So this is going to be a very psychoanalytical post and I apologize to my few readers who have any sort of expectations regarding the content of this blog for the diversion away from the typical topics.
In the mid-1800s, a philosopher named Ludwig Feuerbach suggested that “God springs out of the feeling of a want” (Michaud, 1994, para. 28), that is, that God (specifically, the Christian God) is a projection of human nature that is meant to fill a need, such as comfort or security. Of course, there are many issues with his theory, not the least of which is the question that if God is truly nothing more than a projection of human nature, as Feuerbach teaches, why is the Christian God all good and not evil? (Michaud, 1994). In fact, it puts me in mind of other gods and goddesses of mythology, who more closely fit this description of gods as projections of human nature. For example, there is “The Judgement [sic] of Paris,” the famous myth of three Greek goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) descending to the earth and asking a human man named Paris to judge which of them is the most beautiful, a tale of the goddesses’ vanity and pettiness. Or, for example, how all Japanese gods (神 “kami”) are a combination of good and evil—so much so that one of the greatest hindrances for Japanese coming to Christianity is the hurdle of belief in a God who is wholly good and not at all evil. But, I digress. Tackling all the issues with Feuerbach’s theory is not the aim of this post.
Sigmund Freud, called the Father of Psychoanalysis, greatly revered Feuerbach and expanded on Feuerbach’s theory of God as a human projection designed to meet a want or need (Holt, 2008). Freud taught that God is basically an exalted father and that children lose their religious faith as soon as the father’s authority breaks down. This belief may not come as a surprise given that Freud’s father was (according to Freud) a coward who would not speak against anti-Semitism (the Freuds were Jews) and who had a sexual perversion that harmed his children, but who developed an interest in Jewish religion (Gleghorn, 2014); I should think anyone with a father like that would develop an aversion toward that father’s religious leanings or toward any religious leanings at all.
Freud famously took the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus as an example of his perspectives regarding sexuality and relationships with parents. In case you’ve forgotten it or never heard of it, briefly explained, the myth of Oedipus runs like this: The king and queen of Thebes have a son and the Oracle of Delphi predicts that this son will grow up to kill his father, the king. To prevent this from happening, the king and queen abandon their son on a hill to die, but a shepherd finds him, takes him in, names him Oedipus, and raises him as his own son. After growing to adulthood, Oedipus meets the king of Thebes (who he is unaware is his father), has an argument with him, and kills him. Then, to save Thebes from a rampaging sphynx, Oedipus takes over Thebes, marrying the queen (who he is unaware is his mother) and having children by her.
Freud used this ancient Greek myth to exemplify his belief that boys have a sexual attraction to or desire for their mothers and therefore hate their fathers and want to kill them in order to take their place. If God is nothing more than a projection of one’s father, it has been suggested that perhaps rejection of God specifically or of religion more generally is little more than a rejection of one’s father (Gleghorn, 2014). Perhaps the “cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things” that “choke the Word” (Mark 4:19) is the mother figure, falsely viewed by people who consider success “nurturing” like a mother, whereas God’s sometimes harsh discipline meant to help and save us but which is often falsely viewed as mean-spirited, hateful, and/or spiteful represents the Father.
A relatively new religious movement found in the U.S. and elsewhere today rejects God as Father and reveres God as Mother. Even some Christian groups have recently attempted to erase any reference to gender for God or make Him either genderless or female, as most infamously demonstrated in a newer “gender-neutral” revision of the NIV. My suggestion is that perhaps this younger belief in Mother God is a religious Oedipus Complex, a psychoanalytical attack on the Father God as a further reaction against the earthly human father. If Feuerbach’s and Freud’s theories, which have many issues and are largely rejected today, have any grain of truth in them, perhaps that truth is exemplified in humans’ rejection of Father God and replacement of Him with “Mother God.”
What do you think?
Gleghorn, M. (2014). “Sunday Evening Series – Atheism Part 2.” [Podcast] Frisco Bible Church. Retrieved from <http://www.friscobible.com/sermons>
Holt, T. (2008). “Sigmund Freud: Religion as wish-fulfillment.” Philosophy of Religion. Retrieved from <http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/arguments-for-atheism/the-psychogenesis-of-religion/sigmund-freud-religion-as-wish-fulfilment/>
Michaud, D. (Ed.) (1994). “Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).” Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology. Retrieved from <http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/bce/feuerbach.htm>