C.S. Lewis Verses Sigmund Freud

May 17, 2014 § 4 Comments

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In 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., it is obvious that the author takes the side of Lewis with his mention of a lifelong fascination for the transformative aspects of faith. He presents Freud as a floundering pessimist, while it appears that post-conversion Lewis has all the answers. Nicholi’s title suggests that Lewis and Freud actually did debate, when in reality they may have never met, and Lewis wrote his points against Freud several years after Freud’s death.

The two men share some common themes – both based their atheism on a pessimistic worldview and lived in a time when there was less evidence to support a godless existence. The main difference between the two men is that Freud was a Jew and C.S. Lewis grew up as a Protestant. Protestantism never left the core of Lewis, and his friends (including Tolkien) hounded him through his atheistic years, discussing issues of faith late into the night. His peers played a major role in his conversion.

I’ve always questioned why an Atheist would become a Christian. In reading this book, I realized how limited the range of knowledge was just a hundred years ago. Lewis never actually believed that God did not exist. He only wished it. He had as much faith in that as a Christian has for the existence of God.

According to Freud’s theories, this wish correlates with the strained relationship Lewis had with his father resulting in a desire against authority figures. It’s no surprise that after the death of his father in 1929, Lewis converted to Christianity just two years later in 1931. Perhaps his unresolved issues led to a wish for a sense of authority over his life. Strangely enough, my father also converted just shortly after his father’s death, leading me to believe that this might be a common reaction to the loss of a parent.

“The very idea of an ‘idealized Superman’ in the sky – to use Freud’s phrase – is ‘so patently infantile and so foreign to reality, that … it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never rise above this view of life (Nicholi, 36).”

I haven’t lost either of my parents, so it’s hard for me to understand the need to find an imaginary replacement figure. But I will always remember, as clear as though it’s happening in the present, the months after my mom lost her mother. I was only nine years old, but somehow, from that time forward I began to feel that I was the mother and she was the child. It was a strange flip-flop that confused me and left me feeling overwhelmed.

To pre-conversion Lewis, since God allowed terrible things to happen, it seemed better that God not exist at all. This is an extremely weak argument, having more to do with the character of God rather than whether or not he exists. In the end, Lewis felt that his own knowledge of good and evil proved God’s existence. But does it?

In religious thinking there is the belief that morals are something separate from us. We don’t know how to behave unless God shows us how. Except that we do behave as long as our needs are met. It’s the same with all primates (because, yes we are primates) and all other species of animals.

As long as food, sex, and land isn’t hoarded by alphas, and as long as the population doesn’t get out of hand, there is no need to commit crimes or start wars. A friend just told me a story of an anthropologist who married a Venezuelan woman from a far-flung tribe in the jungle. They had a child together, but six years later, she couldn’t take it here anymore, and she went back to her village. She felt isolated in the States, and she missed the close-knit community and tight network of support in her village. Togetherness was the root of her happiness.

“‘The idea of a universal moral law as proposed by philosophers is in conflict with reason.’ He writes that ‘ethics are not based on a moral world order but on the inescapable exigencies of human cohabitation (Nicholi, 60).'”

Values differ between cultures according to the needs of the community. A culture that subsists on nomadic hunting and gathering would be disturbed by our obsessive need to hoard property and our lack of community within a massive population. However, according to Lewis, there is a universal moral order that does not change much from culture to culture. This imperialist attitude reflects his own shortsightedness and lack of education on the outside world. A master on the literature of Western Civilization, the stories he loved to read didn’t exactly fill in the gaps on world cultures.

Nicholi relays the change in Lewis post-conversion: “It happened when he was thirty-one years old. The change revolutionized his life, infused his mind with purpose and meaning, and dramatically increased his productivity; it also radically altered his values, his image of himself, and his relationships to others. This experience not only turned Lewis around, but turned him outward – from a focus on himself to a focus on others (Nicholi, 77).”

New Christians exhibit the changes of a person who is in love – but since the love object is imaginary and apparently all-powerful, the experience is heightened by fear, unworthiness, and the joy of escaping everyday reality.

