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Sigmund Freud was an Austrian psychiatrist/psychologist, neurologist, and philosopher whom is famously known for his psychoanalysis methods for clinical treatments of people with mental disorders. In this essay, I will be explaining Freud’s theories and ideologies on society, culture, and religion. Specifically the psychological built of it. Because I believe that he offers such interesting and important points that can help us understand the way our brain interprets these concepts and why.
In chapter 2 of Freud’s book The Future of Illusion, that was published in 1927, he explains how cultures and social groups are structured. He argues that a cultures first achievements are symbolized into ideals, and so these ideals or judgments define its accomplishments. He also believes that the sense of achievement these cultural ideals give to members of it, is thus of a “narcissistic nature” as they are based on honor and pride in what’s been already achieved successfully. To me, this makes total sense, an example of that is the use of the family name to represent pride in some societies, where an individual uses the achievements of his grandparents or someone older to honor himself, mentioning how hard they had worked for this family and how they were successful to feel better and feed his ego. That “narcissistic satisfaction” as Freud calls it can also create an unpleasant outcome, as it separates different groups within the same culture and creates quarrels and conflicts, something like ethnocentrism, which can eventually lead to larger problems and threats.
Freud starts chapter 3 by talking about what would life be like without the prohibitions of religion, one could do whatever he pleases to do, but the excitement of doing so would not last long because of the consequences that will follow, which can include severe conflicts or even death. So these prohibitions could be for the best, as they hold individuals back from committing crimes and damaging another’s property. This is where religion comes in terms of creating social security and protections, as it teaches people morality and how to differentiate between what’s right and wrong. If certain prohibitions are not being applied by the follower of that group or religion, that individual is at risk of dealing with the painful consequences, whatever they were. Freud also makes arguments on religion psychoanalytically, as he view it as a “false belief system” because of its such limited explanations. And from what the title shows, he believes that scientific explanations will be given at some point in the future that will go beyond religion’s limitations. He tries to explain religion using psychoanalysis, by stating that religion is nothing more than an illusion, a mere imagination. But just because it’s an illusion, doesn’t mean that it should be abandoned. Or as he puts it: “An illusion is not the same as an error, it is indeed not necessarily an error” because as humans, we need to feel some sense of oneness, we need a reason for life and a guide that aids us through it. Some people believe for the sake of keeping the tradition going, or because that’s what they’re parents and grandparents did, so it has to continue through generations.
Another reason is because some people don’t want to bother search for a life meaning themselves, or question their surroundings, so the easiest way out is to believe and save yourself from all the searching because some religions forbid questioning, they claim that it weakens one’s faith and creates doubts and uncertainty. That is when religion is applied the way it’s not supposed to be, because it creates generations of people who repeat things without knowing the meaning behind it. But to differentiate the illusion of religion from delusion, which is a false impression that leads to neurosis, he explains that an illusion has some reality in it.
Freud also argues that the reason of religion continuation is being in a state of helplessness, that creates the fear and terror of danger and need for protection. That helplessness remains, until the God keeps what he calls “their threefold task” which includes 3 missions: “exorcise the terrors of nature, reconcile one to the cruelty of fate, and make amends for the suffering and privations”, and when the God fails these 3 tasks, the uncertainty and disbelief arises. As someone who finds it hard to believe what I did not see, religion to me is still something that is far away from logic, and it doesn’t have to be logical because even logic has its limitations. Religion therefore is more spiritual, it’s about an individual’s own need for the comfort of knowing that there is someone Great out there who is watching over them, and is not just any normal person. This comfort creates some sort of mental peacefulness that helps people get through life. So religion in the end can be both a good and a bad concept, depending on how it is applied, what it consists, what it is based on, and how is it viewed or the whole point of it.
Back to illusion, Freud thinks that a certain belief can be called an illusion when “wish -fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation”. Since illusions are derived from wishes, and that religion is an illusion, we can conclude that religion is man-made because of the wish of feeling complete or reaching some level of perfection in life, therefore, religion was made so people can feel like they are doing the right thing.
In the end, Freud concludes that the only way a society can develop is by letting go of the “collective neurosis” that’s created a barrier from making progress, and to believe in the scientific reasonings of the future.
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