The Psychology of Religion: Views from Sigmund Freud Essay

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Sigmund Freud was a psychologist known as the ‘father of psychoanalysis’ who believed that our sense of moral understanding is a result of the conditioning of a growing being.

He argued the human mind or ‘psyche’ is split into three parts; the id, which contains basic and primitive, desires e.g. hunger, thirst and lust; the ego, which involves perceptions of the external world that makes us aware of the ‘reality principle,’ one’s most outward aspect of our personality, and the super-ego, which contains the conscience that punishes bad behaviours with guilt, and the ego-ideal that praises good actions. Freud reasoned that in order for the psyche to be healthy there must be balance between the ego and the super-ego, hence Freud claimed that beliefs founded on religion were part of an ‘adolescent stage in the development of the human race from which humanity should free itself.’

Freud formulated a theory of religion that he explains in Totem and Taboo, which was influenced by works such as Robertson-Smith’s Religion of the Semites, Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Frazer’s The Golden Bough. He highlights that guilt plays a fundamental role in the psyche. Guilt must have had an original cause. At one point in history, there must have been a violation of the law which created an ‘inherent’ sense of guilt. Freud continues to trace this back to when human were a group called a ‘primal horde’. In these groups of early humans, there was always a dominant male, for example, like in wolf packs. Moreover, he centres his theory on guilt that originates with the Oedipus complex, where the younger males became jealous of the alpha male having choice over the woman he has as his partner. This horde acts as an ideological state apparatus, forc...

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...ent? On the basis of Feuerbach's analysis, it is not simply Christianity, but atheism itself, which can be regarded as a projection of human hopes.

In conclusion, Freud (and subsequently his theories) addresses religion very much in the biased way of seeing it as a crutch to the weak, a coping mechanism. This pessimistic perspective is actually paradoxical, as many people take an interest in religion as an informed choice, because of growing up with it or on a feeling. He does make some valid points in term of the non-conformist era and makes a great model of the mind that took into account various biological, psychological and social factors, however in our modern age, society is too diverse an people have too many Individual differences to make comparisons such as these, so the extent to which Freud contributes to the study of religion is limited if not outdated.

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