When my mom first converted, no one outside the church really wanted to deal with her. She wrote her Catholic father that he would go to hell unless he converted. She answered every phone call with, “Hello, Jesus loves you!” and posted a yellow sign in the back window of her minivan that said, “Smile if Jesus Loves You!” It was all very in your face, and her siblings still struggle to forgive her for her actions. I’m amazed that my parent’s marriage survived through the eight or so years that my dad wasn’t a Christian.

Today, my mom is much more mellow, but still likes to put in her two cents. Nature is not at work – no, it’s always a miracle. And to her, an Atheist could never win a debate against a Christian. She is enmeshed in faith, and is happy with the blinders that block out the rest of the world. I love her, but it’s always bothered me that this faith, or the way that she chooses to live, keeps her locked in a fantasy. Overall, this has been my experience of churchgoers (and I lived among thousands of Christians in numerous denominations through the first half of my life).

Though Freud had many insights into psychology and is known as the father of psychology, he wasn’t the greatest example of a human being. He had a difficult life, faced life-threatening anti-Semitism, and partially because of this his ideas were met with a lack of acceptance. There was war and many deaths of loved ones. He suffered from depression, and found that small doses of cocaine lifted his spirits.

Nicholi uses Freud’s struggles to show that his life was a failure without the comfort of faith. But why should a Jew convert to Christianity in the first place? And why is Christianity the only faith given here as an example?

According to the Christian faith, it’s the only religion that transforms the believer from the inside out. I’ve never seen this to be the case. Instead I’ve seen people trying desperately hard to be good even though their impulses are testing them otherwise – the emphasis on avoiding “evil” makes the “dark side” ever more enticing. I never encounter this sort of obsession with non-believers, and everyone is much more relaxed and well adjusted.

To post-conversion Christians, just as in a relationship, that initial feeling of being in love evolves into a more stable steady love. The lover still behaves, but hidden away from the people who judge the most is a sea of inner desires. To share how you really feel is to run the risk of losing family and the community at large. The more that is hidden, the more it grows, becoming distorted and almost impossible to get a handle on. I don’t know of a Christian who hasn’t gone through some form of inner battle, and the best survivors are those that are control freaks. There is not much there in the way of pure honesty, especially regarding the self. In fact, when I first left the church, I was on a high of honesty for years, not caring how much I shocked people. It was just so freeing to be completely honest.

Throughout my years as a Christian, C.S. Lewis was the ultimate intellectual authority on Christianity. He brought issues concerning faith to the forefront of his stories and discussions. He took his beliefs beyond theology, and made it seem more like philosophy. Unfortunately his arguments don’t hold up since there was no room for facts. He was the perfect candidate for Christianity precisely because he was easily swayed by the emotions he felt through great pieces of literature.

He was always a Protestant – the fifteen or so years that he rejected it were not as much rejection as a wish against and avoidance of what he felt to be true. In his words, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself… (Nicholi, 105).” Once again, our feelings, experiences, and morals are seen as something apart from ourselves and separate from nature.

“… Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend that ‘Christ promises forgiveness of sins. But what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned (Nicholi, 73)?”

What exactly is this law of nature and why wouldn’t natural beings that are of nature be privy to it? Putting nature into submission of a purported law is silly and egotistical. Lewis is not much next to the extreme power of nature. The fact that he was mortal is the first clue in this. Nature had little regard for him, and has little regard for all of us. Nature and religion are two very different things. Religion is a manipulation for order. Nature is a balance between supply and demand. The truth is, there would be fewer problems in nature if there were less of us living on the planet.

I think it’s very difficult for most Christians to understand that Agnostic Atheism is not necessarily a pessimistic worldview. I know that it is for some, but for me personally, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel that it’s the most realistic worldview there is. I have an ultimate respect for the grandness of nature, and the fragility of existence. I have no desire to exist forever as a spirit, or reside in an uneventful place like heaven – I’ve been in many beautiful mansions, and all they are is lonely. I feel empathy for other beings because I see that we are all as one. Since I love myself, I know how to love other people. It’s not that hard to figure out. And as for God, I’ve never seen any evidence of his existence, and it’s certain that I never will. That’s not to say that I don’t think there might be other beings in the universe. Wherever and whoever they are, they are nothing like the controlling egomaniac that humans have fashioned for themselves.

