Freud’s Errors

The Discontent of Sigmund Freud II

 

Last year I looked at the views of Sigmund Freud on the source and cost of civilization, along with a brief critique. Since this foundation has been laid beforehand, in this post I will concentrate on the final step in my critique of Freud. His views on religion are perhaps the most egregious area of Freud’s errors and foolish mistakes.

There are several grounds upon which Freud’s views on religion may be assaulted

 

I. Biographical

 

Our first point of attack is on Freud’s intellectual biography. Freud, like many atheists, never seems to have taken religious belief seriously or to have known anyone who did. Beyond a childhood nanny, Freud never had a friend or patient who was a serious Christian or Jewish believer in his life. How can a man who has never known a believer claim to know what is wrong with them? While Freud read the Old Testament when he was younger; he never read the New Testament or works by such thinkers as Augustine, Pascal, Aquinas, Maimonedes or other serious intellectuals of the Christian and Jewish theistic traditions. He dismisses any attempts at intellectual justification of these beliefs as being grounded in some form of neurosis, or unwillingness to face dreadful reality that such belief is a illusion. Insofar as he does deal with what religious people actually believe Freud only sneers at the religion of the lumpenproletariat.

The argument has been made by psychologist Paul C. Vitz, that Freud’s tremendous dislike of religion stems from a projection of Freud’s own dislike his weak, perhaps even sexually perverse, father, onto God, whom Western tradition knows as the Heavenly Father. This is a fascinating argument, which Vitz backs up by looking at the biographies of major atheists from Matthew Toland, Voltaire and Diderot to Freud, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. In all cases, these men suffered either from either a lack of a father, or they held their fathers in tremendous distaste, usually because the man was weak.

How marvelous it is! That a man who claimed religion was the projection of a father figure onto the world may have been guilty of projecting his own horrid father onto the Divine Creator.

 

II. Polemcial

 

Freud approaches religion with an arrogance which, although surpassed by other atheists, is considerable just the same. As noted above, Freud never knew a theist or studied Christian theism, just the same, we will briefly look at his discussion. In his account in Future of an Illusion, he gives us three foundations for faith: 1. antiquity of belief, 2. proofs handed down by antiquity, and 3. questioning of faith being made forbidden.1 Freud’s view also held that religion is a projection onto the world, of the wishes of man’s mind. Religion is wish-fulfillment. This is as close as Freud gets to addressing the serious ideas of Theists. While Freud’s followers, and many more besides, have used Freud’s ideas about religion to attack the faithful, they, and Freud, fail on several counts.

The first is that his supposed foundations are not well digested. The antiquity of a thing, while not always a proof for it, strongly suggests that it exists for a reason and should not be overthrown in a twinkling because present dictates it. The age of a faith is regarded, by Freud as a son of the Enlightenment and Romantic eras, as a proof of how modern men are as duped now as they were centuries ago. This is a classic error of the modern mind, the belief that, because we are modern, scientific, etc, we are, therefore, superior to all those who came before us. The Christian religion stands, in part, upon the idea that those men of old had a contact with the Divine which we today can only dream about. The antiquity of a belief is neither proof for or against a thing being true; it is simply a statement that many people have held it to be so. To those of a more humble spirit than Freud, antiquity begs the question of why it was held to and whether it should be overthrown merely because the ‘times have changed.’ The second claim falls flat due to Freud’s utter failure to address theistic philosophers and their arguments. Freud holds that there can be no ‘proof’ for faith, since religion is not really a matter of reason and evidence but a matter of ‘illusions.’ His third claim is faulty because, while many people seem to think that you cannot question a belief about God or the hereafter at risk of your soul, for thinking believers doubts and questions about their faith is part of the human condition. Augustine, Pascal, Anselm and Aquinas no doubt suffered periods where they could not ‘prove’ what they believed in a way that modern people will accept, but they managed to arrive at proofs, derived from both experience and logic, which, for them, showed that what they believed was indeed rational. Augustine set the path for many Christian thinkers, including this writer, by seeking to believe in God, in order that understanding of that belief and its Object, might follow.

In the end Freud’s arrogant treatment of religion and religious believers is a mark against him. For the many who share his sneering contempt of faith in the unseen God his attitude will be acceptable. This attitude serves to shield them from the need to either examine their ‘arguments’ against faith as well as from the need to seriously speak to religious believers. How often do we, today, see the atheist dismiss Christians as the epitome of ignorance, backwardness and stupidity?

 

III. Scientific

 

Freud’s theory of religion has several pieces, each of which is open to attack. The philosophical core of his religious critique is the theory of projection, which is not original to him. Projection as the source of religious belief, the psychogenesis of belief, was first given form by Ludwig Feuerbach in his works The Essence of Christianity and The Essence of Religion. Freud is known to have avidly read these works as a young man. Freud’s attempts at giving an anthropological and psychoanalyitical basis for religious belief is driven by his own tremendous dislike of religion, which he never seems to have really understood anyway. The first problem with projection is that it seems to lack any real criterion for determining when exactly we are guilty of projecting qualities we like or dislike upon another. Only an in-depth knowledge of a person’s biography could begin to allow us to say that such and such a person has done this.2

The next aspects are anthropological in nature. Freud argues, as did several famous anthropologists and sociologists(including Emile Durkheim) that religion is in fact totemistic in nature. Totemism is the theory that religion is built upon certain items, or totems, which are held to be sacred or special in nature; to this is often added the ritual which many associate with being a mark of all religions. Yet even in Freud’s day this theory of totemism was in doubt. It has been adopted by atheistic-minded anthropologists and sociologists who try to treat religion as if it is mere ritual without any aspect of actual belief. In basic terms these scholars of human society often fail to take religion on its own word, as being aimed at either attaining or repairing a relationship with certain deities, or with one deity, as the case may be.3

To totemism Freud adds the source of the Oedipal conflict. In his attempts to explain early man in Totem and Taboo, Freud presented the following theory. Early man consisted of family groupings, ruled entirely by the father who held all women as his own. In time the sons slay their father, and take the women, their mothers, as mates. These offspring also devour their father’s flesh as a symbolical way of attaining his strength and position. For this we have no evidence at all, only Freud’s speculations.

