my psychoanalytic take on religion

or what reading too much freud does to you

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i have to admit a thing - i've been a nu-atheist type a lot of my life, and approached religion with disdain; i've grown up in a conservative country and mainly encountered religion as an excuse for oppression and abuse, and i have my own share of religious trauma, so i've been hostile; that didn't allow me to attempt a proper, philosophical examination of religion as a phenomenon. i also think i had to read enough freud to be able to capture and phrase the idea i'm going to present here. while still strongly physicalist and materialist in my philosophy, i've given spirituality and religion an amount of earnt respect here - still not as something that should be approached as sacred and above criticism, mind it, and i still think humanity ought to eventually move away from religion. i appreciated its role in development of human cultures, though, its role as inevitable stage and its properties as something inherent to the human culture and mind. my close friend who is interested in theology has given me some interesting insights which allowed for more nuance in my perception of the topic.

my main idea here is that religion wasn't invented reactively - it can't be boiled down to 'god of the gap', it didn't originate in response to fear of nature and death et cetera, or at least not fully for this reason - i imagine these factors did impact the development of religion and played a role, in the form it appeared in, but religion itself wasn't just a cope - i have to admit it's a simplifying approach; religion, and more widely spirituality, is connected strongly to magical thinking such as the one observed in children and various kinds of mental illness; it's something clearly 'natural' for the human brain to a level, even as the rational parts keep it leashed - else superstitions and everything akin wouldn't be a thing; there's a direct, close relation to the world of symbolics, except magical thinking is symbolics one perceives as real; where does the 'real' element come from? well, they perceive them as impacting their lives beyond their control - that's something telling already, if we know how psychoanalysis works!

freud had is own psychoanalytic take on religion, particularly paternalistic religion as an outcome of conflict with the despotic father figure and resulting guilt and reverence projected outside, onto an immaterial but omnipotent father figure. he believed that's how patriarchal gods replaced the matriarchal ones, the goddesses of fertility. i don't know enough on the topic of matriarchal and patriarchal religions early in the history of humanity to feel competent to speak about it; all i wanted to state is that he had that opinion, which was pretty vague and underdeveloped, and it influenced my reasoning on this, but i've gone further in the interpretation - kind of similar to how i appproached nietzsche's ubermensch and turned it into homo deus. i'm strongly influenced by my 'babygirls' (duh) but at also at the point in life where i'm developing my own, autonomous philosophy; the results have been interesting so far.

anyways, to the point - i believe religion is the unconscious projected outwardly, the parts that inevitably didn't fit when culture was formed - with its universalised standards for morality, sexuality, customs, aeshetics and everything else - and forced early humans to rerpess parts of themselves and forget them. in the modern europe, upbringing is a process of halting the unwanted tendencies, thoughts and behaviours in a child and cutting them down, instead forming the child to fit their expression within a culturally accepted frame; all culture works that way to a level, and it's inevitable in light of what culture is. culture is necessarily restrictive as much as it's unifying; the amount it forces young, forming human individuals to cut down the parts of themselves, forget them, become disgusted in them or subvert them into something else is directly proportional to its potential to connect them and give them community in shared experiences; the more experience is shared, the less individual variety is allowed. that's not something i see as positive or negative necessarily; what matters to me is that it happened and so the humans who developed culture had to forgo and abandon unwanted thoughts, desires, instincts and internal drives, and (preferably) forget them. this means these parts have undergone repression and became parts of the unconscious - the freudian unconscious is understood as whatever tendencies, drives and other elements that exist within the brain but outside of the conscious self; they're unknown to the consciousness or even repulsive in its impression, because the consciousness has pushed them out and isolated them as 'not-me' in its forming in the cultural society. it is likely true that the 'self' in general is an interface created by interaction with other people - for the brain, social interactions make it necessary to perceive a 'me' in relation as 'me-other' and the other as 'not-me'. this is also something both nietzsche and freud have been bringing up, and something now being confirmed by sociobiology; these two were right on a lot of things, and the more sociobiology and neuroscience i learn about the more certain i am about it. either way, the unconscious is what existed in the brain in early childhood but has been cut out and forgotten because of breaking taboos and being undesirable, or what appeared in it later via influence by various events, but was deemed immoral or otherwise unwanted, or inconsistent with the image of 'self' one has in their head.

