Part Three in a Three Part Series on C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud
In the first two parts (part I, part II) of this series, I considered two major issues on which C.S Lewis and Sigmund Freud differed dramatically. On the other hand, we ought not discount the similarities in the arguments of the two men. Both Freud and Lewis advocated their ideas as key to improving civilization as a whole. Freud saw the atheism as the eventual pinnacle of evolution, although he conceded that the question of whether people would truly be better without God was up in the air (61). According to Freud, in an era casting away illusion, people would enter a time when λογος or reason would become the god of civilization (it is interesting that Freud chose a name used in the Bible to reference Christ as the “name” of his new atheistic god), eliminating what he feels to be a clear illusion for something that appears not to be, namely, science.
Lewis also tapped into evolutionary imagery, but with a substantial twist. Instead of suggesting that a biological/psychological evolution would come out of his arguments, he suggested that the spiritual rebirth of Christianity represented a sort of evolutionary leap that has simply been overlooked (220).
Here again, Freud’s progress to a utopia is somewhat more problematic than Lewis’s because of history. Freud admits as much by having his fictional “skeptic of skeptics” point out the French Revolution with Robespierre and, in Freud’s present time, the U.S.S.R. as examples of failures in atheistic societies. Freud acknowledges the dismal track record at attempts to move a culture over to atheism, but suggests a more preferable method would be a slow easing away from religious belief, rather than a violent, quick revolution as the two cited examples had been.
Such a slow progression away from belief seems to be exactly what we are witnessing in the Western World now. Even in a country with a very high surveyed level of belief in God, such as the United States, attendance at churches has dropped every year for the last half century or so, and influence of religious thought in the common activities of Americans seems to be far less influential than in times past. Given this, perhaps we can look to today’s society in an attempt to weigh the usefulness of Freud’s assertion – are things getting better now that school prayer has been banned, nativity scenes do not dot municipal buildings, and many Americans prefer to spend Sunday on the links rather than praying for those who have been placed on their church prayer chain?
There is obviously some room for differing opinions here, but it seems that there are few who will say that our society is getting better. At best, we are forced to concede that the jury is still out or that clearly if this is better, it is a very subjective better. On the other hand, Lewis’s view of improvement carries some weight. Despite all the excesses of the church over the last two thousand years, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that it has done much good, especially when it was sticking closest to the Bible and its calling in general.
Does this mean that Freud is wrong? By no means, but it does bring to light that Freud has absolutely no historical reason to suspect that his ideology will bring about a better world, whereas Lewis can point to many examples of his side bringing about a better world. No one should believe in God merely because they believe it will bring about a better earth and not because they think He exists, but nevertheless, we can at least say that this is not a smear on the record of theists that must be overcome.
Obviously, which side one end up sympathetic to after reading these two books has a lot to do with which side one is already on. I make no attempt here to disclaim a bias of my own, which most certainly comes through clearly within these pages. On the flip side of the token, at the least, I hope to demonstrate that Freud’s theories depend a lot on conjecture, making him at best in no better position than that of Lewis. While we would expect a metaphysical, theistic system like Lewis’s to be unfalsifiable, it does seem somewhat troubling that Freud too uses many unfalsifiable claims despite his insistence that he is promoting reason and science over illusory wishes (71).
Interestingly enough, it is Freud’s theory that is impossible to prove right, not Lewis’s. There are numerous ways of expressing the idea that while theists will know if they are right, atheists never will. This actually harkens back to Pascal’s wager and its idea that one side of the bet can never really win and one has hardly anything to lose. As John Hick expresses in a more satisfying form than that of a bet, theism is ultimately verifiable, but only positively, not negatively. This is what he terms “eschatological verification,” the idea that those who agree with Lewis will know that they are right after death (103). Is this good science or mere pseudoscience? Ultimately, I think that discussion is irrelevant.
Eventually, everyone must answer the question of God. Even if it is impossible to posit a completely verifiable, scientific proof, that does not negate the need to deal with the question. As has been shown, the reverse assumption finds itself on equally shaky ground, and therefore we are forced to take a leap of faith. It is just a matter of which direction we choose to make that leap in after examining the available evidence.
I choose to leap to God, who reveals Himself in many ways — some perhaps not empirically testable — everyday.
“A Transcendent Experience.” The Question of God. 2004. Public Broadcasting System. 24 Mar. 2005
Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion. Trans. James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989.
“Freud’s theory.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica Online 6 Apr. 2005 [http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=26014].
Hick, John. Philosophy of Religion. 4th ed. Eaglewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1990.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. HaperCollins ed. New York: HaperSanFrancisco/Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Scupin, Ray. Religion and Culture: An Anthropological Focus. Editor Ray Scupin. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.
Shakespeare, William. “1 Henry IV.” The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Editors G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.