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The National Association of educational broadcasters presents Freud and religion one in a series of transcribed programs dealing with some of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you will hear Dr. Eric from psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Then you will meet Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Floyd Ross professor of world religions at the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry east of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. Now here is Erich Fromm as interviewed by John Harter in Cuernavaca Mexico. Doctor from today there seems to be a considerable easing of the tension between psychoanalysis and religion. It's perhaps less frequently that Sigmund Freud is viewed as a kind of incarnate
anti-Christ. I believe was the phrase used once. But is it now or for that matter was it ever entirely accurate to say that he was an enemy of religion. We're in the midst of it that is in a way difficult to say. It would be easy to say Freud was an enemy of religion. But really the answer is less easy. If we try to understand what kind of religion are we talking about. Freud wrote a book which dealt with religion almost exclusively which he called the Future of an illusion. And Freud then spoke about a certain type of religion which in fact I'm afraid is a kind of religion. Most people have. In which God is seen as an enlarged father figure. Of whom one expects help if one is in need. When one thinks if one is lucky or successful but about whom one cares very little or otherwise. Freud said that this kind of
religion is actually only the repetition of the infantine attitude of the attitude of the child toward father the child who does not trust his own powers yet and who runs to a father. We might even say to mother it when it is in need of him. That this is an illusion. Because in fact there is no such father or no such mother. That all we have to go by is our own reason our own energy our own will power and our own conscience. And in this little book The Future of an illusion. Freud criticised religion from this standpoint. And as far as that is concerned one might call him an enemy of religion provided one believes that that is the true essence of monotheistic religion. Well is it merely that he saw here and to his own view an
illusion or was he concerned with what this illusion did either for or to people. Well indeed he was concerned what this really illusion did to people. He was. Iit concerned with the fact as he saw it that by relying on this illusion people fail to develop confidence in their reason confidence in the autonomy of their own decisions and go on behaving like children. But you see to come back to your question was Freud an enemy of religion. I would have to say that in a certain sense in the first place. Freud was in the religious tradition in one respect at least namely in his belief in truth in his belief in conscience and responsibility. But that is not enough. In discussing religion Freud did not discuss and I'm afraid he did not understand that this empirical
picture of religion in which God is an enlarged father is indeed not only not the essence but actually the country of what. The great humanistic. Monotheistic you know what it is that religions teach. What did they teach. They taught in the first place that God is unknowable. That you must not use God's name in vain that you must not make a picture of God that God is not a thing and God is not a person but God is a bird for that which we do not understand and yet which is the aim of all our strivings. In other words to put it slightly differently. What monitor is tick religion really meant was in his concept of God. That God represented the idea of truth and of love. And that man's religious task in the world was not simply to believe in such an idea but to take it seriously
to have it as his ultimate concern and to live his life in such a way that to develop his capacity for love and to develop his capacity for reason are the main aims to which his whole life is devoted. Freud did not see this side of religion. He was in an anti-clerical tradition of rationalism. But I would not say that Freud was an enemy of religion. I would say he criticised the current religion as it is to be found in most people. And our task would be to develop a concept of religion which goes back to its roots to its essence. And in this respect I do not think that there would be an essential conflict with Freud. But perhaps I could say one more word here. You mention the fact in your question in the beginning that it seems that today there is a good deal of rapprochement between psychoanalysis and religion.
Some people think that is a very good thing. But I'm afraid sometimes that this is not such a good thing that sometimes the ministers don't have enough faith in the truth of the religious teaching and the psychoanalysts might not have enough faith in the efficiency of their therapy and that sometimes they get together each hoping that the other one would remedy the defects of his own procedure. I think we should take religion seriously and should see that a great deal of what is today praised is religious revival is nothing but the crudest form of idolatry. We think if we speak of God we speak of God. But if one speaks of Baal and has started any other he isn't simple either. We speak of an idol. The name doesn't matter. What matters is that the whole discovery
and their evolutionary idea of monotheism was to choose as an object for worship that which is not limited. Which is not a thing. And we are today in the great danger of worshipping God as an idol and it Ed. to make him a partner in business. And in government and in government I'm afraid so too. You have heard Dr. Eric from psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Now to continue our discussion of Freud and religion we'll switch to Studio C at San Bernardino Valley College where we'll join Dean Robert Nisbet of the University of California Riverside. Professor Floyd Ross of the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward group chief psychiatry east of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic. Dean is but is our moderator. Well gentlemen these remarks of doctor from seem to me at least to be very provocative
indeed on a subject that is central. You know our time as I suspected has been in most other times PROFESSOR ROSS You're certainly the obvious and logical one to begin our discussion this time. I like what Dr. from has said. I think that unfortunately fraud has sometimes been thought of as being just an enemy of religion. I see him with many of my colleagues in the field of religion as an enemy of immature forms of religion. I'm not at all persuaded that he was aware of some of the deeper dimensions of the religious search as Dr. Frum has also indicated that certainly religion probably includes all the crimes in the book of humanity crimes of behavior and attitude. But religion has also included most of the glories and most of the aspirations of human beings.
