The Future of an Illusion (Die Zukunft einer Illusion) is a book written by Sigmund Freud in 1927. It describes his interpretation of religion's origins, development, psychoanalysis, and its future.
Religion as an illusion
Freud describes religion as an illusion, wishes that are the "fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind" (Ch. 6 pg.30). To differentiate between an illusion and an error, he lists scientific beliefs such as "Aristotle's belief that vermin are developed out of dung
" (pg.39) as errors, but "the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization
" is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, "what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes
." (pg. 39) He adds, however, that, "Illusions need not necessarily be false." (pg.39) He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.
Origins and development of religion
Freud begins by explaining religion in a similar term to that of totemism
. The individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function. "Among these instinctual wishes are those of incest, cannibalism, and lust for killing." (pg. 10) His view of human nature
is that it is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The destructive nature of humans sets a pre-inclination for disaster when humans must interact with others in society. "For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving free rein to their indiscipline
." (pg. 7) So destructive is human nature, he claims, that "it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends
." (pg. 8) All this sets a terribly hostile society that could implode if it were not for civilizing forces and developing government.
He elaborates further on the development of religion, as the emphasis on acquisition of wealth and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from "the material to the mental." As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward.
The topic is resumed in the beginning of the subsequent work Civilization and Its Discontents:
One of these exceptional few calls himself my friend in his letters to me. I had sent him my small book that treats religion as an illusion, and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgement upon religion , but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of 'eternity', a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded--as it were, 'oceanic'. This feeling, he adds is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doutbtless also exhausted by them. ....
The views expressed by the friend whom I so much honour, and who himself once praised the magic of illusion in a poem caused me no small difficulty. ... From my own experience I could not convince myself of the primary nature of such a feeling. But this gives me no right to deny that it does in fact occur in other people. The only question is whether it is being correctly interpreted and whether it ought to be regarded as the fons et origo of the whole need for religion.
Psychoanalysis of religion
Religion is an outshoot of the Oedipus complex
, and represents man's helplessness in the world, having to face the ultimate fate of death, the struggle of civilization, and the forces of nature. He views God as a child-like "longing for [a] father." (pg. 18) In his words "The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them." (pg. 19)