|Our front porch - a great place|
for theological thinking.
Perhaps the most famous, and infamous, psychology of religion is Freud's The Future of an Illusion. It is to Freud that Vitz now turns.
"Freud was the first prominent psychologist to propose that people's belief in God could not be trusted because of its origins. In other words, what Freud did was take the ad hominem argument and make it a very popular and influential one." (141) Uh-oh. Ad hominem arguments, in logic, are a no-no, an epistemic non-event.
Freud argued that we can't trust the source of religious beliefs. Religion is neither true nor false, but "is a psychological illusion that arose from our primitive needs for protection. Our basic, infantile, unconscious needs for a father who would look after us, and therefore an illusion." (142) Because of this we cannot accept the truth value of theism.
But this is not convincing. Freud thought that all the contributions of civilization, including science and literature and even psychoanalysis, could be understood as due to infantile, unconscious needs. "So," Vitz says, "if the origins of a belief make us no longer accept its truth value, then according to Fried, we shouldn't accept the truth value of all the other accomplishments of civilization that he said arose from the same kind of motivation." (142)
Further, Freud claimed that among the oldest psychological needs of the human race is the need for a loving, all-powerful father. But that is unconvincing, because if it were true than most or all religions would project the idea of "God" as a loving, protecting, all-powerful "father." But this is not the case. "Many religions don't have that understanding of God at all, particularly many of the pre-Christian or pre-Jewish religions in the Mediterranean area. Some major religions either have no God or their understanding of God is quite different."
Vitz thinks Freud's assumption of a universal, human need of this type is unconvincing. Because were it true, then we'd find "the same kind of religion everywhere we looked." (142)
Next: Vitz looks at the Feuerbachian roots of Freud's atheism.