By Zia H Shah MD
The distinguished psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung, who was a contemporary of Freud and is well known for several contributions in the field, says in the chapter, “Psychotherapists or clergy” of his book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul:
During the past thirty years, people from all the civilized countries of the earth have consulted me. I have treated many hundreds of patients. … Among all my patients in the second half of life — to say, over thirty‑five — there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.[i]
The famous psychiatrist has declared in no uncertain terms that the origin of all psychiatric problems including anxiety, depression and personality disorders lies in moving away from true religious values. It is not possible to achieve peace of mind in time of distress without reference to a religion. For instance, the commonest defense mechanism that the humans resort to in time of dire need is prayer. This fact is so popularly recognized that there is a common proverb, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
According to Islam one of the natural instincts of man is his search for an Exalted Being towards whom he has an inherent attraction (Al Quran 7:173). This natural instinct is manifested by an infant from the moment of its birth. As soon as it is born, it displays this characteristic in its inclination towards its mother and is inspired by her love. As its faculties are developed and its nature begins to display itself openly, this inherent quality is displayed more and more strongly. It finds no comfort anywhere except in the lap of its mother. If it is separated from her and finds itself at a distance from her, its life becomes bitter. It feels no joy apart from her. So much so that orphan children who are not adequately cared for die because of emotional deprivation. What, then, is the nature of the attraction which an infant feels so strongly towards its mother? It is this same instinct of search for his beloved God that is manifesting in a different form. The same instinct is also manifested by almost all human beings in their time of distress. “And when an affliction befalls people, they cry unto their Lord, turning sincerely to Him; then, when He has made them taste of mercy from Him, lo! A section of them associate partners with their Lord” (Al Quran 30:34). In other words this instinct of seeking for the Exalted Being (Allah) manifests in a child in the form of love for the mother, and in time of distress in adults in the form of prayers. This same instinct comes into play whenever a person feels love for another. When a man has a sincere strong urge for some entity or something, it is a reflection of this original attraction, which is inherent in man’s nature towards God. The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has pointed out:
When the attraction is misdirected, then the man remains in search of something that he misses, the name of which he has forgotten, and which he seeks to find in one thing or another. A person’s love of wealth, offspring, wife or a musical voice are all indications of his search for the True Beloved the God Almighty.[ii]
Other monotheistic religions also stress this point. Catechism of Catholic Church, translated in English in 1994, contains:
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.
Freud’s psychological argument against the spiritual worldview, on the other hand, rests on the notion that all religious ideas are rooted in deep-seated wishes and are therefore illusions-false beliefs. He Writes in his widely read Future of an Illusion:
We shall tell ourselves that it would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent providence and if there were a moral order in the universe and an afterlife, but it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.
Freud therefore concludes that belief in God is merely a projection of powerful wishes and inner needs. He writes:
. . . religious ideas, which are given out as teachings . . . are illusions, fulfillment of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of these wishes.
Freud explained that when the child grows up “he knows, to be sure, that he is in possession of greater strength, but his insight into the perils of life has also grown greater, and he rightly concludes that fundamentally he still remains just as helpless and unprotected as he was in his childhood, that faced by the world he is still a child.” As an adult plagued with feelings of helplessness, he “cannot do without the protection which he enjoyed as a child.” He is imprinted with the “image of the father whom in his childhood he so greatly overvalued. He exalts the image into a deity and makes it into something contemporary and real.” Freud concluded that “the effective strength of this. . . image and the persistence of his need for protection jointly sustain his belief in God.”
In The Future of an Illusion, Freud pointed out that the mother becomes the child’s “first protection against all of the undefined dangers which threaten it in an external world-its first protection against anxiety, we may say.” But then a change takes place: “In this function (of protection) the mother is soon replaced by a stronger father, who retains that position for the rest of childhood. But the child’s attitude to its father is colored by a particular ambivalence. The father himself constitutes a danger for the child, perhaps because of its earlier relation to its mother. Thus it fears him no less than it longs for him and admires him.” Freud then asserted that “the indications of this ambivalence in the attitude to the father are deeply imprinted in every religion. . . When the growing individual finds that he is destined to remain a child for ever, that he can never do without protection against strange superior powers, he lends those powers the features belonging to the figure of his father.” Thus, God is often depicted as someone to be feared as well as loved.
Freud wrote that the individual creates for himself the God “whom he dreads, whom he seeks to propitiate, and with whom he nevertheless entrusts with his own protection.” In summary, “the defense against childish helplessness is what lends its characteristic features to the adult’s reaction to the helplessness which he has to acknowledge-a reaction which is precisely the formation of religion.”[iii]
So, Freud asserts we possess intense, deep-seated wishes that form the basis for our concept of and belief in God. God does not create us in His image; we create God in our parents’ image-or, more accurately, into the childhood image of our father. God exists only in our minds. Freud cannot help but advise us to grow up and give up the “fairy tales of religion.”
But his argument can be turned on its head. Not only does wishing for something not rule out the existence of the object wished for it may itself be evidence for its existence. In our own lives, many of us have experienced periodically a deep-seated desire for a relationship with our Creator. We usually possess desires for things which exist. In the words of CS Lewis, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.” He then implies we all have a deep-seated desire, or wish for, a relationship with the Creator and for an existence beyond this life, though we often mistake it for something else. Recent research by neuro-scientists adds additional insight here. Evidence exists that the human brain is “hardwired” (genetically programmed) for belief. If true, this wiring reflects Intelligence beyond the universe depends on one’s worldview. What we learn from such evidence depends on the kind of philosophy and paradigm we bring to the evidence. Carl Jung, as we said was a contemporary of Freud and best knew his personal and academic weaknesses. He writes:
Freud has unfortunately overlooked the fact that man has never yet been able single‑handed to hold his own against the powers of darkness — that is, of the unconscious. Man has always stood in need of the spiritual help which each individual’s own religion held out to him.[iv]
Indeed man’s very psyche and emotional needs suggest that there ought to be a God and when He reveals Himself through revelation, as to all the Jewish prophets, Jesus, John the Baptist, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Dao, the seal of the Prophets, the Holy Prophet Muhammad and then to his subordinate prophet, the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani in our era, we know with certainty that there is indeed a God. When we think in this paradigm, the Holy Quran becomes a powerful and self -evident proof of the existence of God!
[i] Dr. Carl Jung. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Book, 1933. Page 229.