Essay, Research Paper
In Sigmund Freud?s The Future of an Illusion, Freud suggests that humanity is driven by instinctual wishes that they suppress, such as incest, cannibalism, and a lust for killing. What keeps humanity from acting upon these wishes, and resulting in the break down of civilization, are the moral laws of that civilization. In European/Western civilization these moral laws are based on religion, specifically Christianity and Judaism. Religion creates a moral system by which those that do evil are eternally punished, and those that do good, rewarded, thus keeping society in line. In addition to preventing humankind from acting on its instinctual wishes, Freud states that religion also helps humanity ?exorcize the terrors of nature? and ?reconcile men to the cruelty of fate? (Freud 22). Freud argues that since humanity sought to have these three wants, (need for the control of society, protection from nature, and compensation for suffering) satisfied, it created God and religion. Because of this fact, Freud says that religion is an illusion; a fulfillment of our oldest, strongest, and most urgent desires (Freud 39). Although Freud recognizes that European/Western civilization rests on religion, he argues that humankind would be much better off if it were to give up religion. He says that religion represses the ignorant masses and prevents truly free scientific thinking. Freud argues that society should cast religion aside and replace with an ideology value system based on knowledge science, and reason. At this point, however, Freud?s argument falls apart. Religion plays a highly valuable role in our society and it is impossible to replace or remove it.
Freud?s reason for believing that religion should be cast away rests in psychoanalytic thought. He argues that religion is a universal neurosis, arising out of the Oedipus complex of childhood. Freud believes that humanity created God in the image of its own father. He comes to this conclusion by looking at the many aspects of our relationship with God. In Christianity and Judaism, we are God?s ?children?, God is our ?protector? and our ?provider?, and God tells us what is good and bad and rewards/punishes us for obeying/not obeying his word. Freud says that these are all things that are attributed our father, and in our neurosis, have manifested themselves into characteristics of God. Freud believes that the need for religion is simply a stage in humankind?s growth, just as the Oedipus Complex is a stage in the growth of a child. He believes that the next step, the step that will allow humankind to reach its true potential, is when we cast religion away and replace it with a society where science, knowledge, and reason reign supreme
While one can see the logic in this way of thinking, it is hard to believe that a society such as this will be capable of providing all of humanity?s needs. Knowledge and science may flow more freely in such a society, but they alone will never be able to eradicate all human suffering, and without religion, where will the humanity go for solace? Just as Freud says, religion provides people with an explanation of fate, and if humanity looses this explanation, they loose something that fulfils one of its key needs. Without religion, humanity will be left to cope with the harsh realities of the world by itself, and no matter how advanced science and knowledge become, they will never be able to console a human the way that a close relationship with God is able to.
Religion also provides a moral code that humanity is obligated to follow. This divine code, which is the basis of European/Western law, is unquestionable because it has come from God. However, if you remove this base, as Freud suggests, the strength of the law is weakened. Freud argues that society will follow this new code simply for the good of humanity (Freud 52), but this is not so. Humanity is flawed. It cannot be trusted to rule itself justly and impartially. It needs to be compelled to do good by something greater than imperfect human law. It needs divine religious law, simply because it is unquestionable. Religion ensures that all will eventually be punished for their failures to obey, if not in life, then in death. This is something that any ideology or value system, besides a religious one, cannot guarantee.
A good example of how chaotic and lawless a system can become when you attempt to remove religion from society is that of the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, specifically the ?Reign of Terror?, a government that was ruthless and void of morals controlled French society. A ?Committee of Public Safety? of 12 men, dominated by extremist Maximilien Robespierre, was established. This committee, in order to rule, ?exercised virtual dictatorial control over French government? (Britannica ?Terror, Reign of?). The new government was run upon a philosophy of reason, and many of its members supported the ?anti-Christian campaign of autumn of 1793, which sought to destroy Roman Catholic institutions in France? (Britannica ?H?bert, Jacques-Ren?). The government attempted to establish a rule of law that was based not on religion, but reason instead. This culminated in the passing of ?the Law of 22 Prairial, year II (June 10, 1794), which suspended a suspect’s right to public trial and to legal assistance and left the jury only a choice between acquittal and death? (Britannica ?Terror, Reign of?). This law resulted in the arrest of nearly 300,000 and the execution of around 17,000 French citizens (Britannica ?Terror, Reign of?). Obviously, this experiment in rule by reason was disastrous. It shows that man in incapable of ruling himself, and that God is a necessary part of justice in our civilization.
Often, when society has attempted to cast away religion it has simply developed another ideology that is just as oppressive. One of religion?s main purposes, as previously stated, is to help control society. It does this by installing a value system that is backed by a divine being. If you attempt to take away this backing, you leave a void in humanity?s basic needs. That is why societies that are based on non-religious ideologies often fail. Their ideologies, no matter how hard they are indoctrinated into their people, never have the same strength as religious one?s do. They are established by man, and therefore susceptible to flaw, whereas religion and its laws are established by God and are fundamentally divine and perfect.
This point can best be illustrated by the example of the failure of the society that existed in the Soviet Union. This society attempted to replace religion with an ideology based on Marxism-Leninism. Many have called Marxism-Leninism a quasi-religion. This can be seen in two aspects of its ideology. First, ?Marxism-Leninism has connections with the metaphysics of G.W.F. Hegel, an 18th-19th-century philosopher who interpreted reality in terms of a spiritual absolute? (Britannica ?Religion, Philosophy of?). Second, it requires of its followers a dedication and devotion that mirrors that of traditional religion. ?Furthermore, like a religion, it has provided themes of fulfillment and hope–a revolution interpreted as the initiation of a Communist world society that would be a final consummation? (Britannica ?Religion, Philosophy of?). With religion banned by the government, the people of the Soviet Union were left without a true faith. Marxism-Leninism, no matter how hard it was indoctrinated into society, never was able to fulfill the needs of humanity as well as traditional religion was. This resulted in great civil unrest. After over half a century without religion, the people of the Soviet Union demanded reform, resulting in the perestroika (reforming) and glasnost (openness) movements by the Soviet Government (Britannica ?Soviet Union?). These movements, however, were not enough, and they ultimately failed. This proves that society does indeed need religion. Ideologies developed by man are incapable of successfully fulfilling the needs that religion does.
Many of the points that Freud makes in The Future of an Illusion are very insightful. It is quite possible that humanity created God and that religion is indeed both an illusion and a universal neurosis. Religion may also to some extent harm society. For example, religious fundamentalism often hinders free thought and the questioning of the status quo. Despite these facts, however, religion has many indispensable functions in Western/European society and around the world. Religion gives people a sense of purpose in their lives. It consoles them when they meet hardships in their life and, it keeps civilization under control by the laws and morals that it lays down. These functions are irreplaceable. If they were cast aside, society would be hard pressed to find a value system or ideology that could do as good a job. I would be so inclined as to say that society could find no such system capable of fulfilling basic human need as well as religion does. True, it is possible that religion may be based on an illusion that humans made up out of want, but religion is perhaps the lynchpin of society and if one were to pull it, it is conceivable that society as a whole could collapse.