Sigmund Freud popularized the notion that belief in God is simply a projection of a deep-seated wish for protection, and that theists create God in their parent’s image. He insisted that God exists only in our minds, and he called upon people to grow up and give up the “fairy tales of religion.”
However, the wish-fulfillment argument works both ways. Who is to say that the atheist does not arrive at his belief in the non-existence of God because he wants no one to interfere with his life? He prizes his autonomy, and atheism appeals to his deep-seated wish to be left alone.
A person’s attitude toward God may well arise from a wish for or a wish against God’s existence.
And, far from ruling out the existence of something, “wishful thinking” may actually be evidence for its existence. C.S. Lewis argues: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Well known atheist, Stephen Hawking, declared, “Religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” It may well be the other way around—that atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light.
The refusal to acknowledge the existence of light does not remove the existence of the sun. We cannot blot it out. Those who dwell in darkness may choose to be obstinate, but it only makes the final inevitable encounter with reality highly unpleasant.
Freud’s daughter Anna, the only child to carry on his work, once said . . . “If you want to know my father, don’t read his biographers, read his letters.” A careful reading of his letters reveals some rather surprising—if not perplexing—material. First, Freud frequently quoted from the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. In his autobiography Freud writes: “My early familiarity with the Bible story . . . had, as I recognized much later, an enduring effect upon the direction of my interest.” Second, letters written through his life are replete with words and phrases such as “I passed my examinations with God’s help”; “if God so wills”; “the good Lord”; “taking the Lord to task”; “into the keeping of the Lord”; “until after the Resurrection”; “science seems to demand the existence of God”; “God’s judgment”; “God’s will”; “God’s grace”; “God above”; “if someday we meet above”; “in the next world”; “my secret prayer.”
In a letter to Oskar Pfister [a Swiss pastor and psychoanalyst], Freud writes that Pfister was “a true servant of God” and was “in the fortunate position to lead (others) to God.” What does this mean? Can we not dismiss all this a merely figures of speech—common in English as well as in German? Yes, if it were anyone but Freud. But Freud insisted even a slip of the tongue had meaning.
The preoccupation continues until his last book, Moses and Monotheism, written . . . when he was in his eighties. Why? Why couldn’t he put the question to rest? If he had all the answers, why did the question of God’s existence continue to preoccupy him? Perhaps C. S. Lewis would say we can never explain away God. Nor can we find rest until that deep-seated desire (experienced by both Freud and Lewis) is satisfied.
One of the most militant atheists among the Oxford faculty, T. D. Weldon, sat in C. S. Lewis’ [at that time still an atheist] room one evening and remarked that the historical authenticity of the Gospels was surprising sound. This deeply disturbed Lewis. He immediately understood the implications. If this “hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew” thought the Gospels true, where did that leave him? Where could he turn? “Was there no escape?” He had considered the New Testament’s stories to be myth, not historical fact. If they were true, he realized all other truth faded in significance. Did this mean his whole life was headed in the wrong direction?
Lewis remembered an incident that happened several years earlier—on the first day he arrived at Oxford as a teenager. He left the train station carrying his bags and began to walk in the direction of the college, anticipating his first glimpse of the “fabled cluster of spires and towers” he had heard and dreamed of for so many years. As he walked and headed into the open country, he could see no sign of the great university. When he turned around, he noticed the majestic college spires and towers on the opposite side of the town and realized he was headed in the wrong direction. Lewis wrote many years later in his autobiography, “I did not see to what extent this little adventure was an allegory of my whole life.”