No two men have made a more indelible impact on the world we live in than Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, especially in changing our society from one whose values were primarily moral and spiritual to one whose values are primarily material and secular. The two men, as we will see, had much in common. Both died mired in hopelessness and despair, both bereft of religious faith. Hope and the Christian faith is my subject, but first let me detail the impact and the similarities of Marx and Freud.

Marx, the German philosopher, through his writings—especially his Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto—set the stage for the Russian revolution. This in turn led to the rise of Marxism and to Lenin and Stalin coming to power. Stalin in turn helped make it possible for Hitler to come into power. One can make a reasonably strong argument that without Marx we would not have had World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the endemic Middle East crisis, the arms race, or the world being divided today into Communist and non-Communist camps.

Freud, the Viennese physician whose scientific contributions some historians have ranked with those of Einstein, gave us a new understanding of the development and functioning of the human mind. His ideas have pervaded medicine, literature, anthropology, and many other disciplines.

In addition to their intellectual legacy, both Marx and Freud left a world view that has helped to erode our society’s moral and spiritual values. Both mounted a direct attack on religious faith, Marx calling religion the “opiate of the people” and Freud diagnosing it as “the universal obsessional neurosis.” Freud concluded that God was but a projection of the childish wish for an all-powerful father who would protect one from the harsh elements of nature. When a college freshman mentions God in a paper today, it is not unusual for him to find at the end of his paper a comment by an instructor asking, “Are you serious? Freud disproved God 50 years ago and showed religion to be a psychological crutch for the ignorant masses.”

It is interesting to ask if Freud’s philosophy of life stemmed from his scientific discoveries or from something more personal. Although he declared religious faith absurd, he spent the last 30 years of his life writing about it. He seemed to be obsessed with it. He mentions God frequently in his personal letters. “If someday we meet above,” “if God so wills,” “he is indeed a true servant of God,” “by God’s grace,” are a few of the phrases found in his letters. Freud, who insisted that even a slip of the tongue has deeper meaning, would be the last to dismiss these references to the Creator as merely “a manner of speaking.” Perhaps they reflect an unresolved ambivalence toward the Ultimate Authority. And although he observed that persons’ relationships with their fathers influenced their concept of God, Freud seemed to be unaware that his extremely negative attitude toward his own father may have been the basis for his extremely negative attitude toward God.

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The number of parallels in the lives of Marx and Freud is striking. Here are a few:

• Both had devout fathers. When Marx was six years old, his father became a Christian and had all of his children baptized in the Protestant church. Marx’s father wrote his son in a letter when Karl was in college: “A good support for morality is a simple faith in God. Sooner or later a man has a real need of this faith; and there are moments in life when even the man who denies God is compelled against his will to pray to the Almighty.” He then encouraged Marx to embrace the faith of Newton and Locke. Freud’s father presented Freud on his thirty-fifth birthday with a Bible inscribed in Hebrew: “My dear son, it was in the seventh year of your age that the spirit of God began to move you to learning. I would say the spirit of God speaketh to you: ‘Read in my book; there will be opened to thee sources of knowledge of the intellect.’ It is the book of books; it is the well that wise men have digged and from which law givers have drawn the waters of their knowledge.”

• Both had conflicts with their fathers, with authority generally, and, of course, with the concept of an Ultimate Authority.

• Both wrote prolifically and suffered rejection because of their ideas.

• Both died bitter and disillusioned men, with little compassion for the common man. Freud wrote in 1918, “I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all.”

• Both had virtually no friends. Biographers agree that Marx had few close friends, was coldly arrogant, conceited, and “full of hate.” Freud broke with each of his followers, none of whom he had been very close to anyway.

As we read of the end of their lives—of how Marx and Freud finished the course—we note the lack of inner peace and fulfillment, the overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness.

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As despair and hopelessness characterized the last years of the lives of Marx and Freud, so do these same qualities characterize an increasing number of people in our society today—especially the young. The rapid rise in the suicide rate among adolescents may be but one reflection of this despair.

When a doctor sees a patient who expresses complete hopelessness, he thinks immediately of the clinical picture of depression. Depression may be mild, or it may be so intense that it paralyzes.

Mild or severe, depression affects more people in our culture than any other 6 emotional disorder. One feature of depression might also be considered a cause. What often appears to be the cause of despondency in many today is an awareness of a gap between what they think they ought to be and what they feel they are. That is, there is a discrepancy between the ideal the depressed hold for themselves and an acute awareness of how far they fall short of the ideal.

At Harvard University, the intellectual ability of the entering students has risen steadily year after year. Yet the dropout rate remains the same. About 25 percent of each class drops out over the four years, and about 40 percent of these have emotional conflicts severe enough to warrant psychiatric help. The most frequent diagnosis among these students who leave college is depression. The most frequent cause appears to be an awareness of a gap between the ideal self as a gifted brilliant student—as often they were in high school—and the actual self which, because of real or imaginary reasons, they see as a mediocre student in the highly competitive world of a modern university. This is but one example. All of us at some time suffer from the awareness of how far short we fall of what we ought to be.