And just as there are mature and immature farms of loving and of the production and consumption of goods. So certainly there are both mature and immature farms of religion and I imagine that as a psychiatrist you bump into this very frequently doing or not we certainly do a professor us. They comment that the frum made about Freud's view of religion providing this figure of the Almighty Father in the literal sense of his being omnipotent and almighty and being able to provide everything and the concern that Freud had that this would lead to some failure on the part of individuals who relied on this almighty Father something better on the part of these individuals to develop confidence in their set in themselves. Seems to me to represent one of the weaknesses. However in the evaluation of even this
aspect of the religious experience. We know that one of the ways in which an individual does indeed develop some confidence in himself is through an identification with a parent or a parent figure who represents some concepts of strength to him. Is it not possible then that by an individual's projecting before himself this image of an omnipotent father that he might actually increase his own confidence in himself by being able to identify with this father. Yes I think what often happens unfortunately is that the growing child and even the young adult not having worked through the problem of the dependency relationship with the mother never even gets on to the place where he can identify with the Heavenly Father as we find it described in the history of religions. Thus in all of our historic religions still existing today we find many people who have never left the first stage.
What I would call relatively immature former religion. And it's interesting that in order to break with the Mother Goddess or the figure of the Great Mother both in the personal and the transpersonal sense apparently the human psyche has to identify with the father principle of Usually projected outward in terms of a heavenly father. Are you saying Professor Ross that there are two parent figures in one's religious experience as there is in one's other personal experience that there is a father which represents God and that there is a mother which represents the church itself the structural formation which is supposed to lead us to God and that we may perhaps get bound up in our relationships with the mother aspect the formal structured church and thereby never permit ourselves the identification with the father. Very definitely for many people who are in the official positions that say the medicine man and the priests past and present.
Not having worked through their own problem their relationship to the mother figure are quite happy to encourage others to remain in this situation and do not care to have the children disturbed unduly. In other words we have a problem inside the religious institution just as every individual has a problem in his relationship to the search for a larger reality. I'd like to bring the discussion for a moment if you don't mind back to the from a rather central question at this point and that was literally Freud's attitude toward religion. Dr. Fromm for all of the insightful and careful nature of his remarks seems to me to skirt rather gently perhaps sympathetically. This question I think personally that Freud has to be regarded as completely opposed to religion as that word can
most accurately be defined. I don't think it is enough to say that Freud being a friend of truth and believing in the dignity of the human being was therefore religious. Let me make a distinction between the use of the word religion as commonly applied by say the man in the street and religion as it describes say the dynamic reach of man's life in his reference to the deepest springs of his experience. If we take the word religion even in its Latin root age it means that which binds back which can be given a purely legal listing definition as the Romans tended to do. But it also has a basic psychological meaning that which binds together and one of the Sanskrit words usually translated as religion. Dharma also means that which binds together or gives coherence. Now let's just look at Freud's theory for a moment he talked about the id the ego and the super ego and talked about the conflicts between these and the problems in
the life of the growing child. Religion in the psychological sense as I'm using the term now would be that which binds together in a meaningful coherence the force of the ID. The reality of the ego and the significance and reality of the super ego. In other words religion as religio means psychologically considered. That which binds together are to borrow a word from my psychiatric colleagues that which integrates man at the highest and the deepest levels of his own personality I can understand that. And I think it's worth pointing out that in the 19th century for several decades before Freud there were a number of European thinkers I think for example of a cult in France and Harriet Martineau and others in England who were much impressed by that aspect of religion which you Professor Ross have just brought out here namely the binding together. And we find these people many of them attempting to follow every religion of
humanity for example in which humanity itself was the central being in which the whole emphasis was upon the bringing together of human beings. I thought they were not doing this but that you are pointing to a basic area of conflict between Freud and religion from spoke of the humanist conception of God as the. Symbol of truth as the symbol of love. And at the same time he spoke of God as being unknowable as God. God's name is not to be used in vain as a god which was really unattainable which was really a unknowledgeable or unknowable for us. Now if we combine these two. Doesn't this give us a picture of a even a humanist religion in which we are not to know truth and love. We are not to know the very symbol which is the symbol of truth
and of love and this was of course exactly the antithesis of what Freud felt that he must know truth and he must know love. Can I make a distinction there which we even find in are the traditional religions Oriental and Occidental. For example in China one of the ancient sages said the Tao are the God that can be talked about is not the real God. Yet he went on in point of aphorisms trying to talk about the UN talk about and I think in a sense this is tribute to what all the mystics in the various traditions have tried to say namely that any god we can talk about becomes an idol. He is a childish substitute for the search. Still there is something deeply rooted in man's nature which makes him search for that which cannot be named. It's the search for truth as described by the philosopher and Socrates is the Best Western example of this. I suspect that is the area then in which Freud and religion might most logically be seen together.
