Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, two very influential psychological thinkers, have provided great theories regarding religion. In this paper, I will be comparing Freud’s work to Jung in relation to Christianity. It will be interesting because even though Jung was inspired by Freud’s work and even involved in the psychoanalytic movement during their friendship, his theory went on to be very different from Freud. Sigmund Freud said that ‘religious belief is an illusion rooted in the ‘longing for the father’, and projected onto a divine being’ (Forsyth, 2003). As for C.G. Jung, he said that religion is a ‘careful and scrupulous observation’ of the ‘numinosum,’ that is, God, the sacred, the transcendent, or the unconscious (Forsyth, 2003). Even though their views sound different, they still had some similarities. Their ultimate search was to find the psychological origin of religious phenomena. For me, Freud’s theory of wish fulfillment and morality was a better approach to Christianity than Jung’s theory which was based on the archetypes of the collective unconscious and individuation.
I chose Christianity because both the theories can be applied to this religion. Freud knew more about western religion specifically, Christianity, and as for Jung, he was born in a Christian family, so he was brought up in that religion. The ultimate concern for Christianity is that people, through their acts and faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, the son of God, can receive eternal life and salvation (Christianity Presentation, 2018). In Christianity, you want to be a good person so you can go to heaven, which reminds me of Freud’s take on religion where he realizes people don’t want to struggle between life and death but instead escape from it. People are dependendable on God, and Freud describes that as ‘patently infantile’ and ‘foreign to reality’ (Forsyth, 2003). Jung, who is also known as the ‘mystic’ saw the union with God as symbolic of the goal of selfhood or wholeness. Even though Jung’s concept of religion might be more optimistic than Freud’s, I still feel Freud’s theory would be a better match for Christianity. Jung’s theory of religion is more spiritual than traditional. Christianity is one of the oldest religion and has so many principles and rules that Jung’s process of individuation doesn’t really hold up to that. Christianity believes more in traditional religious practices than the healing and energizing forces of one’s own psyche (Forsyth, 2003).
Even with their differences, Freud and Jung do have some similarities regarding how the human mind works. Both Freud and Jung’s theories involve the conscious and unconscious. Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious being human instincts and desires is similar to Freud’s ideas of the id which is rather more sexual. They also agreed that religion is a good thing when it comes to moral values. Freud believed that morality was a product on the socialization process, when the individual starts to develop a superego, and he stated that religion helped with this process (Forsyth, 2003). Jung believes in rebirth and realization of self which, I feel can be obtained by being aware of what we do as an individual morally and try to be a better person and more aware of self.
However, I feel that, Freud’s theory which includes three aspects; religious belief as an illusion, religious practice as an obsessional neurosis and the proposed historical evidence for this interpretation (Forsyth, 2003) explain Christianity better than Jung’s theory. Freud regarding morality said that Religion assists morality by promoting belief in a God who, in addition to being a loving and protecting father, like any other father makes demands upon us through his commandments. He also related this to the Oedipal stage and the fact that one looks to project the image of a father onto something much more mystical, and therefore sees God as a ‘surrogate father’. God, is the surrogate father in Christianity. We follow his commandments and fear him as he decides our fate on judgment day. As Freud’s theory explained, we want someone to look after us and protect us. This is where the wish fulfillment theory comes into play. The more I read about it, I feel Christianity promotes wish fulfillment. People pray for materialistic or emotional gains from God. In Catholicism (branch of Christianity), there are different angels assigned to different parts of life people pray to when they want those things. Freud also believed that people make up a God in order to deal with the fact that our bodies get old, and deteriorate, and eventually die. That is one of the main points why Christianity exist since there is the unalienable belief that there is a Heaven where eternal life will be waiting for us. According to Freud, the unconscious was formed by images, experiences, and thoughts that the person refused to believe or to process,(the oedipal stage) and this led to neurosis (feeling of guilt). Freud’s theory is based on a monotheistic religion and Christianity being monotheistic, I feel that Christianity gets a better explanation of its region through this theory.
As for Jung, Individuation played a big part on why religion, and the image of God, was important to the self. He stated that in order for one to maintain psychological health after having reached the second half of life, one has to be able to have a ‘religious outlook’. In his findings, he stated that one of the important and main goals of religion was that of the inner rebirth of the person. I feel this would apply to more eastern religion like Buddhism and less towards Christianity. His theory is more about finding yourself than following the commandments of one God. Also Jung, unlike Freud, did not believe religion to be an illusion or a creation to deal with the decay of the human body. He believed that God lived within us. Jung did not believe there to be a god outside of us , he believed in looking within our self. But in Christianity, people believe in heaven and hell. They believe in Judgement Day. The day Jesus will come and judge us and take the good ones with him to heaven. For Jung, this was not the case, he believed to have a rebirth, being a whole new person when you achieve the main goal. Another big part for Jung was his theory of ‘collective unconscious’ (Forsyth, 2003), a collection of images and thoughts that everyone in the world shares, and this is how he came to the conclusion that we all want to believe in a God. Jung’s theory suggested that every single human in the planet has the idea of a God in their mind. This theory may help in explaining why Christianity (Monotheistic Religion) is popular, but not to the fullest, as he still believed in God is within us and not someone who has to look after us.
In conclusion, I think that Freud’s theory would fit better with Christianity than Jung’s Theory. Freud has a more scientific and reductionist point of view on what Christianity and religion are about. His theory on religion is an illusion and a neurosis match well with the way Christians follow their religion. I feel Christianity is about having a ‘father figure’ look after us and protect us and also the need to fear him so people can be good morally. Even though Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ theory might explain why people tend to believe in one god and how its the same image in everyone’s head but his Individuation theory gives religion, a more spiritual look rather than the traditional one. Christianity, being one of the oldest religion, has strong traditional values and they have been following the rules (religious) for years so it won’t change now. So in my opinion, Jung’s theory doesn’t really match well with Christianity as well as Freud’s theory does.
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