 

Brief Excurses on Freud’s Religious Views

Although Freud speaks of religion as if it were an ‘illusion’ by which men try to make light of life’s burdens he does grant a view sociological observations, which it may be profitable to review. To recap slightly, permit me to quote Freud, “every civilization rests on a compulsion to work and a renunciation of instinct and therefore inevitably provokes opposition from those affect by these demands…civilization cannot consist principally or solely in wealth itself and the means of acquiring it and the arrangements for its distributions; for these things are threatened by the rebelliousness and destructive mania of the participants in civilization.”4

To survive a civilization imposes upon its members a series of restraints. This is not done consciously. History tells us of no age in which a man, or group of men planned out the rules by which society was to live. Social rules and norms seem to have arisen in the course of human history, partially as a product of religious ideas. Nevertheless, rules are essential to the survival of men, Freud calls these ‘the mental assets of civilization.’

The purpose of civilization is, ‘to defend us against nature,’ which is red in tooth and claw. Freud is certainly no optimist about the legendary ‘state of nature’ which was touted by Locke and Rousseau. Freud’s nature is no comforting, loving thing in which men might find their true selves, but a raw beast against which we must be protected. Against a hostile nature, which becomes Fate, “Man’s self-regard, seriously menaced, calls for consolation; life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors; moreover his curiosity, moved, it is true, by the strongest practical interest, demands an answer.”5

In the face of cold Nature, man is helpless, like an infant before its’ parents. Here Freud finds the psychological root of religious faith. In keeping with his theory that human development is largely determined during infancy, Freud does not shrink from this comparison. Even the understanding of nature does not undo man’s infantile feelings of helplessness before the world. Freud writes, “the gods retain their threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate…and they must compensate them for sufferings and privations which a civilized life common has imposed on them.”6 In Freud’s vision, religious ideas continue to exist because life is still uncertain for every new generation of mankind, whatever answers the previous generation might have, they must be instilled anew in the newer generation. Life is simply a set of endless trials at the end of which is the grave. This is unacceptable, men want to believe that there is more to their existence than simply a futile struggle against the inevitability of death. So they invent the idea of gods, and in the case of the Jews, a single God. This is a watershed for human religious evolution since, “Now that God was a single person, man’s relations to him could recover the intimacy and intensity of the child’s relation to his father.”7 The infantile theory of religious origins continues to be of use.

 

Freud’s Failings

 

The infantile theory of religious origins is of use in explaining not religion, by Atheism. As we know. Freud found the origin of all human belief in the father-figure. So, too, did he write, in Moses and Monotheism, that “young people lose their religious belief as soon as their father’s authority breaks down.”8 As we know from Vitz, the greatest anti-religious figures in Western history, from Voltaire and Diderot to Nietzsche and Freud all suffered from either a lack of a father, a bad relationship with their father, or a tremendous hatred and contempt for their fathers. Is it so impossible to believe that men who hate their earthly fathers would end in hating the God who is called their Heavenly Father?

Freud’s contention that we are largely shaped in childhood, and seemingly by little after that, does not hold much scientific water. Why should it be that we are a series of “cortical dominoes extending through the decades,” in the words of Frederick Crews?9 The reduction of people to quaking infants goes against all human experience that we do not remain children forever. It does however serve Freud’s well-known dislike of people, and even of his own patients.

My apologies to my readers for the crudity of this post, an excess of work and stress have prevented me from doing any writing for over a month now. I hope to remedy that in the weeks to come.

 

C. McDonald

1 Future of an Illusion, pg. 33

2 I admit this applies to Vitz as much as to Freud.

3 Cf. W. Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion, Trans. by H.J. Rose, pgs. 110-115

4 Freud, Future of an Illusion, pg. 12

5 Ibid, pg. 20

6 Ibid, pg. 22

7 Pg. 24

8 Cited in Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious, by Paul C. Vitz, pg. 220.

9 The Unauthorized Freud, Doubters Confront a Legend, edited by Frederick Crews, pg. 72

Advertisements
Posted in Promethean Figures, Sigmund Freud, The Left | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Christian Thought and Literary Criticism

How ought a Christian to interact with the world? We are called to be ‘in the world, but not of the world.’ Paul’s letters include lessons to ‘live in peace, pray for Caesar,’ as well as to, ‘avoid vain philosophies.’ The Scriptures never give us an exact set of standards by which followers of Christ are to behave living in a world in which we are sojourners. This has led to a centuries long debate over what relationship should exist between Christians, who are called to ‘be holy, as I the LORD am holy,’ and the world, which shuns holiness. This question is so hard to answer that even now, in the preceding sentence, I presumed that Christians are somehow separate from the world around them, or ought to be, this is itself a disputed thing.

One set of reflections upon this issue came, not from Christian thinkers, but from the literary world. Of late, I was reading critical essays in a selection from Scrutiny, the famed modernist journal of literary criticism. In one essay the author, Q.D. Leavis, gives us several insights into the nature and problems of Christian literary thought. At a certain point Leavis comments upon a similarity between that Marxist criticism and Christian criticism, “we have to repeat to the dogmatic Christian discriminator the warning we gave to the Marxist critic, that before certifying a work on the grounds of content or apparent orthodoxy it is as well to be sure that its actual ‘message’, what it inevitably and essentially communicates, is what you thought it was.”1 This is a common failing of critics with an axe to grind, they too often measure a work of art, in this case, literary writing, by whether or not it openly subscribes to a predetermined standard of theological or ideological orthodoxy. In this line of argument Leavis seems to position himself in such a way that criticism and literature are necessarily distant from theological concerns. Later on he goes so far as to say that, “The novelist, unlike the theologian, works in terms of concrete particularity.”2 In his mind, the theologian is more airy and divorced from the world, whereas the novelist deals with what is real. Leavis denies that a Christian may first analyze literature in light of a Christian philosophy or theology, arguing that unless a Christian is a critic literature ‘he is nothing,’ preferring to ‘exercise some ‘standard of orthodoxy’. The standard of Christian orthodoxy appears then as a chain upon the powers of a Christian critic. Is this necessarily so? It would be the question of what it means to be a Christian critic, a Christian thinker.

