The Future of an Illusion - by sigmund freud

In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud.
Vol. 21. London, 1968. [FrS1][FrS1 5] Human civilization, by which I mean all
those respects in [FrS1 6] which human life has raised itself above its animal
status and differs from the life of beasts and I scorn to distinguish between
culture and civilization , presents, as we know, two aspects to the observer. It
includes on the one hand all the knowledge and capacity that men have acquired
in order to control the forces of nature and extract its wealth for the
satisfaction of human needs, and, on the other hand, all the regulations
necessary in order to adjust the relations of men to one another and especially
the distribution of the available wealth. The two trends of civilization are not
independent of each other: firstly, because the mutual relations of men are
profoundly influenced by the amount of instinctual satisfaction which the
existing wealth makes possible; secondly, because an individual man can himself
come to function as wealth in relation to another one, in so far as the other
person makes use of his capacity for work, or chooses him as a se+ual object;
and thirdly, moreover, because every individual is virtually an enemy of
civilization, though civilization is supposed to be an object of universal human
interest. It is remarkable that, little as men are able to exist in isolation,
they should nevertheless feel as a heavy burden the sacrifices which
civilization expects of them in order to make a communal life possible. Thus
civilization has to be defended against the individual, and its regulations,
institutions and commands are directed to that task. They aim not only at
effecting a certain distribution of wealth but at maintaining that distribution;
indeed, they have to protect everything that contributes to the conquest of
nature and the production of wealth against men’s hostile impulses. Human
creations are easily destroyed, and science and technology, which have built
them up, can also be used for their annihilation.One thus gets an impression
that civilization is something which was imposed on a resisting majority by a
minority which understood how to obtain possession of the means to power and
coercion. It is, of course, natural to assume that these difficulties are not
inherent in the nature of civilization itself but are determined by the
imperfections of the cultural forms which have so far been developed. And in
fact it is not difficult to[FrS1 7] indicate those defects. While mankind has
made continual advances in its control over nature and may expect to make still
greater ones, it is not possible to establish with certainty that a similar
advance has been made in the management of human affairs; and probably at all
periods, just as now once again, many people have asked themselves whether what
little civilization has thus acquired is indeed worth defending at all. One
would think that a re-ordering of human relations should be possible, which
would remove the sources of dissatisfaction with civilization by renouncing
coercion and the suppression of the instincts, so that, undisturbed by internal
discord, men might devote themselves to the acquisition of wealth and its
enjoyment. That would be the golden age, but it is questionable if such a state
of affairs can be realized. It seems rather that every civilization must be
built up on coercion and renunciation of instinct; it does not even seem certain
that if coercion were to cease the majority of human beings would be prepared to
undertake to perform the work necessary for acquiring new wealth. One has, I
think, to reckon with the fact that there are present in all men destructive,
and therefore anti-social and anticultural, trends and that in a great number of
people these are strong enough to determine their behaviour in human
society.This psychological fact has a decisive importance for our judgement of
human civilization. Whereas we might at first think that its essence lies in
controlling nature for the purpose of acquiring wealth and that the dangers
which threaten it could be eliminated through a suitable distribution of that
wealth among men, it now seems that the emphasis has moved over from the
material to the mental. The decisive question is whether and to what extent it
is possible to lessen the burden of the instinctual sacrifices imposed on men,
to reconcile men to those which must necessarily remain and to provide a
compensation for them. It is just as impossible to do without control of the
mass by a minority as it is to dispense with coercion in the work of
civilization. For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for
instinctual renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its
inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving
free [FrS1 8] rein to their indiscipline. It is only through the influence of
individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders
that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on
which the existence of civilization depends. All is well if these leaders are
persons who possess superior insight into the necessities of life and who have
risen to the height of mastering their own instinctual wishes. But there is a
danger that in order not to lose their influence they may give way to the mass
more than it gives way to them, and it therefore seems necessary that they shall
be independent of the mass by having means to power at their disposal. To put it
briefly, there are two widespread human characteristics which are responsible
for the fact that the regulations of civilization can only be maintained by a
certain degree of coercion namely, that men are not spontaneously fond of work
and that arguments are of no avail against their passions.I know the objections
which will be raised against these assertions. It will be said that the
characteristic of human masses depicted here, which is supposed to prove that
coercion cannot be dispensed with in the work of civilization, is itself only
the result of defects in the cultural regulations, owing to which men have
become embittered, revengeful and inaccessible. New generations, who have been
brought up in kindness and taught to have a high opinion of reason, and who have
experienced the benefits of civilization at an early age, will have a different
attitude to it. They will feel it as a possession of their very own and will be
ready for its sake to make the sacrifices as regards work and instinctual
satisfaction that are necessary for its preservation. They will be able to do
without coercion and will differ little from their leaders. If no culture has so
far produced human masses of such a quality, it is because no culture has yet
devised regulations which will influence men in this way, and in particular from
childhood onwards.It may be doubted whether it is possible at all, or at any
rate as yet, at the present stage of our control over nature, to set up cultural
regulations of this kind. It may be asked where the number of superior,
unswerving and disinterested leaders are to come from who are to act as
educators of the future generations, and it may be alarming to think of the
enormous amount of coercion that will inevitably be required before these
intentions can be carried out. The grandeur of the plan and its importance [FrS1
9] for the future of human civilization cannot be disputed. It is securely based
on the psychological discovery that man is equipped with the most varied
instinctual dispositions, whose ultimate course is determined by the experiences
of early childhood. But for the same reason the limitations of man’s capacity
for education set bounds to the effectiveness of such a transformation in his
culture. One may question whether, and in what degree, it would be possible for
a different cultural environment to do away with the two characteristics of
human masses which make the guidance of human affairs so difficult. The
experiment has not yet been made. Probably a certain percentage of mankind
(owing to a pathological disposition or an excess of instinctual strength) will
always remain asocial; but if it were feasible merely to reduce the majority
that is hostile towards civilization to-day into a minority, a great deal would
have been accomplished perhaps all that can be accomplished.I should not like to
give the impression that I have strayed a long way from the line laid down for
my enquiry [p. 5]. Let me therefore give an express assurance that I have not
the least intention of making judgements on the great experiment in civilization
that is now in progress in the vast country that stretches between Europe and
Asia. I have neither the special knowledge nor the capacity to decide on its
practicability, to test the expediency of the methods employed or to measure the
width of the inevitable gap between intention and execution. What is in
preparation there is unfinished and therefore eludes an investigation for which
our own long-consolidated civilization affords us material.[FrS1 10] We have
slipped unawares out of the economic field into the field of psychology. At
first we were tempted to look for the assets of civilization in the available
wealth and in the regulations for its distribution. But with the recognition
that every civilization rests on a compulsion to work and a renunciation of
instinct and therefore inevitably provokes opposition from those affected by
these demands, it has become clear that civilization cannot consist principally
or solely in wealth itself and the means of acquiring it and the arrangements
for its distribution; for these things are threatened by the rebelliousness and
destructive mania of the participants in civilization. Alongside of wealth we
now come upon the means by which civilization can be defended measures of
coercion and other measures that are intended to reconcile men to it and to
recompense them for their sacrifices. These latter may be described as the
mental assets of civilization.For the sake of a uniform terminology we will
describe the fact that an instinct cannot be satisfied as a ‘frustration’, the
regulation by which this frustration is established as a ‘prohibition’ and the
condition which is produced by the prohibition as a ‘privation’. The first step
is to distinguish between privations which affect everyone and privations which
do not affect everyone but only groups, classes or even single individuals. The
former are the earliest; with the prohibitions that established them,
civilization who knows how many thousands of years ago? began to detach man from
his primordial animal condition. We have found to our surprise that these
privations are still operative and still form the kernel of hostility to
civilization. The instinctual wishes that suffer under them are born afresh with
every child; there is a class of people, the neurotics, who already react to
these frustrations with asocial behaviour. Among these instinctual wishes are
those of incest, cannibalism and lust for killing. It sounds strange to place
alongside one another wishes which everyone seems united in repudiating and
others about which there is so much lively dispute in our civilization as to
whether they shall be permitted or frustrated; but psychologically it is
justifiable to do so. Nor is the attitude [FrS1 11] of civilization to these
oldest instinctual wishes by any means uniform. Cannibalism alone seems to be
universally proscribed and to the non-psycho-analytic view to have been
completely surmounted. The strength of the incestuous wishes can still be
detected behind the prohibition against them; and under certain conditions
killing is still practised, and indeed commanded, by our civilization. It is
possible that cultural developments lie ahead of us in which the satisfaction of
yet other wishes, which are entirely permissible to-day, will appear just as
unacceptable as cannibalism does now.These earliest instinctual renunciations
already involve a psychological factor which remains important for all further
instinctual renunciations as well. It is not true that the human mind has
undergone no development since the earliest times and that, in contrast to the
advances of science and technology, it is the same to-day as it was at the
beginning of history. We can point out one of these mental advances at once. It
is in keeping with the course of human development that external coercion
gradually becomes internalized; for a special mental agency, man’s super-ego,
takes it over and includes it among its commandments. Every child presents this
process of transformation to us; only by that means does it become a moral and
social being. Such a strengthening of the super-ego is a most precious cultural
asset in the psychological field. Those in whom it has taken place are turned
from being opponents of civilization into being its vehicles. The greater their
number is in a cultural unit the more secure is its culture and the more it can
dispense with external measures of coercion. Now the degree of this
internalization differs greatly between the various instinctual prohibitions. As
regards the earliest cultural demands, which I have mentioned, the
internalization seems to have been very extensively achieved, if we leave out of
account the unwelcome exception of the neurotics. But the case is altered when
we turn to the other instinctual claims. Here we observe with surprise and
concern that a majority of people obey the cultural prohibitions on these points
only under the pressure of external coercion that is, only where that coercion
can make itself effective and so long as it is to be feared. This is also true
of what are known as the moral demands of civilization, which [FrS1 12] likewise
apply to everyone. Most of one’s experiences of man’s moral untrustworthiness
fall into this category. There are countless civilized people who would shrink
from murder or incest but who do not deny themselves the satisfaction of their
avarice, their aggressive urges or their se+ual lusts, and who do not hesitate
to injure other people by lies, fraud and calumny, so long as they can remain
unpunished for it; and this, no doubt, has always been so through many ages of
civilization.If we turn to those restrictions that apply only to certain classes
of society, we meet with a state of things which is flagrant and which has
always been recognized. It is to be expected that these underprivileged classes
will envy the favoured ones their privileges and will do all they can to free
themselves from their own surplus of privation. Where this is not possible, a
permanent measure of discontent will persist within the culture concerned and
this can lead to dangerous revolts. If, however, a culture has not got beyond a
point at which the satisfaction of one portion of its participants depends upon
the suppression of another, and perhaps larger, portion and this is the case in
