Monday, March 26, 2012

Freud and the Rabbi

Rabbi Moshe Averick takes on Sigmund Freud's claim that the chances of a normal, wholesome life are improved when one is freed from the constraints of religion. Here's the rabbi's opening:
The other day, while scrolling through a site for non-believers on Facebook, I came across a post which featured a picture of Sigmund Freud and the following quotation: “When man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.” For any thinking person, such an assertion immediately raises a number of thorny questions: Which religion/s was Freud talking about? What parts of the religion? (“Love your neighbor as yourself?” “You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan?”) What exactly is Freud’s definition of a “religion”?

Atheistic propagandist, Bill Maher once opined that the atheistic ideology of Communism was a “state religion.” Does that mean that any ideology, including atheism, is a type of religion? What exactly does Freud mean by a “normal and wholesome life?”
Of course Freud didn't expect that he'd actually have to answer these questions. He expected, I suppose, that he would be allowed to fire off a witty aphorism and his devoted fans would all sagely nod in agreement. Averick thinks differently. Here's his question for those who agree with Freud:
Sigmund Freud also wrote that “the moment a man questions the meaning and value of life he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence.” Human life then, in reality, has no meaning and no value; is that a good basis for a normal and wholesome life?
Hmmm. Good question. Many people who really believe that their life is meaningless and valueless suffer depression and a host of other ills. It's hard to imagine that the realization of the utter pointlessness of existence conduces to a "normal and wholesome life".

Averick goes on to point out that in a universe in which there's nothing other than material stuff there can be no objective meaning or value. He then mentions a reply to this claim. The respondent wrote:
Life has no objective meaning? How will I ever live a normal and wholesome life? Sorry, but some things are subjective. I don’t need to invent a sky daddy as an invisible means of support to deal with the fact that the meaning of life is one of them.
Averick points out the sheer silliness of this claim:
In other words, [the respondent] agreed with Freud and me on the essential point. There is no objective meaning to our existence and of course no objective value to life either. He then goes on to mock belief in God as an artificially manufactured solution to the problem of finding purpose and value in life: “I don’t need to invent a sky daddy…to deal with [this] fact...” What is most telling here is not only the glaring contradiction contained in his reply, but the inescapable absurdity that is reflected in every attempt to form some sort of worldview based on non-belief. Please allow me to elaborate.

“Sorry, but some things are subjective.” – This concept is echoed by humanistic philosopher Paul Kurtz: “Human life has no meaning independent of itself…the meaning of life is what we choose to give it.” Jean Paul Sartre follows suit: “Life has no meaning a’s up to you to give it meaning, and value is nothing else but the meaning you choose…” Before going any further it is instructive to define clearly what subjective means: “Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world…existing only within the experiencer’s mind…existing only in the mind, illusory.” (American Heritage Dictionary)

The idea of creating our own subjective meaning and purpose may sound very profound in the university lecture hall, but when stripped of its philosophical camouflage it really means the following: Make something up out of your own head that gives your life purpose and meaning and pretend that it’s real. In other words, create a comforting fiction to avoid getting “sick,” as Freud described it.

Well then, if we must create some illusory construct to give our lives meaning and value, what’s wrong with the “God construct” or “sky-daddy” as this gentleman called it; if it makes me feel good, why not? It’s no more artificial and illusory than say humanism, utilitarianism, communism, speciesism, etc., ad nauseum. This highlights the absurdity of the atheist position. On the one hand the atheistic philosopher bids us to create an illusory meaning and value for life and on the other hand mocks religion for being illusory.
You can read the rest of Averick's post at the link. It's ironic that the atheist wants to claim that belief in God is belief in an illusion even as he conjures up a host of illusions that he himself can believe in in order to avoid the despair that follows from rejecting belief in God. And then he insists that it's the believer who's being irrational.