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Freud on Religion
Religion as a collective neurosis
• “Universal obsessional neurosis”
• Links between religious behaviour
and “obsessive actions in sufferers
from nervous affections.” E.g.
obsessive hand washing
• Ritual not performed = guilt
• Unpleasant memories pushed into
unconscious mind
• Repressed memories = neurotic
Oedipus Complex and
Repressed Guilt
•Boys and mothers
•Fathers – mixture of feelings
•Led to ‘terrible act’ – guilt
passed onto all future
•Repressed guilt in
unconscious shows itself in
religious behaviour
The Terrible Act
•Described in Totem and Taboo
•Darwin – primordial hordes
•Sons – Oedipus Complex
•Kill father and eat body
•Totem animal – father substitute
•Guilt passed on to future
•Totem animal becomes God
•Eucharist = remembering act
•Religion = illusion
Wish fulfilment and a reaction
against helplessness
Illusions = “Derived from human
1. External Forces of Nature
(floods, earthquakes etc)
2. Internal Forces of Nature
(murder, cannibalism, incest etc)
3. Longing for father figure (1 & 2
lead to feelings of helplessness)
How does Freud challenge religious
•“Great services for human
•Negatives outweigh positives
•Religion manipulated = social
•Religion = oppression (“overrated its
necessity for mankind”)
•Doesn’t bring happiness
•Prevents maturing
•Reject religion and progress
•Put energy into this life.
Religious Responses
•No evidence
•Promotes equality
•Makes people happy
•Jung – religion is positive and leads to
good mental health
•If Freud had a religious experience
himself, he would understand. “If
Freud had ever experienced anything
of the kind himself, he might have
been forced to consider some other
interpretation.” (Storr)
It is generally agreed that Freud was immensely intelligent. His work
greatly influenced the Western understanding of the mind.
The idea that people imagined gods to represent the good and bad in
their own lives and personalities was not a new one. It was held by
many others in Freud’s time.
Example One
In The Natural History of Religion, David Hume had argued that
humans had constructed religion in order to help them to deal with
the misery of life and the dread of death.
Example Two
In The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach states that religion is a
childlike condition. He felt that it is an illusion which comes from
feelings of separation from oneself and the world. These feelings of
separation lead to the qualities which we ourselves lack being
projected on to a ‘God’.
“Almost all evidence that Freud presented has been
discredited in some way or another.” (Michael Palmer)
The Historical and Anthropological Evidence
Malinowski and the Oedipus Complex – Trobriands
Narrow Selection of Evidence
Negative bias towards religion – Winnicott (religion
helps humans adapt by offering comfort and
familiarity), Rizzuto (religion no more of an illusion
than science)
Jung on Religion
Religion as an expression of the
collective unconscious
•All humans have an unconscious which
is made up of archetypes, which are,
“identical psychic structures common to
•Collective unconscious = oldest part of
•E. g. Common idea of God = light
“Archetypes are those pre-existent
forms or primordial types that have
existed since the remotest times of
humanity.” (Michael Palmer)
•A priori
•“Unconscious organisers of ideas.”
•Drawing on the work of Kant –
noumenon, phenomenon and
God as an archetype
•Images and ideas of God are
•All humans come up with similar
ideas of God, angels etc
•This idea has no bearing on
arguments for God’s existence
•“Nothing positive or negative has
thus been asserted about the possible
existence of God any more than the
archetype of the hero proves the
actual existence of a hero.”
The Persona
•The mask we show the world
•The parts of our personalities which
we think other people and society will
•Repressing parts of ourselves which
we think are ‘bad’ has negative effects
on our mental health.
•Persona = “a very fruitful source of
The Shadow
•The parts of our characters
which we repress
•The things we think society will
not like
•Cannot stay repressed
•Reveals itself in ideas such as
Satan, Mr Hyde, Frankenstein
•Ashamed of shadow – protect it
onto something else, like Satan.
Anima and Animus
•Anima = feminine side of male
•Animus = masculine side of female
•Men put masculine characteristics
into their persona and repress
feminine characteristics
•We are attracted to those who have
the feminine/masculine
characteristics we repress
•Images of anima – Virgin Mary,
•Images of animus – hero, wise man
The Self
•Most important part of humans
•Seeks integration
•Guides through life
•Looks for fulfilment in religion and
•Self = ‘God within’ – the mystical
part of humans, or the soul
•Reveals itself in dreams and visions,
figures of power (kings),
supernatural entities (gods),
outstanding religious personalities
(Jesus), religious symbols (Mandala)
Integration / Individuation
•“Coming to self-hood” (Jung)
•All humans go through this process of
becoming a unique individual.
•Individuation can be held back by
parents, education etc
•Conscious and unconscious mind
comes together
•Two stages of life:
•Up to 35/40 – Construct persona and
repress parts of personality
•35/40+ - embrace ourselves and ask
spiritual and philosophical questions
Is integration a religious process?
•Jung – archetype of self and archetype
of God are not easily distinguishable
•Both ‘God’ and ‘self’ belong to the
nouminon – impossible to understand /
•Self and God are not the same – the
self does not replace God.
•Symbols of Self and God are symbols of
unity, such as the mandala.
•Individuation is about wholeness and
totality – these are the goals of religion
How do Jung’s ideas challenge
religious belief?
•Jung’s ideas are not as damaging
as Freud’s
•Religion is important – unlocks
collective unconscious –
therapeutic for individual
•Religion is not infantile – it helps
humans to mature and integrate
their personalities
•Religion gives life meaning.
As Jung provides a theory of religion and psychology which is
less damaging to religion, he has been praised by religious
“[Jung has] rediscovered the religious and the sacred and got
rid of an overwhelming rationalism. (Raymond Hostie – Jesuit
“[Jung is] one who knows so much about the depths of the
human soul …” (Paul Tillich – Theologian)
“[By studying Jung] we can gain an insight into the ways by
which men become aware of God.” (Charles Hanna – Jungian)
However, “although Jung’s theories are perhaps less
sensational than those of Freud, they have nonetheless been
seriously criticised.” (Michael Palmer)
•Jung – we can never know whether or not God exists.
However, Jung accepted scientific ideas without empirical
•Roheim - the theory of archetypes is unnecessary –
Humans have the same ideas because they have the same
•Is God an archetype? If so, why are there atheists?
•Is individuation a religious process? For Christians, Christ
is more than just a symbol of wholeness to help balance
our minds - He is the Son of God.
•Jung’s reduction of religion to psychology could be
damaging – (Father Victor White)
Religion is an illusion which prevents humans
maturing. There is no proof , so religion should be
Freud’s idea of the terrible act could show that
religion is simply a reaction to a guilty memory.
Has Freud
Freud doesn’t provide any proof against religion
Hick – Freud could be beneficial to religion. Freud
may have uncovered how God reveals Himself as a
father figure
Jung – it is not the job of psychology to comment
upon God’s existence. It cannot be proven or
For Jung, religion is
part of human
nature which can be
studied like any
Has Jung
God can exist (or
not exist) even if
God is an archetype
Jung does not wish to
comment on the
veracity of religion.
He is interested only
in the effects it has
on individuals.
Religion can have
positive effects on
mental health, but
that doesn’t mean
that God does or
doesn’t exist.
Positive effects
Negative effects
Religion can make people happy
and provides support in difficult
times, when they could be prone
to mental health problems
Jung – religion aids integration
which supports good mental health
Freud – negative effects – guilt
leads to behaviour linked to
obsessional neurotics
Religious leaders support the
mentally ill and joining
congregations promotes a sense of
Freud – religion holds people back
and stops them maturing