I was struck by one of Dr Frum's references to Freud as being in the end a clerical tradition and of course as we all know this was a powerful tradition in the 19th century by accident by rationalism by humanism and its war its opposition to the purely ritualistic aspects of religion which seemed to many people to have lost all connection with God as feeling as experience is that not right for us yes and for me the Freud stands in the very honorable tradition of those who see through the superficiality. Those religionists who think that God can be confined in a formula or an institution. In other words he is closer to the mystique then he is to the cleric who he criticizes the mystic is simply the poet the sensitive person who refuses to say or admit that experience can be defined in the terms of his definition. I doubt whether you or I would have ever owned up though Dr Ruth and the Torah mystic would you say.
Yeah I think was in the position of having to constantly deny this even as it was being applied to him and even in his basic works. Nobody seems to like the term mystic. Let me switch away from that and put a little bit differently. As I see it and even as I read many of my colleagues in the field of theology and comparative religions today Freud was saying the trouble with religion as I see it in my society is that it caters to man's fantasy tendencies his childish wish fulfillment themes. In other words religion as he saw it was just a kind of one long drawn out use of aspirin. Now even doctors today recognize that there are times when aspirin should be prescribed. But what it does is really to take away the pain or remove the symptoms without getting at the underlying causes. And Freud it seems to me was making it possible for a more mature religionist to get on with the task of recognizing
that religion can never be equally good with its farms are its dress are its symbols in any given time. That seems to me to a very profound insight indeed and I wonder if that doesn't have a good deal to do by way of explanation of the present so-called religious revival in the United States and in perhaps other parts of the Western world. What I'm thinking of is the undeniably large number of people who during the past five to 10 years perhaps a little farther back have been drawn once again into a kind of religious interest that very probably they had lacked during the earlier part of their lives but for whom it seems to me in many instances. Religion is a search for it just another means of easy adjustment to life around them and the crime is that there are too many people even close to the religious fraternity who are willing to capitalize upon this kind of search whereas mature religion at its best has always said the
child must not only work through his relationship to the mother and actually slay her in her possessive aspect. He must go out and identify with the father the principle of the spirit of the psyche of the mind and then having done that if he's going to escape legalism and moralism and the rigidity of Arthur doxy he must slay the father in his terrible aspect and become the hero. We find this in the myths of Hinduism of Buddhism. OB The Norse. In fact the myths of all the peoples of the human race. And yet in the current religious revival we are settling for. An acquisition of the mother rather than any kind of identification with the father. We're settling for possessing the mother component of religion and the formal structured church. The gratification of dependent needs in this sort of thing and I think this is even related to the fact that we have developed a system of government also which tends to
encourage this wittingly or unwittingly and probably mostly the latter namely it plays upon our fears and our anxieties and leads us then to turn increasingly to figures in authority as though they were the all embracing mother. We can always find security hiding behind the walls of the Pentagon or the bomb. That's right. I think anyone has to recognize that one of the most distinctive features of the mid 20th century has been the widening search for some guy and all of protective authority some cock and fortress of security for community and often times it seems to me people are unwilling to face the consequences of what genuine community and genuine status require and the result is I'm afraid we have a great many nostrums being sold on the market at the present time. And I have in mind they are specifically certain types of newspaper columns that are written for mass
circulation which seem to me to vulgarize it usually Christianity which seem to me to vulgarize Christianity beyond anything that has ever been known before. As I think we've tended to make up Christianity in this country a religion for sucklings. However And let's remember your own comment Professor Ross that occasionally we have use for these nostrums that the aspirin has its place. Yes in the treatment on them and Tara them and it may very well be that these particular nostrums have their place in maintaining a certain level of equilibrium in individuals that we need to go beyond this. Certainly in seeking for the identification with a father is certainly unquestionable. Yes I'd like to refer to something which has come up in some of the discussions here from and from I'D. Namely man needs to learn how to handle his polarities are his tensions and just as we all have a need for security. No matter what our age