it's common for the conscious to perceive the unconscious as 'not-me' and 'other' and put it outside - project it, onto other people (perceiving these tendencies in other people or assuming they see them in you et cetera), things or symbols. the 'not-me', abandoned, rejected and unacknowledged parts of the human psyche, has been strongly symbolised - which is also a thing the human brain does to go about unconscious complexes - and populated the world of ghosts, gods and spirits. in that form, not recognizable to the conscious, which of course is protected by its own brain from realising them and relating to them, the unconscious drives and thoughts, now represented by symbols, were perceived as separate, external entities.

they felt real - of course they have! one's unconscious is real and really existing inside their brain, so naturally it can feel as real as the conscious and the reality it perceives, even separated and put in the form of another entity - an omnipotent god, since the unconscious impacts one's life in a way they cannot control, which provokes the impression of being fully within the power of that 'other'. of course so they felt these beings were real! they felt their real impact on their lives in the magical thinking way, they felt that impact wasn't under their control... being connected to the parts of their minds they were unaware of, these beings both felt real and had real impact on their lives - as much impact as your unconscious can have, which is surprisingly a lot.

i thus believe spirituality is kinda a mirror reflection of the unconscious but "put outside", and it couldn't have not originated - things like prayer are a way to address one's internal psyche in a projected, "substituted" way ("indirect") which allows to roundabout one's complexes and barriers on the level of subconscious/unconscious, and hence why allows sometimes positive effects that just talking to yourself in your head directly doesn't. of course you cannot directly interact with your unconscious - hence why psychoanalysis was even created - but you can interact with it while perceiving it as 'other', real entity which is separate to you, because that way you don't run the risk of realising things within your head and breaking the repression; so if there's psychological mechanisms preventing you from accessing some resolution within your brain, you can 'cheat' by 'interacting' with gods and spirits who symbolise the unconscious parts. hence the psychological benefits of religion or spirituality, and its nature as something so inherent to the human psyche because it's it's the 'natural' way the human brain responds to culture and restrictions that go with.

with organised religion it's a bit more complex - i have to say i dislike it overall as is - but i do have to acknowledge christianity was a framework in which europe existed during a time when it was the "real world" for them because it reflected both their conscious and their unconscious in the form of "decorative" dichotomy of material and immaterial instead; the same goes for the jewish diaspora and existence within judaism. hence why the role of religion as the carrier of science and art in a culture that has not ended up in the point that encourages rationalism - i don't consider it a matter of 'maturity' of a culture, since that'd be somewhat racist in implications, but rather coincidental point that allows, economically and otherwise, the society to enable individuals enough to move away from the collective sufficiently to feel no need to connect to the shared world of unconscious symbolics.

organised, ethnic and otherwise collective religion may be one case where such a thing as "collective unconscious" can be considered, there's a collective system which reflects roughly the individuals' unconscious because the culture they live in has universalised rules so it exerts the same pressures on everyone and they share a very general unconscious imagery of things that symbolise the ones the culture somehow condemns or the ones that allow a reference to them, or the ones that somehow can work as copes. another context 'collective unconscious' can be considered in is the inherent tendencies shaped by evolution which live in anyone's unconscious, which i think is close to jung's take about it, but i would have to read into it; i remember reading something about jung and the collective unconscious long ago, i believe i didn't like it much, but i don't remember enough to criticise him in this essay; i know i'm not much of a jung fan overall, not surprising with myself preferring the more classic freudian doctrine on psychoanalysis.

this is the reflections on religion i had so far, inspired by an interesting discussion i had recently. i do wish myself more discussions like that so i can be stimulated and develop my ideas!

trace your footsteps home...