Sunday, March 13, 2011

Atheism for Lent: Freud

Just got back from first session of "Atheism for Lent" in which we looked at Freud's critique of religion. I was bold over by the attendance (Journey's pastor, Chris, found it somewhat telling that there were 9 that morning for the morning worship service at church and 18 in the evening for atheism!)

I started off by asking (prompted by Chris!) why each person was interested in the course, which evoked some really good responses to do with neo-atheism, doubt, disbelief, defensiveness, openness, and self-examination. Whilst Journey is very broadly a liberal and leftist congregation (it's an eco-congregation that is part of the pro-LGBT MCC association of churches), there remained some diversity within the group theologically, with many really embracing the challenge to challenge themselves and each other.

Our discussion of Freud began by remarking how "miserable" he appears, a symptom (!) of his emphasis on external (self/nature/culture) and internal (self/id/super-ego) conflict and essentialisation of "common unhappiness." Merold Westphal's distinction between suspicion and scepticism (see this post here) was really helpful in moving everyone from discussing Freud's atheism and the critiques of his theory of the psyche, of dreams and of religion towards reflecting upon what his critique might mean for the different (broadly Christian but also interested in Buddhism, paganism and humanism) faith of the people in the room.

One really great comment was that, in congregations like Journey, it can be easy to read critiques and just completely agree (as a badge of being liberal) without really challenging ourselves... to identify fundamentalism, for example, as the Christianity that Freud is critiquing and thereby to miss the opportunity to use Freud to purge our own faith of its more instrumental (see this post) aspects. We can say, "oh, our God is better than the God of the Christianity Freud is exposing, because we sometimes refer to God as a Goddess or as a tree or rock or river."

So it was great to see the group trying to relate Freud's critique of religion to their own faith, and not just to the easier target of "other people's faiths."

To read the material I prepared (using Merold Westphal's Suspicion and Faith: Religious Uses of Modern Atheism) see the following posts:

Religion as Wish-Fulfilment: Freud (1)

Religion as Wish-Fulfilment: Freud (2)

Religion as Wish-Fulfilment: Freud (3)

Religion as Wish-Fulfilment: Freud (4)

Religion as Wish-Fulfilment: Freud (5)

Religion as Wish-Fulfilment: Freud (6)

And then join us tomorrow for the start of Religion as Ideology: Marx!

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