatherly like image to which we possess the guilt.
As time progressed, the animist emphasis on the totem proved unsatisfactory. As longing for the father
grew, so did his reputation. Eventually he took on divine significance and became transformed into the
gods of religions. Freud also states that the gods of religions are given the same ambivalence as the
father figures, proving that there is a connection.
Freud's conclusion is therefore that religion is an illusion from the mind which helps us come to terms
with the strong guilt we feel from the times suffered during sexual development. It is a means on
resolving the inner pain.
It's safe to say that Freud's strange and unique theory definitely lacks solid logical proof. However, as
a hypothesis it is brilliant. It is set out in such a way, that it is believable and to an extent, fairly
plausible. Moreover, Freud's view of religion does not ignore that possibility of the existence of God it
merely criticises the manmade artificial idea of religion.
So why is it that this theory is seen by some as a strong argument which many people believe? Firstly,
Freud's background and reputation plays a massive part. Freud has made other claims and has
discussed if views on other areas of the Psychology of Religion, for example in religious experience.
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He was an AustrianNeurologist and so he had a wide spread understanding (or belief) of how the
mind works. He carried out many experiments and studied patients carefully which led him to this
theory of religion. His reputation therefore carried him a long way. A sort of cult was built up that he's
a genius and so people are "brainwashed" into believing this is another outstanding argument.…read more