Well, seekers, we never thought we’d say this but here it is out loud in gray and white: Reading Sigmund “Ziggy” Freud is fun! He’s a blast of psychoanalytic organ music! A God-bashing geriatric gong!
Of course he’s an atheist. Wake me up when you say something new. But I’d forgotten — if I ever knew — just what a splenetic, sassy, paranoid, ad hominem windbag of woe he appears on the pages of “The Future of an Illusion.” To be fair, this screed was committed in 1927 during the terrible pre-Nazi years, when Ziggy himself was 71 years old and feeling it.
But hey. If only people still wrote with such spiraling self-esteem, such eccentric style! It’s inspiring — and I mean this sincerely — to encounter such a clear point of view. Freud is no Minnesotan: he KNOWS for a fact that you are wrong.
“Illusion” is the primary text of atheism. It rehearses all but the most sociological and directly theological arguments against belief. It has no punchline; the thesis is right in the title, dude. Take a peek. About religious beliefs, Ziggy says: “All of them are illusions and insusceptible of proof.” And, worse: “Religion [is] the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity.”
His point makes more sense if instead of “illusion” you substitute “wishful-thinking.” He thinks religion is a Fantasy Island we’ve constructed to console us in a hostile world, a kind of imaginary prolongation of the warmer parts of pre-teen life.
Well, maybe. What’s more striking is Ziggy’s method. It’s frighteningly confident. For an anti-theological nuclear wedgie, “Illusion” contains not a single quote from scripture, theologians, church historians, any historians, other skeptics, atheists or angry colleagues from the Psychoanalytic Institute; not a lonely recitation of an event from history (except, weirdly, Prohibition), biographical sketch or amusing anecdote from the life of an Austrian truth-teller.
Nope: Freud is monologizing. More than once I thought of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. He just goes on and on.
And did someone say paranoid? Near the end, Freud frets that his dangerous ideas will once again bring him nothing but grief. But he is prepared: “If a man has already learnt in his youth to rise superior to the disapproval of his contemporaries, what can it matter to him in his old age … ?”
What, indeed? Let we who are about to die, deny God.
We’d like to get to what he means by “religion” — to what he’s attacking — but are out of human time. Interestingly, it turns out a few years later Ziggy is not quite so insistent. In “Civilization and Its Discontents,” he talks about religious feelings (as opposed to doctrines) almost respectfully:
“From my own experience I could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. The only question is whether it is being correctly interpreted and whether it ought to be regarded as the fons et origo of the whole need for religion.”