Freudian theory of the origins of monotheistic religion Essay

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This extended essay explores and evaluates the extent which Freud ‘s theories can explicate the beginning of monotheistic faiths. Freud ‘s chief spiritual theories were published within three texts: The Future of an Illusion, Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism. One account of the beginning of faith is as a header scheme for an person within the universe or society which inhibits their desires someway. Freud besides suggests that faith is a merchandise of the Oedipus Complex which is another of Freud ‘s theories, and states that a kid ‘s position of their parents will impact their position of the universe. The thought of an early parricide doing guilt in a group of people which was so passed down and subsequently became faith is besides common within Freud ‘s theories.

These theories were evaluated by looking at how they were created, for illustration through techniques such as Psychoanalysis and Psychohistory. These methods of research are considered to be invalid due to their unscientific nature. The theories were besides evaluated by comparing them with modern, scientific theories for the beginning of faiths such as evolutionary accounts, which explain faith as germinating due to its adaptation for the person or group, or as a byproduct of other evolutionary behaviors.

The essay concludes that although facets within Freud ‘s theories are supported in other spiritual theories ( for illustration the thought of God being a projected representation of parents ) , because of the blemished nature of the methods and besides the other theories that they are based on, such as the Oedipus Complex and the thought of a shared memory, mean that they are undependable and imprecise.

Table of Contentss

Abstract 2

Table of Contentss 3

Introduction 4

The Future of an Illusion 4

Criticism 6

Totem and Taboo 7

Criticism 8

Moses and Monotheism 8

Decision 9

Psychoanalysis 10

Modern Psychology 10


Freud is recognized for his theories on Psychoanalysis and parent-child relationships but it is possibly his application of these theories that were his greatest accomplishments. He utilized theories such as the Oedipal Complex to research broader issues such as faith and has been highly of import in the development of Psychology. Freud theorised extensively in the country of faith, bring forthing a big figure of essays. Totem and Taboo was the first book that Freud published on the subject of faith and in the concluding essay, “ the return of totemism in childhood ” , Freud provided assorted theories from Nominalist, Sociological and Psychological positions before uniting Darwin ‘s theory on the societal province of crude work forces and Robertson Smith ‘s theory on the beginning of forfeits to make a theory for the beginning of totemism and, later, the beginning of faith.

Freud besides looked at the beginning of faith in his following text, The Future Of An Illusion, nevertheless this clip he explores the thought more by and large, seting a bigger accent on its impact on society and how it developed within this. He so used these readings of faith ‘s beginning and its relationship with ancient civilizations to explicate how they will impact the hereafter of modern civilization and modern faiths.

Following a brief account of Judaeo-Christian faiths in Totem and Taboo, Freud looked specifically at the truth behind the narrative of Moses in his concluding part to the field of faith, Moses and Monotheism. The narrative of Moses is cardinal to the formation of Judaism and is seminal in its impact. Freud used Psychological theories explored in his old plants to convey together and measure some of these anthropological theories on a more scientific degree. By closely analyzing such beginnings of faith, Freud was able to research the significance of faith in general, and whilst many of his theories are by and large considered disused now, at the clip they provided accounts for a topic that was merely merely get downing to be researched.

This paper will research Freud ‘s theories on the beginning of faith within these texts and effort to measure them in comparing with modern-day theories.

The Future of an Illusion

In The Future of an Illusion, Freud explained that, in order for a civilization to boom, the instinctual thrusts and urges of the person must be ignored, ensuing in defeat. Privations are imposed by civilization and the forces of nature and Freud believed that faith originated from the anthropomorphous signifiers of nature, made as a get bying scheme to pull off its capriciousness. For illustration, if nature is seen as a being, so it has a will that people can pacify. This is much easier than trying to accept the unknown.

Other minds of the clip, such as Karl Marx, propounded similar theories to this. Marx believed that faith was created by worlds within pre-class societies as a agency of control over nature and developed by worlds in societies dominated by category divisions as a agency of control over their societal state of affairs. The thought of control being the beginning for faith is really similar to Freud ‘s thoughts on the beginning of faith.

Freud believed that the spiritual phase of human development corresponded to the object phase of single development, otherwise known as the phallic phase within the Oedipus Complex where kids have ambivalent feelings towards the male parent of fright and fondness. He explained that people apply their relationship with the male parent to the wider universe and hence, when humanizing nature, do non do it on equal position but with the character of the male parent figure. This is the beginning of the formation of Gods and, Freud explains, the beginning of faith.

