No. 11 on my Cap and Gown List may seem like blasphemy for a psychology major. However, after class last week, I feel I must take a stand against good old Sigmund and his faithless opinion of religion.
Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, proponent of sexual desires as the most basic human motivation, and undisputed historical authority on the unconscious, was a self-proclaimed atheist. He believed that religion was a manifestation of compulsive neurosis, that humanity, with respect to religion, existed as a binary of believers and non-believers. It was one of his basic arguments that religion and faith were the adult continuation of a desire for parental safety and protection. Freud argued that pure faith and belief in a higher power was a human flaw, based on deficiencies such as personal fears, and moral and ethical deprivation.
Freud’s brilliance cannot be denied, but I find myself completely disagreeing with his fundamental principle. I believe relinquishing some of one’s personal power in life to that which cannot ever be proven is an act of strength, not weakness. I am a person who is sometimes wary of trusting, and I can testify that putting my faith in something which cannot be seen, touched or quantified is in fact the polar opposite of personal inadequacy.
One of my closest friends is in her first year of graduate school, and on the path towards rabbinical ordination. She is taking the first step toward spending her life as a spiritual and religious leader. I thought of her and her journey while I sat in class learning about the arguments for and against belief in religion. I realized that for me, the passion of those like my friend who dedicate their lives to the fundamental principles of belief and faith, serves as the basis for my anti-Freudian opinions. These are people who have chosen to believe in a higher power. It’s not a need, nor some kind of mental crutch. These are not people who are emotionally malformed, but rather those with immense strength and faith. Throughout human history men and women have created and sustained religion out of desire, not just necessity.
There are those who argue that it’s a weakness, or some kind of cop-out to surrender control to some indefinable higher power, to believe that bad things happening to good people is part of some master plan. To me though, that kind of faith is a true testament of strength. I admire those whose faith is all-encompassing. I don’t agree with all religions doctrines, I don’t even follow all of the commandments of my own religion to their utmost, but I do believe in the communities of faith that religion can create.
Psychology classes teach that control issues themselves are a neurosis. It is accepted that trying to hold onto control of everything is, in itself, a weakness. If that is true, then giving up control is a sign of better mental health, not worse.
At the crux of it all, however, is that religious people and/or those with profound faith do not give up control over the decisions in their lives. They still believe themselves to be responsible for their own actions. They know it is still necessary to decide whether to betray a friend or risk their own reputations, or to choose whether or not to copy the answers off a friend guaranteed to ace the test. Faith enters the arena after those life decisions and is manifested in the reality that the future is uncertain and the consequences of one’s actions simply cannot be predicted, even with a crystal ball. Faith is believing that your actions are your best efforts to secure a certain outcome, all the while knowing that wishing doesn’t make it so.
Freud would say that believing in not knowing the “right” outcome of your own actions takes away a sense of personal responsibility. It is, in fact, the opposite. Having the strength and the self-determination to make your own decisions despite the uncertainty of the future requires faith even in the face of adversity and hardship.
EMILY KAPLAN’s brain hurts a little from thinking. Religion is complicated. Suggestions for entertaining ways for her to give her brain a rest can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.