Sigmund Freud famously argued that scientific advance has led to a radical reevaluation of the place and significance of humanity in the universe, deflating human pretensions to grandeur and uniqueness. Before Copernicus, we thought we stood at the center of all things. Before Darwin, we thought we were utterly distinct form every other living species. Before Freud, we though that we were masters of our own limited realm; now we have to come to terms with being the prisoner of hidden unconscious forces, subtly influencing our thinking and behaviour. And as our knowledge of our universe expands, we realize how many galaxies lie beyond our own. The human lifespan is insignificant in comparison with the immense age of the universe. We can easily be overwhelmed by a sense of our insignificance when we see ourselves against this vast cosmic backdrop…
The Christian narrative allows us to frame these questions in a very different way than that offered by a bleak secular humanism. By allowing their personal narratives to be embraced and enfolded by the greater narrative of God, Christians see things in a new way—including their own status and identity. We are no longer mere assemblies of molecules, neutrons, or genes; we are individuals who can relate to God, and whose status is transformed by God’s love and attentiveness toward us…
Through inhabiting the Christian narrative, we come to see ourselves, as medieval writer Julian of Norwich famously put it, as being enfolded in the love of Christ, which brings us a new security, identity, and value. Our self-worth is grounded in being loved by God.
The new Atheists quote Sigmund Freud, that God is a ‘wish fulfillment; a fictional father figure projected in the sky of our imagination and created by our desire for security.’ On this view, Heaven is an imaginary projection of our extinction and death. And religion is simply a psychological escape mechanism so that we don’t have to face life as it really is. Well, of course, that’s all true; provided only that God does not exist. But if God does exist, exactly the same Freudian argument will show you equally convincingly that it is atheism that is the flight from reality. A projection of the desire not to have to meet God one day and give account for your life. If God does exist, then atheism can easily be seen as a psychological escape mechanism; to avoid taking responsibility for one’s life.
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.