C.S. Lewis, in his essays on Christianity and culture, held that Christianity had no great opinion of human culture, basing himself largely upon Paul’s brief comments on the topic. For Lewis, the world of culture may be useful and even beneficial for a Christian, but is not necessarily a good thing, since a culture is the product of fallen mankind. Yet his contemporary, T.S. Eliot differed. In his work Christianity and Culture, Eliot argued for a different conception of culture. For him, a culture derived necessarily and inherently from a religious standpoint, whether it is centered upon a god, Jesus, Revolution or some other thing. For Eliot a Christian culture was one in which the overall moral precepts of Christianity were accepted by the society at large, and that its cultural creators, writers, artists, poets ect. would operate under them. An example might include Western culture from the Renaissance to the 20th century. During this time religious themes were often prominent in the arts, whether or not the artists themselves were actually sincere followers of the Christian faith.

While for Lewis and Eliot a Christian criticism may be possible, Leavis dissents. In his eyes, applying the simple standards of religious orthodoxy is a violation of the nuance needed for literary criticism, he tells us, “For in examining a piece of literature as a literary critic he is inevitably appraising it and the appraisal is a process much more subtle than the application of any standard orthodoxy or the extraction of any moral lesson or he discovery of some panacea for a situation producing works of art that don’t’ answer to his doctrinal specifications.”3 I think that he is correct in this. The standards of a religious orthodoxy, even my own, cannot be purely applied to a literary work.

Many great writers have written of things and in ways that, for a strictly religious person, it is forbidden or immoral to do. An example would be I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. In the course of this work I found detailed descriptions of the moral degeneracy and sexual license present on American college campuses. I had two reactions to this. The first is that of a Christian, who finds Wolfe’s explicit language to be at best shocking and at worst a temptation to dwell upon such things as the promiscuity of a frat house party and the ‘hook-up culture’ I hear so much of. The second reaction is a questioning one, “why is he discussing this in so open a fashion?” Tom Wolfe is well-known as a social critic and has been called “the American Juvenal” by some. Given his reputation as a critic, I approached his novel with the knowledge that he is not writing merely to be salacious and vile, but is writing to a purpose. The purpose of I am Charlotte Simmons appears to be an honest look at the lifestyle of college students today. What is portrayed in the novel is socially horrible and morally condemnable as the worst sort of sexual license, coupled with backbiting and the hypocrisy of campus liberalism. If this is what Wolfe’s goal was, then he succeeded. The novel is well written, and displays and keen understanding of the sort of thinking, or non-thinking, that college students commonly do. My own experience of college has confirmed portions of his novel as being true to their topic. I would not recommend Wolfe’s novel to anyone unable to handle its immorality, although it is questionable whether anyone should have to do so in the first place. To my mind, a Christian thinker must be able to read many things, whether he is able to do so is largely dependent upon his maturity as a Christian. I cannot say whether the novel is wholly appropriate even for me. I do know that as a Christian thinker it is my role to understand what is being read, thought and watched in order to know how I am to defend the Christian faith.

Many writers have used crudity and even vulgar language in their works. The Greek Aristophanes wrote plays which are so vulgar as to offend and yet he uses crudity to satire and mock the stupidest conventions of his day. The Roman playwright Plautus was later to write in a similar vein. It is well known that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is hardly a shining example of moral rectitude; the Wife of Bath’s tale is a ribald tale of moral insouciance and vulgar behavior. Both Boccacio and Rabelais brilliantly mocked churchmen, intellectuals, lords and rulers in their works. Shakespeare was not above using crude language. This tradition of using vulgarity to mock, expose and satire seems to have dropped off after the Protestant Reformation, though I do not ascribe its cessation to Protestants. It was only in the last century or so that writers like D.H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer and William Borroughs began to explore and use crudity again in literature. But these latter writers seem to have done so in the spirit of flippant rebellion against the supposed Christian moral norms of their day. Mailer and Borroughs have been especially vile for apparently no other purpose than to be vile. Historically there has been a line between crude literature which is brilliant at a set purpose, and crude literature which is simply salacious, vile and adolescent.

What I have just done is an example of moral criticism of writer’s works, my morality stems from my Christian faith. Were I asked to evaluate the work of Chaucer, Lawrence or George R.R. Martin on their literary basis alone, it would be a challenge. Yet criticism need not be, and I think cannot be, written in a vacuum. Leavis noted that, “At present we have, the inheritance from a long tradition, a centre of merely literary critics whose disinterested evaluations have mad possible some recognition of poets and novelists who subscribe to no orthodoxy, that is, nearly all creative artists of the last two centuries; this centre, moreover, provides and atmosphere and milieu where value-judgments can be discussed with more freedom.”4

Leavis further held that literature was best read in an atmosphere in which moralistic Christian thought was absent. Otherwise it might occur that, “the direct inspiration of the Devil is imputed to any artist who runs counter to our prejudices, in which access to the one source of absolute truth is confidently claimed by the critic, and anathema invoked on the dissentients.”5 The method of applying theological and philosophical moral standards to literature is thought to be too exacting, and in a sense, inappropriate to the field of literature. Leavis doubts that such intellectual training is even useful in literary studies, when he wrote, “There is no reason to suppose that those trained in theology, or philosophy for that matter, are likely to possess, what is essential to the practice of literary criticism, that ‘sensitiveness of intelligence, described by Matthew Arnold as equivalent to conscience in moral matters. A theological training seems to have a disabling effect and has subsequently to be struggled against when literary criticism is the concern. And there are other dangers. When theology is made a substitute for literary criticism or is tacked on to bad criticism the result is disastrous.”6 Such criticism is useful for those ‘who cannot begin to read for themselves’

To fully read and understand literature, one must possess a keen mind, an understanding of language, expression and a feeling for the nuances of different writers, their styles and modes. At first this seems a fool’s errand, men pursuing flights of literary fancy and calling it ‘criticism’ when in fact they follow only the flutter of the feelings. Yet Leavis bases himself upon the notion of a tradition of great readers and critics who have shown us how to engage in thoughtful, disinterested criticism of literary works. Now, does this mean that a critic ought not to uphold a standard? Of a certain not! Critics from Johnson and Coleridge to Hazlitt to Leavis to Kimball have all carried the work of the critic who seeks to understand the work he is reading, and then to apply to it the standards of artistic creation that we have inherited from the past. A tradition, such as that of criticism, is at first learned by reading those generally regarded as being the finest of their kind. As the craft is learnt from its masters, the student is in time able to engage in his own criticism. While I may not fully agree with Kimball or Leavis on some point or other of literature or the work of a critic, we may all agree that there are certain standards of creation, and even of moral thought, which may be rightfully applied to literary works.

