Jacob C. Stephens, Department of Biology, Gordon College
Correspondence concerning this essay should be addressed to Jacob C. Stephens, [address]. Contact: [email]
Psychoanalysis and Christian Faith
After the first time I learned about Freud’s thinking, I was bewildered, and wondered what to and what not to believe. I have since learned that there are ways in which Freud can be reconciled with Christian faith. Various parts of Freud will be considered in this essay: that which Christians need to deny, and the insights Freud had that might help us on our spiritual journey. Freud’s theory which states that humans are entirely motivated by sexual desires needs to be denied, however, part that thinking can be reconciled with Christian faith. It is that Christians long for a deep, deep connection to another human, and that part of the equation to develop that deep of a connection with another is sex. Another insight Freud had that might help us on our spiritual journeys is that humans are essentially evil and often can’t know things by reason. This essay will progress through the stages of first explaining why Christians should reject Freud’s theory of people being primarily motivated by sex, then it will explain why people can seem so sexually driven. Finally, it will explain an insight of Freud’s about human that Christians can learn from, which is that human reasoning is flawed by often being motivated by emotion.
Freud believed that people are essentially motivated by sexual desires:
“The next assertion which psychoanalysis proclaims as one of its discoveries, affirms that those instinctive impulses which one can only call sexual in the narrower as well as in the wider sense, play an uncommonly large role in the causation of nervous and mental diseases, and that those impulses are a causation which has never been adequately appreciated. Nay, indeed, psychoanalysis claims that these same sexual impulses have made contributions whose value cannot be overestimated to the highest cultural, artistic and social achievements of the human mind.” (Freud 1920)
Freud claims that sexual impulses (specifically sexual to generally pleasurable impulses) play a large role in the causation of mental diseases, and that these impulses have not before been attributed as the reason for mental diseases. He also claims human sexuality to have driven some very successful contributions to humanity. He made conclusions about humans’ unconscious sexual drives based on case studies. According to Myers and Jeeves, people do have the need for very intimate connections with others, “Sexual play is a recreational activity and much more. The mutual self-exposure and cleaving of sexual activity arise from and satisfy our need for intimate communion with a loved one.” This need could also have been part of why Freud thought sexual drives were central to humans. This drive for sexuality reflects a need for intimate connection with others that was created by God
Though this need for deep sexual connection to another is important, neo-Freudians have doubted that sexual desires are the sole desire of people “they [neo-Freudians] doubted that sex and aggression were all – consuming motivations. Instead, they tended to emphasize loftier motives and social interactions.” (Myers)
One thing Freud observed that we should take note of, because it is helpful to our spiritual journey, is that people are essentially erroneous, and that their reasoning is often alternately motivated by emotions: “it is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it. Society thus brands what is unpleasant as untrue, denying the conclusions of psychoanalysis with logical and pertinent arguments. These arguments originate from affective sources, however, and society holds to these prejudices against all attempts at refutation.” (Freud 1920). Realizing the error of humanity is good because it helps us to realize we cannot be liberated by perfect reason. Myers and Jeeves comment on the error of human thinking as well: “like Pascal, we also have been bemused and even startled by our capacity for error, illusion, and self-deceit. Because, as the psalmist recognized, “no one can see his own errors,” psychologists have devoted much energy of late to revealing our most common errors.” To realize our essentially erroneous nature is to realize our need for perfect God.
Freud had controversial views on sexuality. The idea that people are only motivated by sexual desires should be rejected by Christians, but at the same time they should realize the importance of sexual desires and not try to hide them. People are motivated by other things as well, and have been created to long for deep, intimate, sexual connection with another person. An insight that Christians can gleam from Freud is that human reason is essentially flawed by emotion. The bible also talks about the wickedness of man’s heart. To realize this biblical/Freudian idea is to recognize our need for perfect God—that a perfect society is impossible for us to create.
Freud, S. (1920). A general introduction to psychoanalysis.
Myers and Jeeves. Psychology through the eyes of faith.