The Future of an Illusion, 1927, by Sigmund Freud
In The Future of an Illusion, Freud gives his insights on what he thinks about religion. He also expresses the belief that at some point in the future, science will give explanations that will go beyond the limitations of religion. For this work, Freud creates a non-existent critic, thus the book is presented in form of a dialogue. In essence, the critical character he creates in representative of wider society. In this book, Freud employs psychoanalysis to try to explain religion, which according to him is a societal neurosis. In his work, Freud postulates that this phenomenon is mere imagination, an illusion.
In early chapters of the book, Freud explains that religion originates form a need for oneness. He postulates that the reason we believe in religion is that those who came before us already believed in them. Another reason, according to Freud is that most religion forbids questioning of these beliefs. The other reason is that humans' belief in religion is strengthened by proof'. However, according to Freud, this proof is actually imaginary. It is nothing more than conjecture woven in the minds of human beings and retold over many years to seem like facts.
According to Feud, religion emanates from the feelings of vulnerability one experiences at a young age. Over time, these feelings of weakness in the face of the powers of nature lead one to develop a wish for protection. Essentially, human beings use religion as an escape for the harsh realities and mysteries of the world. In his work, Freud suggests that individuals are the greatest risk to society. In addition, most people are instinctually opposed to civilized society. As a result, the civilized few impose their will on the unruly majority. It was Freud's hope that one day; civilization would advance enough so that this unruly majority would only be reduced to a small, manageable proportion of the population.
In his work, Freud explains that religion originates form a need for the human mind to grasp the realities of nature. As a result, humanity tries to personify nature. The most instinctual personification that the mind results to is that of a parents and their child. Consequently, natural forces become powerful goddesses and gods to which human society must offer sacrifice. These powerful beings, according to Freud are given powers to control the horrors of nature. In addition, they must offer consolation due to the horrors of nature and act as an intermediary to human beings and powerful forces of nature. However, as time went by, Freud noted that societies evolved to treat divinities and nature as the same. In addition, these divinities were given the role of settling disputes, which arise from humanity. In essence, these religious being became rulers of the universe, which we were meant to serve and not question.
According to Freud, due to the powers already given to these powerful beings, humans are able to accept fatalities such as death. According to Freud, the relationship that the human mind creates is an attempt to recover a lost love. This original love exists between a child and its parents. Religion is simply an expression of desire to return to this pure form of love. According to Freud, the first object of affection a child identifies is its mother; however, over time it comes to learn of the father. According to the Oedipus complex, the child develops an ambivalent relationship with the father, who it views as being more powerful. Consequently, the child grows up knowing that they are weak and they must depend on their father. This feeling of dependency is later projected to the religious being through a process of projection. The mind becomes aware of its weakness in the face of nature; as a result, it creates a powerful deity, representative of the father to deal with these perils.
In addition to seeking protection, Freud explains that religion is a way for society to ensure morality. Instead of an individual having to learn throughout their life the rules and norms of society, they are handed a few simple guidelines that assist them survive in society. Further, in this work, Freud explains that religion is an illusion. He points out that this illusion results from inconsistences in the desire for wish fulfillment. To differentiate religious illusion from a delusion that leads to a neurosis, Freud gives a short explanation. He explains that a delusion is something that completely contradictory of the laws of reality. However, an illusion incorporates some aspects of reality, in addition false myths perpetuated by the mind, lead it to believe it as a fact. However, he does acknowledge the important role religion has played in human society. For instance, Freud attributes religion to helping human beings build some of the greatest civilizations on earth. In addition, Freud attributes religion to helping save some members of society from suffering neurosis. By finding a universal neurosis, they are able to cope with their own internal conflicts as they are exposed to the dangers of everyday life. Freud postulates that without the safeguards of religion, some of these individuals would have imploded and become a burden to society.
However, according to Freud, religion has reached its epitome and it should pave way for truth. He likens a continued belief in religion by society to the lies children are told about where they come from. Freud postulates that there are individuals who already question what purpose religion serve if it is built on lies and distortions of truth. He argues that such individuals are however too timid to question these misconception. In his work, Freud suggested that continued teaching of this societal neurosis had the unintended consequence of bogging down human intelligence. Consequently, it was acting as a hindrance to development of society.
In his work, Freud concluded that there was only one way for human society to advance. They had to abandon the collective neurosis that had become a plague to societal development. Having lived the period of the First World War, Freud had already witnessed the suffering that had resulted from religious differences. Maybe one day in the future, his dream of a society driven by science and not illusion will happen.