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Date: 17.10.2017

Religion (2007)

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Continue reading the main story Before leaving Vienna, Freud gave the Nazis a parting gift. They had made it clear to him that his emigration was contingent on signing a statement saying that he had not been molested in any way and that he had been able to continue with his scientific work.

Freud signed, but then added a coda of his own devising: The first person who came to see him at his house on Elsworthy Road was his neighbor, a Jewish scholar named Abraham Yahuda.

Yahuda had gotten wind of the contents of the volume and had come to beseech Freud not to publish. Yahuda was far from being the last of such petitioners. During his early days in London, Freud received no end of entreaties to let the project go. What did Freud do? He published of course — and not just in German but, as quickly and conspicuously as possible, in English.

The reviews were terrible.

Restrictions on religion among the 25 most populous countries, 2007-2015 | Pew Research Center

The private response was often bitter. And Freud was delighted. He reveled in the strong sales figures, shrugged off the nasty reviews and sang his own praises. There is a more subtle and original dimension to the book, and perhaps it was that dimension that made Freud so determined to complete and publish it, despite all the resistance.

About two-thirds of the way into the volume, he makes a point that is simple and rather profound — the sort of point that Freud at his best excels in making.

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Freud argues that taking God into the mind enriches the individual immeasurably. So the mental labor of monotheism prepared the Jews — as it would eventually prepare others in the West — to achieve distinction in law, in mathematics, in science and in literary art.

It gave them an advantage in all activities that involved making an abstract model of experience, in words or numbers or lines, and working with the abstraction to achieve control over nature or to bring humane order to life. We want to see our deities and to know them. Part of the appeal of Greek religion lay in the fact that it offered adherents direct, and often gorgeous, renderings of the immortals — and also, perhaps, the possibility of meeting them on earth.

With its panoply of saints, Christianity restored visual intensity to religion; it took a step back from Judaism in the direction of the pagan faiths. And that, Freud says, is one of the reasons it prospered. The renunciation, according to Freud, gave the Jews remarkable strength of intellect, which he admired, but it also made them rather proud, for they felt that they, among all peoples, were the ones who could sustain such belief.

Someone who can contemplate an invisible God, Freud implies, is in a strong position to take seriously the invisible, but perhaps determining, dynamics of inner life.

Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture

He is in a better position to know himself. To live well, the modern individual must learn to understand himself in all his singularity. He must be able to pause and consider his own character, his desires, his inhibitions and values, his inner contradictions. And Judaism, with its commitment to one unseen God, opens the way for doing so. It gives us the gift of inwardness. Freud was aware that there were many modes of introspection abroad in the world, but he of course thought psychoanalysis was by far the best.

He said that the poets were there before him as discoverers of the inner life but that they had never been able to make their knowledge about it systematic and accessible.

Moses hung on to his convictions — much as Freud aspired to do. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to. Thank you for subscribing.

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