As a Christian, I find it difficult to accept Leavis’ assertion that an orthodox outlook tends to undo literary perceptions of human society, since, “The tendency of orthodoxy is to repress these perceptions for its own convenience and cause a moral cramp in the developing consciousness.”7 This calls for me to lay aside my own strict beliefs and to allow writers to violate them in their works. But the alternative to literature which is generally bounded by its own great tradition is far preferable to lightweight, moralistic tales such as those found in Christian novelists of today.

Leavis may have a point when he wrote, “The method of literary criticism, as repeatedly defined in these pages, is to secure the maximum general agreement for evaluation by staring with something demonstrable – the surface of the work – and through practical criticism commanding assent (or giving an opening for disagreement and discussion.)”8 Were I to take a novel by a Christian, say Francine Rivers of Frank Peretti, and subject it to literary criticism, what would be the result? Ought I to approach it first as a Christian and then as a critic? This question broadly relate to the question of how Christians ought to read the Great Books. Should we read Shakespeare in light of Christianity or in light of Shakespeare?

I answer that, in approaching a popular Christian writer, it is good to first read them as a Christian. If their work is in line with Christian orthodox teaching, then it may be justly praised for its orthodoxy, but that is only the first step in the critical task. It is also the least important. The remaining work is to examine them in light of literature at large and to ask whether or not they achieve their task well, by what Johnson called ‘just representations of general nature.’ If they use too many stereotypes of moral behavior, as might be seen in Rivers’ work, then they have earned their criticism, and the critic should be unsparing in his treatment of them. Christian writers are not aided by being allowed to write milquetoast works which appeal only to those who are already Christian. A novelist like Dostoevsky was able to put elements of the Christian faith into his novels, but do it in such a way that he cannot be seen as being a mere partisan. Dostoevsky’s honest treatment of the plight of modern man is awe inspiring. Like Camus, Nietzsche and Marcel after him, Dostoevsky exposes the plight, moral and spiritual, of modern man who lives in an age of material prosperity and spiritual atrophy. But, unlike Nietzsche or Camus, Dostoevsky turns to the Christian faith, the Christian Savior, as the only one who can save us from ourselves. Camus never got that far, and Nietzsche rejected the Cross and all it stood for. So it is not true that a Christian writer need to a peddler of stereotypes and a purveyor of spiritual nostrums. He may be an honest writer, and show the hardship of the Christian faith, whether in being lived or in being attained.

The work a critic then, is best approached from a position in which moral considerations are present and play their part in keeping out the worst filth which is hailed as literature. While moral considerations are present, their theological underpinnings cannot be allowed to wholly overwhelm the work of the critic, which is not the work of a theologian or of a moral philosopher. I do not find it strange that, when theologians and philosophers wish to express a moral truth in a timeless way, they will often cite a novelist, playwright or poet. These men grasp what is eternal as well as their counterparts, and often do so in a way that everyone can understand appreciate. Many men will read a critic, and many more will read the books he criticizes, but few will read the philosopher or theologian who gives the foundation of the critics moral standards.

Your Humble Servant.

1 Charlotte Yonge and ‘Christian Discrimination”, by Q.D. Leavis, from A Selection from Scrutiny, compiled by F.R. Leavis, Volume I, Cambridge University Press, 1968, pg. 151

2 Ibid, pg. 155

3 Ibid, pg. 152

4 Ibid, pg. 152

5 Ibid., pg. 153

6 Ibid, pg. 153

7 Ibid, pg. 154

8 Ibid, pg. 153

Posted in Christianity, Literary Criticism | Leave a comment

Reviving….what?

Several weeks ago I attended an event in Castle Rock, CO, which was entitled “Revive 1787.” It was a conservative sort of event, with the sort of things much beloved by Tea Party types. Given the name, I went, expecting that I would find some serious discussion of the Founding, the Constitution, it’s significance, it’s meaning and perhaps a refutation of the Progressive narrative which has largely replaced our own. What I found was something which resembled a religious revival more than a political event.

The first speakers were a trio of speakers, Rev. C.L. Bryant, a Baptist minster, Father Kemberling, a Catholic, and Rev. Walker, an Anglican. These men had some insightful remarks upon the state of faith today, though it was not investigated in any depth, though this may be due to the difference in faiths. Some of their comments were a bit muddled, as they had not thought sufficiently upon what they had to say. Bryant had perhaps the finest comment. He commented that when he began to embrace Black ideology in the 60s, his WWII veteran father said to him, “I fought so you could be free, not so you could be black.”

The second trio were a group of academics. Dr. Mike Adams, Dr. Frank Turek and Dr. Dix Winston III. These men discussed some of the problems of the academy, such as how many students accept the humanitarian theory of mankind, which then works its way out through a subtle shift in views. This acceptance of a seemingly minor point, according to Adams, was the reason why many Christian students return from college having adopted the Progressive worldview. In their question and answer session I was able to put a couple of questions to Dr. Adams, which he was good enough to answer. So far so good.

The main event in the evening was the most troublesome. The speakers were decent, leading to Dr. Ben Carson as their main event. They had a Vietnam vet who spoke on the sacrifice of military men, of which he knew much, having lost half of his face and hand to a grenade.

