AQA Explain why Jung’s understanding of religious belief may be seen as more positive than that of Freud.

Not quite the Avengers but twice as educational. Front row: Freud, Stanley Hall, Jung
Not quite the Avengers but twice as educational. Front row: Freud, Stanley Hall, Jung | Source

Question A (30 Marks) [25 minutes]

Noting the fact that Freud was an atheist and Jung a religious man is a good starting point for outlining their understanding of religious belief.

Whilst Jung states that religion is part of the collective unconscious - an innate mental faculty that contains both our instincts and 'archetypes' - Freud states that humanity's religious behaviour is collective neurosis. Jung believed that every human being is born with an 'archetype' of God, an image inside our minds that gives us a propensity to believe in a religion. Thus, Jung believed it was part of our very human nature to believe in God, showing that he was very positive about religious belief. Freud too believed that humans have a propensity to believe in a religion but thought that this stemmed from mental illness, likening religious belief and behaviour to OCD (since both showed repetitive behaviours such as praying and going to church). He claimed that conflicts between our id and superego, and the repression of these conflicts, manifested themselves in neurotic behaviour which sometimes lead to religious behaviour. To explain why religious belief was such a common phenomena, Freud claimed that the oedipus complex in all children was enough to lead to the neurotic behaviour we see in religion. Thus, since everyone goes through the oedipus (or elektra) complex, Freud believed that it is very human to believe in religion, only that it was through shared mental deficiency that this occurred.
Freud also (quite negatively) claims that religion is a way for us to deal with issues like not understanding natural forces, having an infallible father figure in our lives (even in adulthood) and distracting ourselves from the meaninglessness and confusing question of life and our existence. Jung too believed that religion serves use to human societies but put a positive spin on the matter, claiming that religion was a way for us all to achieve individuation - learning about ourselves and reaching true self acceptance. He also stated that religious belief was a 'natural occurrence' and that it was normal for a human to have religious belief.
As a last point for why Freud's views on religious belief are more negative than Jung's, Freud drew a comparison between primal hordes of humans performing rituals using totems (to deal with internal repressed conflict) with religious people today performing similar seemingly barbaric rituals e.g. holy communion in Catholicism is the 'literal' eating and drinking of Jesus' body and blood. Using this as evidence implies that religious belief is a way of dealing with primitive urges and conflicts and the analogy is negative on the whole. Jung on the other hand uses a different kind of evidence, stating that since all religions around the world have things in common (a strong leading figure, moral guidelines etc.) there is grounds to believe that religion is a natural and healthy occurrence.

(B) ‘Religion has been successful in its response to psychology’s challenges to religious belief.’ Assess this claim. (15 marks)

Although many psychological arguments that challenge religious belief have been disputed, some are still left largely unanswered. Jung puts forwards many arguments for why psychology may be wrong about their assessment of religious belief. Whereas Freud states that religious behaviour is neurotic, Jung creates the counter argument that we are all born with an 'archetype' of God and therefore it is very healthy to believe in a religion. However, Jung's argument can be argued here because the mere fact that we are born with an 'archetype' of something does not negate any judgement that this 'archetype' may lead to (or is in itself) a mental illness. Furthermore, Jung's argument seems to collapse when you consider that atheists (who according to Jung would also have an archetype for God) grow up without taking on any religious beliefs in their lifetime. A counterargument from Jung's perspective could be that atheists are the ones with a mental disorder because they have failed to carry out a biological progression of the mind - this however can be thought of as using the naturalistic fallacy.

The vast amounts of religious experiences cited around the world can be used by the religious community to defend against psychological arguments rejecting religious belief. Since so many thousands of religious experiences have been recorded, dating back far to biblical times with Saul's conversion, Moses and the Burning Bush and Jacob's ladder to modern times with Bernadette Soubirous and the Toronto Blessing, it is hard to suggest that it is religious people that have the mental disorder, as Freud would state. Modern psychology would disagree with this however, with accomplished neuro-psychologists like Dr.Ramachandran stating that religious experiences are merely epileptic fits of the temporal lobe. Evidence is provided for this in the fact that there are many similarities between epilepsy and accounts of religious experience. For example, epileptic bouts often include seeing bright flashes of light and sight problems (with details of this in Saul's conversion and St Bernadette Soubirous' visions.

Therefore, although religion attempts to deflect psychological arguments, for every new argument it creates it seems that the psychological side creates a counter.

'Freud'
'Freud'

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Comments 9 comments

Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

There is evidence to show that atheists follow classic "religious" behaviour. Science is now promoting immortality and atheists are grouping in international organisations with charismatic leaders etc. Furthermore highly respected atheist leaders such as Dawkins claim that religious behaviour is inevitable.

To be accurate in this analysis we need to apply the principle of evolution ie. why should only religion "not evolve"? As Freud used evolutionary concepts to support his argument why can he (or we) simply jettison the principle when it doesn't suit us? Truth is we can't unless we embrace hypocrisy.

