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Friday, September 24, 2010

Religion as an illusion: By Sigmund Freud

Freud defines religion as consisting of "certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tell one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence.

" Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief.

"Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them;

secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and

thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all.

" Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment. Wishes that are the "fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind." Among these are the necessity to cling to the existence of the father, the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life, and the immortality of the human soul.

In other words, religion is an illusion.

To differentiate between an illusion and an error, he lists scientific beliefs such as "Aristotle's belief that vermin are developed out of dung" as errors, but "the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization" is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved.

Put forth more explicitly, "what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes." He adds, however, that, "Illusions need not necessarily be false." He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.

Religion is an outshoot of the Oedipus complex, and represents man's helplessness in the world, having to face the ultimate fate of death, the struggle of civilization, and the forces of nature. He views god as a manifestation of a child-like "longing for [a] father."

In his words "The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them."

Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering.

Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner--which presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence. At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis.

But hardly anything more. There are, as we have said, many paths which may lead to such happiness as is attainable by men, but there is none which does so for certain. Even religion cannot keep its promise.

If the believer finally sees himself obliged to speak of God's 'inscrutable decrees', he is admitting that all that is left to him as a last possible consolation and source of pleasure in his suffering is an unconditional submission. And if he is prepared for that, he could probably have spared himself the d├ętour he has made. T_T

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