Where does belief in God come from?
Psychological interpretations of God generally fail, turning God into some sort of psychic crutch. Sigmund Freud argued that God is a based on the childish idea of a powerful and protective father (The Future of an Illusion). D. W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst working a generation after Freud, approached the question of God from a different direction, asking where he was located. If God were just an external being, he would lack emotional meaning and resonance. This is the God of a petrified religion, composed of a list of do’s and don’ts, a religion in which ritual has become sleepwalking.
But if God were just an internal reality, he would be no more than our fantasy. The God who feels real, the God who excites us (and God should be exciting) is the God whom we discover because we help to make him real.
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The question “Do you believe in God?” is the wrong question. “How do you believe in God?” comes closer to the mark.
The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, saw religion as an infantile illusion, one in which God would comfort and protect us from the harshness of the world as our parents once did (Future, pp 30-31, 43). But this is not all psychoanalysis has to say about religion.
Jung and myth
For Carl Jung, a follower of Freud in his younger years, a rebel in his later years, religious myth is a great achievement. As myth, religion is neither true, nor false. The categories don’t apply. A myth is generally the story of an epic hero sent on a journey to found or save a people, either by defeating an enemy, or solving a problem. Moses did both. So did Jesus Christ: the enemy is sin and death; the solution is believe that Christ is the Son of God, and act accordingly.
It is no repudiation of God to reject him because almost all of what we know about God and Jesus comes through stories. We live by and through narrative. Stories are how we make sense of our lives, and our world. The Bible is a series of stories, one reason it prospered while the gnostic gospels failed. Not enough good stories. About religious myths, Jung says
The religious myth is one of man’s greatest and most significant achievements, giving him the security and inner strength not to be crushed by the monstrousness of the universe (Jung, Collected Works, vol. 5, para. 343)
Continue reading The question “Do you believe in God?” is the wrong question