The Failings of Future of an Illusion



In Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion, Freud suggests that humanity is driven by instinctual wishes that they suppress, such as incest, cannibalism, and a lust for killing. What keeps humanity from acting upon these wishes, and resulting in the break down of civilization, are the moral laws of that civilization. In European/Western civilization these moral laws are based on religion, specifically Christianity and Judaism. Religion creates a moral system by which those that do evil are eternally punished, and those that do good, rewarded, thus keeping society in line. In addition to preventing humankind from acting on its instinctual wishes, Freud states that religion also helps humanity “exorcize the terrors of nature” and “reconcile men to the cruelty of fate” (Freud 22). Freud argues that since humanity sought to have these three wants, (need for the control of society, protection from nature, and compensation for suffering) satisfied, it created God and religion. Because of this fact, Freud says that religion is an illusion; a fulfillment of our oldest, strongest, and most urgent desires (Freud 39). Although Freud recognizes that European/Western civilization rests on religion, he argues that humankind would be much better off if it were to give up religion. He says that religion represses the ignorant masses and prevents truly free scientific thinking. Freud argues that society should cast religion aside and replace with an ideology value system based on knowledge science, and reason. At this point, however, Freud’s argument falls apart. Religion plays a highly valuable role in our society and it is impossible to replace or remove it.
Freud’s reason for believing that religion should be cast away rests in psychoanalytic thought. He argues that religion is a universal neurosis, arising out of the Oedipus complex of childhood. Freud believes that humanity created God in the image of its own father. He comes to this conclusion by looking at the many aspects of our relationship with God. In Christianity and Judaism, we are God’s “children”, God is our “protector” and our “provider”, and God tells us what is good and bad and rewards/punishes us for obeying/not obeying his word. Freud says that these are all things that are attributed our father, and in our neurosis, have manifested themselves into characteristics of God. Freud believes that the need for religion is simply a stage in humankind’s growth, just as the Oedipus Complex is a stage in the growth of a child. He believes that the next step, the step that will allow humankind to reach its true potential, is when we cast religion away and replace it with a society where science, knowledge, and reason reign supreme
While one can see the logic in this way of thinking, it is hard to believe that a society such as this will be capable of providing all of humanity’s needs. Knowledge and science may flow more freely in such a society, but they alone will never be able to eradicate all human suffering, and without religion, where will the humanity go for solace? Just as Freud says, religion provides people with an explanation of fate, and if humanity looses this explanation, they loose something that fulfils one of its key needs. Without religion, humanity will be left to cope with the harsh realities of the world by itself, and no matter how advanced science and knowledge become, they will never be able to console a human the way that a close relationship with God is able to.
Religion also provides a moral code that humanity is obligated to follow. This divine code, which is the basis of European/Western law, is unquestionable because it has come from God. However, if you remove this base, as Freud suggests, the strength of the law is weakened. Freud argues that society will follow this new code simply for the good of humanity (Freud 52), but this is not so. Humanity is flawed. It cannot be trusted to rule itself justly and impartially. It needs to be compelled to do good by something greater than imperfect human law. It needs divine religious law, simply because it is unquestionable. Religion ensures that all will eventually be punished for their failures to obey, if not in life, then in death. This is something that