Does the Christian faith offer resources to help with this conflict? The New Testament makes us acutely aware of an enormous gap between what God demands us to be and what we are. This realization, of course, leads not to despondency but to greater awareness of one’s need for Christ, for Christ bridges the gap. This bridging of the gap was precisely the reason for his presence on earth—to bridge the gap between God and alienated man, between what we are and the perfection God demands. Spiritual rebirth and redemption is based not on good works, “lest any man should boast,” but on what Christ has accomplished for us. The good works ought to be a result of the new birth, not the other way around. The Scriptures indicate clearly that God is interested not merely in good men, but first of all in new men, because man’s natural goodness always falls short. And this new birth does not make one less aware of how far short he falls of his ideals and of God’s standards; it makes him painfully more aware. But this awareness does not lead to self-hatred and despondency.

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The Christian experience may provide a man with the motivation and the inner strength to take a step toward being what he knows he ought to be. He may stumble and fall while taking the first step or the next step, but when and if he does fall, he knows that there is always forgiveness and the opportunity and resources to start again. In this way the Christian experience helps one cope with the haunting awareness of the gap between what he ought to be and what he is. God’s forgiveness and acceptance make it easier for him to tolerate and accept himself—perhaps reason he can accept others.

A second element of depression, closely related to the first, is the feeling of worthlessness, of low self-esteem. Psychiatrists have long been aware that this feeling is a significant part of depression. As with all feelings experienced by an emotionally ill person, everyone experiences the feeling of worthlessness to a greater or lesser extent.

Deep-seated misgivings about our personal worth plague all of us. If we peer beneath the surface of the most egotistical, we find his conceit covers deeper fears of inadequacy and incompetence. College students with the highest academic performances sometimes harbor the constant deep-seated fear of not being intelligent. Some of the most intellectually gifted are haunted by the feeling that their acceptance in college is a fluke and that they have hoodwinked a great many people. (These feelings of inadequacy are also found in older adults who have been immensely successful.)

This lack of esteem, this lack of personal worth and confidence, harasses continuously. Some people are able to use these fears adaptively, to work excessively hard, and to achieve more than they would without the fears. But many others are incapacitated and discouraged, making even an effort difficult.

Whatever the cause of our feelings of worthlessness, the important question is how we handle them. Some are paralyzed by them—avoiding all activity that involves risk of failure lest they fail and confirm what they feel about themselves. Others work hard to disprove the feelings. And some handle feelings of worthlessness by projecting them. People have a tendency to see others, especially others who differ from them, as worthless or inferior. We do this unthinkingly. We tend to look down on people from other countries, people with less education or less money, or people with different skin color and different clothes. All of this is but a desperate attempt to deal with our own feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.

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Does the Christian faith provide resources to help deal with feelings of worthlessness? Once again the starting point for the Christian is the full realization that in himself, as far as his relationship to God is concerned, he can do little to improve his worth. But this does not lead to despair, for he realizes that his worth is not in what he does, in what success he achieves. Scripture states that our worth is in what Christ has done for us. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.”

Another feature of depression is the feeling of hopelessness, the feeling that there is no way out, that things will only get worse, and that one is completely helpless. Some authorities consider the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness the one essential feature characterizing all types of depression.

The word “hope” is used and heard little in our culture. Perhaps hope conflicts with our concept of a scientific-world. Many books exist on faith and on love, but few on hope. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger writes, “The Encyclopedia Britannica has columns on love and faith, but not a single word about hope. In scientific circles there is a determined effort to exclude hope from conceptual thinking … because of a fear of corrupting objective judgment by wishful thinking. But all science is built on hope, so much so that science is for many moderns a substitute for religion … man can’t help hoping even if he is a scientist. He can only hope more accurately.”

Psychiatrists have long suspected that hope fosters health, both physical and emotional. An increasing body of medical evidence documents the deleterious effect that depression and hopelessness have on physical health. As long ago as 1905, Freud wrote: “Persistent affective states of a depressive nature, such as sorrow, worry, or grief, reduce the state of nourishment of the whole body, cause the hair to turn white, the fat to disappear, and the walls of the blood vessels to undergo morbid changes. There can be no doubt that the duration of life can be appreciably shortened by depressive affects.”

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Lovingkindness 1 & 2

God’s strong arm

extends to selfish bullies, willful, crude;

endures the self-deceived; ignores the rude;

forbears with murder; incest does not quell.

And when my arm would sweep them all to hell,

His little finger draws them to his heart.

God’s strong arm

in love applies the rod, employs the lash;

impairs a face; in beauty strikes a gash;

denies the hungry; wounds a mother’s breast.

And while I raise my fist, beseech, protest,

His thumb imprints a poem with the pain.

