A Freudian Slip

Life without God is difficult to sustain; this became apparent to me while reading Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.’s The Question of God. In this book, Nicholi pits the thinking of C. S. Lewis (the theist) against Sigmund Freud (the atheist) and the result is a fascinating interaction between these monumental minds. One of the more interesting moments in the book occurs when Nicholi brings to light some of Freud’s letters. Curiously, these letters are laced with references to God. Here are some excerpts:

“I passed my examinations with God’s help”; “if God so wills”; “the good Lord”; “until after the Resurrection”; “science seems to demand the existence of God”; “God’s judgment”; “God’s will”; “God’s grace”; “God above”; “if someday we meet above”; “in the next world”; “my secret prayer.” In a letter to Oskar Pfitser, Freud writes that Pfister was “a true servant of God” and “was in the fortunate position to lead (others) to God.”

Confused? These are certainly peculiar words coming from an atheist. Nicholi says, “Can we not dismiss all this as merely figures of speech – common in English as well as in German? Yes, if it were anyone but Freud. But Freud insisted that even a slip of the tongue had meaning.” A Freudian slip indeed.

These glaring examples point to the difficulty of maintaining a purely materialistic view of the world. After all, when one loses God, they lose themselves. In order to retain the pieces of one’s humanity, the atheist must often become a bundle of contradictions. This is how Lewis felt during his atheist days. As Nicholi reminds, Lewis, although denying the existence of God, remained angry at God for not existing. And Lewis was just as upset at this God for creating a world and thrusting humanity – against their will – upon its stage.

It would be easy to puff ourselves up over Freud’s apparent inconsistencies, but I wonder whether Christians do something similar. For Freud, there existed a discrepancy between what he publicly professed and what Freud privately expressed through his letters. Freud appears to have lived a divided life. Might Christians be tempted to do the same? While publicly claiming belief in God, could it be that many Christians live their lives without giving God much thought? In other words, is it possible that many Christians live as practical atheists?

Classical Christian education, at its best, seeks to develop students who live fully integrated lives. By filling a student’s day with worship and aiming to understand all subjects in light of Christ, we will assist students in living consistent, unified lives.