So why do we insist on believing in the “illusion” of God and participating in the “universal obsessional neurosis” that is organized religion? Freud has two good reasons, the second a lot weirder than the first — in fact, a tad creepy.
First, it’s a psychic defense against reality, which is chaos. “Life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors,” he says, quite reasonably. There’s a horrible helplessness in the raging face of “impersonal forces and destinies” — and not just for primitives. “Every civilization rests on a compulsion to work and a renunciation of instinct.” So religion appears to soften our fears with fantasies of key lime pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by; civilization condones it to channel the unmanageable instincts we all have to scream, fight and — much, much worse! — quit our jobs.
There’s an Oedipal dimension, of course. This IS Ziggy Freud talking here, bros. “Once before one has found oneself in a similar state of helplessness,” he says, “as a small child, in relation to one’s parents.” We feared them, especially dad, but they protected us, especially dad. (We’ll get to the Oedipal part tomorrow; it’s too freaky for a Friday.) So he comes up with the compelling idea that God is an infant’s image of a father.
After I heard this idea, I happened to be scrolling past a Southern Baptist confab on the flat-screen Insignia and saw all those large white adults with their hands in the air, looking exactly like toddlers reaching up to their daddy and thought: Darn if this Freud fellow isn’t onto something.
Second, creepier reason: Religion is born from “memories of the helplessness of [our] own childhood” — he just told us that, but wait: “AND THE CHILDHOOD OF THE HUMAN RACE” [block caps added for maximum dramatic blog-tastic effect].
Say what? Religion is not just infantile wishful thinking. Oh no, that would be too simple. It’s all tied up in a collective historical memory of a terrible incident in the sands of Egypt when our ancestors rose up and killed Moses. Not in the Bible, you say? Ziggy’s truth is far deeper than mere works of Hebrew fiction.
Are you on the edge of your virtual psychoanalytic couch, girls? We thought so.