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Freud and Religion

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Freud and Religion


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Freud believes that religion has played a great part in the making of societies. In his earlier writing, “The future of an illusion,” he regards religion as an illusion, which is equivalent to atheism. He then comes to the conclusion that the idea of God and the religious teachings are some of human being’s strangest thoughts. His basis for saying that is from Freud’s idea that religion is an outcome of human fear, a fear that came from speculation of a higher being, a higher authority.

            Freud’s argument about religion is that it is the output of what he called the “Oedipus complex” or the sexual desire of the son to the mother(Freud). In his argument, he states that the child competes against the father, who also has strong libidinal desires towards the mother. Because of this fear for the father, the child is prohibited to express his sexual interests in towards his mother.

The father figure represents an obstacle for the child. If we look at it from another angle, this hindrance creates a limit for the mothers’ happiness; if happiness could mean being with the child in an intimate or sexual way. Thus creating the reality principle, wherein people are bound to control there feelings because of certain barriers that they fear, in this case, that is the father figure. Thus, the concept of reason is formed. Reason is an aspect of thinking about what you do and what you shouldn’t do. This is again related to the idea of a father figure which imposes or implies what you shouldn’t do.

In Freud’s mind, the father figure connection was born, in which the Western religions created the image of a Father-God in deference to the submission towards a father figure. That concept has been a basis of civilization, wherein societies accepted the principle of reality and the acceptance of restraints and prohibitions by an “authority.” In this manner one was able to connect human instincts and desire with the “law”(Freud).

            Illusion and Delusion. According to Freud, man is helpless when it comes to believing in religion. To him, one’s internal and uncontrollable desire over many things drives that submission, particularly with regards to sexual desires. Freud compares sexual and physical obsessions to those of religion. He is implying that religious rituals are similar with one’s obsessive-compulsive rituals, where individuals have the urge to do something repeatedly. This is important in repressing our desires and fantasies, those of which in sexual context(Freud)

            According to Freud, neurosis is an individual religion because it is a belief that comes about to a person alone; also, religion is a universal obsessional neurosis. Freud implies that religion is the suppression, the renunciation of certain instinctual impulses, which are not limited components of the sexual desire or instinct and are actually socially harmful instincts, regardless of the sexual component.

            The subject of illusion is another critical part of Freud’s argument on religion. Illusion is much more of the “religious-beliefs” type. The concept of religion is considered to be an illusion. But that doesn’t mean that it is not true, or has no validity. What Freud questions is the source of these beliefs: the undisciplined and uncritical human compulsion.

Freud on Civilization

            In the last phase of Freud’s development of his drive theory, he introduces the antagonism between sexual drive and what is known as “death drive,” which is basic inertia, the tendency of the organic matter to return to an earlier, less evolved state. He came up with that discordancy in order to explain the repetition of the pleasure compulsion, or simply repetition due to satisfaction.

            Freud questions the value of religious ideas. Freud believes that the reason why civilizations exist is because it is to defend human beings against their natural instincts but nature’s power is uncontrollable, and thus difficult to avoid. Religion creates a substitution for those baser instincts and thus gives humanity a sense of control over nature. Such a relationship, of humanity versus nature, can also be seen as personification. Humanity is a child, and nature is a parent. The infant believes that nature has a paternal aspect, and as a child sees their parents as all knowing, so does humanity consider nature to be all-knowing and thus a God-like figure is born. These higher beings created by humanity have a few tasks: to rid of the nature of terrors, and to reconcile humanity with the realities of fate. Also, these “gods” must reimburse humanity for the hardships and restrictions of a civilized life have denounced them. And thus is created the concept of an afterlife, or paradise. Freud noted that the role of these gods changed over time. The gods were eventually depended upon to sort out the mistakes and defects of civilization, minding the self-inflicted and watching over the achievements of each civilization(Freud).

Changes in Illusion

            In his writings earlier writing, “The future of an illusion,” Freud clearly believes that religion is an illusion, showing an atheistic character. Then on his recent works, Freud alters his beliefs and states that religion and the idea of God is one of the strangest thoughts that mankind could conceive.

            Freud wishes to solve his problems by examining the history and beliefs of the Jewish People. Unlike other peoples who derive their identity from geographic location, language and common history, Jews derive it from the belief that a covenant was established between certain people and God. For them, they are the Chosen People, and so they are different, unique, thus an object of envy. Although this caused hostility and persecutions the Jews were able to defend their identity throughout time with great level of persistence(Freud).

            Freud’s case rests in the middle of individuality and collectivity. For him religion is a collective neurosis. As a religion evolves over time, it is parallel to the psychological development of an individual. When you look his theory from a human perspective, trauma experienced by young ones leads to the formation of a compromise. The child stabilizes his relationship with his or her traumatizers, by being able to develop defense mechanisms, which usually after a period of latency. Any stability vanishes after the onset of puberty, when the adult neurosis emerges. Looking closely, the adult neurosis is the repressed form of trauma experienced during childhood, only that it was encrypted when defense mechanisms stabilized it (Freud).


This revised view of illusion is very contradictory to what was proposed in Freud’s earlier work. There is a remarkable change where before, religion is regarded as an illusion, a statement of disbelief in anything about God, His religious teachings, or even in religion itself. But Freud chose to change that view, yet, still argues that the concept of God is the strangest idea that a human being could muster.

The abrupt change in Freud’s argument was a result of the discrepancies in his earlier theory, something that he could not figure out and explain. But as far as Freud’s work is concerned, he was able to do many changes. His influence on people is great, up until now, he is considered as one of the great thinkers of all time.

It is man’s nature to desire for freedom. This could be a result of a present issue with their existing way of life, or his society. Humankind wishes everything is favorable to him. For Freud, he seeks to provide an explanation for all of these. We wants to discover how man “conceptualized” religion, because for him, man created religion, regardless of their reason in creating it.


Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. The Future of an Illusion; Civilization and Its Discontents: Random House of Canada Ltd., 2001.page 64-145.


Cite this Freud and Religion

Freud and Religion. (2017, Jan 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/freud-and-religion/

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