Well hello there blog! What’s that? You feel as though I’ve been neglecting you lately? I want our relationship to be open and honest, and in that vein, I will tell you that there is someone else I’ve been spending time with. His name is Grad School. But it doesn’t mean anything, I swear! I would much rather spend my time with you. Maybe if the two of you just meet, you will see that it’s just a passing fancy….
I rarely allow my reading-for-pleasure life and my reading-for-grad-school life mix, but there are exceptions to every rule. In this case, I read a book that was worthwhile and interesting and I want to share it. Since it’s my blog, I do what I want. I read the book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. as part of an Organizational Ethics class. The book places the opinions of opposing worldviews side-by-side using the lives and writings of two very intelligent and outspoken historic figures. Sigmund Freud represents the atheistic worldview and C.S. Lewis represents the religious side of the dichotomy.
The problem with reading this book, of course, is that it is pretty much impossible to read without some sort of bias. Every single person will approach this book with leaning towards one worldview or another and with preconceived notions of each. I know that I read this book without objectivity. With that being said, I found a great deal of what Freud wrote and believed to be outlandish.
Freud’s contributions to the field of psychology and to science in general are undeniable. I find many of his theories to be seemingly legitimate (his notion that childhood shapes us, the importance of our dreams, etc.) and the psychoanalysis practices that have been built on his life’s work have a valuable place in our society. However, I can’t help but find some of his theories to be over the top. After reading more about his life, in this book, it seems that his central subject in the development of his theories was himself. For example, he had inappropriate feelings of love toward his mother so he assumed that was true of everyone and began to look for it in his patients…hence the Oedipus Complex, developed by Freud. It seems like most of his theories were developed in that way and that seems like an unsound scientific practice. You need to have facts to arrive at conclusions, not develop conclusions and then mold facts to support them.
I also learned that Freud was a deeply troubled man. He struggled with clinical depression most of his life (which he often treated with cocaine), he was superstitiously obsessed with his own death, and he struggled to maintain both friendships and professional relationships. If Freud is one of the best examples that the atheistic worldview can come up with, that makes is even less appealing to me.
Furthermore, based on the examples in this book, I don’t think that Freud was ever thoroughly convinced or at peace with his own atheism. He seems to struggle with the question of God his entire life. In fact my favorite quote about God, from this book, was written by Freud when he was a young man: “Science of all things seems to demand the existence of God.” This statement was sent to a personal friend in a letter but he later denied that he had ever swayed in his atheistic views. He also made a great effort to categorize believers as unintelligent and delusional. To me that signifies unrest. If you are secure in your atheistic beliefs, why would you need to put down the people who oppose your worldview? It seems childish to me. In all, this book made me sad for Freud. He never reached a sense of peace in his life or in his beliefs.
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, seemed to have a full, contented life after his conversion to Christianity. The interesting aspect about Lewis is that he was also an atheist until his 30’s and seemed to be on a similar life path as Freud was. Lewis was unhappy and withdrawn before his conversion with bouts of depression marring his life. After he became a Christian people said he was caring, warm, and lively. He became one of the greatest advocates for Christianity in the 20th century and his writing is still very impactful. I really enjoyed reading more about his viewpoints the way he tackles huge questions in such a simple and elegant way. It’s worth saying that Lewis wasn’t blind to the devastation and travesties that have been committed in the name of Christianity. He didn’t think that theists are perfect people and atheists are idiots. He had a personal relationship with God that was well thought out (from an academic perspective) and the positive influence of that relationship was evident to those around him. This book convinced me to spend some time reading Lewis’s writings as a means of understanding my own beliefs better but I don’t want to ignore the writings of atheists either.
Regardless of the opinions a person might bring to this book, I think it is a very worthwhile read for anyone. If nothing else, it persuades you to look at your own past and your own values to get a sense of how your worldview has been shaped. I think that’s important for every person. We shouldn’t just become complacent about our beliefs but need to take a daily, active role in reaffirming or questioning what we believe. That way, if nothing else, at least we can defend them when challenged. And I don’t mean that we can get heated or irrational and rage about our beliefs. I mean that we can have a structured, calm discussion with the people around us.
"There are no ordinary people. [No one ever talks to] a mere mortal...it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors...your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." ~C.S. Lewis