Dr. Carson spoke well. I never beheld such calm in a speaker, especially not at a political event. He was measured and audible, what he had to say made sense. I admit to a bit of disappointment at Carson. He spoke of his life, which I had already read in his memoir Gifted Hands. His prescriptions on steps to take towards advancing America to being great again were sensible. He called for a greater emphasis on practical education, technical knowledge, a love of country and an attitude which seeks to engage the world as God intended, rather than to simply complain how life is not as it ought to be. So much for the speakers.

What was most disturbing was the overall atmosphere and the attitude of those involved. I came across a great deal of dislike for President Obama, a great deal of contempt for him. Thankfully there was nothing of conspiratorial notions among the speakers or audience. Most troubling was the lack of depth. I had hoped to find some serious discussion by serious men of serious things. What I saw was a great deal of political revivalism, making it feel like a Charismatic event. Such attitudes are understandable at a rally for a politician but hardly seems appropriate for an event named “Revive 1787.” The Founders were serious men who did not trust to democracy, or to ‘the people’ the power of governance of affairs.

The event treated America as if she were a Chosen People, and she is not. The Hand of Providence may be seen in our history, but it is foolish to expect that the Divine Hand may not be removed from a thing which was once its instrument. Did not God use Nebuchadnezzer and Cyrus? Outside of Scripture we may ask as well, did not God use Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Washington, Adams and Jefferson? I think He did, for He works all things to His purpose by means of Providence. But to treat the Founders as if they were divinely inspired is questionable at best.

America has been used of God, of that I have no doubt, but she is not the Chosen People. We are not Israel, though Israel may dwell among us. Our circumstances may be seen as the Divine Judgement, the loss of the blessing we had in former times. And all this is to the good, if it drives America to her knees in repentance to the King. What is needed most in these times is, first and foremost, a period of prayer and repentance to God, for America has gone astray and the churches in her midst have stayed silent in the face of evil, while the Church has fastened itself upon such foolishness as Charismatic revivalism, ‘moves of the Spirit’ and the love of money, large buildings and vast congregations.  We have God in whom our money says ‘we trust.’

 

America imagines herself in two ways, which are outgrowths of the growing partisan split in our political life. The most prominent one is the narrative of the political Left, one in which the Left is the eternal hero, like St. George of old, and America is eternally guilty of crimes against different forms of ‘the Other’ which must be remedied by Leftist nostrums of social justice and redistribution of wealth. The second is the one held by the political Right, by conservatives of various strands and by most libertarians. In this narrative, America is largely a force for good in the world, our Founders were great men, our nation has made many foolish choices but still stands for something noble, the ideal of liberty. Neither of these is wholly true, but that is not important. What is vital is that America imagines herself to be one of two extremes, either great evil or great good. Of these, the latter was most on display at the ‘Revive’ event.

I saw men treat the Founding as if they had done it, as if they had put pen to a paper pledging, ‘our lives, our fortunes, and sacred honour,’ to defend their rights. I have heard men speak as if present day figures are the equals of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln, and we are not. We are not the equal of these figures, we have forgotten this. Our nation has sunk, morally and spiritually, far below the point these men could ever have imagined.

A nation, a people, who have sunk so far that evil men may take office, vileness is broadcast in public and may be bought at gas stations is not a nation that can claim the blessings of God. What I have never heard, but what must be heard, is a call for repentance. God alone is capable of healing America, but will He? We know from Scripture, that if God punishes a nation and that nation repents, He will relent. But I do not hear this spoken of. The Church in America is spiritually dead, besotted with the nostrums of liberalism, inter-faith acceptance and consumed by social justice issues. The invisible church in America has fared no better, assaulted as she is by mysticism and the ‘rulers of the darkness of the age’ of which Paul warned us. Let us seek the face of God, repent before Him with tears and weeping, and perhaps we may yet be healed.

 

 

Posted in Christianity | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Discontent of Freud, Part I

The Discontent of Freud, Part I

Sigmund Freud is among the thinker who defined the age we live in. Alongside Marx, Niezsche and Darwin, Freud established a new set of ideas by which we understand human nature and the nature of society. The trio of Freud, Marx and Nietzsche are what I call the great contemnors of civilization. They unleashed the hatred, suspicion and rage against the strictures of the greatest civilization the world has ever seen. Freud’s part in this drama is my present focus.

Against all previous ages, which had bounded the destroying force of human sexuality, Freud began the destruction of all restraints. As is well-known, Freud saw a great part of human psychology in terms of sexuality. Sexuality one of the deepest elements of what it means to be human. It is capable of rending asunder the bonds of marriage, law and civil institution. The Greeks knew this as well as any, Apollonius of Rhodes wrote, “Reckless Eros, great curse, greatly loathed by men, from you com deadly strifes and grieving and troubles, and countless other pains on tope of these swirl up,” while Hesiod called it “the limb loosener,’ who could conquer the thoughts of men and of gods. The greatest of Greek epics, the Iliad of Homer, may be traced to the force of concupiscience which acknowledges no boundary to its desires. Freud managed to make sexuality something which could be commonly spoken of. Today sex can be discussed in public without a glimmer of shame. The effect of Freudian teaching was to make titillating talk acceptable to a degree never before seen, as well as introducing an entire vocabulary which we often make use of today. Though my intent is to critique Freud, I must speak a word in his defense. Nowhere did he advocate the complete overthrow of society’s sexual norms or the end of traditional Christian monogamy. Neither did he claim to have he key to the creation of an earthly utopia.

Freud was a master psychologist and is, along with men like William James, among the founders of present psychological studies. Like most men of genius Freud could not resist trying to apply his theories to every sort of matter, even ones on which he could claim no particular expertise. Among these were the psychology of artists, he authored studies on Dostoevsky and Da Vinci, as well as on religion and civilization. These latter, are what I wish to examine. Though his book on religion preceded his work of civilization, I will treat them in the opposite fashion, since religion is an aspect of a civilization rather than the other way around.

For Freud, human life is an unending struggle, in his Civilization and Its Discontents, he writes, “Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliate measures.”1 We seek the ‘pleasure principle,’ which Freud explained in this way, “any given process originates in an unpleasant state of tension and thereupon determines for itself such a path that is ultimate issue coincides with the relaxation of this tension, i.e. with avoidance of ‘pain’ or with the production of pleasure.”2 This sounds a note of commonality with Jeremy Bentham, who posited a pain and pleasure calculus as being the means by which mankind determines its actions. Freud would later posit a ‘death principle’ by means to which to partially explain the horrors of the Great War.

