Sigmund Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis and has been noted for his concepts on the unconscious mind, the Oedipus complex and dream interpretations. Freud attempted to provide a better understanding of religion and spirituality and in his efforts generated a number of books the described these concepts. Among these were Totem and Taboo (1913), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) and Moses and Monotheism (1938). According to Freud, religion is a manifestation of psychological neuroses and pain.
In several occasions in his books, he implied that religion was an action that was aimed towards restraining the Oedipus complex. It thus provides a way of providing organization within the society and a technique for achieving an individual’s biological and psychological goals. Religion is merely a childish behavior of regulating one’s environment and world (Freud, 1927). Freud promoted his concept that religion was an issue that each individual had to conquer because religion imposed a strong and enduring influence on an individual’s identity.
Religion is thus a long-lasting version of neurosis because it lasts for an entire lifetime, while neurosis is only temporary, that usually occurs during an individual’s transition from childhood to adulthood (Freud, 1939). His concept of religion was mostly based on his Jewish heritage and the negative treatment that he experienced during his younger years. Freud himself classifies himself as an atheist. He thus describes religion as an illusion that is resilient enough to endure throughout an individual’s lifetime because it feeds a person’s instincts and desires (Freud, 1933).
In his analysis and condemnation of religion, Freud has expressed that religion is harsh because those individuals who do not belong to the same religion are ostracized (Freud, 1927). Such assessment thus contradicts what religious followers believe in, and that is religion itself is love. On the other hand, Freud explains that since religions are associated with long histories, it is only right that society respects these but not to be used as a basis for our current civilization.
Religions should therefore be regarded as historical residues as well as neurotic relics that technically substitute the consequences of repression and the activities of the mind (Freud, 1930). Religion was thus treated by Freud as an infantile concept that was totally unrelated to reality and that it is excruciating to observe that most of the members of society have never been able to live beyond this level of intellect.
In addition, Freud expresses that it is even more embarrassing to know that the significant majority of society is not even aware that religion is unreasonable and still society will make great efforts to defend every point and issue that is associated to his specific religion. He observed that religions have been designed to make use of the concept of guilt and that this concept is so influential because it can be employed in manipulating society.
Freud expressed that the main issues that were being taught by religions such as guilt were actually contradictory to what these religions claim to do, and that is to save mankind from that particular sense of culpability, which is better and simpler known as sin. In Freud’s books Totem and Taboo (1913) and Moses and Monotheism (1938), he explains the relation of psychoanalytic anthropology to religion, wherein both concepts are disorderly explorations of the mind. He includes some issues that were presented by Charles Darwin on human evolution, as well as those concepts of change through time based on Lamarck.
Freud generalized that religions were remnant of human primal behavior that have been carried through towards the current civilization. In these books, he also discussed that the concepts taught by religions resulted in the Oedipus complex and the leadership phenomenon that is now still observed in society. He is amazed at how followers treat their leader as well as how a leader feels when he is aware that there were a significant number of individuals that want to abide by his rules and teachings.
There was great reaction and uproar from the Jews and Christians towards the Freud’s opposition to the concept of religion. One of the most exasperating comments that was expressed by Freud that strongly affected Jews was about his suggestion that Moses was murdered based on the primal murder instincts of his fellow Hebrew followers. The Christians, on the other hand, greatly reacted to Freud’s comment regarding the sacrifice of the life of Jesus to save humankind. Freud was questioning the validity of Jesus surrendering himself in order to take away the guilt of all the sinners of this world.
He attempted to provide an explanation that only an individual who was himself a sinner could redeem the rest of the members of this group from further persecution, and based on historical facts, Jesus was not a sinner and was actually a good man, hence the concept of giving up his life for the sake of the rest of his followers was not equivalent to any goal. On another light, Mircea Eliade was a historian of religion and philosopher who was recognized for his exemplary interpretation of religious paradigms.
He coined the concept of hierophanies, which served as the foundation of religions. Hierophanies separated reality based on human experience into two parts, one was sacred and the other part was profane (Allen, 2002). Eliade’s major input to religious studies was the Eternal Return Theory, which explains that myths and rituals not only venerates hierophanies but actually contributes to religions. In academic institutions, the theory of Eternal Return is considered to be the most acknowledged concepts in the understanding of myths and rituals.
Eliade’s concept of myth is actually based on the concept of traditional tales that have been considered extraordinary because these have been differentiated from the regular worldly stories of day to day lives. Hence, Eliade’s concept of myth is based on truth and reality and it is generally distinct from the concept of fables. Through the fact that myths contain the truth of any matter, the myth therefore turns out to be a hierophany which exposes the real and the sacred to whoever listens to these myths.
