C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud: Independent Institute
Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis were both haunted all their lives by a deep yearning Although Freud and Lewis never met and certainly never debated one. The impeccably realized invocation of Freud and Lewis is perfectly Jr. Dr. Nicholi is quoted in the playbill: “Did Freud and Lewis ever meet?. In , Sigmund Freud was living out his last days in England, essentially a refugee from his native Austria, where the rise of Nazism made life.
Freud's philosophical writings, more widely read than his expository or scientific works, have played a significant role in the secularization of our culture. In the 17th century people turned to the discoveries of astronomy to demonstrate what they considered the irreconcilable conflict between science and faith; in the 18th century, to Newtonian physics; in the 19th century, to Darwin; in the 20th century and still today, Freud is the atheist's touchstone.
A celebrated Oxford don, literary critic, and perhaps the 20th century's most popular proponent of faith based on reason, Lewis won international recognition long before his death in His books continue to sell prodigiously and his influence continues to grow.
But Lewis embraced an atheistic worldview for the first half of his life and used Freud's reasoning to defend his atheism. Lewis then rejected his atheism and became a believer.
C.S. Lewis Meets Sigmund Freud - Living the Legacy of C.S. Lewis
In subsequent writings, he provides cogent responses to Freud's arguments against the spiritual worldview. Wherever Freud raises an argument, Lewis attempts to answer it. Their writings possess a striking parallelism. If Freud still serves as a primary spokesman for materialism, Lewis serves as a primary spokesman for the spiritual view that Freud attacked.
Unfortunately, because Lewis trailed Freud by a generation, his responses to Freud's arguments were the last written word. Freud never had the chance to rebut. Yet if their arguments are placed side by side, a debate emerges as if they were standing at podiums in a shared room.
Both thought carefully about the flaws and alternatives to their positions; each considered the other's views.
Their arguments can never prove or disprove the existence of God. Their lives, however, offer sharp commentary on the truth, believability, and utility of their views. But are these worldviews merely philosophical speculations with no right or wrong answer? One of them begins with the basic premise that God does not exist, the other with the premise that He does. They are, therefore, mutually exclusive — if one is right, the other must be wrong.
Does it really make any difference to know which one is which? Both Freud and Lewis thought so. They spent a good portion of their lives exploring these issues, repeatedly asking the question "Is it true?
He points to the problem of suffering and he develops the psychological argument that the whole concept is nothing but a projection of a childish wish for parental protection from the vicissitudes and sufferings of human existence. This began to make him think. He realized that this joy was not an end in itself, but a reminder of something or someone else.
Eventually, he came to believe that this someone is the Creator. Second, Lewis was shocked during a conversation with some of his Oxford faculty colleagues to hear one of them, an avowed atheist, state that the evidence for the historical authenticity of the gospels was very good.
The evidence was sound and the gospel stories actually appeared to be true. Lewis said one cannot understand the impact that had on him coming from this particular faculty member. Third, he read G. He writes about it very briefly this way in Surprised by Joy. You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalene, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.
That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. At this point Lewis was a theist, not a Christian. He struggled for many long months to understand the Gospel story and the doctrines of redemption and resurrection.
He read the Gospel of John in Greek. Then, in the fall ofhe had dinner with two faculty members, J. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. The clock in Magdalene Tower struck three in the morning before they parted.
This talk had a profound effect on Lewis. Nine days later, Lewis took a trip by motorcycle with his brother.
He became a prolific author, selling millions of copies of books and influencing many people in universities, especially in this country and in Europe. Because he himself embraced atheism the first half of his life, he knew the arguments well. For example, Lewis agreed with Freud that we do indeed possess a deep-seated wish for God.
Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis meet. Discuss - latimes
What we wish for, Lewis pointed out, has nothing to do with whether or not God exists. Lewis therefore said that all of this tells us something about our feelings, but very little about whether or not God exists. So Lewis tended to answer most of the arguments raised by Freud.
And indeed most of the great writers write about it continually. We are the only creatures on earth that can foresee our own death.
At the same time, we have a deep yearning for permanence and a pervasive, deep-seated fear of being separated from those we love of being abandoned. The fear of abandonment is the first fear we experience as a young child -- a baby screams when its mother walks out of the room.
Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital has shown that, in terminally ill patients, this is what they fear most -- the fear of being left alone, of being abandoned. Yet we cannot escape the harsh reality that every breath we breathe, every heartbeat, every hour of every day brings us nearer to the time when we will leave those we love. Now, how do you process that information? How do you come to terms with this? But how do you process it without being filled with anxiety or filled with fear?
