Friday, February 25, 2011

Suspicion and Faith: Freud

Merold Westphal in Suspicion and Faith uses Freud, Marx and Nietzsche to uncover religious, speficially Christian hypocrisy.  Instead of focusing on their skepticism, he uses their "suspicion" to "uncover the duplicity of persons" (p13).  Westphal writes about the "hermeneutics of suspicion, the deliberate attempt to expose the self-deceptions involved in hiding our actual operative motives from ourselves, individually or collectively, in order not to notice how and how much behavior and our beliefs are shaped by values we profess to disown." (p13)  While it sometimes hurts, Westphal's desire for self-examination is helpful if our ultimate aim is to serve God honestly.   As a reader it is important to observe that Westphal's guided critique is focusing on the function of Christian beliefs more than their truthfulness or morality.

The first section concentrates on Freud.  Freud, says Westphal, sees religion as a psychological solution to an internal conflict.  For the sake of a greater societal good we sacrifice a degree of personal happiness or pleasure. Remember that Freud conceived of a person with several competing forces, the Id (desire-instinct), Super-ego (internalized culture) and the Ego (the mediating force between the two).  Through the analysis of dreams Freud shows that objectionable motives are concealed or through dreams we represent the world to ourselves as either our egoistic or erotic desires would have it.  "This is the kind of distortion Freud finds in religious illusions.  We represent God to ourselves, not in accordance with the evidence available to us but in accordance with our wishes; in other words, we create God in our own image, or at least in the image of our desires" (p62).

Westphal then seeks to use Freud's analysis on the role of sin in religious life.  In describing the three he makes this powerful observation: "They bring to light the workings of what theologians call sin in the full concreteness of everyday life and they show how even religious life gets drawn into the service of the sin whose enemy it is supposed to be." (p77)  The three notes Westphal have an uncanny resemblance to the Old Testament prophets in their denunciation of religious hypocrisy.  Westphal brings the section about Freud to a close with this statement: "While Freud hopes that the hermeneutics of suspicion will lead to the collapse of religion, prophetic consciousness hopes that it will lead to a collapse of irreligion posing as religion, creating a space wherein true faith might flourish" (p119).