It is obvious that earth is a place meant for growing, and not things that are made out of magic. Ancient people groups had no way of understanding existence without the assistance of myth to soothe the masses. I find it unbelievable that people are still choosing to live that same way today. Faith is presented as a comfort, but compared with what is actually written in the Bible, it should be sending believers into a tailspin of fear and frenzy.

I wouldn’t wish a belief in God on anyone. Far from being “perfect” – he’s presented as jealous, insane, bloodthirsty, ready to ask his followers to commit genocide on the drop of a hat. The concept of God and what he demands is in total rejection of all that we naturally are. To believe in a being that is so contrary to us as a species is to make life much more difficult and full of conflict than it ever has to be.   The idea of God can make anyone go crazy – and it has on occasions too numerous to count. All you have to do is mention the date “9/11” and religious extremism presents itself loud and clear. Extremism has been a dominating force for centuries.

I’ve been told that I should question why I write about religion, and whether or not it’s honorable to cause people to question what they believe. I see nothing wrong and everything right with asking people to stop believing and start seeing with their own two eyes. For one thing, rational thinkers make for rational societies. Losing faith and analyzing it for what it really is was a painful and necessary process for me. Without that, I would have never found my own wellbeing. I like to spread that happiness.

Overall, though, I think that most of the readers who enjoy these posts are people who think as I do. I find it difficult and painful to read books that speak from the opposite point of view. For this fact, reading The Question Of God was not easy. Freud certainly had his hang-ups, but I didn’t enjoy how the author constantly pitted him against Lewis, presenting one man as the winner and the other as the loser. And all the while, Freud’s theories rang loud and true for me. Not to mention, they are the groundwork for which the author has based his life career on as a professor of psychiatry.

 

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How Belief In God Limits Us

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

The question we all have as human beings is “what lies beyond our limit?”  We just watched the film Another Earth where humans are faced with the perplexing realization that there is another earth mirroring our own, even another self completely synchronized with us.

In reality, when we come into contact with other people, their inner being transcends us.  They might let us into a few thoughts, but other than that, we will never fully know them.

But to find another replicated self – would we recognize ourselves?  Would that other self transcend us as well, as though we are looking at a stranger?  Would you feel competitive of your other self?  Would you find your other self ugly?  Would you be annoyed by your other self?  Would you love your other self?  Would you tell your other self to get over all their hang-ups and get on with life?

Just as we will never meet our other self, we will never meet our idea of God.  In Gordon D. Kaufman’s book, God The Problem, he states, “If there were no experiences within the world which brought us in this way up against the Limit of our world – if there were no point at which man sensed his finitude – then there would be no justification whatsoever for the use of God-language (Kaufman, 49).”

To embrace what lies beyond the limit, we talk of God in ways that we can understand from our experience of human relationships.

“…God is spoken of as lord, father, judge, king, and he is said to love and hate, to make covenants with his people, to perform “mighty acts,” to be characterized by mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, patience, wisdom, and the like – all terms drawn from the linguistic region of interpersonal discourse (Kaufman, 62).”

In the Webster’s Dictionary, the word God is defined as “1 cap : the supreme reality; esp : the Being worshiped as the creator of the universe.”

When I say that I do not believe in the existence of God, I am saying that the belief of a creator and a ruler do not measure up in our current state of reality, or even within the context of the past and ancient history.  He was the explanation that existed before we had a scientific explanation, used as a way to interpret people’s experiences.  People desire to make sense of things, but the problem is, God does not make sense.

I am in awe of our cosmic universe, so much so, that I find it impossible for our existence to be so limited by this idea of God.  To me, we are looking too far out into the distance, when the answers all lie within us, within and beyond our massive and destructive home on earth.

“Indeed, we have learned, that it is precisely by excluding reference to such a transcendent agent that we gain genuine knowledge of the order that obtains in nature, are enabled to predict in certain respects the natural course of events, and thus gain a measure of control over it (Kaufman, 120).”

So there is no direct encounter and never will be – no way to interpret God outside of our own imaginings – in which case, God is actually a mirror of our own humanity – full of insecurities, the need for affirmation and praise, the desire to be close to these humans who are always so distant and cold, the desire to have their obedience, to incite dominance, to be in charge, to have control.  Why does God mirror the fickle childishness of a human being?  And if God is the creator, then who created him?  The answer seems obvious – human beings created him.

