Home > book reviews, philosophy, religion > 10 Books…Part XXIII: The Freudian Slip-Up

10 Books…Part XXIII: The Freudian Slip-Up

Next on Wiker’s list is Sigmund Freud’s Future of an Illusion, a book that brings us into a question of the ordering of these books. They are listed in chronological order which seems to hamper his writing style as he constantly refers back to Machiavelli’s Prince as being the inspiration for more than half of these works. It happens here again, which is odd because Sigmund Freud never played politics and Machiavelli’s book is inherently political.

Again though, Wiker blames Machiavelli for laying the atheistic philosophical groundwork that without which Freud would not be able to continue his work and develop his theory on the falsity of religion. Again cited is Rosseau, Hobbes (both Political books), and Nietzsche as being the foundation stones of Freud’s religious theory. Which brings us to an important question, one that will probably stretch this chapter into two posts: how powerful are these writings? That Freud read Nietzsche is probably likely, Wiker says it is definite and I am unwilling to accept his word on these things, so we will assume that this is correct. Based on that assumption we still don’t know what Freud read of Nietzsche so we can’t just assume that Nietzsche’s atheism affected Freud. Even if Freud read Beyond Good and Evil, we still don’t know what he thought of it. According to Wiker, and a good deal of religious fundamentalists–from all religions, just viewing unacceptable works can change you. Reading this chapter one might get the impression that it is not Freud who is at fault, but it is his inspirations that compelled him toward atheism and writing his theory on religion.

Instead of blaming Machiavelli for laying the philosophical groundwork for atheism, Wiker should do his research and reach back. Plato laid the groundwork by having Critias claim that religion was false and the gods were merely made up by the powerful to keep the masses in obedience. Or further back to Protagoras who said the religion should be obeyed because for social customs, Democritus who explained that all things are created by the random joining of small substances he termed “atoms (A-Tom: un-cuttable in Greek)” not by some powerful god or gods, or Epicurus who denied the existence of any supreme being whatsoever, I could go on but the point is that Philosophical groundwork for atheism was laid long before the 16th century.

And most of that work was better than Freud’s. While I don’t like Freud, I don’t think that Wiker gets it right in the way that he attacks him. The problem is that Freud’s theory of religion wasn’t even that widely accepted in his time. His theory relies on the much debunked “Oedipal complex:” along time ago our ancestors lived in tribal communities. This tribes were ruled by a patriarch who was simply the strongest and took the lion’s share of the food and women. The others killed and ate him, later they felt guilty over their crime and deified the patriarch into a totem, celebrated the act with a sacrosanct dinner, and this formed the basis of the first religion. In a nutshell this is Freud’s theory.

It was always a hard sell in philosophy of religion. I’ll give Wiker credit for pointing out the ridiculousness of this theory, although he does say so in a rather snide way, “But even from an atheists standpoint, Freud’s explanation is bizarre.” Now just what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Yeah, my belief in things that can be proven by reason and rationality is strange while your belief that a piece of bread turns into meat is normal. Freud’s explanation should seem weird and twisted to anyone. Especially since he admittedly cherry picked the anthropological evidence to support it and no one found it that influential.

Instead of using Future of an Illusion as a book that screwed up the world Wiker probably should have used The Interpretation of Dreams as being the first instance of the Oedipal Complex or Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality which introduced the concept of Penis Envy. These two works have done much more damage in history to Wiker’s strict Christian worldview. In fact Illusion isn’t even possible without Interpretation of Dreams or Totem and Taboo.

This pick makes less sense than anything else, but I understand why he picked it: because it is Freud’s best work regarding the falsity of religion. This book has to be attacked, but it’s like knocking down a building by attacking the roof, everyone knows that to break something that isn’t a pyramid taking out the foundation is the most efficient way.*

Freud describes man outside of civilization as being a slave to his desires: to kill, steal, and sex whatever he wants. Something that Hobbes explained, Rosseau sort of agreed with, and now Freud uses as well; the hypothetical state of nature. Wiker makes the incredible error of thinking that that the three writers recommend this! They don’t, they are explaining the development of society from a thought experiment! I can’t stress this enough: Wiker cannot distinguish between explanation and recommendation. We saw it much clearer in Hobbes than we do here but I still can’t believe he is making this mistake again.

However let’s say that we free man from the shackles of religion as Freud desires. What will happen? Wiker explains how Freud works a moral code about murder, “You’d like to kill everyone, but you realize that everyone else would like to kill everyone else, including you, so everyone decides not to kill anyone else. There you go, a God-free ‘thou shall not kill.‘”

Maybe it’s just me but I read a great deal of snideness in the quoted paragraph. It seems that Wiker is admitting that there can be a rational foundation for morals without his God needing to exist.** That however isn’t good enough: morals apparently need punishment or else they aren’t morals. Is this an indication of Wiker’s insecurity regarding his own beliefs?

Wiker spends a good deal of effort on Freud’s dismissal of an afterlife. You can almost read the panic that his words are gravid with. I always hear it in the voices of people whom I tell that I am an atheist and their response is always, “well then what do you think happens when you die?” That sense of panic is what throws weak theists into my disdain. The theists that I respect are the ones that know that my unbelief has no bearing on their beliefs. It’s people like Wiker that don’t understand that public highschool football games preaching the bible are against the law and that those things are banned has nothing to do with them being Christian. Freud’s largest mistake in his book is basing his theory on an ancient ritual that he couldn’t prove happened. It has nothing to do with modern religions because he wasn’t talking about them or their crimes.

Despite what Wiker claims that greatest crimes of humanity didn’t come through atheism, Pol Pot rounded up the intellectuals and had them killed, Hitler used religion as part of his program; yet he still claims that it is people like me that are responsible for these actions. I think not, I subscribe to virtues because of their intrinsic worth, it matters not to me whether there is a supreme being or not. If Wiker’s behavior is based on punishment or reward then who is a better person?

Again, I will close by explaining that Freud’s argument is wrong. No one subscribes to it and there are so many better theories advocating atheism that even by a theist’s standpoint this one is irrational. Freud himself has been largely debunked in his own discipline relegating him to the historically necessary category in Introduction classes. The only people that study him seriously are English majors, and that should tell you something.

*Well everyone except “truthers” that is.

**The basic idea for this prohibition against killing isn’t even Freud’s it’s a paraphrased version Philosopher Immanuelle Kant’s Categorical Imerpative. Not to say that Wiker is plagiarizing or that Freud did as well, but that Kant who was deeply religious formed his moral code in absence of the divine showing us that reason can prove morality.

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