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Old 09-22-2007, 01:10 AM   #1
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Freud and religion

The September 9th Issue of the New York Times Magazine had an interesting article by Mark Edmunson on Freud's "Moses and Monotheism".

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/ma...=1&oref=slogin

"About two-thirds of the way into the volume, he makes a point that is simple and rather profound--the sort of point that Freud at his best excels at making. Judaism's distinction as a faith, he says comes from its commitment to belief in an invisible God, and from this commitment, many consequential things follow. Freud argues that taking God into the mind enriches the individual immeasuably. The ability to believe in an internal, invisible God vastly improves people's capacity for abstraction. "The prohibition against making an image of God--the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see," he says, meant that in Judaism, "a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea--a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality."

If people worship what is not there, they can also reflect on what is not there, or on what is presented to them in symbolic and not immediate terms. So the mental labor of monotheism prepared the Jews--as it would eventually prepare others in the West--to achieve distinction in law, in mathematics, in science and in literary art. It gave them an advantage in all activities that involved making an abstract model of experience, in words or numbers or lines, and working with abstraction to achieve control over nature or to bring humane order to life. Freud calls this internalizing process an "advance in intellectuality, and credits it directly to religion.

Freud speculates that one of the strongest human desires is to encounter God-or the gods"directly. We went to see our deities and to know them. Part of the appeal of Greek relgion lay in the fact that it offered adherents direct, and often gorgeous, renderings of the immortals--and also, perhaps, the possibility of meeting them on earth. With its panoply of saints, Christianity restored visual intensity to religion; it took a step back from Judaism in the direction of the pagan faiths. And that, Freud says, is one of the reasons it prospered.

Judaism, on the other hand, never let go of the great renunciation."
...

"Freud's argument sugggests that belief in an unseen God may prepare the ground not only for science and literature and law but also for intense introspection."

Although this obviously presents no argument for the actual existence of a god, I found found it an interesting theory regarding the evolution of abstract thought.
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Old 09-22-2007, 08:57 AM   #2
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Fascinating.

I would never have thought of that as being one of the outcomes of monotheism. Similar, and perhaps more stringent requirements regarding the making of images/depiction of God are found in Islam. Do we see a similar enhancement of abstract thinking in Muslim cultures (the Golden Age of Islam during Medieval times might be an argument in that direction. . .)?
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Old 09-22-2007, 11:03 AM   #3
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The main problem with Freud is that he was fucking nuts. Sure, he's the "father of psychology" and all, but that's like saying that "religion is the father of philosophy"; it doesn't mean that the former is particularly credible or rational, when compared to the latter today.

What I think Freud is doing here--like I think he's doing most of the time--is cementing his values and the values of his 19th century world and automatically holding them up as "an ideal." This was not all that uncommon for a modernist world whose ideology eventually gave way to all kinds of thoughts of "Western supremacy" that eventually gave way to eugenics and fascism/Nazism by the mid-20th century.

In light of this and the rest of his track record, I'd tread cautiously on what he's saying here. Chances are that it's little more than what I'd call typical Freudian "pseudointellectual masturbation," and there has, quite likely, been more research on this subject done over the last few decades. And if not? It might certainly be a decent candidate for more.
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Old 09-22-2007, 11:44 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by melon
The main problem with Freud is that he was fucking nuts. Sure, he's the "father of psychology" and all, but that's like saying that "religion is the father of philosophy"; it doesn't mean that the former is particularly credible or rational, when compared to the latter today.

What I think Freud is doing here--like I think he's doing most of the time--is cementing his values and the values of his 19th century world and automatically holding them up as "an ideal." This was not all that uncommon for a modernist world whose ideology eventually gave way to all kinds of thoughts of "Western supremacy" that eventually gave way to eugenics and fascism/Nazism by the mid-20th century.

In light of this and the rest of his track record, I'd tread cautiously on what he's saying here. Chances are that it's little more than what I'd call typical Freudian "pseudointellectual masturbation," and there has, quite likely, been more research on this subject done over the last few decades. And if not? It might certainly be a decent candidate for more.
True, true.

But it's still kind of interesting (like a lot of Freud's theories).
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Old 09-23-2007, 11:22 AM   #5
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That's interesting. Freud was an interesting man, even though all of his theories are pretty much in disrepute.
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