so we also have a real need for adventure or exploration. Now the danger in our time is we have over stressed the search for security. We've made a CD shot of security from the military complex clear on down to the home. Now I think if we look at the religions themselves at their other level we discover that one of the things that stands out let's just talk about the Western religions is to quote that Abraham went out by faith. He had no road map telling him what lay ahead in Palestine and where he could find a further guide. You were not by faith Now this I think is the other dimension. Doctor from referred to it once in a previous discussion to go out by faith. It means that one goes out with confidence and his own potentialities for finding meaningful relationships and to go up with if you will forgive me for using a very much overworked word to go out with humility also. Definitely and I think one of the characteristics of contemporary thought
that for me at least is just as real as the tendency of all derives ation that I referred to a few moments ago. It is the very honest humility that seems to me to have characterized a great deal of the writing and a thought of our time. All I have to do is to compare they philosophy the literary criticism of the novels the drama they essays occasional essays in the general area of the social sciences compare those as they are being written today with those of a generation to go and I think there is quite a different tone in them from what we knew a generation ago. Well this is another aspect that we should not ignore. While there is a lot of this infant our religion being propagated and encouraged in our country at the present time. There are also signs in many areas including the physical sciences. That a good many people are digging a little deeper into this question of the dynamics of human behavior human motivation and the search for truth.
And I have a feeling that given a few more decades we may become of age as it where too much greater extent than we are at the present time here in our American culture aren't we faced with basic natural curiosities and the seeking for adventure that you cited before Professor Ross that this has come through despite a certain kind of vulgarized admonitions that one must not know truth that one must really not sink it because it is in some sort of unknowable forbidden territory or you get labelled as being an unpopular person in your community. Yes. Our time is beginning to run out but I would like to ask both Professor Ross and Dr Rudin whether they believe that at the present time there is. Higher mutual respect between the practitioners let us say of psychiatry on the one hand and the representatives of the church on the other hand then prevailed in Freud's own mind. That's a loss.
Yes this is very definitely true in the field I theological education there's a great deal of cooperation now between the psychiatrists and the mental hospitals and in teaching in the field of psychotherapy or the psychology of religion. And could I add one other note here also which I think perhaps needs to be said frequently in each generation if we're going to talk about religion in a mature sense as over against these infantile forms of religion that will always Terminus descend degree don't we have to say that to be religious really means to be moved by concerns and not to sell out to the proximate concerns and the proximate fears and anxieties. And if this be true then we're going to discover that there are all kinds of mature religious persons in all walks of life even though many of them may be anti-clerical and sometimes for good reasons. I think that's excellent Dr. Roden would you care to make one final comment. I think I think gilding the lily. Dr. Floyd Ross professor of world religions at the Southern California School of Theology
and Dr. Edward Rhoden chief psychiatry list of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic. I thank you for what has been an extremely provocative and profound discussion. You have been listening to Freud and religion one in a series of transcribed programs concerned with the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you heard Dr Eric from psychoanalyst and author as interviewed in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico then to Studio C at San Bernardino Valley College where we heard from Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Floyd Ross professor of World Religions Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. These programs were produced and edited by John harder for the community education division of San
Man is not a thing
Freud and religion
Producing Organization
San Bernardino Valley College
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program, "Freud and Religion," looks at how Freud's theories relate to religion.
This series presents a discussion of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud and his impact on the American family, politics and religion.
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Editor: Harding, Bob
Interviewer: Walker, Fred
Producer: Harter, John
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Fromm, Erich, 1900-1980
Speaker: Nisbet, Robert A.
Speaker: Ross, Floyd Hiatt
Speaker: Rudin, Edward
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-22-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:06
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Chicago: “Man is not a thing; Freud and religion,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 22, 2021,
MLA: “Man is not a thing; Freud and religion.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 22, 2021. <>.
APA: Man is not a thing; Freud and religion. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from