113 Chapters
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13. Erich Fromm's Assessment of Religion

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Love and do what you will.

(St Augustine)

I have stressed that all psychoanalysts writing on psychoanalysis and religion have kept the two disciplines in watertight compartments, not allowing either to penetrate or influence the other. The result of this has been that the author's religion remains unmodified by psychoanalysis, and vice versa. There is a polite dialogue, but there is no intention that their version of religion should alter one iota, and psychoanalysis must also not be affected in any radical way. The only person who stands out as an exception to this is Eric Fromm, and I have therefore devoted a whole chapter to his book Psychoanalysis and Religion. It is a very short book, but its value is in inverse ratio to its length.

Fromm begins by saying that although the modern world has developed an amazing technology which should greatly enhance our happiness, this has not been the case. That ancient ideal, ‘the perfection of man’ has not moved forward one inch; all this technology has done nothing to bring us closer to achieving our purpose in living.

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Medium 9781780490694

Chapter One: Analysis Creating the Person

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Five years ago I spent a day in the acute ward for adolescents in a psychiatric hospital. At the end of the day a woman member of the staff, Jocelyn, came up to me and asked if she could come to see me for a single session. Two days later she arrived. She was in her mid-thirties, had been married for eleven years and had two young children, a boy and a girl of eight and six. She was in despair. Her husband waited upon her for all decision making. Where were they to go on holiday? It was she who had to decide. Which school should our daughter go to?—it was she who had to decide. Should we move house? He did not know, she had to decide. When they were going to visit her parents he asked her what subjects he should talk to them about. In exasperation she told him that she had to leave him; that she could bear it no longer. “Please explain what you mean?” he asked her. Jocelyn tried to explain, so he said, looking at her with pleading eyes, that he would try harder but “Please tell me what to do?” There was something very sad about it; he sounded a good man, he loved his children, loved his wife but where was the I who feels, who desires, who makes decisions, who makes judgments, who yearns, who loves? It must have suited his wife when she married him but she had grown, something was unfolding in her, she had begun to be her own person and now she wanted personhood in the figure of her husband, not a clone of herself. A relating I was bursting out of an enclosed egg. In the interview she looked to me to see whether leaving her husband was the right thing to do. So there was a relic of her cloning husband inside her (needing me to tell her whether she should leave her husband) but the free her had dawned and the “follow-my-leader” side had shrunk.

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Medium 9781855752658

MEDITATION EIGHT. The spirit of sanity: discussion of central issues

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Floor: I was very interested in what you said about the patient who said something about how she was always obstinate, and you said “You’ve often told me about that, your obstinacy.” I was relieved to hear you saying that because sometimes if I make that sort of comment about something they have told me in the past, I find myself thinking about Bion’s edict about going to a session without memory and desire. I wondered if you could comment on that.

W

henever you go for supervision, the same principle applies as in analysis: that if you have some understanding as a result of the supervision that will help you, then good, but I tell supervisees to say to themselves when they leave, “Fuck Neville Symington!” Push him out of your mind and get on with it, and you must do the same with Bion, I am afraid. He is trying to convey something, and what he meant was that you mustn’t go into a session thinking “I must remember what the patient said.” Say, the patient is speaking about something, and you remember what they’ve told you. If you’ve got an active memory and it is stimulated, you remember naturally—it isn’t generated from some anxious state. Bion said, in fact, that if you are sort of in a state anxious to forget, that is not right either. He’s trying to get across that it needs to come spontaneously. So if the patient is speaking and perhaps in a rebellious type mode, then you remember that “Of course, he told me that he’s very obstinate”, and you can say, “Look, you’ve told me this”—but it’s not because you’ve written it on a pad, and said “I must remember this as I go into the session.” But I still take that first point too, that you mustn’t have edicts around if you can help it.

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Medium 9781912573578

Chapter Four: Nightmare in Lisbon

Symington, Neville ePub

Iarrived in Lisbon early in 1957 on the Andes which docked at the Alcantara Quay and I was met by my mother and Clay Wilson. After the violent rupture of my mother's friendship with Clare she became friendly with Clay and decided to set up a teashop with her in Cascais. Clay was the most unlikely person to be running a teashop. She was a fulsome figure of a woman who drank heavily, was somewhat insensitive, and very different from Clare. My mother and Clay were sharing a flat in Monte Estoril and had arranged for me to stay there too. I initially set up office with Count Gerald O'Kelly de Gallagh. He had been the Irish ambassador or minister in Lisbon and when he retired he started a small business selling French wine and brandy to a few gourmet customers. I worked for him and also started my own business. O'Kelly had a difficult task selling expensive French wines to the Portuguese who were well supplied with their own wine; his wines cost twenty times more than local varieties. His logo was: The cheapest is never the best; the best is ever the cheapest. The day after I arrived I went to visit him at the office which I was to share with him. He was a short, vigorous man with white hair and a goatee beard. He had hooded eyes that stimulated a distrust and reserve in me. At that first meeting he said he would like to ask me to dinner but his wife was a little ill that day, but as soon as she recovered he would invite me. The next day his wife died. I went to the funeral a day later. The coffin was brought to the graveside and he was standing there watching when, to my alarm, the coffin was opened with the body exposed and two men poured quicklime over the corpse. He stood there watching as all the diplomatic corps of Lisbon stood in a large circle gazing at this macabre scene. He seemed to me like a caged animal in a zoo being watched by voyeuristic tourists. I felt so sorry for him. A few days later he invited my mother and me to lunch. A little papillon dog came into the room and whined. He said, “He used to climb onto my wife's lap; he is whining because now there is no lap.” When lunch was ended he asked if we would stay while he read aloud to us a story. I was too moved by his recent loss to hear the story but I remember he read with effective power. I came to know him quite well over the next few months but I was always somewhat timid in his presence.

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8. Freud's Diagnosis of Religion

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

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 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 deal by psychical means with our senseless anxiety.

(Freud, 1927)

In this chapter, I shall examine The Future of an Illusion, which attends principally to the psychological origins of primitive religion, and Moses and Monotheism, which is concerned with the development of mature religion. I shall use hypotheses from Totem and Taboo for the elucidation of Freud's theories in both of these works. The origin of religion is inextricably linked with the origin of civilization and therefore the theme of religion runs through many other of Freud's writings, especially Civilization and Its Discontents.

According to Freud, the origin of primitive religion lies in man's helplessness in the face of the forces of impersonal nature; the origin of mature religion lies in man's guilt which derives from parricide. In Freud's interpretation of religion parricide is a thread which runs through both the primitive and the mature. At the beginning of The Future of an Illusion, Freud states that, ‘Every individual is virtually an enemy of civilization.’ It derives from Freud's conviction that we are trapped between our voracious drives and a civilization that forbids their expression. The point to be noted here is that the drives continue to exist in their uncivilized state, and must be kept in subjection within. Without external coercion, Freud states, human beings would indulge their rapacious passions:

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