God and the Psychoanalysts

"God and the Psychoanalysts," Commentary, November 1949.


Psychoanalysis was from its very beginnings disrespectful, when not positively hostile, towards all existing religious creeds and institutions. Naturally, the religious rhetoricians replied with heat, though, it must be said, with unequal light. The contest was not exactly an exciting one, if only because few people could get enthusiastic about God, one way or the other. The psychoanalysts found it sufficient to explain with supreme objectivity just how it was that this mountain of nonsense and error came to rest on human shoulders. The preachers retorted with anathemas or plaints of misrepresentation. The general conviction of the century was that the analysts were going to unnecessary extremes of detail to dissect a patient ripe for the grave, and that the patient was showing a lack of taste in hanging on so grimly to a life that held no future for him.

But then the contest was transplanted to the melting pot of America, with astonishing consequences. In America all races and creeds live and work peacefully side by side—why should not ideas do likewise? For the ancient habit of supposing that an idea was true or false, there was substituted the more “democratic” way of regarding all ideas as aspects of a universal Truth which, if all of it were known, would offend no one and satisfy all. It is under such favorable circumstances, and in such a benign climate of opinion, that the current love affair between psychoanalysis and religion has been, time and again, consummated. There have been bickerings and quarrels, of course, and the Catholic Church has shown itself to be a rather frigid partner. But, all in all, things have gone well, and the occasional Catholic reserve has been more than made up for by Protestant acquiescence and Jewish ardor.

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