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February 23rd, 2012 @ 5:18 pm by Kevin
I came across this quote from the founder of psychoanalysis in my Twitter feed today:
“In the long run, nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction religion offers to both is palpable.” — Sigmund Freud
I tend to agree with the first half of this statement. The universe is what it is no matter what we believe about it, and the history of science is nothing if not a steady eradication of cherished beliefs about how the world works. This isn’t to say science always gets it right and religion always gets it wrong. But whenever someone attempts to use their worldview to impede scientific progress, it’s always a losing proposition. And religious people aren’t the only ones guilty of doing this. In fact, you could charge Freud, himself, with that crime. Many of his disciples certainly did, including my favorite, Ernest Becker.
It’s the second half of Freud’s statement that gives me pause, b/c it’s premised on the assumption that religion is inherently irrational and that it gives no credence to experience. I’m not sure what inspired Freud to make this statement, but it could very well be a response to a form of hyper-Protestantism where the Bible–or, more to the point, someone’s interpretation of the Bible–trumps all.
Never mind what your feelings are telling you. (Who can trust them?)
Don’t be distracted by the 1,600 years of church history prior to the Reformation. (Wasn’t the Church just a corrupt, money-making scheme prior to Luther?)
And forget human wisdom. (What can anyone with a fallen, three-pound brain actually know anyhow?)
The Bible says it, and I believe it. End of story.
If that’s the kind of religion against which Freud was arguing, then I can agree with the second half of his statement as well.
Thankfully, that’s not the only kind of religion that exists. I know plenty of thoughtful Christians and people of other faiths who give plenty of credence to reason and experience in addition to tradition and Scripture. So rather than attack the weak form of religion–as the person who tweeted this quote so often tries to do–why not try taking on stronger expressions of religion instead? Perhaps then a true dialogue might be possible.
As for us religious folks, I don’t think we should dismiss Freud’s critique out of hand. Rather, it should make us stop and reflect on exactly how we are communicating our faith to the world and what lines of argument we use to justify our beliefs.
Of course, when we bring this discussion back to hell–come on, you knew I would–it should also make us pause and consider exactly why we believe what we do and how we arrived at these fondly held beliefs. How well does our doctrine of hell accord with reason? With experience? With the various streams of thought flowing down through church history?
The Bible is important, yes, of paramount importance. But unless we attend to the various ways our context influences how we read the text, in the end all, we’ll do is prove Freud right.