The main features of Freud and Jung ‘s teachings about the function of religion
Most of the theories about the existence of God are based on the idea that his presence can be proven by logical or empirical means. The God of classical theism is understood to be the creator of the world, who stands apart from it yet, is able to intervene in it. Psychological study of religion, however, leads to a very different conclusion that says that God is a construction of the human mind. Psychologists ask ‘what makes a person religious? ‘ By examining the mental process involved in religion they have concluded that certain circumstances cause the brain to be stimulated into a religious outlook.
Psychologists believe that religious beliefs can be explained without the need for a God. They believe that the reason many people believe in a God is because their psychological structure encourages them to. The two most famous names in this field of psychology are Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud argued simply that religion was an illusion of the mind. He believed there were a number of reasons why humans created the image of a God in their minds. Namely, he believed that many used religions as a way to escape inner psychological conflict. In addition, religion was a way of overcoming the stress caused by the structure of society.
His last reason was that humans created a God like figure in their minds to overcome fear of natural forces i. e. – death. Freud said that religion is a form of neurotic illness that stems from the unconscious mind. He believed that religion was there to answer the inner needs of a person. He said what he called the minds ‘will fulfilment’ or our basic longings and desires could explain religion and all its features. Freud believed that religion was a neurotic illness that was caused by repressed sexual trauma. Therefore, religion is an illusion resulting from sexual difficulties.
He studied many patients who were suffering from neurotic illnesses such as hysteria and determined that their behaviour was similar to that of religious people. For example, some forms of neurotic illness can result in obsessive behaviour such as excessive hand washing; this is similar to the way religious people feel the need to pray. Both resulted in highly specific ritual behaviour. In both cases, the behaviour is filled with symbolic meaning for its followers. It was from this that Freud derived that religion was a form of neurosis caused by trauma deep within the psyche.
His belief was that the trauma was invariably sexual in nature. This was because Freud believed that the sexual drive, or libido, was the bodies most basic urge and as such the one most capable of causing psychological problems within the development of an individual. Freud believed that the libido involves far more than the desire to have sex. It represents the body’s most basic desire, the subconscious need for satisfaction. In babies, this satisfaction centres upon the innate desire to suckle from the mother. As the child develops it changes and is gradually transformed into the adult desire to reproduce.
The sexual trauma therefore occurs when the libido is transferred to the sexual organ. Here the child has an already present rival in the father. This new jealousy combined with the fear and respect previously felt for the father causes the father to be viewed with ambivalence. This desire for the mother and the ambivalence felt for the father is known as the Oedipus complex. The child represses the conflict deep into their unconscious. The mind continues to struggle to prevent it form re-emerging into the conscious. As a result of the conflict the feelings are channelled out through neurotic symptoms.
One of these symptoms is religion. Therefore Religion is known as the ‘universal obsession neurosis of mankind’ Freud looked at many primitive societies to find out if the Oedipus complex was the cause of religious behaviour. He found that in societies where there was a single dominant male who had authority over the group many of the younger males grew jealous. Eventually they would group together a kill the dominant male. This resulted in ambivalent feelings about him, Hatred on one hand and respect and guilt on the other. As a result the dominant male or father figure became idolised by the group.
This is sometimes referred to as the projection of a super-ego that was greater than the father himself. Freud believed that when the mind suffers from guilt it creates idols. By praying or making sacrifices to these idols the mind can control the feelings of guilt by redirecting them onto the idol. He believed that as a longing for he idol grew so did its reputation eventually it took on a divine significance and became transformed into the God s of religion. An example would be of the Christian God who is held with the same ambivalence as the original father figure.
Freud found that the nature of society often conflicted with our most basic desires. Society depends upon structure and order; those who have responsibility to govern us must also have authority. The rules often conflict with the desires of each individual. His point was that religion gave people a reason to submit to authority. Religion explains our suffering in terms of a need to obey an omnipotent God, It promises a reward in the afterlife and make suffering more bearable. He also believed we created religion in our minds to help overcome fear of natural forces such as death.
Religion helps us overcome our feelings of defencelessness and panic by helping us believe that there is a father figure, God, who protects us. Many have criticized Freud. Freud believed that we should overthrow religion. However, many argued that this would lead to anarchy and dismissed the idea. Also many believe that religion offers a stable source of comfort and familiarity and plays a valuable role in society. It is also proven that people didn’t live exclusively in male dominated groups therefore the idea of the fathers super ego couldn’t apply for his theories on the Oedipus complex.
He also came across criticism for his narrow selection of evidence. His theories rely on the father figure, which the mind develops into the male God of Christianity of Judaism. He failed to take into account religions biased on female deities such as the Egyptian Isis cult or religions with no object of worship such as Buddhism. It is also unable to explain why many religions have more than one idol of worship. Carl Jung rejected many of Freud’s conclusions, especially those concerning religion. Although he accepted that religion was a form of psychological phenomenon.
Jung believed that religion was a natural process that stems from the “archetypes” in the unconscious mind. He believed that overthrowing religion would lead to psychological problems and that religion does the job of harmonizing the psyche. Jung worked with patients that were suffering from schizophrenia. From his observations he concluded that religion as a type of neurosis was in no way dependent upon a sexual trauma. Jung worked out a further division of the unconscious mind, into the personal unconsciousness and the collective unconsciousness.
The personal unconsciousness contains forgotten memories of the individual. Collective contains images common to all human beings and does not depend on the personal experience of the individual. The collective unconsciousness contains the blueprints for a whole range of ideas and images. Each one of us is born with a tendency to visualize similar kinds of primordial images. Jung believed that the image of God is one of those primordial images. The collective unconsciousness means, therefore, that many of our ideas about God will be shared with other people.
Jung gave the name archetype to the part of the psyche that creates these images. He was saying that the mind contains structures which, when combined with the knowledge gained through our experiences, construct images common to most human beings. For example, every child is born with the disposition to feel hungry but not the knowledge of food to want a hamburger. Through our experiences of food combined with feelings of hunger this manifests itself into the desire for a particular type of food. Jung claimed that our images of God were archetypal.
In other words we are all born with the ability to generate images in our minds of God and of angels. The images we create of God are created because of our experiences; the disposition to create them is, however, innate. Freud thought that religion was a form of neurotic illness and was dangerous. Jung however argued that it maintained the balance of the mind preventing neurosis from occurring. Jung believed that as we grow older we become more preoccupied with our selves, thanks to the archetype known as self. He believed we strive to be as perfect as our image of God and therefore religion was an important part of society.
Freud and Jung both agree that it very possible that no God exists outside our minds. Since there is no empirical evidence to suggest otherwise the theories remain true. A point, however, that would disprove Jung’s theory is that there are many people that do not believe in a God therefore the idea of archetypes will not work. Whatever your personal feelings there is no proof either way that God either exists or does not exist. However, psychology leads us to believe that it is possible for the idea of God to exist within our minds.