One of the responses I received was brief but cutting:
“Rather than insisting (with no evidence to support it) that God exists, doesn’t it seem much more reasonable that humans simply needed a ‘god’ to give their lives meaning and morality?
And doesn’t it make sense that as society increasingly needs ‘god’ less for meaning and morality that people would believe in him less?
And isn’t that exactly what we see happening in modern, scientific cultures?”
Whether the writer here did so purposefully I don’t know, but he’s channeling Sigmund Freud’s primary critique of religion.
Say what you will about Freud’s bona fides as a psychoanalyst, his analysis of both religion and literature remains incisive and compelling.
I remember the first time I read Freud’s The Future of an Illusion and Moses and Monotheism, both as a second year at UVA. I’d only been a Christian for a few years, and after read those two books I was pissed off for weeks.
On the one hand, Freud’s critiques of religion were wild, sweeping speculations, made with very little ‘hard’ evidence to support them and demanding of readers precisely the very thing he’d set out to dismiss: faith.
On the other hand, I’d been a Christian long enough- and I’d been an atheist long enough before that- to know that Freud’s arguments were not without merit.
Indeed they were true when considered against a great many strains of Christianity and religion in general.
Religion, Freud argued, is, at root, an expression of our underlying psychological neuroses. In the two books I mentioned and in others, Freud asserts that religion is an attempt to control the Oedipal complex, it’s a means of giving structure (meaning moral and ethical boundaries) to social groups, it’s a form of wish fulfillment, it’s an infantile delusion born out of our need for a Father figure, and it’s an attempt to control the outside world.
Dismiss Freud at your peril.
Just think, many fundamentalists, Christian and Muslim, make Freud’s very argument but in reverse: Without God, there’s no moral foundation to the world; there’s no rubric for what constitutes the ‘good.’ Religion is just an artifice then for a certain vision of traditional society.
It’s also true for many Christians ‘Christianity’ is but another label, a way to distinguish us from other tribes. It’s but a baptized form of nationalism.
And we all know that for many religion IS an escape or cover to which people turn to cope with psychological wounds- or, even worse, religion becomes the way people refuse to cope, or even confront, the wounds and painful realities in their life.
And then there’s Freud’s ‘wish fulfillment’ critique. While critiques of certain manifestations of religion are not indictments of religion in sum nor does such a critique even logically approach the existence of a transcendent God, still…there’s enough substance to the argument to give believers pause.
Fact is, Freud is right. A good deal of religion, at least the Christian sphere I know, is actually just human projection and wish fulfillment, reducing the great ‘I AM’ to a god ‘up there’ who answers my prayers, blesses me, and grants my wishes.
Or doesn’t…at which point I get angry and no longer ‘believe’ in him.
The great ‘I Am’ reduced to a magic genie in a celestial lamp.
People often ask me why I have such a problem Joel Osteen.
Honestly, my problems are too many to number, but really they all boil down to this: