A review of The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.
Sigmund Freud never met C. S. Lewis, but the author of this book imagines a debate between the two on the subject of God (and some corollary topics). He also teaches a course at Harvard contrasting the two men’s “worldviews.”
Nicholi calls Freud “the atheist’s touchstone,” and refers to Lewis as “perhaps the twentieth century’s most popular proponent of faith based on reason.” Lewis himself was an atheist for the first half of his adulthood, and Freud, indeed, was one of his touchstones. When he became a Christian he often challenged the ideas of Freud’s that he had earlier embraced. Or as Nicholi puts it in his prologue: “In subsequent writings, he (Lewis) provides cogent responses to Freud’s arguments…”—thus indicating early on where his own sympathies lie.
Freud called religion “the universal obsessional neurosis,” and was a lifelong atheist, although as the author suggests he may have wavered in his disbelief from time to time. (In a letter to a friend he wrote, “Science of all things seems to demand the existence of God…”) Freud thought that one’s early, ambivalent attitude toward one’s parents formed the basis for one’s “deep-seated wish for God.”
Freud’s atheistic underpinnings came largely from his reading of Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher who, in his The Essence of Christianity, asserted that religion is just a projection of human need. “Divine wisdom is human wisdom…the secret of theology is anthropology…the absolute mind is the so-called finite subjective mind,” Feuerbach wrote.
Lewis, like Freud, grew into an atheist as a teenager. His mother died horribly at home when he was 7, and Lewis recalled that his earliest “religious experience” was praying in vain for her life. He was sent to a miserable boarding school where, he said, he read his Bible, “lived in hope,” and “attempted to obey my conscience.” When the school closed he was sent to another, whose matron took him under her wing and shared her growing unbelief with him. Under her influence, and that of his reading in the classics, his faith began to collapse. Another teacher, William Kirkpatrick, helped drive the final nail in the coffin, although the corpse would be resurrected years later.
(To be continued…)