“When feeling is given a dominant place in shaping the interpretation of reality or the world, a religious world-view results (Kaufman, 214).”

Lately, every time we see my parents, my mother has to make a comment about God’s existence.  God is woven deeply within the fabric of my family.  He is given praise for all the good things.  The universe is over-simplified through Bible stories taken literally.  My mom celebrates the day that she will “go to be with Jesus.”  It’s not by my father’s intelligence and diligence in over forty years of hard work that brought them financial security.  No, it’s God.

The last time I wrote about religion, I was extremely angry for being raised without a choice.  Writing is good therapy, and I’ve come to a new place of peace and acceptance.  I feel released through my own realizations and views on life.  But I’ve also chosen to keep those views separate from my family life.  They have an idea of what I think.  The problem is, no matter how much I bring it up, they will forget it, or write it off by tomorrow.  My mom especially, has selective memory.  She blocks out the things that she can’t handle.  Especially since, according to their belief, I am “lost” – whatever that means.

When I am with my family, I do my utmost to respect them.  You cannot argue with a mind-set, culture, history, or the entire fabric of someone’s life.  They will do anything to shut out conflicting views, to keep the cognitive dissonance at bay.

Family is extremely important to me.  So I hold hands with them when they pray, I smile and say nothing over the Jesus comments, I listen to my nieces simplify the world by stating the Bible as fact.  In the meantime, I hope that as my nieces grow older, they begin to see that life isn’t so cut and dry.

Coming from children, religion makes sense.  But from adults, I expect more.  Sigmund Freud said, “The roots of the need for religion are in the parental complex; the almighty and just God, and kindly Nature, appear to us as grand sublimations of father and mother, or rather, as revivals and restorations of the young child’s idea of them… when at a later date he perceives how truly forlorn and weak he is when confronted with the great forces of life, he feels his condition as he did in childhood, and attempts to deny his own despondency by a regressive revival of the forces which protected his infancy.”

A universe that circulates around our own egos – that sounds like a man-made myth if ever I heard one.  We are all in the struggle of existence whether we like it or not.  We will all one day fall prey to death.  We have no real control.

“May it not be the case, moreover, that the very act of believing in God is in itself morally dubious?  May this not be largely an attempt to avoid taking full responsibility for ourselves and our lives by creating in fantasy a “heavenly father” into whose care we can place ourselves when the facts of life become too unpleasant (Kaufman, 14)?”

I find this over and over in people who dedicate their lives to God.  Life is just too much for them.  They would like to whitewash all the realities that are too painful for them to take.  It’s a coward’s way out.

The older Christians in my life all believe that I will come back around.  They were “wanderers” in their twenties and thirties, and are convinced that by forty or fifty, I will realize that my demise is nearing.  There are too many things I cannot control.  My body will start failing me, or friends will start dying off.  I’ll be faced with the futility of my existence.  I don’t think they understand, that I have already experienced all of those things.

It seems to me, when people leave faith behind, they fail to search beyond faith.  They avoid the question of spirituality altogether.  Then eventually, they inevitably end up going back to what feels comfortable, to what they knew in their youth.

My dad told me, “Never stop searching,” with his hands clasped tightly around my shoulders in a desperate attempt to get through to me.

I replied, “I never will.”  I wish I could please him, and be what he wants me to be, but I have to be myself.  I will never go back to where I came from.  I will move forward and live to the utmost before my body turns to dust.  And believe it or not, I’m okay with that.

 

For more on this topic:

https://laurenjbarnhart.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/god-against-nature/

https://laurenjbarnhart.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/why-i-stopped-believing-in-god/

 

 

Traveling Sisterhood

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Esther Freud’s novel, Hideous Kinky, is a semi-autobiographical novel of two sisters traveling with their hippy mother through 1960’s Morocco. Freud is the daughter of the famous figurative painter, Lucian Freud, and the granddaughter of Sigmund Freud – a fascinating family rife with details we would all like to know more about, but privacy runs in the family.