In the difficulties of life men seek various ways of directing their energies, Freud uses the term ‘libido’ to refer to this, and not solely to sexual drives. Libido as the driving energy of life has much in common with Bergson’s élan vital or Nietzsche’s will to power. The source of suffering human life emerges from the clash between libido and the harsh reality that we cannot have all that we wish we could. So we seek to dull this pain. The most common, and for Freud the most crudest, of these methods is chemical intoxication. This serves merely to dull the frustration of the libido, but does not divert it or truly fulfill it in any way.

The second means of meeting life’s problems is ‘to master the internal sources of our needs.’ Freud gives the example of Yoga and other Eastern philosophies which seek to rid man’s life of suffering by deep control the innermost impulses of the soul. “Here the aim of satisfaction is not by any means relinquished; in that the non-satisfaction is not so painfully felt in the case of the instincts kept in dependence as in the case of uninhibited ones.”3 I say that, in this case at least, the innermost self is kept in check, though to a degree that few are capable of attaining.

The third method of amelioration is “shifting the instinctual aims in such a way that they cannot come up against frustration from the external world.”4 This sort of man will ‘seek satisfaction in internal, psychical processes.’ Those that find pleasure in the creation of beautiful things, composing music, of seeking answers to the questions of mathematics, science and philosophy are trying, in Freud’s mind, to avoid a direct confrontation with the ugliness of life’s dissatisfactions. This final attempt comes closest to ‘illusion’ of religion. Under this third amelioration the ‘discrepancy’ between reality and the illusions is not ‘allowed to interfere with enjoyment.’ From this point Freud goes on to briefly discuss religion, I will pass over this part in order to discuss religion later.

We use these methods, among others, to ameliorate the dissatisfactions which we all suffer in the course of our lives. But this does not wholly exhaust the frustrations which Freud sees in life. Human life is lived in society with others, by Freud’s time and our own, we have reached a state of civilization which is unparalleled in history. This imposes a grace psychic cost on mankind.

Freud calls civilization, “all those respects in which human life has raised itself above its animal status and differs from the life of beasts.”5 This seemingly admirable thing has two aspects: the first is all the knowledge, abilities and capacities we have for controlling nature, keeping man in check and providing for our material needs. The second is “all the regulations necessary to adjust the relations of men to one another and especially the distribution of the available wealth.”6 This latter is the point of friction between men and civilization. Man, as Freud thought, consists in unsatisfied desires, material, psychical and sexual, these are part of civilization.

Freud knew that society is only possible through the mutual cooperation of large groups of individuals. This cooperation requires that men restrain, or be restrained, in their most aggressive instincts. And yet, “In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man’s aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of them in check by psychical reaction-formation.”7 This overwhelming need to hold man in check, lest he destroy himself and his own greatest creations, is the source of civilization’s attempts to bound men in chains, material, religious, legal and social. Freud might have agreed with Burke who said, “men of intemperate spirits cannot be free, their passions forge their fetters.’ Where Burke saw freedom as being the fruit of civilized society, which could afford to trust men not to destroy themselves or it, Freud differed. For Freud, the loss of freedom was what made civilization possible.

We have reached what is, perhaps, Freud’s deepest insight into the nature of civilizations. Civilization was built upon the individual, who must renounce some part of what he wants to have, in order to reap the fruits of civilized life. Individuals often try to buck the restraints, “Thus civilization has to be defended against the individual, and its regulations, institutions and commands are directed to that task.”8 Freud was under no illusions as to what sort of creature mankind is. He remarks, in the Future of an Illusion, that, “men are no spontaneously fond of work and that arguments are of no avail against their passions.”9

We posses “the inclicination to aggression” and it is this which, “constitutes the greatest impediment to civilization.” As man progresses in blocking the aggression in himself, he loses what he originally was, “In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct…civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security.”10 This is conducted through the suppression of man’s ego to the super-ego. The super-ego comes from the overwhelming power of civilization to inculcate into individuals the beliefs, values, morals and norms of the civilization. “Civilization, therefore, obtains master over the individual’s dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.”11 The initial suppressor is the authority of the religious illusion, the idea of a God, or of Fate, which ordains how things should be. Men are taught to feel guilt for violating these things. With the progression of society beyond such ideas though, the super-ego grows in strength as it seeks to root out of men the very idea of disobedience to civilized society’s dictates. “Every renunciation of instinct now becomes a dynamic source of conscience and every fresh renunciation increases the latter’s severity and intolerance.”12

The demands of civilized life reach a degree which has resulted in the degradation of mankind. Freud’s lengthy remark on the power of the ‘cultural super-ego’ is worth quoting in full:

                  It…does not trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings. It issues a command and does not ask whether it is possible for people to obey it. On the contrary, it assumes that a man’s ego is psychologically capable of anything that is required of it, and that his ego has unlimited mastery over his id. This is a mistake; and even in what are known as normal people the id cannot be controlled beyond certain limits. If more is demanded of a man, a revolt will be produced in him or a neurosis, or he will be made unhappy.13

It is civilization which is to blame for man’s unhappiness, for it asks too much of him. This is in many ways an accurate account of the nature of civilized society. But there are several problems. The first is Freud’s assumption of a naturalistic philosophy of man, by which man is not a creature of limited free will, but one where he is ever to be controlled by the experiences of his childhood. Freud’s view of man also relies upon his views of the psychology of mankind, which I find to be simplistic, in that it denies that man is not merely of three mental parts, but of a soul and spirit.

Freud’s solution for the tremendous demands of civilizations demands is to lower these demands. This is as close as Freud ever comes to overthrowing society. Admittedly, he is not revolutionary, no Marx or Nietzsche who wished to see the end of the society in which he lived. In truth Freud never tells us whether he believes that society is good or not. At the close of Civilization and Its Discontents he writes, “One thing only do I know for certain and that is that man’s judgments of value follow directly his wishes for happiness – that, accordingly, they are an attempt to suppress his illusions with arguments.”14 Men’s arguments follow their wishes, there is no true way of knowing or of discovering what is truly worthwhile.

