Give a critical account of Freud’s understanding of religion.
To answer the set question I will explore Freud’s Totem and Taboo looking at his theory of the primal horde and Oedipus complex and his theory on religion as an illusion. Also looking at Freud’s theory that religion is unhealthy psychologically. To conclude I will explore his relationship with Jung and the affect his criticism of Freud’s theory had on their professional collaboration.
Freud’s interpretation of the totem as representing the father of the tribe returns again to Freud’s problems with his own father. He approaches his Totem and Taboo theory from entirely a patriarchal stance ignoring the fact that his case ...view middle of the document...
His theory is one sided and focused only on male dominance, he is ignorant to the female role and the effect that it had on tribe thus neglecting vital evidence.
Connolly (1999, 177) recognises that the Oedipus complex may be a factor in the development of some individuals and an understanding of it may be helpful when seeking to make sense of their beliefs and behaviours, but as a primary factor underlying all forms of religion it must be rejected.
Freud believed that religion originated in man’s feeling of helplessness (Storr, 1989, 110). He saw religion as a weakness and a crutch and a symptom of not being fully developed psychologically. Believing that obsessional rituals were ways of protecting the ego from the emergence of phantasies, thoughts or sexual impulses which the individual repressed (Storr, 1989, 111). He concluded that a patient who compulsively washed his hands felt guilt about masturbation. In his conclusion Freud fails to understand the reason for the ritual of cleansing within religious practice instead depending solely on his own theory. Monotheistic religion was viewed as attracting obsessional and compulsive neurosis.
Freud’s obsession with his sexual theory seems to have clouded his judgement on religious experience. His reluctance to consider that religion is beneficial to the psychological well-being of its believers severely damages his theories. The fact that Freud himself had obsessive tendencies and as he admitted could be obstinate ties in with his reluctance to accept criticism from any quarter especially that of his protégé Jung.
Jung’s theory on religion and his claim that Freud’s denouncement of religion was the cause of his sexual theory would end their relationship. Jung criticised Freud’s approach and his lack of understanding or even attempting to understand a person’s feeling as a result of religious experience. For Jung, then, it is not the presence of religion which is a symptom of neurosis but its absence. (Palmer, 1997, 92). Freud saw religion as a...