all present-day cultures it is understandable that the suppressed people should
develop an intense hostility towards a culture whose existence they make
possible by their work, but in whose wealth they have too small a share. In such
conditions an internalization of the cultural prohibitions among the suppressed
people is not to be expected. On the contrary, they are not prepared to
acknowledge the prohibitions, they are intent on destroying the culture itself,
and possibly even on doing away with the postulates on which it is based. The
hostility of these classes to civilization is so obvious that it has caused the
more latent hostility of the social strata that are better provided for to be
overlooked. It goes without saying that a civilization which leaves so large a
number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has
nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence.The extent to which a
civilization’s precepts have been internalized to express it popularly and
unpsychologically: the moral level of its participants is not the only form of
mental wealth that comes into consideration in estimating a civilization’s
value. There are in addition its assets in the shape of ideals and artistic
creations that is, the satisfactions that can be derived from those
sources.[FrS1 13] People will be only too readily inclined to include among the
psychical assets of a culture its ideals its estimates of what achievements are
the highest and the most to be striven after. It will seem at first as though
these ideals would determine the achievements of the cultural unit; but the
actual course of events would appear to be that the ideals are based on the
first achievements which have been made possible by a combination of the
culture’s internal gifts and external circumstances, and that these first
achievements are then held on to by the ideal as something to be carried
further. The satisfaction which the ideal offers to the participants in the
culture is thus of a narcissistic nature; it rests on their pride in what has
already been successfully achieved. To make this satisfaction complete calls for
a comparison with other cultures which have aimed at different achievements and
have developed different ideals. On the strength of these differences every
culture claims the right to look down on the rest. In this way cultural ideals
become a source of discord and enmity between different cultural units, as can
be seen most clearly in the case of nations.The narcissistic satisfaction
provided by the cultural ideal is also among the forces which are successful in
combating the hostility to culture within the cultural unit. This satisfaction
can be shared in not only by the favoured classes, which enjoy the benefits of
the culture, but also by the suppressed ones, since the right to despise the
people outside it compensates them for the wrongs they suffer within their own
unit. No doubt one is a wretched plebeian, harassed by debts and military
service; but, to make up for it, one is a Roman citizen, one has one’s share in
the task of ruling other nations and dictating their laws. This identification
of the suppressed classes with the class who rules and exploits them is,
however, only part of a larger whole. For, on the other hand, the suppressed
classes can be emotionally attached to their masters; in spite of their
hostility to them they may see in them their ideals; unless such relations of a
fundamentally satisfying kind subsisted, it would be impossible to understand
how a number of civilizations have survived so long in spite of the justifiable
hostility of large human masses.A different kind of satisfaction is afforded by
art to the participants in a cultural unit, though as a rule it remains
inaccessible to the masses, who are engaged in exhausting work and have not
enjoyed any personal education. As we discovered [FrS1 14] long since, art
offers substitutive satisfactions for the oldest and still most deeply felt
cultural renunciations, and for that reason it serves as nothing else does to
reconcile a man to the sacrifices he has made on behalf of civilization. On the
other hand, the creations of art heighten his feelings of identification, of
which every cultural unit stands in so much need, by providing an occasion for
sharing highly valued emotional experiences. And when those creations picture
the achievements of his particular culture and bring to his mind its ideals in
an impressive manner, they also minister to his narcissistic satisfaction.No
mention has yet been made of what is perhaps the most important item in the
psychical inventory of a civilization. This consists in its religious ideas in
the widest sense in other words (which will be justified later) in its
illusions.[FrS1 15] In what does the peculiar value of religious ideas lie?We
have spoken of the hostility to civilization which is produced by the pressure
that civilization exercises, the renunciations of instinct which it demands. If
one imagines its prohibitions lifted if, then, one may take any woman one
pleases as a se+ual object, if one may without hesitation kill one’s rival for
her love or anyone else who stands in one’s way, if, too, one can carry off any
of the other man’s belongings without asking leave how splendid, what a string
of satisfactions one’s life would be! True, one soon comes across the first
difficulty: everyone else has exactly the same wishes as I have and will treat
me with no more consideration than I treat him. And so in reality only one
person could be made unrestrictedly happy by such a removal of the restrictions
of civilization, and he would be a tyrant, a dictator, who had seized all the
means to power. And even he would have every reason to wish that the others
would observe at least one cultural commandment: ‘thou shalt not kill’.But how
ungrateful, how short-sighted after all, to strive for the abolition of
civilization! What would then remain would be a state of nature, and that would
be far harder to bear. It is true that nature would not demand any restrictions
of instinct from us, she would let us do as we liked; but she has her own
particularly effective method of restricting us. She destroys us coldly,
cruelly, relentlessly, as it seems to us, and possibly through the very things
that occasioned our satisfaction. It was precisely because of these dangers with
which nature threatens us that we came together and created civilization, which
is also, among other things, intended to make our communal life possible. For
the principal task of civilization, its actual raison d’être, is to defend us
against nature.We all know that in many ways civilization does this fairly well
already, and clearly as time goes on it will do it much better. But no one is
under the illusion that nature has already been vanquished; and few dare hope
that she will ever be entirely subjected to man. There are the elements, which
seem to mock at all human control: the earth, which quakes and is [FrS1 16] torn
apart and buries all human life and its works; water, which deluges and drowns
everything in a turmoil; storms, which blow everything before them; there are
diseases, which we have only recently recognized as attacks by other organisms;
and finally there is the painful riddle of death, against which no medicine has
yet been found, nor probably will be. With these forces nature rises up against
us, majestic, cruel and inexorable; she brings to our mind once more our
weakness and helplessness, which we thought to escape through the work of
civilization. One of the few gratifying and exalting impressions which mankind
can offer is when, in the face of an elemental catastrophe, it forgets the
discordancies of its civilization and all its internal difficulties and
animosities, and recalls the great common task of preserving itself against the
superior power of nature.For the individual, too, life is hard to bear, just as
it is for mankind in general. The civilization in which he participates imposes
some amount of privation on him, and other men bring him a measure of suffering,
either in spite of the precepts of his civilization or because of its
imperfections. To this are added the injuries which untamed nature he calls it
Fate inflicts on him. One might suppose that this condition of things would
result in a permanent state of anxious expectation in him and a severe injury to
his natural narcissism. We know already how the individual reacts to the
injuries which civilization and other men inflict on him: he develops a
corresponding degree of resistance to the regulations of civilization and of
hostility to it. But how does he defend himself against the superior powers of
nature, of Fate, which threaten him as they threaten all the rest?Civilization
relieves him of this task; it performs it in the same way for all alike; and it
is noteworthy that in this almost all civilizations act alike. Civilization does
not call a halt in the task of defending man against nature, it merely pursues
it by other means. The task is a manifold one. Man’s self-regard, seriously
menaced, calls for consolation; life and the universe must be robbed of their
terrors; moreover his curiosity, moved, it is true, by the strongest practical
interest, demands an answer.A great deal is already gained with the first step:
the humanization of nature. Impersonal forces and destinies cannot be
approached; they remain eternally remote. But if the elements have passions that
rage as they do in our own souls, if death [FrS1 17] itself is not something
spontaneous but the violent act of an evil Will, if everywhere in nature there
are Beings around us of a kind that we know in our own society, then we can
breathe freely, can feel at home in the uncanny and can deal by psychical means
with our senseless anxiety. We are still defenceless, perhaps, but we are no
longer helplessly paralysed; we can at least react. Perhaps, indeed, we are not
even defenceless. We can apply the same methods against these violent supermen
outside that we employ in our own society; we can try to adjure them, to appease
them, to bribe them, and, by so influencing them, we may rob them of a part of
their power. A replacement like this of natural science by psychology not only
provides immediate relief, but also points the way to a further mastering of the
situation.For this situation is nothing new. It has an infantile prototype, of
which it is in fact only the continuation. For once before one has found oneself
in a similar state of helplessness: as a small child, in relation to one’s
parents. One had reason to fear them, and especially one’s father; and yet one
was sure of his protection against the dangers one knew. Thus it was natural to
assimilate the two situations. Here, too, wishing played its part, as it does in
dream-life. The sleeper may be seized with a presentiment of death, which
threatens to place him in the grave. But the dream-work knows how to select a
condition that will turn even that dreaded event into a wish-fulfilment: the
dreamer sees himself in an ancient Etruscan grave which he has climbed down
into, happy to find his archaeological interests satisfied.In the same way, a
man makes the forces of nature not simply into persons with whom he can
associate as he would with his equals that would not do justice to the
overpowering impression which those forces make on him but he gives them the
character of a father. He turns them into gods, following in this, as I have
tried to show, not only an infantile prototype but a phylogenetic one.In the
course of time the first observations were made of regularity and conformity to
law in natural phenomena, and with this the forces of nature lost their human
traits. But man’s [FrS1 18] helplessness remains and along with it his longing
for his father, and the gods. The gods retain their threefold task: they must
exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate,
particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the
sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on
them.But within these functions there is a gradual displacement of accent. It
was observed that the phenomena of nature developed automatically according to
internal necessities. Without doubt the gods were the lords of nature; they had
arranged it to be as it was and now they could leave it to itself. Only
occasionally, in what are known as miracles, did they intervene in its course,
as though to make it plain that they had relinquished nothing of their original
sphere of power. As regards the apportioning of destinies, an unpleasant
suspicion persisted that the perplexity and helplessness of the human race could
not be remedied. It was here that the gods were most apt to fail. If they
themselves created Fate, then their counsels must be deemed inscrutable. The
notion dawned on the most gifted people of antiquity that Moira [Fate] stood
above the gods and that the gods themselves had their own destinies. And the
more autonomous nature became and the more the gods withdrew from it, the more
earnestly were all expectations directed to the third function of the gods the
more did morality become their true domain. It now became the task of the gods
to even out the defects and evils of civilization, to attend to the sufferings
which men inflict on one another in their life together and to watch over the
fulfilment of the precepts of civilization, which men obey so imperfectly. Those
precepts themselves were credited with a divine origin; they were elevated
beyond human society and were extended to nature and the universe.And thus a
store of ideas is created, born from man’s need to make his helplessness
tolerable and built up from the material of memories of the helplessness of his
own childhood and the childhood of the human race. It can clearly be seen that
the possession of these ideas protects him in two directions against the dangers
of nature and Fate, and against the injuries that threaten him from human
society itself. Here is the gist of the matter. Life in this world serves a
higher purpose; no doubt it is not easy to guess what that purpose is, but it
certainly signifies a perfecting of man’s nature. It is probably the spiritual
part of [FrS1 19] man, the soul, which in the course of time has so slowly and
unwillingly detached itself from the body, that is the object of this elevation
and exaltation. Everything that happens in this world is an expression of the
intentions of an intelligence superior to us, which in the end, though its ways
and byways are difficult to follow, orders everything for the best that is, to
make it enjoyable for us. Over each one of us there watches a benevolent
Providence which is only seemingly stern and which will not suffer us to become
a plaything of the overmighty and pitiless forces of nature. Death itself is not
extinction, is not a return to inorganic lifelessness, but the beginning of a
new kind of existence which lies on the path of development to something higher.
