Sigmund Freud’s major polemic against religion, The Future of an Illusion, was published in 1928 when Freud was seventy-two. In a letter to Oskar Pfister, the Swiss Protestant clergyman with whom he had a long correspondence, Freud wrote that he had postponed publication of this “declaration of war” out of consideration for him, “but the impulse became too strong” (Psychoanalysis and Faith, New York: Basic Books, 1963, p. 109). Freud correctly predicted that the essay would create distrust and ill will toward psychoanalysis. Although he later owned the views as his personal philosophy, the anti-religious image of psychoanalysis has persisted down to the present. Some analysts who have openly identified themselves with religious faith acknowledge that many of their colleagues agree with Freud’s view of religion.

In The Future of an Illusion, Freud carried on with an imaginary critic an argument concerning the truth of religion. Religious ideas have exercised the very strongest influence upon mankind, he acknowledged, but he asserted:

… It would indeed be very nice if there were a God, who was both creator of the world and a benevolent providence, if there were a moral world order and a future life, but at the same time it is very odd that this is all just as we should wish it ourselves [The Future of an Illusion, New York: Liveright, 1928, pp. 58, 59, 77].

Freud’s conclusion from the “discovery” that religious doctrines are illusions was that “by accepting a universal neurosis the true believer is spared the task of forming a personal neurosis.”

Pfister replied to Freud’s attack in a paper entitled “The Illusion of a Future,” published the same year in Freud’s psychoanalytic journal, Imago. In it he chided Freud for echoing old ...

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