This thought was non uncommon at the clip and the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach was one of the first to discourse the thought that the features of Gods are simply the elevated and overdone features of worlds. Similarly, Marx observed that Christians believe that God created worlds in His ain image but stated that it was possibly the other manner unit of ammunition.

Over clip, Freud believed that the Gods became more independent of nature, although still being in control of it, as apparent in the being of “ miracles ” . The thought arose that they were capable to their ain destinies and Freud used the illustration of Greek mythology to back up this, where the Moirae, or “ the Destinies ” were feared by the Gods. Because the Gods were no longer so closely associated with nature, their new function became the care of morality which Freud believed was the beginning for faith as we know it. For illustration, through the thought that all wickednesss are punished finally, civilization is given ground for its wants and Freud argued that without such spiritual beliefs, moral order would discontinue to map, but at the same clip he felt that “ civilisation runs a greater hazard if we maintain our present attitude to faith than if we give it up ”[ 1 ]( Freud, 1989: Chapter VII ) .

Many other theoreticians of the clip believed that faith had no hereafter, for illustration Tylor, Frazer and Marx. Marx believed that by get rid ofing faith, the societal hierarchies that created it would besides be abolished and frailty versa.

The chief difference between Freud ‘s and Marx ‘s attack to researching the beginning of faith is that although both looked at faith from a developmental position, Freud examined it through Psychology, specifically Psychoanalysis, and Marx looked at it from a more political position. Hence, Freud provides this account on the footing that faith is an semblance and in footings of the psychological procedure, “ wish fulfillment ” . He defines an semblance as any belief that is held strictly because there is a strong demand or want to believe it. This will to believe is stronger than the ground against it and creates self-delusions that form the faith.


Despite the many contentions related to Freud ‘s theory, facets of it surely appear logical. For illustration, Christianity speaks straight of “ God the male parent ” and in most other monotheistic faiths, God is portrayed as a paternal figure but besides a austere disciplinarian which may be linked to Freud ‘s theory that God is the image of peoples ‘ male parents. There are jobs with this thought, foremost empirical surveies have shown that God correlates more with the female parent than the male parent, as she is frequently the preferable parent and therefore the most influential. Equally good as this, even Freud admitted that female divinities do non suit with his theory at all. In monotheistic faiths it is by and large a male God, but this brings the job of ethnocentricity into Freud ‘s theory. It can non traverse faiths at all good and seems to be based strictly on Christianity ; Freud even states at one point that: “ ( We are here concerned with European Christian civilisation. ) ”[ 2 ]. This side-note that is used for one remark could be applied to the bulk of the essay and this premise that all faiths are the same causes farther issues. For illustration, in the Oedipus Complex he assumes that specific emotions such as tenseness and ambivalency arise in all worlds in all societies but different civilizations are structured really otherwise which affects the emotions within them. For illustration, Malinowski, a Polish anthropologist who conducted a batch of ethnographic surveies, found that in the instance of the Trobriand Islanders ( now the Kiriwana Islands ) in New Guinea it is the female parent ‘s brother who is the of import one, non the male parent and hence there are non the same feelings towards him as with the European kids Freud based his theory on. Malinowski was able to turn out that beliefs, motivations and emotional responses differ greatly between civilizations which disproves the catholicity of the Oedipus Complex and all theories based upon it.

Malinowski did hold that it is a cosmopolitan trait for person to believe what it suits them to believe and to that extent Freud has some intuitive points, but he reduces all existences down to their basic psychological procedures, such as the Oedipus Complex, and therefore the theory is reductionist.

Despite these defects, it is possible that Freud ‘s theories merely need to be modified and the cardinal averment would be that domestic fortunes relate to spiritual beliefs as a symbiotic relationship. Surveies have been done to prove this altered hypothesis and although one noted that there is “ an extraordinary analogy between the Oedipus construction and the structuring of the spiritual attitude ” ( Vergote et al. , 1969, p.877 ) , most surveies contradict even this modified hypothesis.