And, looking in the other direction, this view announces that the same moral
laws which our civilizations have set up govern the whole universe as well,
except that they are maintained by a supreme court of justice with incomparably
more power and consistency. In the end all good is rewarded and all evil
punished, if not actually in this form of life then in the later existences that
begin after death. In this way all the terrors, the sufferings and the hardships
of life are destined to be obliterated. Life after death, which continues life
on earth just as the invisible part of the spectrum joins on to the visible
part, brings us all the perfection that we may perhaps have missed here. And the
superior wisdom which directs this course of things, the infinite goodness that
expresses itself in it, the justice that achieves its aim in it these are the
attributes of the divine beings who also created us and the world as a whole, or
rather, of the one divine being into which, in our civilization, all the gods of
antiquity have been condensed. The people which first succeeded in thus
concentrating the divine attributes was not a little proud of the advance. It
had laid open to view the father who had all along been hidden behind every
divine figure as its nucleus. Fundamentally this was a return to the historical
beginnings of the idea of God. Now that God was a single person, man’s relations
to him could recover the intimacy and intensity of the child’s relation to his
father. But if one had done so much for one’s father, one wanted to have a
reward, or at least to be his only beloved child, his Chosen People. Very much
later, pious America laid claim to being ‘God’s own Country’; and, as regards
one of the shapes in which men worship the deity, the claim is undoubtedly
valid.[FrS1 20] The religious ideas that have been summarized above have of
course passed through a long process of development and have been adhered to in
various phases by various civilizations. I have singled out one such phase,
which roughly corresponds to the final form taken by our present-day white
Christian civilization. It is easy to see that not all the parts of this picture
tally equally well with one another, that not all the questions that press for
an answer receive one, and that it is difficult to dismiss the contradiction of
daily experience. Nevertheless, such as they are, those ideas ideas which are
religious in the widest sense are prized as the most precious possession of
civilization, as the most precious thing it has to offer its participants. It is
far more highly prized than all the devices for winning treasures from the earth
or providing men with sustenance or preventing their illnesses, and so forth.
People feel that life would not be tolerable if they did not attach to these
ideas the value that is claimed for them. And now the question arises: what are
these ideas in the light of psychology? Whence do they derive the esteem in
which they are held? And, to take a further timid step, what is their real
worth?[FrS1 21] An enquiry which proceeds like a monologue, without
interruption, is not altogether free from danger. One is too easily tempted into
pushing aside thoughts which threaten to break into it, and in exchange one is
left with a feeling of uncertainty which in the end one tries to keep down by
over-decisiveness. I shall therefore imagine that I have an opponent who follows
my arguments with mistrust, and here and there I shall allow him to interject
some remarks.I hear him say: ‘You have repeatedly used the expressions
“civilization creates these religious ideas”, “civilization places them at the
disposal of its participants”. There is something about this that sounds strange
to me. I cannot myself say why, but it does not sound so natural as it does to
say that civilization has made rules about distributing the products of labour
or about rights concerning women and children.’I think, all the same, that I am
justified in expressing myself in this way. I have tried to show that religious
ideas have arisen from the same need as have all the other achievements of
civilization: from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushingly
superior force of nature. To this a second motive was added the urge to rectify
the shortcomings of civilization which made themselves painfully felt. Moreover,
it is especially apposite to say that civilization gives the individual these
ideas, for he finds them there already; they are presented to him ready-made,
and he would not be able to discover them for himself. What he is entering into
is the heritage of many generations, and he takes it over as he does the
multiplication table, geometry, and similar things. There is indeed a difference
in this, but that difference lies elsewhere and I cannot examine it yet. The
feeling of strangeness that you mention may be partly due to the fact that this
body of religious ideas is usually put forward as a divine revelation. But this
presentation of it is itself a part of the religious system, and it entirely
ignores the [FrS1 22] known historical development of these ideas and their
differences in different epochs and civilizations.‘Here is another point, which
seems to me to be more important. You argue that the humanization of nature is
derived from the need to put an end to man’s perplexity and helplessness in the
face of its dreaded forces, to get into a relation with them and finally to
influence them. But a motive of this kind seems superfluous. Primitive man has
no choice, he has no other way of thinking. It is natural to him, something
innate, as it were, to project his existence outwards into the world and to
regard every event which he observes as the manifestation of beings who at
bottom are like himself. It is his only method of comprehension. And it is by no
means self-evident, on the contrary it is a remarkable coincidence, if by thus
indulging his natural disposition he succeeds in satisfying one of his greatest
needs.’I do not find that so striking. Do you suppose that human thought has no
practical motives, that it is simply the expression of a disinterested
curiosity? That is surely very improbable. I believe rather that when man
personifies the forces of nature he is again following an infantile model. He
has learnt from the persons in his earliest environment that the way to
influence them is to establish a relation with them; and so, later on, with the
same end in view, he treats everything else that he comes across in the same way
as he treated those persons. Thus I do not contradict your descriptive
observation; it is in fact natural to man to personify everything that he wants
to understand in order later to control it (psychical mastering as a preparation
for physical mastering); but I provide in addition a motive and a genesis for
this peculiarity of human thinking.‘And now here is yet a third point. You have
dealt with the origin of religion once before, in your book Totem and Taboo
[1912-13]. But there it appeared in a different light. Everything was the
son-father relationship. God was the exalted father, and the longing for the
father was the root of the need for religion. Since then, it seems, you have
discovered the factor of human weakness and helplessness, to which indeed the
chief role in the formation of religion is generally assigned, and now you
transpose everything that was once the father complex into terms of
helplessness. May I ask you to explain this transformation?’With pleasure. I was
only waiting for this invitation. But is [FrS1 23] it really a transformation?
