Man is in Constant Search for the Divine!

By Zia H Shah MD

It is in remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort. (Al Quran 13:29)

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.

[ii] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani.   Philosophy of teaching of Islam.

[iii] Dr. Armand M Nicholi Jr.  CS Lewis and Freud: debate God, love, sex and meaning of life.

[iv] Dr. Carl Jung. Modern Man in Search of a Soul.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Book, 1933.  Page 240.

Categories: Ahmadiyyat: True Islam, Psychology

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5 replies

  1. Alcohol Anonymous (AA) and the Higher Being!
    Our basic inclination towards a Higher Being, is a reality that we need to acknowledge and let it flow in our system to fix our problems and achieve peace and harmony (Al Quran 13:29). Acknowledging God or realizing His need in our lives is not a weakness of a few, limited group of people. It is a basic reality of human nature. However, some of us are not aware of this at some particular stage of our lives or may be too arrogant to acknowledge this. Let us review the combined testimony of thousands upon thousands of recovered alcoholics who found that they could not recover from their disease without letting some concept of God into their lives. Here is the testimony:

    If (you are an) alcoholic. you (are) suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.
    To one, who feels he is an atheist or agnostic, such an experience seems impossible; but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.
    But it isn’t so difficult. About half of our original fellowship were of exactly that type. At first, some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping that we were not true alcoholics. But after a while, we had to face the fact, that we must find a spiritual basis of life — or else. Perhaps it is going to be that way with you. But cheer up, something like half of us thought we were atheists or agnostics. Our experience shows that you need not be disconcerted.
    If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there. Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.
    Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?

    This is a part of the testimony in Alcoholics Anonymous. The testimony is very moving, and it is worth reading. It is in “We agnostics” chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. Another moving paragraph which describes their agnostic past is:

    Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself.

    In short, there is an inherent need in human beings for a divine being, whom they can go to with their problems. I suggest that we call this phenomenon, “Inherent human need: as proof of God.” Alcoholics Anonymous concludes its thesis about “Inherent human need: as proof of God” with the words, “When many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives, they present a powerful reason why one should have faith.” The testimony of Alcohol Anonymous is certainly in keeping with the principle described in the verse quoted in the beginning of this post, in the picture of the Kaaba, “It is in remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort.” (Al Quran 13:29)

  2. Carl Jung about spirituality and alcoholism
    Jung’s influence can sometimes be found in more unexpected quarters. For example, Jung once treated an American patient (Rowland Hazard III), suffering from chronic alcoholism. After working with the patient for some time and achieving no significant progress, Jung told the man that his alcoholic condition was near to hopeless, save only the possibility of a spiritual experience. Jung noted that occasionally such experiences had been known to reform alcoholics where all else had failed.
    Rowland took Jung’s advice seriously and set about seeking a personal spiritual experience. He returned home to the United States and joined a Christian evangelical Re-Armament movement known as the Oxford Group. He also told other alcoholics what Jung had told him about the importance of a spiritual experience. One of the alcoholics he told was Ebby Thacher, a long-time friend and drinking buddy of Bill Wilson, later co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Thacher told Wilson about Jung’s ideas. Wilson, who was finding it impossible to maintain sobriety, was impressed and sought out his own spiritual experience. The influence of Jung thus indirectly found its way into the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original twelve-step program, and from there into the whole twelve-step recovery movement, although AA as a whole is not Jungian and Jung had no role in the formation of that approach or the twelve steps.
    The above claims are documented in the letters of Carl Jung and Bill W., excerpts of which can be found in Pass It On, published by Alcoholics Anonymous. Although the detail of this story is disputed by some historians, Jung himself made reference to its substance — including the Oxford Group participation of the individual in question — in a talk that was issued privately in 1954 as a transcript from shorthand taken by an attendee (Jung reportedly approved the transcript), later recorded in Volume 18 of his Collected Works, The Symbolic Life, “For instance, when a member of the Oxford Group comes to me in order to get treatment, I say, ‘You are in the Oxford Group; so long as you are there, you settle your affair with the Oxford Group. I can’t do it better than Jesus.'” Jung goes on to state that he has seen similar cures among Catholics.

  3. Quoting the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiayya Muslim Community:

    One who recognises his own self has recognised God. Referring to the souls, God says:

    I said to the souls, Am I not your Lord? They responded , yes ( Ch 7 : V173 )

    This verse means that a belief in the existence of God is implanted in the nature of souls, and that if a man looks carefully into his soul, he will recognise God. But when a man plunges himself in the darkness of negligence and is affected by unholy teachings, he denies the existence of God who is His creator, and entertains doctrines which are not in consonance with what God has impressed on his nature. It is apparent that every person bears love for his parents, so much that some children die after the death of their mothers. So, if the soul of man does not proceed out of the Hand of God and is not created by Him, who is it that has implanted the love of God in its nature, and why is it that as soon as the eyes of man are opened and he casts off his negligence, his heart is attracted towards God and a river of the love of God flows in his breast? This shows that there is some connection between God and the souls which makes them ‘mad’ in divine love. They are so lost in the love of God that they are prepared to sacrifice their all in His path. The truth is, that the bond which unites the souls with the Divine Being is so wonderful that the relations of children with their mothers and father are not comparable to it. If, as the Arya Samajists represent, the souls are self existent, how did this wonderful bond come into existence? Who placed this love, this passion, in the souls? This point deserves the deepest consideration and is a key to the true knowledge of God.

    Translated from Chashma -i- Ma’rifat of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib, pp.158_168 Ruhani Khazain, Vol.23

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