Challenge: Freud Says God Is an Illusion

Posted: January 25, 2011 by Amy Hall in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

The challenge this week comes from a reader named Bekah who asks:

I just started a class called World Religions. In it we are learning about scientific materialism and Sigmund Freud’s theory “universal obsessional neurosis – a replaying of our loving and fearful relationships with our parents.” I agree that sometimes we can put our human father views on God our father…but my question is, how do I defend Christianity, that God is not an “illusion springing from infantile insecurity”?

If you were a student in Bekah’s class, what would say in response to this? Any tactical advice for her? Give her some ideas, and we’ll see what Brett thinks on Thursday.

  1. Illusions aren’t seen as long as Jesus was.

  2. It seems to commit the genetic fallacy by faulting a belief by where it originated. However, that is assuming the theory is correct, but it seems rather precarious to me.

  3. Go Colombo on the Prof. Get past the knee-jerk labeling.
    “How did he come to that conclusion?” (Testing methods, etc.)
    “Exactly how can science (or psychotherapy) prove or disprove the existence of God?”

  4. PS – Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. From the Psychology vs. Logic file.

  5. Bonnie says:

    In this class, “World Religions,” you are going to hear all kinds of crazy theories. If it were me, I would simply take notes and obediently regurgitate the info at test time. My college profs were all insufferable in their mockery of Christianity, but I ignored it and went for the A’s.

  6. Jane Clark says:

    I agree with Cindy on this one. The Columbo tactic is perfect. The teacher may not learn anything, but the rest of the class will catch on.

  7. Steve Castlen says:

    Two quick points.
    First, the genetic fallacy should be pointed out to the skeptic and turned back on him. We could easily claim the Atheist rejects God due to some trauma in his past, like an absentee or abusive father figure, etc. So his argument fails. But he has a bigger problem.

    Now I would ask “is the universe an “illusion” too?”. Because if its not an illusion, then it still needs a cause. The fine tuning doesnt seem to be an illusion either.

  8. Luke Nix says:

    I wouldn’t push too far or too long. Like Greg says, “He who has the microphone wins”. I would not assume that the professor holds this belief (unless they specifically state that they do). Let this guide how you word the question; otherwise, you might immediately be accused of putting words in the professor’s mouth, and they avoid answering the question altogether. Like Cindy said, I would probe for evidence that supports the conclusion. I have a feeling that they would appeal to neurological studies. A couple weeks ago, Brett posted this specific challenge and provided a good answer.

    I think this could be done in just two steps. First the question, second the rebuttal to the evidence cited. At that point, the students and the professor should have stones in their shoes. You have forced a clarification and presented difficult challenges to the evidence while respecting the professor’s and the other student’s time.

  9. Adrian Urias says:

    I could grant that God is merely an illusion and then push it even further and say that their own view of God was also just a result of their upbringing. If they don’t believe in God, it was probably due because of an absentee father (as was already mentioned) and their belief in no God is merely an illusion. Sword cuts both ways.

    “how do I defend Christianity, that God is not an “illusion springing from infantile insecurity”?” I would say if you’re at this point, you can’t defend it because it is already assumed that belief in God is false. After is it asserted (by whatever means) that God does not exist, then you can go ahead and try to explain why it is people come to believe in God, even though it is false (or vice versa). And such explanation can be given.

    However, trying to prove that God does not exist by doing this step first, is simply erroneous. The point is, I guess, you have to determine whether or not God exists before you can get to the psychology.

  10. Sharon Pettit Curtis says:

    A need to understand the “why” of people’s actions/thoughts, and to strive to educate one’s self to the degree of needing to attain a phd in the field of psychology, is what REALLY stems from “infantile insecurity”. An overrating of the human ability to analyze/generalize human behavior/thoughts towards God– (the one who most likely gives them the thoughts that enable such analyzing) points to the analyst as the one that may also be cursed with “infantile insecurity” and not just religious people, if this is truly the case. This “psychology” quest, such as what Freud exhibited, IS actually the ILLUSION– that one has superior knowledge to understand such things. Also, the inability to recognize that there is a common characteristic in all humans, no matter the age-and even Freud,–of some sort of INSECURITY. This is strong evidence of Freud’s flawed, or lack of, thinking concerning the make up of mankind. And, this denial of the existence of God (as just an illusion), is obviously a display of the innate rebellion born in the nature of this phd, as an infant–,and evidence for the truth of what God reveals. 🙂

  11. Dino says:

    I would suggest she ask her professor if the reverse would apply: if we accept Sigmund Freud’s theory of “universal obsessional neurosis” then it is equally likely that disbelief in God might be an “illusion springing from infantile insecurity.” A child who has had an absent (or abusive) father (in some cases, mother) can repress the hurt or negative feelings from youth and project that onto God, thereby rejecting Him (His existence).

    Carl Jung’s concept of the Shadow might help here. If we can bring our Shadowed Self to light (and i believe this can be done through self-analysis and [proper] therapy – as well as the work of the Holy Spirit. but the skeptic is not at this point yet), one can move beyond these psychological childhood woundings and recognize that God does exist, and from there, come to believe in Him, trusting Him even in his/her periods of doubt.

  12. So it looks like we can call almost any belief some type of illusion because some effect has caused it. Why stop at belief in God? This seems to undermine thinking; if people believe things simply because some effect in the past has caused it, then that undermines rationality. We don’t come to our beliefs based on any rational thought, but because certain events caused us to think that way.

    Not that there aren’t things affecting our beliefs, but if all of our beliefs are 100% explicable from outside forces, then it seems rationality is out the window.