Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): “The Future of an Illusion”
Definition of religion: “religion consists of certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external (or internal) reality, which tell one something that one has not oneself discovered and which claim that one should give credence” (p. 72).
Ordinarily, dogmas (truth claims) are founded on observation which can be personally confirmed. Not so with religious dogmas.
What are religious dogmas based on? (p. 73)
Religious people claim that religious dogmas deserve to be believed because:
1) our primal ancestors believed them;
2) we have proofs handed down from antiquity;
3) it is forbidden to raise questions about their authenticity.
Freud’s reply to these arguments:
1) our ancestors were far more ignorant than we are on many things. Why should we believe them on this?
2) the writings of antiquity (the Scriptures) “bear every trace of being untrustworthy. They are full of contradictions, revision and interpolations” (p.74).
3) (which Freud deals with first on p. 73), this reason evokes suspicion that society knows that there are not good bases of religious doctrine, or such bases would be put forward.
Nonetheless, Freud thinks that religious doctrines are further defended through the argument
A. from absurdity (Credo quia absurdum). Religious doctrines stand above (are superior to reason and its capacities).
B. from “As if”. We act “as if” we believed these absurdities.
“But” in spite of the fact that religious dogmas have not bases in evidence, and they rely on absurdity, people continue to believe them (p. 75). WHY???
Look, says Freud, to the psychical origin of religious ideas….
“These [religious ideas] which profess to be dogmas, are not the residue of experience or the final result of reflection; they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind; the secret of their strength is the strength of these wishes” (75).
This illusion is based in our infantile helplessness leading to the need for protection provided by our fathers. Since we never get over the need for a protective father, we have a super-strong wish for a super-Father to protect us: we call this super-Father God.
Definition of Illusion: an illusion is not the same as error (it is not necessarily an error)… “It is characteristic of the illusion that is derived from men’s wishes” (p. 76). An example would be Christopher Columbus’ wish to find a sea-route to India, or a peasant girl’s wish for a prince to rescue her. Religious illusions border on the delusional.
“No reasonable man will behave so frivolously in other matters or rest content with such feeble grounds for his opinions or for the attitude he adopts; it is only in the highest and holiest things he allows this” (77).
See here an additional summary of Freud's - The Future of an Illusion