Some basic thoughts from Freud ‘s theories have influenced other, more accurate, theories. For illustration, the thought of faith organizing from parent/child relationships has been used by many theoreticians to explicate the continuity of spiritual thoughts in a population, one illustration being anthropologist Victor Turner, in his essay “ Symbols in Ndembu Ritual ” ( 1964 ) . However there are still flaws with this thought as the fact that Gods frequently match parental features does non intend that spiritual beliefs are entirely due to household experiences.

Freud ‘s position of faith is instead matter-of-fact, as a mere semblance based upon false logical thinking, which is typical of the nineteenth century, whereas nowadays faith is studied much more widely and profoundly.

One job due to the context of the work is that Freud does non to the full explain certain facets of his theory. For illustration, Freud states that the Oedipus Complex is a consequence of the wants caused by society instead than the wants of the natural universe, yet it is non explained why faith takes the signifier of humanization of nature. Equally good as this, the alteration from the God ( s ) being the figure for nature to upholding morality seems instead sudden and incoherent. These defects in the account create jobs with the theory itself which invalidate Freud ‘s thoughts on the beginning of faith explained in this text.

Totem and Taboo

Freud had besides applied the Oedipus Complex to the earlier book Totem and Taboo in order to explicate the beginning of monotheistic faiths. In this, Freud explained that in one primal horde the boies grew covetous of the dominant male because of his laterality over them and the females and so, in conformity with the Oedipus Complex, they murdered him, doing the first act of cooperation within aboriginal societies an act of parricide. They ate the male parent to absorb his strength and power but afterwards they regretted their actions because despite their negative emotion towards him they still loved and admired him. In order to cover with their corporate guilt they repressed it and memorialized the male parent by making a totem animate being which was non to be killed. They besides denied themselves the now liberated females, and therefore created the two foundations of totemic society ; the tabu against killing the totem and kin exogamy. By non killing the totem animate being they were doing a promise to the male parent that they would non reiterate the parricide and in return he would watch over and protect them.

However, because their feelings towards the male parent remained ambivalent, they would yearly re-enact their triumph over him by eating the totem carnal and re-absorbing his strength, ergo making the totemic banquet. These ambivalent feelings of guilt and rebelliousness are shown through myths and fables such as those of Attis, Adonis and Tammuz who sexually possessed the female parent in rebelliousness of the male parent. They were frequently punished through emasculation or indirectly by the male parent in carnal signifier.

The guilt was passed down through the coevalss who dealt with it by reiterating the rites in a socially acceptable mode thereby making faith. Over clip, the forfeit of the totem carnal becomes less like a re-enactment of the parricide and more like an offering of rapprochement. Freud argued that merely a human forfeit would be equal to accurately re-enact or accommodate the slaying, and he gives many illustrations of where this has been done, for illustration in early Latin folk where the King was “ solemnly executed at a peculiar… one-year forfeit ”[ 3 ].

The most celebrated illustration of this is Christ. Freud believed that the boy of God giving himself to deliver his brothers from the original wickedness caused against the male parent points back to the original parricide in the tribal community because “ if this forfeit of a life brought about expiation with God the Father, the offense… can merely hold been the slaying of the male parent. ”[ 4 ]. However, the “ psychological jurisprudence of ambivalency ”[ 5 ]agencies that the boy himself becomes a God, beside or alternatively of the male parent and this is shown by the son-religion, Christianity, displacing the father-religion, Judaism. As a mark of this permutation, the old totem banquet is revived in the signifier of Communion by eating the flesh and blood of the boy, non the male parent.


In many respects, the theories within Totem and Taboo are more valid than those within The Future of an Illusion, because he looks more deeply at other theories from different facets and efforts to give grounds for his statements. He looked chiefly at his country of involvement, Psychoanalysis, but he built an interdisciplinary instance for his positions by taking grounds from other scientific disciplines, viz. Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology.

At the clip, it was believed that growth recapitulates phylogeny, that is to state that the development of the single mimics the development of the species. As a consequence, Freud was able to associate the heads of crude people, neurotic patients and normal kids as being psychologically similar. This is built-in to his theories, partially for the grounds he supports them with: in the first essay, The Horror of Incest, Freud illustrates his statements utilizing Australian natives, warranting it by stating that these “ barbarians or half-savages ” can give a “ well-preserved image of an early phase of our ain development. ” He shows these similarities by comparing their Psychology with the Psychology of neurotic patients.

