Great Books Kansas City is a book discussion group that has been meeting monthly since 2004 “to discuss great literature that has stood the test of time.”
Last month, for only the second time, I attended Great Books KC because of my interest in the book being discussed that evening: Sigmund Freud’s “The Future of an Illusion” (1927).
That book is largely an analysis, and denunciation, of religion and faith in God.
I do not have sufficient knowledge of psychology/psychiatry to critique Freud’s psychoanalytical thought. But I do have some expertise in the field of theology and philosophy.
As I was driving downtown to the meeting, I began to wonder, “Was Freud a Fraud?” It seems that at least in some ways he was.
In his 1927 book, he makes great emphasis on science and disses religion or faith in God for being unscientific.
But as I read many of Freud’s assertions, I kept asking myself, “How does he know that?” and “How can that statement possibly be proven scientifically?”
It seems clear that much of what he wrote is theory, and many of his ideas may or may not be true. But most are not amenable to scientific proof.
Some of what Freud wrote, such as his analysis of the human id, ego and superego, has undoubtedly helped to explain significant aspects of human behavior.
But it is his analysis of religious belief that is most questionable.
For example, in Future . . . Freud avers that religious ideas are “illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind” (p. 30, 1961 trans.).
That may be true, especially for some people. But is it true for all?
Later in the same book, Freud asserts that religion is “the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity” (p. 43).
Really? Can you scientifically prove that, Dr. Freud?
Freud mainly dealt with mentally ill people, and that no doubt skewed his view of religion. Many sick people have sick religious beliefs and practices.
On the other hand, many healthy people have healthy, and socially beneficial, religious ideas.
Freud didn’t consider the great prophets or social activists whose religious faith was not for their own personal comfort but rather was impetus for challenging the ills of society.
Freud didn’t consider the great intellectuals whose religious faith was not neurotic but the spur to lofty and creative thinking.
Freud didn’t consider the great missionaries who at great personal discomfort went to lands of danger, disease, and often disappointment for the sake of the Good News that they felt compelled to share.
From a different standpoint, some who do have knowledge of psychiatry have criticized Freud severely.
For example, a clinical and research psychiatrist named E. Fuller Torrey tore into Freud, or at least the use of Freudian ideas, in his 1992 book titled “Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud’s Theory on American Thought and Culture.”
According to Torrey, Vladimir Nabokov, the widely-known Russian-American novelist, called Freud a “Viennese quack” and deemed psychoanalysis “one of the vilest deceits practiced by people on themselves and on others.”
Nabokov (1899-1977) also contended that “the difference between the rapist and therapist is but a matter of spacing” (Torrey, pp. 200-1).
In veiled criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis, Humbert Humbert, one of Nabokov’s characters wrote about “pseudoliberation of pseudolibidoes.”
In case you don’t recognize who Humbert is, he is the protagonist in Nabokov’s best-known book “Lolita,” which, it so happens, is the book to be discussed at this month’s Great Books KC meeting.
Great Books Kansas City is open to anyone who wants to attend. The October meeting is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday the 31st at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The last meeting of the year is Dec. 5, and the discussion will be of “Snow Country” by the Nobel Prize winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata. I am looking forward to both of these meetings.