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9. Meissner's Critique of Freud

Neville Symington Karnac Books ePub

Quite by the way, why did none of the devout create psychoanalysis? Why did one have to wait for a completely godless Jew?

(Freud, 1963)

The most comprehensive assessment of Freud's attitude to religion is to be found in W. W. Meissner's book Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience. Meissner examines Freud's arguments in his main texts on religion, and then in particular discusses the great debate on religion that took place between Freud and Oskar Pfister, a friend and colleague. In this chapter I shall look at this debate, and Meissner's perceptive commentary on it.

 

Freud published The Future of an Illusion in Imago in 1927, and Pfister published a reply the following year entitled The Illusion of a Future. Pfister, a Lutheran pastor working in a parish in Zurich, discovered Freud's writings in 1908 and from that moment became an enthusiastic disciple. Despite being a firm believer in the Christian faith, he and Freud remained firm friends. It was probably Pfister's unbounded respect for Freud's genius that enabled Freud to tolerate his friend's disagreement with his own religious position. Freud was thus pleased that it was Pfister who replied to his article against religion (the subtitle of Pfister's article is ‘A friendly dispute with Prof. Dr. Sigm. Freud’). He knew his article would call forth replies from defenders of religious faith, and this being the case, a reply from Pfister was more welcome than from some other quarter, which would probably be more hostile.

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13. Perversions

Neville Symington Karnac Books ePub

It may not be immediately obvious where sexual perversion fits into the schema that I have adopted for an understanding of madness—and first, of course, the tricky question of what is perverse and what is not. At one time, for instance, homosexuality was categorized as a perversion, but now this designation has been superseded in many Western cultures.

As, in fact, people who feel that their sexual activity is “abnormal” or reprehensible in some way often believe themselves to be abhorrent, then it seems, when we have considered “the worm”, then this is the right place to think about perversions, especially as the belief in wormhood sometimes generates the perversion in order to legitimate the belief.

The question of what is perverse and what is not can, I believe, only be solved by scrutinizing the emotional activity of which the sexual activity is a sign. Normality and perversity in sexual mores cannot be determined by the outer activity alone. Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman cannot be called normal just on the basis of the physical sexual act. If it is done with emotional tenderness, it is different from when it is done out of hostile vengeance. When we look at it in this way, the very words “normal” and”perverse” seem to come out of the wrong mindset. Our categories of “sane” and “mad” seem to be more appropriate.

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1. The Nature of Primitive Religion

Neville Symington Karnac Books ePub

If a stone falls and crushes a passer-by, it was an evil spirit that dislodged it: there is no chance about it. If a man is dragged out of his canoe by an alligator, it is because he was bewitched: there is no chance about it. If a warrior is killed or wounded by lance-thrust, it is because he was not in a state to parry the blow, a spell has been cast upon him: there is no chance about it.

(Bergson, 1935)

The primitive mind endows its world with agents. It makes a god or gods the cause of those events which affect man, which may exist in a living individual, or in the ghost of a dead one; they may exist in animals, plants, the sun, or the moon. The idea of spirits inhabiting the natural world of primitive man is familiar to most of us, but what I wish to emphasize is the source of such a belief, and how it contributes to the idea of primitive religion.

Animism can only occur when there is a concept of the individual as agent. The animistic world is a projection of the self as agent – the representational self – into the natural world or the imagined natural world.

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CHAPTER EIGHT: The nature of reality

Neville Symington Karnac Books ePub

It is the thesis of this chapter that when we say something is “real”, it is a value judgement and not a statement as to whether or not it exists. An hallucination exists, but we say it is not real. We distinguish it from a perception, which we say is real. Therefore this distinction is not made according to whether what is perceived exists but according to its quality. What this chapter sets out to examine is what quality in human subjects and objects leads to this distinction between what is real and what is not.

I originally gave this paper at the Freud Conference in Melbourne in 1992. I was excited by what I felt was a new discovery when I gave the paper, but it was muddled with other realizations. With the passage of time I have come to think that the central insight of this paper is of enormous importance for understanding in the social sciences. It seems to be the key concept that separates social science from natural science.

An hallucination comes about through a discharge of a hated element from within onto the outer, whereas a true perception comes about through an inner element that is embraced or loved. So what distinguishes the real from the false is whether inner elements are loved or hated. This puts the social sciences upon a different foundation from natural science. I believe this basis revolutionizes our thinking about our human world.

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6. The Relation between the Moral and the Spiritual

Neville Symington Karnac Books ePub

Now I would say that the experience of choosing imparts to a man's nature a solemnity, a quiet dignity, which never is entirely lost. There are many who set great store upon having seen one or another distinguished world-historical personality face to face. This impression they never forget, it has given to their souls an ideal picture which ennobles their nature; and yet such an instant, however significant, is nothing in comparison with the instant of choice. So when all has become still around one, as solemn as a starlit night, when the soul is alone in the whole world, then there appears before one, not a distinguished man, but the eternal Power itself. The heavens part, as it were, and I chooses itself – or rather, receives itself. Then has the soul beheld the loftiest sight that mortal eye can see and which never can be forgotten, then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood which ennobles it for an eternity. He does not become another man than he was before, but he becomes himself, consciousness is unified, and he is himself. As an heir, even though he were heir to the treasure of all the world, nevertheless does not possess his property before he has come of age, so even the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself, and on the other hand even what one might call the poorest personality is everything when he has chosen himself; for the great thing is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and this everyone can be if he wills it.

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