In Totem and Taboo it was not my purpose to explain the origin of religions but
only of totemism. Can you, from any of the views known to you, explain the fact
that the first shape in which the protecting deity revealed itself to men should
have been that of an animal, that there was a prohibition against killing and
eating this animal and that nevertheless the solemn custom was to kill and eat
it communally once a year? This is precisely what happens in totemism. And it is
hardly to the purpose to argue about whether totemism ought to be called a
religion. It has intimate connections with the later god-religions. The totem
animals become the sacred animals of the gods; and the earliest, but most
fundamental moral restrictions the prohibitions against murder and incest
originate in totemism. Whether or not you accept the conclusions of Totem and
Taboo, I hope you will admit that a number of very remarkable, disconnected
facts are brought together in it into a consistent whole.The question of why in
the long run the animal god did not suffice, and was replaced by a human one,
was hardly touched on in Totem and Taboo, and other problems concerning the
formation of religion were not mentioned in the book at all. Do you regard a
limitation of that kind as the same thing as a denial? My work is a good example
of the strict isolation of the particular contribution which psycho-analytic
discussion can make to the solution of the problem of religion. If I am now
trying to add the other, less deeply concealed part, you should not accuse me of
contradicting myself, just as before you accused me of being one-sided. It is,
of course, my duty to point out the connecting links between what I said earlier
and what I put forward now, between the deeper and the manifest motives, between
the father-complex and man’s helplessness and need for protection.These
connections are not hard to find. They consist in the relation of the child’s
helplessness to the helplessness of the adult which continues it. So that, as
was to be expected, the motives for the formation of religion which
psycho-analysis revealed now turn out to be the same as the infantile
contribution to the manifest motives. Let us transport ourselves into the mental
life of a child. You remember the choice of object according to the anaclitic
[attachment] type, which psycho-analysis talks of? [FrS1 24] The libido there
follows the paths of narcissistic needs and attaches itself to the objects which
ensure the satisfaction of those needs. In this way the mother, who satisfies
the child’s hunger, becomes its first love-object and certainly also its first
protection against all the undefined dangers which threaten it in the external
world its first protection against anxiety, we may say.In this function [of
protection] the mother is soon replaced by the stronger father, who retains that
position for the rest of childhood. But the child’s attitude to its father is
coloured by a peculiar ambivalence. The father himself constitutes a danger for
the child, perhaps because of its earlier relation to its mother. Thus it fears
him no less than it longs for him and admires him. The indications of this
ambivalence in the attitude to the father are deeply imprinted in every
religion, as was shown in Totem and Taboo. When the growing individual finds
that he is destined to remain a child for ever, that he can never do without
protection against strange superior powers, he lends those powers the features
belonging to the figure of his father; he creates for himself the gods whom he
dreads, whom he seeks to propitiate, and whom he nevertheless entrusts with his
own protection. Thus his longing for a father is a motive identical with his
need for protection against the consequences of his human weakness. The defence
against childish helplessness is what lends its characteristic features to the
adult’s reaction to the helplessness which he has to acknowledge a reaction
which is precisely the formation of religion. But it is not my intention to
enquire any further into the development of the idea of God; what we are
concerned with here is the finished body of religious ideas as it is transmitted
by civilization to the individual.[FrS1 25] Let us now take up the thread of our
enquiry. What, then, is the psychological significance of religious ideas and
under what heading are we to classify them? The question is not at all easy to
answer immediately. After rejecting a number of formulations, we will take our
stand on the following one. Religious ideas are teachings and assertions about
facts and conditions of external (or internal) reality which tell one something
one has not discovered for oneself and which lay claim to one’s belief. Since
they give us information about what is most important and interesting to us in
life, they are particularly highly prized. Anyone who knows nothing of them is
very ignorant; and anyone who has added them to his knowledge may consider
himself much the richer.There are, of course, many such teachings about the most
various things in the world. Every school lesson is full of them. Let us take
geography. We are told that the town of Constance lies on the Bodensee. A
student song adds: ‘if you don’t believe it, go and see.’ I happen to have been
there and can confirm the fact that that lovely town lies on the shore of a wide
stretch of water which all those who live round it call the Bodensee; and I am
now completely convinced of the correctness of this geographical assertion. In
this connection I am reminded of another, very remarkable, experience. I was
already a man of mature years when I stood for the first time on the hill of the
Acropolis in Athens, between the temple ruins, looking out over the blue sea. A
feeling of astonishment mingled with my joy. It seemed to say: ‘So it really is
true, just as we learnt at school!’ How shallow and weak must have been the
belief I then acquired in the real truth of what I heard, if I could be so
astonished now! But I will not lay too much stress on the significance of this
experience; for my astonishment could have had another explanation, which did
not occur to me at the time and which is of a wholly subjective nature and has
to do with the special character of the place.[FrS1 26] All teachings like
these, then, demand belief in their contents, but not without producing grounds
for their claim. They are put forward as the epitomized result of a longer
process of thought based on observation and certainly also on inferences. If
anyone wants to go through this process himself instead of accepting its result,
they show him how to set about it. Moreover, we are always in addition given the
source of the knowledge conveyed by them, where that source is not self-evident,
as it is in the case of geographical assertions. For instance, the earth is
shaped like a sphere; the proofs adduced for this are Foucault’s pendulum
experiment, the behaviour of the horizon and the possibility of circumnavigating
the earth. Since it is impracticable, as everyone concerned realizes, to send
every schoolchild on a voyage round the world, we are satisfied with letting
what is taught at school be taken on trust; but we know that the path to
acquiring a personal conviction remains open.Let us try to apply the same test
to the teachings of religion. When we ask on what their claim to be believed is
founded, we are met with three answers, which harmonize remarkably badly with
one another. Firstly, these teachings deserve to be believed because they were
already believed by our primal ancestors; secondly, we possess proofs which have
been handed down to us from those same primaeval times; and thirdly, it is
forbidden to raise the question of their authentication at all. In former days
anything so presumptuous was visited with the severest penalties, and even
to-day society looks askance at any attempt to raise the question again.This
third point is bound to rouse our strongest suspicions. After all, a prohibition
like this can only be for one reason that society is very well aware of the
insecurity of the claim it makes on behalf of its religious doctrines. Otherwise
it would certainly be very ready to put the necessary data at the disposal of
anyone who wanted to arrive at conviction. This being so, it is with a feeling
of mistrust which it is hard to allay that we pass on to an examination of the
other two grounds of proof. We ought to believe because our forefathers
believed. But these [FrS1 27] ancestors of ours were far more ignorant than we
are. They believed in things we could not possibly accept to-day; and the
possibility occurs to us that the doctrines of religion may belong to that class
too. The proofs they have left us are set down in writings which themselves bear
every mark of untrustworthiness. They are full of contradictions, revisions and
falsifications, and where they speak of factual confirmations they are
themselves unconfirmed. It does not help much to have it asserted that their
wording, or even their content only, originates from divine revelation; for this
assertion is itself one of the doctrines whose authenticity is under
examination, and no proposition can be a proof of itself.Thus we arrive at the
singular conclusion that of all the information provided by our cultural assets
it is precisely the elements which might be of the greatest importance to us and
which have the task of solving the riddles of the universe and of reconciling us
to the sufferings of life it is precisely those elements that are the least well
authenticated of any. We should not be able to bring ourselves to accept
anything of so little concern to us as the fact that whales bear young instead
of laying eggs, if it were not capable of better proof than this.This state of
affairs is in itself a very remarkable psychological problem. And let no one
suppose that what I have said about the impossibility of proving the truth of
religious doctrines contains anything new. It has been felt at all times
undoubtedly, too, by the ancestors who bequeathed us this legacy. Many of them
probably nourished the same doubts as ours, but the pressure imposed on them was
too strong for them to have dared to utter them. And since then countless people
have been tormented by similar doubts, and have striven to suppress them,
because they thought it was their duty to believe; many brilliant intellects
have broken down over this conflict, and many characters have been impaired by
the compromises with which they have tried to find a way out of it.If all the
evidence put forward for the authenticity of religious teachings originates in
the past, it is natural to look round and see whether the present, about which
it is easier to form judgements, may not also be able to furnish evidence of the
sort. If by this means we could succeed in clearing even a single portion of the
religious system from doubt, the whole of it would gain enormously in
credibility. The proceedings of the spiritualists [FrS1 28] meet us at this
point; they are convinced of the survival of the individual soul and they seek
to demonstrate to us beyond doubt the truth of this one religious doctrine.
Unfortunately they cannot succeed in refuting the fact that the appearance and
utterances of their spirits are merely the products of their own mental
activity. They have called up the spirits of the greatest men and of the most
eminent thinkers, but all the pronouncements and information which they have
received from them have been so foolish and so wretchedly meaningless that one
can find nothing credible in them but the capacity of the spirits to adapt
themselves to the circle of people who have conjured them up.I must now mention
two attempts that have been made both of which convey the impression of being
desperate efforts to evade the problem. One, of a violent nature, is ancient;
the other is subtle and modern. The first is the ‘Credo quia absurdum’ of the
early Father of the Church.[‘I believe because it is absurd.’ This is attributed
to Tertullian.] It maintains that religious doctrines are outside the
jurisdiction of reason are above reason. Their truth must be felt inwardly, and
they need not be comprehended. But this Credo is only of interest as a
self-confession. As an authoritative statement it has no binding force. Am I to
be obliged to believe every absurdity? And if not, why this one in particular?
There is no appeal to a court above that of reason. If the truth of religious
doctrines is dependent on an inner experience which bears witness to that truth,
what is one to do about the many people who do not have this rare experience?
One may require every man to use the gift of reason which he possesses, but one
cannot ere+t, on the basis of a motive that exists only for a very few, an
obligation that shall apply to everyone. If one man has gained an unshakable
conviction of the true reality of religious doctrines from a state of ecstasy
which has deeply moved him, of what significance is that to others?The second
attempt is the one made by the philosophy of ‘As if’. This asserts that our
thought-activity includes a great number of hypotheses whose groundlessness and
even absurdity we fully realize. They are called ‘fictions’, but for a variety
of practical reasons we have to behave ‘as if’ we believed in these fictions.
This is the case with religious doctrines because of their incomparable
importance for the maintenance of human [FrS1 29] society. This line of argument
is not far removed from the ‘Credo quia absurdum’. But I think the demand made
by the ‘As if’ argument is one that only a philosopher could put forward. A man
whose thinking is not influenced by the artifices of philosophy will never be
able to accept it; in such a man’s view, the admission that something is absurd
or contrary to reason leaves no more to be said. It cannot be expected of him
that precisely in treating his most important interests he shall forgo the
guarantees he requires for all his ordinary activities. I am reminded of one of
my children who was distinguished at an early age by a peculiarly marked
matter-of-factness. When the children were being told a fairy story and were
listening to it with rapt attention, he would come up and ask: ‘Is that a true
story?’ When he was told it was not, he would turn away with a look of disdain.
We may expect that people will soon behave in the same way towards the fairy
tales of religion, in spite of the advocacy of ‘As if’.But at present they still
behave quite differently; and in past times religious ideas, in spite of their
incontrovertible lack of authentication, have exercised the strongest possible
influence on mankind. This is a fresh psychological problem. We must ask where
the inner force of those doctrines lies and to what it is that they owe their
efficacy, independent as it is of recognition by reason.[FrS1 30] I think we
have prepared the way sufficiently for an answer to both these questions. It
will be found if we turn our attention to the psychical origin of religious
ideas. These, which are given out as teachings, are not precipitates of
experience or endresults of thinking: they are illusions, fulfilments of the
oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their
strength lies in the strength of those wishes. As we already know, the
terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for
protection for protection through love which was provided by the father; and the
recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to
cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the
benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life;
the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfilment of the demands
of justice, which have so often remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and
the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and
temporal framework in which these wish-fulfilments shall take place. Answers to
the riddles that tempt the curiosity of man, such as how the universe began or
what the relation is between body and mind, are developed in conformity with the
underlying assumptions of this system. It is an enormous relief to the
individual psyche if the conflicts of its childhood arising from the
father-complex conflicts which it has never wholly overcome are removed from it
and brought to a solution which is universally accepted.When I say that these
things are all illusions, I must define the meaning of the word. An illusion is
not the same thing as an error; nor is it necessarily an error. Aristotle’s
belief that vermin are developed out of dung (a belief to which ignorant people
still cling) was an error; so was the belief of a former generation of doctors
that tabes dorsalis is the result of se+ual excess. It would be incorrect to
call these errors illusions. On the other hand, it was an illusion of Columbus’s
that he had discovered a new sea-route to the Indies. The part played by his
wish in this error is very clear. One may describe as an illusion the assertion
made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic [FrS1 31] race is the only
one capable of civilization; or the belief, which was only destroyed by
psycho-analysis, that children are creatures without se+uality. What is
characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes. In this
respect they come near to psychiatric delusions. But they differ from them, too,
apart from the more complicated structure of delusions. In the case of
delusions, we emphasize as essential their being in contradiction with reality.