The culmination of Freud’s exploration, for all the insights he produced, is a spiritual void. Freud does not allow religion except as a mere palliative to the wounded ego of civilized man. Man does not posses a soul. Civilization is the mere product of man’s abilities, it signifies nothing higher in man than the desire for a better life today than what he lived yesterday. Freud’s position is very much like that of Nietzsche. Nietzsche held that truth is persepectival, that truth is based upon where one stands; there is no objective element of life. Freud seems to agree, since he accepts the illusions of society as being essential to continued life, whether they are true or not does not seem to matter.

When Nietzsche undid the basis of civilized life by undermining its idols, its morals and its religion, he saw more clearly than any other of his day, what it would cost. But he tried to escape the pit he exposed by his doctrine of the Ubermensch, the superman. Freud does not go so far as this. In some ways he lacked Nietzsche’s courage to fully expose society in accord with his own ideas. Freud reaches this but draws back from the edge and simply allows us to cling to our illusions, if we wish. This lack of a conclusion, whether good or bad, is frustrating. It would have been more intellectually honest for him to fully say that society is based upon complete falsehoods, which should be rejected because they are false. Or, he might have said that even though society is a false face, it is worth it because of what it brings us, making it, at best, a Noble Lie. Freud does neither of these, but exposes civilization as a monstrous imposture, but draws back before the final unveiling.

Yet the pits Freud opened for us have swallowed untold numbers of men and women, who have rejected the civilized restraint of their desires. His sin is what Macbeth laid claim to: “Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and falls on th’other.”

1 Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, hereafter CD, pg. 22.

2 Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, hereafter BPP, from Sigmund Freud’s Classics, Acheron Press, e-book, loc. 16193

3 CD, pg. 26

4 Ibid, pg. 26

5 Freud, The Future of an Illusion, hereafter FI, pg. 6

6 Ibid, pg. 6

7 CD, pg. 59

8 FI, pg. 7

9 Ibid. pg 9

10 CD, pgs.69, 62.

11 Ibid, pgs. 70-71

12 Ibid, pg. 75

13 Ibid, pg. 90

14 Ibid, pg. 92

Posted in Promethean Figures, The Left | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Staring Down the Abyss

Nietzsche famously said, “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” The historian Gertrude Himmelfarb has noted, in one of her fine essays on cultural decline, that we do now love to not merely look at the abyss, which past generations strove to hide or tame, we now wish to live in the abyss. We have a love affair with our own evil, our own depravity fascinates us. Looking at popular movies and the like, we may see how good men are almost always portrayed as being weak-kneed, lily-livered wimps, or else they are really the vilest of hypocrites.

Since virtue has been ‘unmasked,’ as justification of power relations (Foucault), an assertion of the will to power by claiming truth(Derrida), or the justification of economic selfishness(Marx), we have no need of such teachers as Aristotle, Aurelius and Augustine, who would teach us to live well in a world that is often dark and evil. As a Russian revolutionary once asked, so may we may ask, “What is to be done?”

 

Optimism, in the face of our overwhelming maladies, is otiose. Our nation is breaking apart, our social order is being undone and these are but two of the many things which might be cited to prove our state of near-collapse. Pure pessimism like that of Schopenhauer, who argued that humanity seemed made for suffering and little else, is also distasteful. Even in a dark age there are points of light to be found. A loving family, a church of Christian brothers, the friendship of like minds and the kinship of souls, the love of Good Books, which may yet succor us in our woes. All these are things to take delight in, however small they may seem. So what should our reaction be, as conservatives?

 

Stare down the abyss, do not look away. We may not win in the grand scheme of things, it is likely that we cannot win at all. But we need not give in the strife of the age. Our souls may yet live in an ordered and blessed fashion. Ecclesiastes tells us that, though all is ‘vanity and grasping for the wind,’ that a man should still take pleasure in the work of his hands. Is it likely that traditionalists, neo-cons, libertarians and Objectivists are ever likely to attain our many goals? No, it is not. Many people have an ingrained dislike of what they stand for, which many do not really know, or what people think they stand for.

Quit yourselves like men therefore, do not give in to wondrous chaos of our day. At the end of our litanies of woes, or many complaints and dislikes over what we see we must gird ourselves up for the journey we are on. Not opposing the evil of the day with evil, but overcoming evil with good. Here we must stand, for what else can we do? “On yon straight path a thousand may well we stopped by three, now who will stand at either hand and keep the bridge with me?” ~ Macaulay

 

Your Humble Servant, C. McDonald

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Solzhenitsyn and the Hearts of Men.

The Russian author Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in the year 1970. Sadly, like Pasternak before him, Solzhenitsyn did not go to Stockholm to receive his prize, fearing that he would not be allowed back into Russia. Tragedy is when Russia’s greatest writers fear their own government enough to avoid offending it. Comic-tragedy is when America pats itself on the back for fine education, even though we have not produced a first-rank writer in decades.

In his famed Nobel Lecture he discussed the purpose of art. Like a savage holding a new tool, modern man held Art in his hands and imagined that he understood it. Dividing artists, including writers, into two parts, Solzhenitsyn argued that one type.

One artist sees himself as the creator of an independent spiritual world; he hoists onto his shoulders the task of creating this world, of peopling it and of bearing the all-embracing responsibility for it; but he crumples beneath it, for a mortal genius is not capable of bearing such a burden. Just as man in general, having declared himself the centre of existence, has not succeeded in creating a balanced spiritual system

Like the philosophers of old, it is only they who acknolwedge the Divine Source of all being, Truth and Love, who are able to understand and elucidate the meaning, nature and end of human existence. Augustine, Pascal and Aquinas perceived more than did Bacon, Rousseau and Locke. We may compare these with writers, Dostoevsky  Hawthorne and Solzhenitsyn himself; Ayn Rand and Leo Tolstoy. Again, the former perceive more because they acknowledge, either explicitly in their words or assumed in their writings, that they are not the sole or sufficient creators of the world they craft. For those who take a more humble approach to art, Solzhenitsyn says this:

Another artist, recognizing a higher power above, gladly works as a humble apprentice beneath God’s heaven; then, however, his responsibility for everything that is written or drawn, for the souls which perceive his work, is more exacting than ever. But, in return, it is not he who has created this world, not he who directs it, there is no doubt as to its foundations; the artist has merely to be more keenly aware than others of the harmony of the world, of the beauty and ugliness of the human contribution to it, and to communicate this acutely to his fellow-men. And in misfortune, and even at the depths of existence – in destitution, in prison, in sickness – his sense of stable harmony never deserts him.