The narrator of Hideous Kinky is a four-year-old English girl. Her narration is deceptively simple, leaving the reader to comprehend the complex layers of the story on their own. Mysteries are left untold, such as what they left behind in England, who her father is, and who sends the money. Through the little girl, we are unable to decipher the details of her mother’s love life (though we can surmise), and never know where they are traveling next, or how long they will stay. We feel the confusion and the uncertainty. Time slips away without the basic information needed to succeed back home in England, such as even, how to count.

My emotions over the mother ran the gamut. At times I felt exhilarated that she could live so far off the edge with two little girls in tow. At other times, I felt angry when the girl’s were not receiving education, medical care, food; at one point even spending a day as beggars. Upon their return to England life would seem so regimented in comparison. How would they adjust? But those events take place after the last page.

I’d seen the film before I read the book – and they both have much to offer. One did not ruin the other, as is often the case, though the details of the story differ.

My two nieces are missionary kids. They have been going back and forth between a jungle village in Papua New Guinea, a mission base, and the states all of their lives. Life for them is a constant readjustment. They are flexible and easygoing, because they have to be.

The oldest is very social, relates better to boys than girls, and likes to write fantasy stories (mainly, because she lives one). The youngest is exactly the same as I was at her age – always up in her head, living in imagination, weaving thick plots to escape the boredom of the present, yet a social underdog. However, that was two years ago, and every time I see them, they are different and yet the same.

Now that they are thirteen and ten, childhood is quickly disappearing. They are on the border, where glimpses of the women they will become disarm you completely – vivacious and strong, with lively blue eyes that are full of curiosity.

The oldest is at the stage where her parents and those in her environment are forming strong opinions in her. When they were younger it wasn’t that big of a deal that we have different beliefs. But they are being taught to look down on those who do not believe what they do.

They have always looked up to me. And now, at this stage, I’m afraid of being looked down on. Maybe it’s all in my head. But it isn’t, because I was taught exactly the same thing, and at that age, I looked down on, and judged everything that was “of the world” and “fallen”. I didn’t yet understand life as it really was.

There are cracks in the veneer every now and then. The oldest is now on facebook and she once posted a comment that read something like, “Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there could be another life out there.” I went searching to find it again, but she has since erased it. Don’t we all feel trapped within our parent’s existence until we are free to go?

But for now, my nieces live below the equator, a day ahead of us. When it is summer here, it is winter there. In my neighborhood, it is loud with the noise of people and cars. In the jungle, it is loud with insects, birds, and animals. They navigate difficult terrain over-run with foliage. I navigate cracks in the pavement and annoying people asking for money.

When my oldest niece was a baby she crawled like the natives in the village – with her left knee on the ground, and her right foot walking. She had ringworm from sitting naked on the dirt. I worried over her – but she was completely resilient. It’s the babies that are born there that are really at risk. Many of them don’t even survive birth.

In four weeks, my sister’s family is coming home on furlough and will be in the States until April. When they are gone, I turn off all thoughts of them with the press of an imaginary button. But now, the button is off and I think about their return constantly.

The night before my sister’s wedding, I couldn’t stop crying. As her bridesmaids flitted about, she came into my bedroom to comfort me. It didn’t matter what she said, I knew that I was losing her. She’d found her husband and now all they needed was a distant place to be sent to. A year later they were gone.

They said it was a twenty-year mission, and it’s been sixteen years. As their responsibilities grow, I keep wondering if they’ll ever come back. And how will they cope with life here, without financial supporters, without constant movement, with some sort of steady job that is the same day in and day out?

When we were kids we used to pack our suitcases, hoist everything up on the swing-set, and pretend it was a train that would take us all over the world. It was her favorite game, her escape from boring suburbia.

We have both traveled, escaped conformity, and found an obsession with words – she as a linguist, and me as a writer. But I don’t really know who she is anymore. She never talks. We have only been alone together once in the past sixteen years. We took a walk, and she told me that there are things about my life that she envies, because as a missionary, you have to keep up the façade of minimalism. I told her that I envy her nomadic existence.

When I was a teenager, I idolized her, and thought that I would never measure up. She seemed like a saint, and I felt like a failure. I was her project, something that needed to be fixed.

My nieces represent something that was lost between my sister and I. They are the next generation of traveling sisters. They talk in secret sister code. Life will be a shock for them when they leave the fold. In some ways, they are even more sheltered than we were. I wonder where their lives will take them. I wonder if they will ever consider Seattle home.

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