Illusions need not necessarily be false that is to say, unrealizable or in
contradiction to reality. For instance, a middle-class girl may have the
illusion that a prince will come and marry her. This is possible; and a few such
cases have occurred. That the Messiah will come and found a golden age is much
less likely. Whether one classifies this belief as an illusion or as something
analogous to a delusion will depend on one’s personal attitude. Examples of
illusions which have proved true are not easy to find, but the illusion of the
alchemists that all metals can be turned into gold might be one of them. The
wish to have a great deal of gold, as much gold as possible, has, it is true,
been a good deal damped by our present-day knowledge of the determinants of
wealth, but chemistry no longer regards the transmutation of metals into gold as
impossible. Thus we call a belief an illusion when a wish-fulfilment is a
prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its relations
to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.Having
thus taken our bearings, let us return once more to the question of religious
doctrines. We can now repeat that all of them are illusions and insusceptible of
proof. No one can be compelled to think them true, to believe in them. Some of
them are so improbable, so incompatible with everything we have laboriously
discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them if we pay
proper regard to the psychological differences to delusions. Of the reality
value of most of them we cannot judge; just as they cannot be proved, so they
cannot be refuted. We still know too little to make a critical approach to them.
The riddles of the universe reveal themselves only slowly to our investigation;
there are many questions to which science to-day can give no answer. But
scientific work is the only road which can lead us to a knowledge of reality
outside ourselves. It is once again merely an illusion to expect anything from
intuition and introspection; they can give us nothing [FrS1 32] but particulars
about our own mental life, which are hard to interpret, never any information
about the questions which religious doctrine finds it so easy to answer. It
would be insolent to let one’s own arbitrary will step into the breach and,
according to one’s personal estimate, declare this or that part of the religious
system to be less or more acceptable. Such questions are too momentous for that;
they might be called too sacred.At this point one must expect to meet with an
objection. ‘Well then, if even obdurate sceptics admit that the assertions of
religion cannot be refuted by reason, why should I not believe in them, since
they have so much on their side tradition, the agreement of mankind, and all the
consolations they offer?’ Why not, indeed? Just as no one can be forced to
believe, so no one can be forced to disbelieve. But do not let us be satisfied
with deceiving ourselves that arguments like these take us along the road of
correct thinking. If ever there was a case of a lame excuse we have it here.
Ignorance is ignorance; no right to believe anything can be derived from it. In
other matters no sensible person will behave so irresponsibly or rest content
with such feeble grounds for his opinions and for the line he takes. It is only
in the highest and most sacred things that he allows himself to do so. In
reality these are only attempts at pretending to oneself or to other people that
one is still firmly attached to religion, when one has long since cut oneself
loose from it. Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of
every possible sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanour. Philosophers
stretch the meaning of words until they retain scarcely anything of their
original sense. They give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they
have created for themselves; having done so they can pose before all the world
as deists, as believers in God, and they can even boast that they have
recognized a higher, purer concept of God, notwithstanding that their God is now
nothing more than an insubstantial shadow and no longer the mighty personality
of religious doctrines. Critics persist in describing as ‘deeply religious’
anyone who admits to a sense of man’s insignificance or impotence in the face of
the universe, although what constitutes the essence of the religious attitude is
not this feeling but only the next step after it, the reaction to it which seeks
a remedy for it. The man who goes no further, but humbly acquiesces in [FrS1 33]
the small part which human beings play in the great world such a man is, on the
contrary, irreligious in the truest sense of the word.To assess the truth-value
of religious doctrines does not lie within the scope of the present enquiry. It
is enough for us that we have recognized them as being, in their psychological
nature, illusions. But we do not have to conceal the fact that this discovery
also strongly influences our attitude to the question which must appear to many
to be the most important of all. We know approximately at what periods and by
what kind of men religious doctrines were created. If in addition we discover
the motives which led to this, our attitude to the problem of religion will
undergo a marked displacement. We shall tell ourselves that it would be very
nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent Providence,
and if there were a moral order in the universe and an after-life; but it is a
very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.
And it would be more remarkable still if our wretched, ignorant and downtrodden
ancestors had succeeded in solving all these difficult riddles of the
universe.[FrS1 34] Having recognized religious doctrines as illusions, we are at
once faced by a further question: may not other cultural assets of which we hold
a high opinion and by which we let our lives be ruled be of a similar nature?
Must not the assumptions that determine our political regulations be called
illusions as well? and is it not the case that in our civilization the relations
between the sexes are disturbed by an erotic illusion or a number of such
illusions? And once our suspicion has been aroused, we shall not shrink from
asking too whether our conviction that we can learn something about external
reality through the use of observation and reasoning in scientific work whether
this conviction has any better foundation. Nothing ought to keep us from
directing our observation to our own selves or from applying our thought to
criticism of itself. In this field a number of investigations open out before
us, whose results could not but be decisive for the construction of a
‘Weltanschauung’. We surmise, moreover, that such an effort would not be wasted
and that it would at least in part justify our suspicion. But the author does
not dispose of the means for undertaking so comprehensive a task; he needs must
confine his work to following out one only of these illusions that, namely, of
religion.But now the loud voice of our opponent brings us to a halt. We are
called to account for our wrong-doing:‘Archaeological interests are no doubt
most praiseworthy, but no one undertakes an excavation if by doing so he is
going to undermine the habitations of the living so that they collapse and bury
people under their ruins. The doctrines of religion are not a subject one can
quibble about like any other. Our civilization is built upon them, and the
maintenance of human society is based on the majority of men’s believing in the
truth of those doctrines. If men are taught that there is no almighty and
all-just God, no divine world-order and no future life, they will feel exempt
from all obligation to obey the precepts of civilization. Everyone will, without
inhibition or fear, follow his asocial, egoistic instincts and seek to exercise
his power; Chaos, which we have banished through many thousands of years of the
work of civilization, will come again. Even if we [FrS1 35] knew, and could
prove, that religion was not in possession of the truth, we ought to conceal the
fact and behave in the way prescribed by the philosophy of “As if” and this in
the interest of the preservation of us all. And apart from the danger of the
undertaking, it would be a purposeless cruelty. Countless people find their one
consolation in religious doctrines, and can only bear life with their help. You
would rob them of their support, without having anything better to give them in
exchange. It is admitted that so far science has not achieved much, but even if
it had advanced much further it would not suffice for man. Man has imperative
needs of another sort, which can never be satisfied by cold science; and it is
very strange indeed, it is the height of inconsistency that a psychologist who
has always insisted on what a minor part is played in human affairs by the
intelligence as compared with the life of the instincts that such a psychologist
should now try to rob mankind of a precious wish-fulfilment and should propose
to compensate them for it with intellectual nourishment.’What a lot of
accusations all at once! Nevertheless I am ready with rebuttals for them all;
and, what is more, I shall assert the view that civilization runs a greater risk
if we maintain our present attitude to religion than if we give it up.But I
hardly know where to begin my reply. Perhaps with the assurance that I myself
regard my undertaking as completely harmless and free of risk. It is not I who
am overvaluing the intellect this time. If people are as my opponents describe
them and I should not like to contradict them then there is no danger of a
devout believer’s being overcome by my arguments and deprived of his faith.
Besides, I have said nothing which other and better men have not said before me
in a much more complete, forcible and impressive manner. Their names are well
known, and I shall not cite them, for I should not like to give an impression
that I am seeking to rank myself as one of them. All I have done and this is the
only thing that is new in my exposition is to add some psychological foundation
to the criticisms of my great predecessors. It is hardly to be expected that
precisely this addition will produce the effect which was denied to those
earlier efforts. No doubt I might be asked here what is the point of writing
these things if I am certain that they will be ineffective. But I shall come
back to that later.The one person this publication may injure is myself. I shall
[FrS1 36] have to listen to the most disagreeable reproaches for my shallowness,
narrow-mindedness and lack of idealism or of understanding for the highest
interests of mankind. But on the one hand, such remonstrances are not new to me;
and on the other, if a man has already learnt in his youth to rise superior to
the disapproval of his contemporaries, what can it matter to him in his old age
when he is certain soon to be beyond the reach of all favour or disfavour? In
former times it was different. Then utterances such as mine brought with them a
sure curtailment of one’s earthly existence and an effective speeding-up of the
opportunity for gaining a personal experience of the afterlife. But, I repeat,
those times are past and to-day writings such as this bring no more danger to
their author than to their readers. The most that can happen is that the
translation and distribution of his book will be forbidden in one country or
another and precisely, of course, in a country that is convinced of the high
standard of its culture. But if one puts in any plea at all for the renunciation
of wishes and for acquiescence in Fate, one must be able to tolerate this kind
of injury too.The further question occurred to me whether the publication of
this work might not after all do harm. Not to a person, however, but to a cause
the cause of psycho-analysis. For it cannot be denied that psycho-analysis is my
creation, and it has met with plenty of mistrust and ill-will. If I now come
forward with such displeasing pronouncements, people will be only too ready to
make a displacement from my person to psychoanalysis. ‘Now we see,’ they will
say, ‘where psycho-analysis leads to. The mask has fallen; it leads to a denial
of God and of a moral ideal, as we always suspected. To keep us from this
discovery we have been deluded into thinking that psychoanalysis has no
Weltanschauung and never can construct one.’An outcry of this kind will really
be disagreeable to me on account of my many fellow-workers, some of whom do not
by any means share my attitude to the problems of religion. But psycho-analysis
has already weathered many storms and now it must brave this fresh one. In point
of fact psycho-analysis is a method of research, an impartial instrument, like
the infinitesimal calculus, as it were. If a physicist were to discover with the
latter’s help that after a certain time the earth would be [FrS1 37] destroyed,
we would nevertheless hesitate to attribute destructive tendencies to the
calculus itself and therefore to proscribe it. Nothing that I have said here
against the truth-value of religions needed the support of psycho-analysis; it
had been said by others long before analysis came into existence. If the
application of the psycho-analytic method makes it possible to find a new
argument against the truths of religion, tant pis for religion; but defenders of
religion will by the same right make use of psycho-analysis in order to give
full value to the affective significance of religious doctrines.And now to
proceed with our defence. Religion has clearly performed great services for
human civilization. It has contributed much towards the taming of the asocial
instincts. But not enough. It has ruled human society for many thousands of
years and has had time to show what it can achieve. If it had succeeded in
making the majority of mankind happy, in comforting them, in reconciling them to
life and in making them into vehicles of civilization, no one would dream of
attempting to alter the existing conditions. But what do we see instead? We see
that an appallingly large number of people are dissatisfied with civilization
and unhappy in it, and feel it as a yoke which must be shaken off; and that
these people either do everything in their power to change that civilization, or
else go so far in their hostility to it that they will have nothing to do with
civilization or with a restriction of instinct. At this point it will be
objected against us that this state of affairs is due to the very fact that
religion has lost a part of its influence over human masses precisely because of
the deplorable effect of the advances of science. We will note this admission
and the reason given for it, and we shall make use of it later for our own
purposes; but the objection itself has no force.It is doubtful whether men were
in general happier at a time when religious doctrines held unrestricted sway;
more moral they certainly were not. They have always known how to externalize
the precepts of religion and thus to nullify their intentions. The priests,
whose duty it was to ensure obedience to religion, met them half-way in this.
