The Religious Phallacies of Freud
There is no doubt that one of the most significant intellectual figures in modern times was Sigmund Freud. His theories on the unconscious mind lay the groundwork for the entire field of psychological studies. Concepts like the ego, early childhood cognitions and repressed memories are fairly well entrenched into the knowledge base of human behavioral studies. Few people, however, are very familiar with his religious theories, which Freud espoused with a passion. In Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism, Freud laid out his understanding of the source of religion, and his opinion that religious behavior was akin to neurosis. What exactly was his religious theory and from where did he draw it? A closer look at Moses and Monotheism will answer these questions.
One of the basics presumptions Freud makes that is essential to his religious theory is that Moses was murdered in the wilderness by the Israelites he was leading. (1) Interestingly enough, he offers no documentary evidence for this, other than citing a now discredited paper written by Ernst Sellin in 1922. Sellin alleged that Hosea 9:11-13 somehow cryptically meant that Moses met a violent end, but even a cursory glance of the text shows how absurd this idea is. (2)
In addition to this faulty presumption, Freud's theory is based on what he considers an essential and integral element to his beliefs: that of a primeval society that experienced the following series of events (3):
a) Mankind was living in small hordes, each run by a brutal dominant male.
b) The sons of these dominant males sometimes incited their father to jealousy, since they wanted to mate with their mother and/or sisters.
c) The typical punishment for these sons was castration or death.
d) Eventually a young son, particularly loved by his mother, would kill the dominant male, who is his father.
e) The sons would then eat the father.
Freud speculated that after the sons ate the father, a struggle for dominance began anew. Realizing that they would ultimately destroy themselves, the brothers made a social contract to not have sexual relations with their sisters and mother (from which the taboo of incest originated), and give honor to the memory of their father, whom they ate, as their true symbolic leader. It is from this last point of the contract that the concept of a monotheistic God allegedly originated.
Now, the most obvious question is, since all cultures supposedly went through this series of events, where would one look to find the archeological, mythological or paleographic evidence of this common heritage? Here Freud was confronted with a very unpleasant reality: there was no evidence to support his lengthy and involved theory. On page 106 of Moses and Monotheism, Freud acknowledges this fact:
"I must admit that this historical survey leaves many a gap and in many points needs further confirmation. Yet whoever declares this reconstruction of primeval history to be fantastic greatly underestimates the richness and the force of the evidence that has gone to make it up." (4)
What does Freud offer for "evidence"? He says that our knowledge of our primeval history is demonstrated to us by the existence of "animal phobias, the fear of being eaten by the father and the enormous intensity of the castration complex" (5). The truth, he suggests, is deep within us, and is only demonstrated outwardly by these irrational fears and neuroses. Even then, Freud concedes that this whole scenario exists merely as repressed images on our psyche. By analogy, he offers one piece of clinical evidence that serves as a type to the primeval experience. Freud shares a story about a young boy who spent a lot of time sleeping in his parent's bed (6). This boy started playing with his penis about the time of his puberty. His mother told him to stop, or she would tell his father; a threat that the boy interpreted as castration. As the boy got older, he showed more attachment to his mother than his father, and continued to masturbate privately. After his father's death, the boy married and turned out to be a despotic and uncaring husband.
From this anecdotal story of the boy who masturbates, Freud somehow sees his twisted history of religion proven in emblematic form. There is no other evidence offered by Freud to support his bizarre tale. From this fanciful story of primeval hordes, supported thinly by observing the fact that a twelve-year-old boy likes to masturbate, Freud built his thesis on religion. Then, by defining religion as neuroses, he linked his quasi-historical saga to his psychoanalytic therapy. Even if an individual put stock in Freud's theories of dream analysis, id, ego and super-ego, the suppositions that he makes in his religious theories would in my estimation, warrant a new critical examination of the validity of everything Freud taught. To use the colloquialism, he is simply "off his rocker".
There is no other parallel in modern times that can compare with the absurdity and propensity for unfounded conclusions that one finds with Freud. Many scholars have tied his later, more extravagant theories to his increasing cocaine use, a finding that I wouldn't argue. What is beyond dispute, however, is the fact that his obsession to find phalluses and Oedipal conflicts in everything, from behavior theory, to history, to religion, has compromised any element of truth that he could have produced during his lifetime.
(1)Freud, Sigmund; Moses and Monotheism, Vintage Books, 1955. pg. 42.
(2) On the question of the "murder of Moses" any esoteric Jewish sources, the Library Director of Hebrew Union College in New York responded thusly "There is nothing about a murder of Moses in rabbinic literature or Jewish tradition."
(3) ibid., Freud, pg. 102 cf.
(4) ibid., pg. 106
(5) ibid., pg. 107.
(6) ibid., pg. 98,99