It is thus conclusive to consider that a myth is a sacred story because it depicts the true history of reality. Eliade’s concept of reality is based of the narration of the truth, which is observed in the dissemination of a myth. Reality thus presents a clear relevance to any essential part of life and this can be separated from simple entertainment. Common human familiarity serves as a key component of reality that is further given esteem by incorporating philosophical ideas to generate a modified emotional reaction to human events. Thus, Eliade stated that myths are realities par excellence.
However, it should also be taken into account that it is of human nature of transform certain tales that the effect is an intenational exaggeration or overstatement of certain details of a narration. Eliade thus considers Freud’s interpretations on reality as more discrete because Freud’s concepts and ideas are more adaptable to modern society. Eliade’s approach is mainly based on old Greek theories, while that of Freud’s is based on his current century, which was then the nineteenth century hence the readers had an easier ability to absorb his ideas, such as that of the Oedipus complex.
Eliade’s concept of reality based on myths is still consistent with actual historical events but has been delivered in a rather specialized manner. Eliade was successful in distinguishing reality from history (Olson, 1992). His concept is dissimilar to popular legends that have also been accepts by society as part of history. He thus presented a clear-cut description of mythic truth from historical actuality. He was also aware that historical actualities are a constant source of the truth but these are transmitted in a more creative and emotionally charged method of interpretation.
Eliade’s concept of truth can also be associated with the myth of genesis or creation. The myth explains how all living things came into existence and how a particular behavior came about. Eliade suggested the concept of cosmogony, which is the ultimate myth that existed before everything else in the world came about. The concept of cosmogony thus receives a prestigious position in Eliade’s theories of reality and religion, wherein the concept of cosmogony and creation serves as a model for all subsequent myths.
The concept of myths also includes the expression of customs and beliefs of society. It provides an explanation of the normal functional of society, as well as the proper acts and rituals that society performs. Rituals are thus considered as myths in action because it constantly revives primeval reality and provides society with the intention to perform such rituals and other moral acts. Such actions are perceived to be movements that are mimicking what the gods were doing, with ultimate significance to an individual.
Unexpected events in the life of an individual are, on the other hand, considered to be justifications to correct one’s life. The significance of an accidental event, since it is not fixed or essential, is always correlated with its relationship to other events of an individual’s life. It may be considered that there is a mathematical equation that could explain the existence of accidents and correcting one’s perturbed life, yet the understanding of the accident’s significance is substantial to orient an individual to the right path of life.
Eliade calls this concept existential situation, which involves an extended amalgam of interrelated situations that could not escape the attention of an individual. An existential situation brings about a particular significance that is related to an individual’s social and psychological setting in society. In order for the existential situation to be helpful or neutral in effect to an individual, the person concerned must be well grounded to his beliefs and personality. This strong foundation of an individual thus can be equated back to reality.
Eliade also explains that certain situations that are not hierophanic are ontophanic, which are personal events that have a religious background. This concept provides the explanation of the cycle of object-observation-subject-observation-object, which mainly follows a series of alternating observation and evaluation of settings of an individual. Eliade also promotes the etiological theory and the charter theory, which both presents the truth or reality as a form of primordial physical concept.
The etiological theory describes that myths refer to another time when the cosmos was still ordered. Thus the ancestral society generated a pre-existing form that the current society thus recognizes and follows. He was also able to distinguish myth from folklore, wherein myths occurred during a specific time or era, while folklore occurred during an unknown period. He thus explains that myths which are mainly based on reality show that these have the intention of being re-introduced or re-established for the rest of the period.
Such timeless conditions thus make myths easier to be transmitted to the next generations. Myths based on reality are thus complex issues that humankind could not avoid to uncover. Acceptance of the intricacies of myths generally results in a broad and obsolete definition of concepts to humankind. Eliade also explained that myths are not historical relics that have been discovered to still exist at this current age, but are actually human aspects and functions that are now components of being human.
Analysts have expressed their concern that myths are vague and uncertain in terms of their details and that one individual may consider a story as a myth while another individual may consider the same story as a legend. Hence there are certain analysts that have rejected the entire concept that myths are an expression or a form of reality. However, it should be understood that a story or account is designated as a myth or reality by the prevalent attitude to a famous narrative. The common characteristic of science is that criticism is often an act that should be welcomed, especially now during the age of modern man.
The implication of his though is that myth is functional as much when the myth is concealed in the message as when the message is concealed in the myth. The reliance upon pre-reflective, narrative, emotive forms of persuasion will always associate with mythic sources of power. Hence it could be understood that when a specious statistical argument is employed, one which strictly speaking is not rational, an appeal is being given to the myth of mathematics that is to the popular and uncritical association of number and truth.
References Allen D (2002): Myth and religion in Mircea Eliade. London: Routledge. Freud S (1913): Totem and taboo. Freud S (1927): The future of an illusion. Freud S (1930): Civilization and its discontents. Freud S (1933): New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. Freud S (1939): Moses and monotheism. Olson C (1992): The theology and philosophy of Eliade: A search for the centre. New York: St. Martins Press.