God’s kindness must lay a restraining hand on His justice. One sinned, and then
one made a sacrifice or did penance and then one was free to sin once more.
Russian introspectiveness has reached the pitch of concluding that sin is
indispensable for the enjoyment of all the [FrS1 38] blessings of divine grace,
so that, at bottom, sin is pleasing to God. It is no secret that the priests
could only keep the masses submissive to religion by making such large
concessions as these to the instinctual nature of man. Thus it was agreed: God
alone is strong and good, man is weak and sinful. In every age immorality has
found no less support in religion than morality has. If the achievements of
religion in respect to man’s happiness, susceptibility to culture and moral
control are no better than this, the question cannot but arise whether we are
not overrating its necessity for mankind, and whether we do wisely in basing our
cultural demands upon it.Let us consider the unmistakable situation as it is
to-day. We have heard the admission that religion no longer has the same
influence on people that it used to. (We are here concerned with European
Christian civilization.) And this is not because its promises have grown less
but because people find them less credible. Let us admit that the reason though
perhaps not the only reason for this change is the increase of the scientific
spirit in the higher strata of human society. Criticism has whittled away the
evidential value of religious documents, natural science has shown up the errors
in them, and comparative research has been struck by the fatal resemblance
between the religious ideas which we revere and the mental products of primitive
peoples and times.The scientific spirit brings about a particular attitude
towards worldly matters; before religious matters it pauses for a little,
hesitates, and finally there too crosses the threshold. In this process there is
no stopping; the greater the number of men to whom the treasures of knowledge
become accessible, the more widespread is the falling-away from religious belief
at first only from its obsolete and objectionable trappings, but later from its
fundamental postulates as well. The Americans who instituted the ‘monkey trial’
at Dayton [A small town in Tennessee where, in 1925, a science teacher was
prosecuted for breach of a State law by teaching that ‘man is descended from the
lower animals’.] have alone shown themselves consistent. Elsewhere the
inevitable transition is accomplished by way of half-measures and
insincerities.[FrS1 39] Civilization has little to fear from educated people and
brainworkers. In them the replacement of religious motives for civilized
behaviour by other, secular motives would proceed unobtrusively; moreover, such
people are to a large extent themselves vehicles of civilization. But it is
another matter with the great mass of the uneducated and oppressed, who have
every reason for being enemies of civilization. So long as they do not discover
that people no longer believe in God, all is well. But they will discover it,
infallibly, even if this piece of writing of mine is not published. And they are
ready to accept the results of scientific thinking, but without the change
having taken place in them which scientific thinking brings about in people. Is
there not a danger here that the hostility of these masses to civilization will
throw itself against the weak spot that they have found in their task-mistress?
If the sole reason why you must not kill your neighbour is because God has
forbidden it and will severely punish you for it in this or the next life then,
when you learn that there is no God and that you need not fear His punishment,
you will certainly kill your neighbour without hesitation, and you can only be
prevented from doing so by mundane force. Thus either these dangerous masses
must be held down most severely and kept most carefully away from any chance of
intellectual awakening, or else the relationship between civilization and
religion must undergo a fundamental revision.[FrS1 40] One might think that
there would be no special difficulties in the way of carrying out this latter
proposal. It is true that it would involve a certain amount of renunciation, but
more would perhaps be gained than lost, and a great danger would be avoided.
Everyone is frightened of it, however, as though it would expose civilization to
a still greater danger. When St. Boniface [The eighth-century, Devonshire-born,
‘Apostle of Germany’.] cut down the tree that was venerated as sacred by the
Saxons the bystanders expected some fearful event to follow upon the sacrilege.
But nothing happened, and the Saxons accepted baptism.When civilization laid
down the commandment that a man shall not kill the neighbour whom he hates or
who is in his way or whose property he covets, this was clearly done in the
interest of man’s communal existence, which would not otherwise be practicable.
For the murderer would draw down on himself the vengeance of the murdered man’s
kinsmen and the secret envy of others, who within themselves feel as much
inclined as he does for such acts of violence. Thus he would not enjoy his
revenge or his robbery for long, but would have every prospect of soon being
killed himself. Even if he protected himself against his single foes by
extraordinary strength and caution, he would be bound to succumb to a
combination of weaker men. If a combination of this sort did not take place, the
murdering would continue endlessly and the final outcome would be that men would
exterminate one another. We should arrive at the same state of affairs between
individuals as still persists in Corsica between families, though elsewhere only
between nations. Insecurity of life, which is an equal danger for everyone, now
unites men into a society which prohibits the individual from killing and
reserves to itself the right to communal killing of anyone who violates the
prohibition. Here, then, we have justice and punishment.But we do not publish
this rational explanation of the prohibition against murder. We assert that the
prohibition has been issued by God. Thus we take it upon ourselves to guess His
intentions, and we find that He, too, is unwilling for men [FrS1 41] to
exterminate one another. In behaving in this way we are investing the cultural
prohibition with a quite special solemnity, but at the same time we risk making
its observance dependent on belief in God. If we retrace this step if we no
longer attribute to God what is our own will and if we content ourselves with
giving the social reason then, it is true, we have renounced the transfiguration
of the cultural prohibition, but we have also avoided the risk to it. But we
gain something else as well. Through some kind of diffusion or infection, the
character of sanctity and inviolability of belonging to another world, one might
say has spread from a few major prohibitions on to every other cultural
regulation, law and ordinance. But on these the halo often looks far from
becoming: not only do they invalidate one another by giving contrary decisions
at different times and places, but apart from this they show every sign of human
inadequacy. It is easy to recognize in them things that can only be the product
of shortsighted apprehensiveness or an expression of selfishly narrow interests
or a conclusion based on insufficient premises. The criticism which we cannot
fail to level at them also diminishes to an unwelcome extent our respect for
other, more justifiable cultural demands. Since it is an awkward task to
separate what God Himself has demanded from what can be traced to the authority
of an all-powerful parliament or a high judiciary, it would be an undoubted
advantage if we were to leave God out altogether and honestly admit the purely
human origin of all the regulations and precepts of civilization. Along with
their pretended sanctity, these commandments and laws would lose their rigidity
and unchangeableness as well. People could understand that they are made, not so
much to rule them as, on the contrary, to serve their interests; and they would
adopt a more friendly attitude to them, and instead of aiming at their
abolition, would aim only at their improvement. This would be an important
advance along the road which leads to becoming reconciled to the burden of
civilization.But here our plea for ascribing purely rational reasons to the
precepts of civilization that is to say, for deriving them from social necessity
is interrupted by a sudden doubt. We have chosen as our example the origin of
the prohibition against murder. But does our account of it tally with historical
truth? We fear not; it appears to be nothing but a rationalistic [FrS1 42]
construction. With the help of psycho-analysis, we have made a study of
precisely this piece of the cultural history of mankind, and, basing ourselves
on it, we are bound to say that in reality things happened otherwise. Even in
present-day man purely reasonable motives can effect little against passionate
impulsions. How much weaker then must they have been in the human animal of
primaeval times! Perhaps his descendants would even now kill one another without
inhibition, if it were not that among those murderous acts there was one the
killing of the primitive father which evoked an irresistible emotional reaction
with momentous consequences. From it arose the commandment: Thou shalt not kill.