Therefore if religion evolves the entire analysis changes drammatically and in support of spirituality as an integral part of what makes us Us.


Philanthropy2012 profile image

Philanthropy2012 14 months ago from London Author

Hi Oztinato!

I'm interested to know what you mean by atheists following 'religious' behaviour. Do you mean religious in the true sense, so that atheists are now starting to believe in a being with superpower, or 'religious' in the sense of forming communities with charismatic leaders?

I'm not sure anyone is saying that religion should 'not evolve' other than people who are deeply loyal to a particular religion e.g. try telling a Christian that his Christianity has 'evolved' into something different - he'll tell you that's not his religion!

Personally, I would certainly say religion has evolved over time. In the past creationism dominated the religious spheres. Now that we humans prefer more modest views, creationism seems too 'extreme' so that, the dominating religions now take more spiritual and principled approaches, at least in developed countries. For example, Christianity no longer teaches that Noah built a big ark all by himself - rather, it teaches that this story symbolises God's wrath against sinners - and the innocence of animals who can do no moral wrong for they are but simple creatures under the dominion of man. Likewise, Christianity to many may simply be the teachings that one must love his neighbour, be kind, or pray for those they love.

These sorts of 'religion' are definitely an evolved - far more survivable - assortment than the earlier types.

Have a good day!


Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

Phil

people can even follow football "religiously". Movie stars are "worshipped". Scientists have faith in immortality via cyber life etc.

These and related phenomena are grouped under the heading of religious behaviours. Religion has historically covered not just a sliver of unpopular right wing christianity but also many indigenous peoples as well as animism and many other related practices such as feng shui and lesser superstitions. Added to this are highly evolved religions such as classical hinduism which teach total tolerance to varied belief and the secondary aspect of doctrines as opposed to actual inner meanings.

The law itself in many ways is the growing tip of religion as all laws and ethics slowly evolved out of ancient religions of various kinds.

Actual culture,art,theater and science all evolved out of religions so it is quite impossible to argue that religion is merely a psychosis unless we jettison the principle of evolution when it suits our alleged arguments. .


Philanthropy2012 profile image

Philanthropy2012 14 months ago from London Author

Oztinato thank you for clarifying!

What would you say to the idea that insofar as religion has helped us to form communities, and create moral systems and rules, it has been an evolutionary feature of mankind. However, now that we have established all of the above, and started to understand the world for what it really is, it is neurotic to continue religious beliefs?

This is not, I believe, what Freud was trying to say, but I think it is a good logical follow on.


Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

Phil

as the evolutionary basis for all our art and culture and law is religion it would be wrong to simply jettison it and/or to mock or denigrate it. If we now say religion is neurosis we are in effect saying our entire culture is built on an hallucination etc. This is obviously untrue and misconstrues the importance of religion and spirituality in our ongoing culture. Without it we get a bland McCulture based on porn, money and fashion.

An example: all indigenous cultures have at their heart religion therefore we would be genociding thousands of cultures by eraducating their religion/ culture.


Philanthropy2012 profile image

Philanthropy2012 14 months ago from London Author

I find this interesting:

"If we now say religion is neurosis we are in effect saying our entire culture is built on an hallucination"

Are you saying that, because it would be a shame if this were true, then it cannot be true?

"all indigenous cultures have at their heart religion therefore we would be genociding thousands of cultures by eradicating their religion culture."

I'm not sure I understand what this means!


Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

Phil

I have studied Freud and I believe he has a lot to contribute. I particularly like his "Totem and Taboo " and "Moses and Monotheism ". Freudian psychology rapidly evolved into Jungian psychology ( Freud's favourite student). Jung was largely ignored due to atheist fashions in thought. The road went on to pills potions and electro shock etc.

A neurotic hallucination can't do much beyond impair an individual's capacity to survive. A spiritual revelation builds cathedrals, creates culture and aids the good of all. Therefore a spiritual experience is definitionally not a psychotic one.

Indigenous cultures have as their heart and soul their religion: this is the basis for their art and culture. To destroy it is to destroy those people. McCulture would have them changing into a miley cyrus hollywood type of throw away gangsta culture like ours is becoming. We are seeing tastless McCulture spreading over the globe so that China now looks like New York etc and cultures are losing their soul and character as religion is weakened


Philanthropy2012 profile image

Philanthropy2012 14 months ago from London Author

Yours is a very interesting point of view and has helped me to gain insight, thank you Oztinato!


Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 14 months ago from Australia

Phil

thanks. Its good to chat to an open minded person for a change.

A final comment: ancient seers were often "unstable" people and epileptic etc but contributed spiritually. Likewise indigenous groups use altered states with ceremonies, herbs or fasting etc to induce spiritual trance states. The list is long. There may be educational profit in examing crossover between actual neurosis and actual spiritual experiences whereby altered states of consciousness and even dream states connect to actual "other" realities.

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