Was Freud Really An Atheist?

FreudFreud’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.

–Dr. Armand M. Nicholli, Jr.,
The Question of God