Under totemism this commandment was restricted to the father-substitute; but it
was later extended to other people, though even to-day it is not universally
obeyed.But, as was shown by arguments which I need not repeat here, the primal
father was the original image of God, the model on which later generations have
shaped the figure of God. Hence the religious explanation is right. God actually
played a part in the genesis of that prohibition; it was His influence, not any
insight into social necessity, which created it. And the displacement of man’s
will on to God is fully justified. For men knew that they had disposed of their
father by violence, and in their reaction to that impious deed, they determined
to respect his will thenceforward. Thus religious doctrine tells us the
historical truth though subject, it is true, to some modification and disguise
whereas our rational account disavows it.We now observe that the store of
religious ideas includes not only wish-fulfilments but important historical
recollections. This concurrent influence of past and present must give religion
a truly incomparable wealth of power. But perhaps with the help of an analogy
yet another discovery may begin to dawn on us. Though it is not a good plan to
transplant ideas far from the soil in which they grew up, yet here is a
conformity which we cannot avoid pointing out. We know that a human child cannot
successfully complete its development to the civilized stage without passing
through a phase of neurosis sometimes of greater and sometimes of less
distinctness. This is because so many instinctual demands which will later be
[FrS1 43] unserviceable cannot be suppressed by the rational operation of the
child’s intellect but have to be tamed by acts of repression, behind which, as a
rule, lies the motive of anxiety. Most of these infantile neuroses are overcome
spontaneously in the course of growing up, and this is especially true of the
obsessional neuroses of childhood. The remainder can be cleared up later still
by psycho-analytic treatment. In just the same way, one might assume, humanity
as a whole, in its development through the ages, fell into states analogous to
the neuroses, and for the same reasons namely because in the times of its
ignorance and intellectual weakness the instinctual renunciations indispensable
for man’s communal existence had only been achieved by it by means of purely
affective forces. The precipitates of these processes resembling repression
which took place in prehistoric times still remained attached to civilization
for long periods. Religion would thus be the universal obsessional neurosis of
humanity; like the obsessional neurosis of children, it arose out of the Oedipus
complex, out of the relation to the father. If this view is right, it is to be
supposed that a turning-away from religion is bound to occur with the fatal
inevitability of a process of growth, and that we find ourselves at this very
juncture in the middle of that phase of development. Our behaviour should
therefore be modelled on that of a sensible teacher who does not oppose an
impending new development but seeks to ease its path and mitigate the violence
of its irruption. Our analogy does not, to be sure, exhaust the essential nature
of religion. If, on the one hand, religion brings with it obsessional
restrictions, exactly as an individual obsessional neurosis does, on the other
hand it comprises a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of
reality, such as we find in an isolated form nowhere else but in amentia
[‘Meynert’s amentia’: a state of acute hallucinatory confusion.], in a state of
blissful hallucinatory confusion. But these are only analogies, by the help of
which we endeavour to understand a social phenomenon; the pathology of the
individual does not supply us with a fully valid counterpart.It has been
repeatedly pointed out (by myself and in [FrS1 44] particular by Theodor Reik)
in how great detail the analogy between religion and obsessional neurosis can be
followed out, and how many of the peculiarities and vicissitudes in the
formation of religion can be understood in that light. And it tallies well with
this that devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the risk of
certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares
them the task of constructing a personal one.Our knowledge of the historical
worth of certain religious doctrines increases our respect for them, but does
not invalidate our proposal that they should cease to be put forward as the
reasons for the precepts of civilization. On the contrary! Those historical
residues have helped us to view religious teachings, as it were, as neurotic
relics, and we may now argue that the time has probably come, as it does in an
analytic treatment, for replacing the effects of repression by the results of
the rational operation of the intellect. We may foresee, but hardly regret, that
such a process of remoulding will not stop at renouncing the solemn
transfiguration of cultural precepts, but that a general revision of them will
result in many of them being done away with. In this way our appointed task of
reconciling men to civilization will to a great extent be achieved. We need not
deplore the renunciation of historical truth when we put forward rational
grounds for the precepts of civilization. The truths contained in religious
doctrines are after all so distorted and systematically disguised that the mass
of humanity cannot recognize them as truth. The case is similar to what happens
when we tell a child that new-born babies are brought by the stork. Here, too,
we are telling the truth in symbolic clothing, for we know what the large bird
signifies. But the child does not know it. He hears only the distorted part of
what we say, and feels that he has been deceived; and we know how often his
distrust of the grown-ups and his refractoriness actually take their start from
this impression. We have become convinced that it is better to avoid such
symbolic disguisings of the truth in what we tell children and not to withhold
from them a [FrS1 45] knowledge of the true state of affairs commensurate with
their intellectual level.[FrS1 46] ‘You permit yourself contradictions which are
hard to reconcile with one another. You begin by saying that a piece of writing
like yours is quite harmless: no one will let himself be robbed of his faith by
considerations of the sort put forward in it. But since it is nevertheless your
intention, as becomes evident later on, to upset that faith, we may ask why in
fact you are publishing your work? In another passage, moreover, you admit that
it may be dangerous, indeed very dangerous, for someone to discover that people
no longer believe in God. Hitherto he has been docile, but now he throws off his
obedience to the precepts of civilization. Yet your whole contention that basing
the commandments of civilization on religious grounds constitutes a danger for
civilization rests on the assumption that the believer can be turned into an
unbeliever. Surely that is a complete contradiction.‘And here is another. On the
one hand you admit that men cannot be guided through their intelligence, they
are ruled by their passions and their instinctual demands. But on the other hand
you propose to replace the affective basis of their obedience to civilization by
a rational one. Let who can understand this. To me it seems that it must be
either one thing or the other.‘Besides, have you learned nothing from history?
Once before an attempt of this kind was made to substitute reason for religion,
officially and in the grand manner. Surely you remember the French Revolution
and Robespierre? And you must also remember how short-lived and miserably
ineffectual the experiment was? The same experiment is being repeated in Russia
at the present time, and we need not feel curious as to its outcome. Do you not
think we may take it for granted that men cannot do without religion?‘You have
said yourself that religion is more than an obsessional neurosis. But you have
not dealt with this other side of it. You are content to work out the analogy
with a neurosis. Men, you say, must be freed from a neurosis. What else may be
lost in the process is of no concern to you.’The appearance of contradiction has
probably come about [FrS1 47] because I have dealt with complicated matters too
hurriedly. But we can remedy this to some extent. I still maintain that what I
have written is quite harmless in one respect. No believer will let himself be
led astray from his faith by these or any similar arguments. A believer is bound
to the teachings of religion by certain ties of affection. But there are
undoubtedly countless other people who are not in the same sense believers. They
obey the precepts of civilization because they let themselves be intimidated by
the threats of religion, and they are afraid of religion so long as they have to
consider it as a part of the reality which hems them in. They are the people who
break away as soon as they are allowed to give up their belief in the
reality-value of religion. But they too are unaffected by arguments. They cease
to fear religion when they observe that others do not fear it; and it was of
them that I asserted that they would get to know about the decline of religious
influence even if I did not publish my work. [Cf. p. 39.]But I think you
yourself attach more weight to the other contradiction which you charge me with.
Since men are so little accessible to reasonable arguments and are so entirely
governed by their instinctual wishes, why should one set out to deprive them of
an instinctual satisfaction and replace it by reasonable arguments? It is true
that men are like this; but have you asked yourself whether they must be like
this, whether their innermost nature necessitates it? Can an anthropologist give
the cranial index of a people whose custom it is to deform their children’s
heads by bandaging them round from their earliest years? Think of the depressing
contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble
intellectual powers of the average adult. Can we be quite certain that it is not
precisely religious education which bears a large share of the blame for this
relative atrophy? I think it would be a very long time before a child who was
not influenced began to trouble himself about God and things in another world.
Perhaps his thoughts on these matters would then take the same paths as they did
with his forefathers. But we do not wait for such a development; we introduce
him to the doctrines of religion at an age when he is neither interested in them
nor capable of grasping their import. Is it not true that the two main points in
the programme for the education of children to-day are retardation of se+ual
development and premature religious [FrS1 48] influence? Thus by the time the
child’s intellect awakens, the doctrines of religion have already become
unassailable. But are you of opinion that it is very conducive to the
strengthening of the intellectual function that so important a field should be
closed against it by the threat of Hell-fire? When a man has once brought
himself to accept uncritically all the absurdities that religious doctrines put
before him and even to overlook the contradictions between them, we need not be
greatly surprised at the weakness of his intellect. But we have no other means
of controlling our instinctual nature but our intelligence. How can we expect
people who are under the dominance of prohibitions of thought to attain the
psychological ideal, the primacy of the intelligence? You know, too, that women
in general are said to suffer from ‘physiological feeble-mindedness’ that is,
from a lesser intelligence than men. The fact itself is disputable and its
interpretation doubtful, but one argument in favour of this intellectual atrophy
being of a secondary nature is that women labour under the harshness of an early
prohibition against turning their thoughts to what would most have interested
them namely, the problems of se+ual life. So long as a person’s early years are
influenced not only by a se+ual inhibition of thought but also by a religious
inhibition and by a loyal inhibition [i.e. related to the Monarchy] derived from
this, we cannot really tell what in fact he is like.But I will moderate my zeal
and admit the possibility that I, too, am chasing an illusion. Perhaps the
effect of the religious prohibition of thought may not be so bad as I suppose;
perhaps it will turn out that human nature remains the same even if education is
not abused in order to subject people to religion. I do not know and you cannot
know either. It is not only the great problems of this life that seem insoluble
at the present time; many lesser questions too are difficult to answer. But you
must admit that here we are justified in having a hope for the future that
perhaps there is a treasure to be dug up capable of enriching civilization and
that it is worth making the experiment of an irreligious education. Should the
experiment prove unsatisfactory I am ready to give up the reform and to return
[FrS1 49] to my earlier, purely descriptive judgement that man is a creature of
weak intelligence who is ruled by his instinctual wishes.On another point I
agree with you unreservedly. It is certainly senseless to begin by trying to do
away with religion by force and at a single blow. Above all, because it would be
hopeless. The believer will not let his belief be torn from him, either by
arguments or by prohibitions. And even if this did succeed with some it would be
cruelty. A man who has been taking sleeping draughts for tens of years is
naturally unable to sleep if his sleeping draught is taken away from him. That
the effect of religious consolations may be likened to that of a narcotic is
well illustrated by what is happening in America. There they are now trying
obviously under the influence of petticoat government to deprive people of all
stimulants, intoxicants, and other pleasure-producing substances, and instead,
by way of compensation, are surfeiting them with piety. This is another
experiment as to whose outcome we need not feel curious. [This was written in
the middle of the period of National Prohibition in the United States
(1920-33).]Thus I must contradict you when you go on to argue that men are
completely unable to do without the consolation of the religious illusion, that
without it they could not bear the troubles of life and the cruelties of
reality. That is true, certainly, of the men into whom you have instilled the
sweet or bitter-sweet poison from childhood onwards. But what of the other men,
who have been sensibly brought up? Perhaps those who do not suffer from the
neurosis will need no intoxicant to deaden it. They will, it is true, find
themselves in a difficult situation. They will have to admit to themselves the
full extent of their helplessness and their insignificance in the machinery of
the universe; they can no longer be the centre of creation, no longer the object
of tender care on the part of a beneficent Providence. They will be in the same
position as a child who has left the parental house where he was so warm and
comfortable. But surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted. Men cannot
remain children for ever; they must in the end go out into ‘hostile life’. We
may call this ‘education to reality’. Need I confess to you that the sole
purpose of my book is to point out the necessity for this forward step?[FrS1 50]
You are afraid, probably, that they will not stand up to the hard test? Well,
let us at least hope they will. It is something, at any rate, to know that one
is thrown upon one’s own resources. One learns then to make a proper use of
them. And men are not entirely without assistance. Their scientific knowledge
has taught them much since the days of the Deluge, and it will increase their
power still further. And, as for the great necessities of Fate, against which
there is no help, they will learn to endure them with resignation. Of what use
to them is the mirage of wide acres in the moon, whose harvest no one has ever
yet seen? As honest smallholders on this earth they will know how to cultivate
their plot in such a way that it supports them. By withdrawing their
expectations from the other world and concentrating all their liberated energies
into their life on earth, they will probably succeed in achieving a state of
things in which life will become tolerable for everyone and civilization no
longer oppressive to anyone. Then, with one of our fellow-unbelievers, they will
be able to say without regret:Den Himmel überlassen wirDen Engeln und den
Spatzen.[‘We leave Heaven to the angels and the sparrows.’ From Heine’s poem
Deutschland (Caput I). The word which is here translated ‘fellow-unbelievers’ in
German ‘Unglaubensgenossen’ was applied by Heine himself to Spinoza. It had been
quoted by Freud as an example of a particular kind of joke-technique in his book
on jokes (1905c), Standard Ed., 8, 77.][FrS1 51] ‘That sounds splendid! A race
of men who have renounced all illusions and have thus become capable of making
their existence on earth tolerable! I, however, cannot share your expectations.
