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A study of the psychology of belief with reference to the influence of Freud. How far is his analysis of religion relevant to society today?

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Introduction

A study of the psychology of belief with reference to the influence of Freud. How far is his analysis of religion relevant to society today? For many people, religion has been a pillar of our society for as long as we can trace back. A psychologist however, would argue that religion developed from the day that the people of our society started questioning their existence. As Sigmund Freud, physiologist, doctor, psychologist and the father of psychoanalysis, is generally recognised as one of the most influential and authoritative thinkers of the twentieth century, we need to consider his analysis of religion when approaching this topic. However as some of Freud's theories were developed over a century ago is it really possible to apply them to our society today, especially as our society is so multicultural and faith still holds a key role within many people's lives? According to Sigmund Freud religion is an "illusion" we as a society or as individuals, conjure up for ourselves, for a number of key reasons. The first and most essential reason Freud claims we turn to religion is as a way of expressing psychological anguish from our childhood. The second is we turn to religion as a way of overcoming and preventing dangers from the natural world, in hoping to gain control "the necessity of defending oneself against the crushingly superior force of nature." The third is that religion is used as a stress relief, stress that has developed from living in a suppressive society that condones the expression of sexual desire. A final key reason Freud developed is that we follow religion to prevent the feeling of helplessness we can get when ...read more.

Middle

Freud suggested a purpose for religion is that it is developed to give us a reason to obey authority. Regardless whether it is state authority or religious authority according to Freud people develop an attitude that "Everything in our world is an expression of the intentions of intelligence superior to us, which in the end, though its ways and byways are difficult to follow, orders everything for the best." We feel that if we disobey we shall not be rewarded, or worse punished for our crime or sin and we, by consequence, do not disobey. Freud came to the conclusion that religion must be overthrown for society to develop and progress. A final key reason Freud presents for humans fabricating religion is to prevent the feeling of helplessness we can get when we no longer have the protection of our parents or our guardians. This is simply that we develop "Gods" in order to protect ourselves, so we have someone to care for us and someone to look up to in the same way that we as children looked up to our parents. When Freud's theories were first published they were considered deeply controversial, interestingly though people took interest in what he said and took his psychoanalytical theory very seriously because at the time science was starting to make it's breakthrough and Freud's explanations were fresh and appealing to many. However whether theories that were developed over a century ago can still be relevant today is a different consideration. For Freud's work to still be relevant today, when science has developed further than psychology, which in comparison is considered the "soft science," there would have to be some evidence to support the basics of Freud's theory. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is essential to society, as, music, art or literature as it is an expression of self and belief. Therefore it is not sound to suggest, as Freud did that religion must be overthrown." Donald Winnicott essentially presented this criticism of Freud's work but is the popular feeling of many today. Psychology self - help book "Love is the Answer" presents the argument that some none - religious responses to misfortune of frustration e.g. Cynicism has actually been shown to be bad for physical health. So a "religious" view (of forgiving and repenting) might actually be health giving to us, and to dismiss it from our society would be to dismiss this positive outlook on life. So Freud's theory may have been apt for his society, a society built on religious structure, and some of his points may appear to justify the behaviour of people today. But I feel that in the twenty-first century when we are all encouraged to express our beliefs, ideas, sexuality and "bare our souls", a theory based on suppression (even if it is unconscious) seems radical. I think religion itself has become more liberal and has resulted in many "branches" of Christianity all with a different strand of tradition. Some "branches" base their morals on the word of the Bible where as others feel that we have to "update" the word of God and adapt it to how we live today. To apply a theory from a century ago is to digress, in the same way technology has evolved, and our knowledge of our universe and surroundings have developed, we have to advance spiritually. We have to question what we already know, even if this means abandoning Freud's theories and all its implications. ...read more.

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