The nexus between these people is besides imperative to the theories themselves: Freud ‘s thoughts on the beginning of monotheistic faiths within this text is based upon the thought that the corporate guilt from the original parricide is passed down through the coevalss, which in bend is based upon the thought that the psychological procedures of these people are genetically inherited. Harmonizing to Freud, these are manifested in the lives of kids, patients and crude people due to their early psychological and societal development.

The thought of an familial racial memory go oning to act upon future coevalss is non merely discredited by the fact that growth is now believed non to recapitulate evolution but besides by and large by modern biological science due to the new findings within genetic sciences. When Freud wrote the essays, Darwin ‘s theories on development were non to the full developed and even when they were Freud decided non to redact his theories, despite taking direct mentions from them.

Moses and Monotheism

Freud used his theories in Totem and Taboo to explicate the beginning of Judaism and the Biblical narrative of Moses in his book Moses and Monotheism. The thought for this book came after Ernst Sellin, a distinguished Hebrew and Arabic bookman, found some grounds proposing that Moses had been murdered in 1922. This linked in with Freud ‘s theories on the importance of parricide, explained in Totem and Taboo, but it was rejected by all Judaic bookmans and subsequently withdrawn, nevertheless Freud still chose to compose the book saying that “ it might be true all the same ”[ 6 ].

The four chief thoughts explained in Moses and Monotheism are that: Moses was an Egyptian, Moses acquired a belief in monotheism in Egypt and converted the Jews to it, Moses was slain in uproar, and that the tradition of the slaying of Moses led to a enduring unconscious sense of guilt among the Judaic people. The first three statements have been debated for centuries and many bookmans and theoreticians have come to the same decisions. The thought that Moses ‘ monotheism derived from Akhenaten ‘s is debatable, partially because the faith was non as strictly monotheistic as Freud thought as Akhenaten regarded himself as a godly boy of Aton, and besides because the day of the month of the Exodus from Egypt, although disputed, is improbable to be near to Akhenaten ‘s reign by one or even two centuries. It is still possible that the faith is linked but merely indirectly and Freud was cognizant of this, albeit loath to acknowledge it. The concluding statement is extremely conjectural but is cardinal to his speculating procedure of making a theory – in this instance the one stated in Totem and Taboo – and happening grounds for it, nevertheless conjectural or flawed.


There is strong argument refering the dependability and cogency of Freud ‘s theories, peculiarly scientifically. Despite Freud ‘s strong belief in scientific discipline, modern scientific discipline, by and large disregards his theories. This is partially due to greater and more advanced engineering which has improved research vastly. For illustration, greater apprehension of genetic sciences has disproved Freud ‘s thought of pent-up memories being passed down through the coevalss which was unsupported even at the clip.

Other Fieldss are besides critical of the cogency of Freud ‘s theories. In add-on to modern scientific discipline as antecedently discussed, history has besides found opposing grounds to Freud ‘s thought of the emotion of guilt being passed down, as feelings of ambivalency and guilt have ne’er been present in every coevals. Equally good as this, although Judeo-christian faiths frequently feature feelings of guilt, crude societies are frequently found to hold small guilt and surely non such a prevailing emotion as Freud suggested. One does n’t hold to look excessively far back into history to see that, even if carry oning worse Acts of the Apostless than the parricide of a autocrat male parent, people have non struggled in fring themselves of any guilt they felt. It is likely that this is one of the effects of Freud ‘s context, as Bourgeois Europe was rather strongly penalizing.

Current research methodological analysis has developed and is now considered more valid and more accent is placed on the external cogency. Freud by and large used instance surveies of his ain patients to back up his theories, for illustration the Oedipus composite is based upon his observations of “ Small Hans ” and yet he applies it to about all his ulterior theories. Scientific research has shown that although the personality traits of the Oedipal stage can be observed in kids, they are n’t needfully phases in their development and are improbable to be causes of grownup personality traits. This undermines his theory of the beginning of faith as it relies on the kid ‘s relationship with the male parent being applied to later life.

Scientific analysis is non plenty to analyze faith though, and a figure of methods are used including: personal disclosures, observation through clinical agencies, participant observation, studies and interviews, and scrutinies of spiritual paperss. Not all these are really dependable, but when used together with scientific agencies they give a good inadvertence.