And that is not because I am the obstinate reactionary you perhaps take me for.
No, it is because I am sensible. We seem now to have exchanged roles: you emerge
as an enthusiast who allows himself to be carried away by illusions, and I stand
for the claims of reason, the rights of scepticism. What you have been
expounding seems to me to be built upon errors which, following your example, I
may call illusions, because they betray clearly enough the influence of your
wishes. You pin your hope on the possibility that generations which have not
experienced the influence of religious doctrines in early childhood will easily
attain the desired primacy of the intelligence over the life of the instincts.
This is surely an illusion: in this decisive respect human nature is hardly
likely to change. If I am not mistaken one knows so little about other
civilizations there are even to-day peoples which do not grow up under the
pressure of a religious system, and yet they approach no nearer to your ideal
than the rest. If you want to expel religion from our European civilization, you
can only do it by means of another system of doctrines; and such a system would
from the outset take over all the psychological characteristics of religion the
same sanctity, rigidity and intolerance, the same prohibition of thought for its
own defence. You have to have something of the kind in order to meet the
requirements of education. And you cannot do without education. The path from
the infant at the breast to the civilized man is a long one; too many human
young would go astray on it and fail to reach their life-tasks at the proper
time if they were left without guidance to their own development. The doctrines
which had been applied in their upbringing would always set limits to the
thinking of their riper years which is exactly what you reproach religion with
doing to-day. Do you not observe that it is an ineradicable and innate defect of
our and every other civilization, that it imposes on children, who are driven by
instinct and weak in intellect, the making of decisions which only [FrS1 52] the
mature intelligence of adults can vindicate? But civilization cannot do
otherwise, because of the fact that mankind’s agelong development is compressed
into a few years of childhood; and it is only by emotional forces that the child
can be induced to master the task set before it. Such, then, are the prospects
for your “primacy of the intellect”.‘And now you must not be surprised if I
plead on behalf of retaining the religious doctrinal system as the basis of
education and of man’s communal life. This is a practical problem, not a
question of reality-value. Since, for the sake of preserving our civilization,
we cannot postpone influencing the individual until he has become ripe for
civilization (and many would never become so in any case), since we are obliged
to impose on the growing child some doctrinal system which shall operate in him
as an axiom that admits of no criticism, it seems to me that the religious
system is by far the most suitable for the purpose. And it is so, of course,
precisely on account of its wish-fulfilling and consolatory power, by which you
claim to recognize it as an “illusion”. In view of the difficulty of discovering
anything about reality indeed, of the doubt whether it is possible for us to do
so at all we must not overlook the fact that human needs, too, are a piece of
reality, and, in fact, an important piece and one that concerns us especially
closely.‘Another advantage of religious doctrine resides, to my mind, in one of
its characteristics to which you seem to take particular exception. For it
allows of a refinement and sublimation of ideas, which make it possible for it
to be divested of most of the traces which it bears of primitive and infantile
thinking. What then remains is a body of ideas which science no longer
contradicts and is unable to disprove. These modifications of religious
doctrine, which you have condemned as halfmeasures and compromises, make it
possible to avoid the cleft between the uneducated masses and the philosophic
thinker, and to preserve the common bond between them which is so important for
the safeguarding of civilization. With this, there would be no need to fear that
the men of the people would discover that the upper strata of society “no longer
believe in God”. I think I have now shown that your endeavours come down to an
attempt to replace a proved and emotionally valuable illusion by another one,
which is unproved and without emotional value.’[FrS1 53] You will not find me
inaccessible to your criticism. I know how difficult it is to avoid illusions;
perhaps the hopes I have confessed to are of an illusory nature, too. But I hold
fast to one distinction. Apart from the fact that no penalty is imposed for not
sharing them, my illusions are not, like religious ones, incapable of
correction. They have not the character of a delusion. If experience should show
not to me, but to others after me, who think as I do that we have been mistaken,
we will give up our expectations. Take my attempt for what it is. A psychologist
who does not deceive himself about the difficulty of finding one’s bearings in
this world, makes an endeavour to assess the development of man, in the light of
the small portion of knowledge he has gained through a study of the mental
processes of individuals during their development from child to adult. In so
doing, the idea forces itself upon him that religion is comparable to a
childhood neurosis, and he is optimistic enough to suppose that mankind will
surmount this neurotic phase, just as so many children grow out of their similar
neurosis. These discoveries derived from individual psychology may be
insufficient, their application to the human race unjustified, and his optimism
unfounded. I grant you all these uncertainties. But often one cannot refrain
from saying what one thinks, and one excuses oneself on the ground that one is
not giving it out for more than it is worth.And there are two points that I must
dwell on a little longer. Firstly, the weakness of my position does not imply
any strengthening of yours. I think you are defending a lost cause. We may
insist as often as we like that man’s intellect is powerless in comparison with
his instinctual life, and we may be right in this. Nevertheless, there is
something peculiar about this weakness. The voice of the intellect is a soft
one, but it does not rest till it has gained a hearing. Finally, after a
countless succession of rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points on
which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind, but it is in itself a
point of no small importance. And from it one can derive yet other hopes. The
primacy of the intellect lies, it is true, in a distant, distant future, but
probably not in an infinitely distant one. It will presumably set itself the
same aims as those whose realization you expect from your God (of course within
human limits so far as external reality, Anagch, allows it), namely the love of
man and the decrease of suffering. This being so, we may [FrS1 54] tell
ourselves that our antagonism is only a temporary one and not irreconcilable. We
desire the same things, but you are more impatient, more exacting, and why
should I not say it? more self-seeking than I and those on my side. You would
have the state of bliss begin directly after death; you expect the impossible
from it and you will not surrender the claims of the individual. Our God, Logox,
will fulfil whichever of these wishes nature outside us allows, but he will do
it very gradually, only in the unforseeable future, and for a new generation of
men. He promises no compensation for us, who suffer grievously from life. On the
way to this distant goal your religious doctrines will have to be discarded, no
matter whether the first attempts fail, or whether the first substitutes prove
to be untenable. You know why: in the long run nothing can withstand reason and
experience, and the contradiction which religion offers to both is all too
palpable. Even purified religious ideas cannot escape this fate, so long as they
try to preserve anything of the consolation of religion. No doubt if they
confine themselves to a belief in a higher spiritual being, whose qualities are
indefinable and whose purposes cannot be discerned, they will be proof against
the challenge of science; but then they will also lose their hold on human
interest.And secondly: observe the difference between your attitude to illusions
and mine. You have to defend the religious illusion with all your might. If it
becomes discredited and indeed the threat to it is great enough then your world
collapses. There is nothing left for you but to despair of everything, of
civilization and the future of mankind. From that bondage I am, we are, free.
Since we are prepared to renounce a good part of our infantile wishes, we can
bear it if a few of our expectations turn out to be illusions.Education freed
from the burden of religious doctrines will not, it may be, effect much change
in men’s psychological nature. Our god Logox is perhaps not a very almighty one,
and he may only be able to fulfil a small part of what his predecessors have
promised. If we have to acknowledge this we shall accept it with resignation. We
shall not on that account lose our interest in the world and in life, for we
have one sure support [FrS1 55] which you lack. We believe that it is possible
for scientific work to gain some knowledge about the reality of the world, by
means of which we can increase our power and in accordance with which we can
arrange our life. If this belief is an illusion, then we are in the same
position as you. But science has given us evidence by its numerous and important
successes that it is no illusion. Science has many open enemies, and many more
secret ones, among those who cannot forgive her for having weakened religious
faith and for threatening to overthrow it. She is reproached for the smallness
of the amount she has taught us and for the incomparably greater field she has
left in obscurity. But, in this, people forget how young she is, how difficult
her beginnings were and how infinitesimally small is the period of time since
the human intellect has been strong enough for the tasks she sets. Are we not
all at fault, in basing our judgements on periods of time that are too short? We
should make the geologists our pattern. People complain of the unreliability of
science how she announces as a law to-day what the next generation recognizes as
an error and replaces by a new law whose accepted validity lasts no longer. But
this is unjust and in part untrue. The transformations of scientific opinion are
developments, advances, not revolutions. A law which was held at first to be
universally valid proves to be a special case of a more comprehensive
uniformity, or is limited by another law, not discovered till later; a rough
approximation to the truth is replaced by a more carefully adapted one, which in
turn awaits further perfectioning. There are various fields where we have not
yet surmounted a phase of research in which we make trial with hypotheses that
soon have to be rejected as inadequate; but in other fields we already possess
an assured and almost unalterable core of knowledge. Finally, an attempt has
been made to discredit scientific endeavour in a radical way, on the ground
that, being bound to the conditions of our own organization, it can yield
nothing else than subjective results, whilst the real nature of things outside
ourselves remains inaccessible. But this is to disregard several factors which
are of decisive importance for the understanding of scientific work. In the
first place, our organization that is, our mental apparatus has been developed
precisely in the attempt to explore the external world, and it must therefore
have realized in its structure some degree of expediency; in the [FrS1 56]
second place, it is itself a constituent part of the world which we set out to
investigate, and it readily admits of such an investigation; thirdly, the task
of science is fully covered if we limit it to showing how the world must appear
to us in consequence of the particular character of our organization; fourthly,
the ultimate findings of science, precisely because of the way in which they are
acquired, are determined not only by our organization but by the things which
have affected that organization; finally, the problem of the nature of the world
without regard to our percipient mental apparatus is an empty abstraction,
devoid of practical interest.No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it
would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.