Inin a work called Totem and Taboo, Freud made the interesting observation that death does not exist in our unconscious mind: It behaves as if it were immortal. We cannot imagine our own death and when we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still spectators, hence, no one believes in his own death.
He closed one essay with the curious suggestion that if you want to endure life you must prepare yourself for death.
He seemed to realize what people in my field have been talking about for years and that is: And when left unresolved, one spends excessive energy denying it or becoming obsessed with it. Freud left no doubt as to how he handled the problem. He became utterly obsessed with death. His colleague Ernst Jones, his official biographer, wrote: More so than any great man I can think of. You may never see me again. Even as early as his forties and with each passing year, thoughts of death became increasingly tyrants.
He once said he thought of it every day of his life, which is really unusual. Freud dreamed about death continually, and from early in his life he was obsessed about prospective death rates. Freud was certain he was going to die at 41, then at 51, then at 61, then at 62, then at He would check into a hotel and be given the room number He would leave that room and for months be absolutely convinced that he was going to die at age When Freud lost a loved one through death, he felt utterly hopeless.
Can you remember a time so full of death as this? He wished it would be soon. Perhaps my own sickness contributes to this shock. I work out of sheer necessity. Fundamentally everything has lost its meaning to me.
I can find no joy in life. Just before Freud died, he walked to a library shelf and took down a book by Bolzac entitled The Fatal Skin, in which the main character also makes a pact with the devil. The book ends when the hero cannot master his fear of death and dies in a state of panic.
C.S. Lewis Meets Sigmund Freud
How strange, as his last book. After reading the book, Freud reminded his physician of a promise he had made to help ease his passing when the time came. His doctor injected two centigrams of morphine that caused him to fall asleep, then after 12 hours he injected two more centigrams.
Freud died at 3 a. Lewis and Death C. Lewis also wrote about mortality. In The Problem of PainLewis described how as an atheist the problem of human suffering, especially the capacity of man to foresee his death while keenly desiring permanence, made it difficult for him to believe in an all-loving, all-powerful God.
Perhaps that is the reason we have no symbol for death in our unconscious, and have such difficulty accepting our mortality. Lewis made frequent reference to the basic principle that death illustrates. Does the death of a natural man always mean the birth of a spiritual; does one thing never sleep, except to let something awake? He wondered what it meant.
And when you look at nature, indeed you see things even in vegetative life where a seed drops to the ground and dies and then comes to life in the form of a plant or great tree.
Lewis was confronted with death as a young child. At nine years of age he lost within a few months a paternal grandfather, an uncle, and his beautiful mother. In an autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he recalls being confined to his room, ill with a headache and a toothache. He was distressed that his mother failed to come and see him.
That was because she was ill, too; and what was odd was that there were several doctors in her room, and voices and comings and goings all over the house and doors shutting and opening. It seemed to last for hours. And then my father, in tears, came into my room and began to try to convey to my terrified mind things it had never conceived before. He was told that his mother was dying of cancer. At a very early age, he lost both mother and father.
When 18 years old and a student at Oxford, Lewis joined the army. When he was 23 years old he wrote a letter to his father on the death of an old teacher who was a friend to both of them. I have seen death fairly often [in the war] and never yet been able to find it anything but extraordinary and rather incredible. A real person is so very real and so obviously living and different from what is left.
And one cannot believe that something has turned into nothing, that one could suddenly turn into nothing. This reminds me of my medical students just beginning to practice medicine; very often they will call me to tell me their experiences on the ward. One of the things the students often mention is how different a person is before and after death, how different the body is from a living person.
They sense there is something that disappears that is not there after death and that we are so much more than our bodies. Lewis seemed to realize that at a very young age. As I mentioned, many psychiatrists consider this book a classic in terms of understanding grief. Lewis makes you feel the anger, resentment, loneliness, and fear. When he was 59 years old, a lady wrote to him and said how terrible it was that she had just lost a friend.
After all, Saint Paul said just the same.
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Why should we not look forward to the arrival? He claimed the third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls healthy, is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all. Lewis suffered a heart attack on June 15,and lapsed into a coma. He recovered, however, and lived the next few months quietly and happily. His latest biographer notes that before his conversion, Lewis was extraordinarily anxious about death and dying, but after his conversion he seemed to have a wonderful calmness about it, and even an anticipation.
Records of his last days attest to a calmness and inner peace. He said Lewis was aware the end was near and that never was a man better prepared. He noted that Lewis was drowsy, but calm and cheerful. We have considered the contrasting worldviews of two prolific minds.