Freud supported his theories with his findings utilizing depth psychology. It was developed by Freud and it is a signifier of therapy in which the healer analyses the patient ‘s dreams and ideas in order to construe the underlying, unconscious jobs. It was originally intended to explicate curative or psychological constructs but it has besides been used to explicate the nature of human development and behavior and other countries, such as faith. Totem and Taboo was the first thorough work of depth psychology to be published under the subject of faith and Freud besides used depth psychology as the chief footing for his other surveies of faith.

It is problematic whether depth psychology is verifiable, but it is universally agreed to be unscientific due to the deficiency of back uping grounds. Even at the clip it was a controversial topic but it was still used extensively and had a figure of followings. Freud used it to research assorted subjects, but he recognised that depth psychology could non be used to explicate subjects such as faith in its entireness: “ there are no evidences for fearing that depth psychology… will be tempted to follow the beginning of anything so complicated as faith from a individual beginning ”[ 7 ].However in the same chapter, he states that: “ the beginnings of faith, ethical motives, society, and art converge in the Oedipus composite. This is in complete understanding with the psychoanalytic findings ”[ 8 ]

Because depth psychology was applied to such a assortment of topics, a new term was used. Psychohistory is the application of depth psychology to persons in history and is frequently used to analyze the motivations of events. Freud used it to research the beginnings of faith in both persons, i.e. Moses, and groups, e.g. the crude group. It ‘s really effectual in depicting but analyzing the yesteryear is undependable as it requires in-depth cognition about the person ‘s childhood which is frequently unknown. Therefore the psychohistorian is forced to measure the individual ‘s childhood state of affairs from their behavior as an grownup and so measure whether that altered their behavior which is non merely undependable but slightly pathetic. It has been proved to be inaccurate and therefore both psychohistory and Freud ‘s theories have by and large been rejected by post-1960s historiographers due to their theoretical nature. Nowadays, some psychoanalyse the historiographers or historical records, but as depth psychology has been by and large dismissed as a dependable agencies, modern methods are used to research events in history such as the development of faith, a popular signifier being evolutionary Psychology.

Modern Psychology

Evolutionary Psychology of faith is based around the thought that spiritual feelings are a map of the encephalon and hence can be explained through the evolutionary development of the encephalon. Because faith is still around today, it must hold had some advantage in footings of endurance or reproduction harmonizing to the procedure of natural choice.

There are many different possible accounts for faith as an evolved procedure. The three chief 1s are that: it aids the endurance and reproduction of the person ; it makes a group or the persons within that group better compared to others or ; it bears no direct benefit to worlds and is either a byproduct of other advantageous behaviors or is like a virus. The thought that faith has been developed so as to heighten society bears direct resemblance to Freud ‘s thoughts which suggests that, although his methods for this theory were undependable, the theory itself was non as flawed. Research has been done to back up the evolutionary theories for group co-operation as a consequence of faith, for illustration Shariff and Norenzayan conducted a survey in 2007 where the visual aspect of spiritual words – such as God, Godhead, spirit – actively increased participants ‘ degrees of co-operation and selflessness. This shows that there is decidedly a nexus between faith and feelings of societal duty.

However, evolutionary Psychology besides looks at non-adaptive accounts for faith which Freud does non. For illustration, some psychologists believe that faith may hold been adaptative in smaller groups but non in modern societies. Others believe that it is a byproduct of other evolved traits and it is besides suggested that it may hold merely drifted into the population and therefore have no adaptative benefit at all. The accounts stated are ultimate, and necessitate proximate accounts to be considered a possibility, such as the accounts for each of the behaviors that religion provokes.

Modern psychologists of all subgenres tend to look at the beginnings of single faiths instead than the general beginning, and they look for the psychological procedures that drive one to that faith. Harmonizing to this, the person ‘s faith alterations as they age and as their emotional and mental development advancements. One illustration of a recent psychologist who has looked at the latter two effects is Reiss who found that there are 16 basic psychological demands that promote spiritual feelings. He stated that ”People who have a strong demand for order should bask ritualized spiritual experiences, whereas those with a weak demand for order may prefer more self-generated look of religion ”[ 9 ]. This theory can be used to explicate the differences between, for case, Western and Eastern faiths and in bend that can assist bespeak where the faiths originated.

As Reiss himself says: ”Because this theory can be tested scientifically, we can larn its strengths and failings, and bit by bit better it. ”[ 10 ]This is why Freud ‘s theories can non be applied today, because they lack cogency and dependability, and are based upon a “ pseudo-science ” which is against the modern survey of Psychology.

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