—Beverly Butrin Fields

A noted physiologist, Harold G. Wolf, writes, “Hope, faith and a purpose in life, is medicinal. This is not merely a statement of belief but a conclusion proved by meticulously controlled scientific experiment.” He then mentions the differences in the death rate from tuberculosis among primitive people who are completely in despair and other people who had hope for relief, and also the number of prisoners of war who died for no apparent reason other than that they had given up hope. For years there have been clues that hopelessness often sets the groundwork for the development of organic disease. These clues have stimulated a number of recent experiments, documenting the deleterious effects of depression and hopelessness on health.

In an experiment carried out at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, 54 patients for open heart surgery were interviewed before surgery and following it. The significant finding was that 80 percent of the patients who died after surgery were depressed. They were the patients without hope. The impression that hope plays a significant role in determining morbidity and mortality is being documented by rigorously controlled scientific experiments.

But what is hope? It certainly is not the same as wishful thinking, for wishful thinking has few grounds on which to expect the wish to be fulfilled. Neither is hope identical with optimism, for optimism often implies a distance from reality. And according to Webster, hope is not the same as expectation. Webster defines expectation as implying a high degree of certainty—that is, a certainty based on being able to see what obviously is going to happen. As you recall, Paul says, “For in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is no hope at all” (Rom. 8:24, NIV). Webster defines hope as belief that what is desired is attainable; hope involves trust and reliance. Menninger, reminiscent of Paul, defines hope as positive expectations that go beyond the visible facts.

If hope is defined as belief and trust and reliance, one cannot help but ask, “Belief in what? Trust in what?” One must have some basis, some reason for one’s hope. It must be rooted in some reality.

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When we turn to the New Testament we read again and again: “Christ Jesus our hope.” The Christian’s hope is based on historical fact: the person of Christ and, above all, his resurrection. “In [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3, NIV).

I have mentioned the resources that are available to the Christian to help him cope with the feelings of depression. My conviction that such resources exist is not based on emotional bias. Of course, as a Christian I would like such resources to exist. But I can say the conviction that they do exist is based on a critical assessment of evidence from my own observations and experiences. One can’t help but observe the very limited resources available to one with no faith and no hope. Both Marx and Freud ended their lives bitter and disillusioned men. Though their lives incurred a full share of hardship and adversity, they apparently lacked the spiritual resources to draw on to help them finish the course with any sense of hope.

In 1920, when Freud was 64, he lost through death a young and beautiful daughter. He wrote that he wondered when his time would come and he wished it would be soon. “I do not know what more there is to say,” he writes. “It is such a paralyzing event, which can stir no afterthoughts when one is not a believer.…”

Compare Freud and Marx with another scholar. An atheist until about 30 years of age, C. S. Lewis embraced the Christian faith after a great deal of intellectual struggle and used his gifts of keen intelligence and mastery of the language to write books that have influenced scores of people in a direction opposite to that of Marx and Freud.

C. S. Lewis wrote about his reactions to the loss of his wife—the one person who was to him everything worthwhile on this earth. The book (A Grief Observed) is a magnificant one for a psychiatrist to read because it expresses with remarkable clarity the process of mourning and grief. Lewis describes the anger, resentment, loneliness, and fear, the fluttering in the stomach and restlessness; how the world seemed dull and flat, how he could find no joy in his work. Could God in the final analysis be a cruel God? Was God a cosmic sadist?

In the agony of his grief, Lewis tried to pray. Though his need was desperate, he sensed only a door slammed in his face and a sound of bolting and double bolting from the inside.

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He felt God had forsaken him. A Christian friend reminded him of Christ’s cry in agony—“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me”—but it didn’t help. Lewis was aware only that God did not answer his prayers. There was only the locked door, the iron curtain, the vacuum, absolute zero. He soon realized that in his desperation he wasn’t knocking at the door; he was trying to kick it down. Then, slowly, gradually, like dawning of a clear spring day, with light and warmth of the sun, his faith began to bolster him, to give him renewed strength, comfort, and what he describes as “unspeakable joy.” He knocked, and this time the door was opened and he experienced again the presence of him upon whom his hope was based.

Lewis’s last letters, some written days before his death, indicated that he finished the course in striking contrast to Marx and Freud. He writes, “I was unexpectedly revived from a long coma, and perhaps the almost continuous prayers of my friends did it—it would have been a luxuriously easy passage, and one almost regrets having the door shut in one’s face. Ought one to honor Lazarus rather than Stephen as the protomartyr? To be brought back and have all one’s dying to do again was rather hard.”

“When you die, and if ‘prison visiting’ is allowed, come down and look me up in Purgatory.”

“It is all rather fun—solemn fun—isn’t it?”

Then, in his last letter, he writes to a woman friend, “Thanks for your note. Yes, Autumn is really the best part of the seasons; and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But, of course, like Autumn it doesn’t last.”

Hopelessness and despair? No. Fulfillment, peace, excitement, and even anticipation of what comes next? Definitely.

Does the Christian suffer less adversity and pain than others? There is much evidence that he suffers as much. Does he, however, have more resources to cope with the pain? There is a great deal of evidence that he has. By no means the least of these resources is hope.

The Scriptures again speak eloquently: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13, NIV).

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