Not all men are fools, nor are all men fools all the time, though all men are fools some of the time. In the world of literature, in the world of artistic creation, there are many sorts of writers, some good and some ill. A few have profound abilities and yet produce works which are in some sense lacking in humane vision. Tolstoy’s great heroine Anna Karenina, a character I find personally fascinating and rather incomprehensible, is a deeply flawed figure. Not only does she have an affair with a handsome nobleman, in the end she commits suicide in the false belief that her lover is being unfaithful. Tolstoy does not condemn this sin in his writing, as do Hawthorne and Sigrid Undset in their novels. The historian and critic Paul Johnson notes in his book Intellectuals, that Tolstoy’s work seems to lack a humanness and warmth that is possessed by his contemporary Dickens. I am inclined to agree.

 

“In vain does one repeat what the heart does not find sweet.” This great statement by the Russian Jeremiah is mirrored in Dr. Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare where the critic noted, “Nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations of general nature.” The reality of modern literature is that it has wandered far afield from the hearts and souls of men and women. Literary figures seem to have tired of aiming words and ideas at the deepest affections of mankind chosen the follies of an ages ‘terrible simplifiers’. Paralleling this development, artists and architects have tired of beauty, philosophers have tired of Truth and theologians have tired of God. The mass of mankind may be fools, and politicians may fool them, but common men and women, the citizenry of nations, are seldom capable of being utterly fooled. I have heard intelligent men and women disgustedly reject the follies of our age, common sense traded for common foolishness.

 

 

Your Humble Servant. C. McDonald

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the Current Youth

The Millennial Generation is a sad group. Not that they are themselves sad, for the most part they feel quite good about themselves and about life. For those with the wit to see how lost we are, we are a cause for great concern. Lest it need be said, I am myself a Millennial, so I am not an outside critic.

Some time ago, September 25 of 2011 to be exact, I enjoyed a long conversation with a very wise woman in my family, we talked about the current generation of youth and how nigh to hopeless they are. I’ve reproduced a few of our lucubrations, I hope some will find them of benefit.

Greatness, in the guise of both good men and evil men, the literary genius, scientific wizard, powerful statesman and towering philosopher seems to have appeared in almost every age in human history. Yet our age seems somewhat devoid of such individuals. Is it possible that we are unable to produce great individuals? It may be. We do not see the like of Dickens or Tolstoy, Churchill or Adams, Plato or Aquinas.

The youth of today are lost, and do not know it; irrational, small-minded, slaves to their own desires, and think themselves free to live as they please. Living as one pleases, we think, is the goal of life itself. Whether there exists any real purpose or end to life itself is a question that cannot be asked, much less answered. The point made by Aristotle more than two millenia ago are no longer heard or wished for.

The books written today about the youth and those in their 20s, such as the current author, do not speak well of us. Such works as The Dumbest Generation describe in detail how we are lacking in the skills held by previous generations as basic. We are seemingly losing the ability to hold a real conversation, one not involving electronic media, and thereby succumbing the lure of the machine, that fatal attraction that what we’ve created in a machine or computer network is as good as what God created in human relationships.

 

It may be that some future historian will look back upon the last year or so and think that my generation were either great idealists or great fools. I am partial to the latter. We helped to elect into office perhaps the most dangerous president in American history and were a large part of the jejune stupidity of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The sort of stupidity we engaged in are to be found in multiple reports on National Review, Mises Institute and Glenn Beck TV, not to mention the countless videos on YouTube. Among the suggestions made were musings that we should appropriate all wealth from an ill-defined by morally guilty class of ‘the rich,’ to the idea that we should abolish money, have the government pay all school loans or to abolish capitalism and establish a socialist economy in its place. The economic mis-education and errors in these ideas are so immense it would take several books to destroy them all, thankfully that has already been done, in some cases, decades ago. If this is the class of men and women we are to expect to rise in the coming decades to rule, teach and run the United States then we should fear for the great Republic, for her children hate the mother that bore them.

 

The horizons are dark for my fellows, and for myself. We do not see the way ahead, for we do not know the past and we are seemingly unable to learn. Not all is lost, there is yet hope, while there remain those who are willing to say “Here I stand” as did Luther, to stand by human freedom and dignity against tyranny and evil, in the tradition of Churchill, Bonhoeffer, Havel, Thatcher, Reagan and Solzhenitsyn. If there are to be great ones in my generation, as I daily pray there will be, let them be first and foremost lovers of God and men and women of prayer. We have need of praying men more than any other kind, for only praying men are able to seek the aid of the King.

 

Apart from that deep spiritual need there is much more to be done. There is a need for morally righteous men who will live by their convictions, who will stand for Truth and right even in the face of great cost. Mankind does not learn moral goodness but by example, both common, the father or grandfather who teaches a young man to follow God, to the towering giants who inspire generations to oppose the ‘blood dimmed tide.’ I think there are yet two groups in America which may yet provide the sort of men needed, the military and the homeschool movement. Military men and women often share a common code of values and a sense of brotherhood, a commitment to what is just and a willingness to fight and die for them. The homeschool movement in America is yet young, barely a generation old and its sons and daughters are still young. If there is to be a great writer, thinker, poet or other great figure after the image of Dante, Eliot, Burke or Solzhenitsyn, I think it will come from homeschoolers, for they allow the freedom needed to think and read deeply, to experience the world and to learn wisdom. Let us look forward to what God may bring, and let us pray that He will do a great thing in our age, and in our lifetimes.

 

Your Humble Servant, C. McDonald

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment