September 14, 2004


Lewis vs. Freud (Matt Kaufman, September 2004, Boundless)

On consecutive Wednesdays this month (Sept. 15 and 22), PBS stations will be airing a two-part documentary, The Question of God: Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. It’s a study in contrasts between two of the most influential men of the 20th century: the atheist Sigmund Freud, who held that all human affairs could be explained by secular psychoanalysis, and the ex-atheist Lewis, who became the most popular Christian writer of his era and beyond.

Recently I saw a one-hour preview of the four-hour special. Based on what I saw, I have to say, not everyone will be fascinated by every minute of it; it includes a fair amount of debate among academic types that many viewers may find heavy going. But at the heart of the show are compelling segments from the lives of both Freud and Lewis (including actors’ re-creations) that demonstrate the stark difference between life with God and life without Him.

The two men actually had their similarities. Both suffered blows to his faith early in life: the Jewish Freud when his family fell into sudden poverty, the Christian Lewis when his mother died and his father withdrew into often-tempestuous grief. Both emphasized the value of reason, though Lewis (unlike Freud) recognized its limits.

And above all, both agreed on the importance of their disagreements. As Harvard Professor Armand Nicholi (who teaches a course on which the documentary was based) says,

Are these worldviews merely philosophical speculations with no right or wrong answer? No. 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?”

No “you-have-your-truth-I-have-my-truth” wimpiness for these men; no “all that matters is that you have beliefs which have meaning for you” cop-outs. It made all the difference in the world who was right and who was wrong, and both of them knew it.

The match-up here is hardly fair. Max Beerbohm effectively annihilated all of Freudianism in a sentence: "A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, were they not?" Meanwhile Lewis's own writings continue to influence us today and the case he was defending continues to change the world:
I have often asked myself why human beings have any rights at all. I always come to the conclusion that human rights, human freedoms, and human dignity have their deepest roots somewhere outside the perceptible world. These values are as powerful as they are because, under certain circumstances, people accept them without compulsion and are willing to die for them, and they make sense only in the perspective of the infinite and the eternal. . . . While the state is a human creation, human beings are the creation of God.
-Vaclav Havel, The New York Review of Books

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2004 9:27 AM

Freud's legacy is more than just "All human behavior can be explained without God".
Even if God is someday proven to exist, and even now, after most of his theories have been discredited, his greatest accomplishment is the now universal application of the idea that broken minds can be fixed.

Relatively few have been harmed by Freud's life work and its aftermath; many have been helped.

Marx had his moments, too; Capitalism isn't all fun-n-games, and as you have pointed out many times, oj, even if workers haven't seized the means of production, they've certainly seized the spoils of production.
American society is socialist, as seen from a Nineteenth century perspective, and it's going to stay that way.

And, no, neither of them is responsible for totalitarianism in general, or the USSR in specific, or the entire philosophy of "Rationalism".

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 10, 2004 12:34 AM

God's been fixing broken minds for thousands of years--Freud came up with destructive quack cures.

Marx's central insight inmto the human being--that he's alienated from his labor--is false and everything that flows from it is poison.

The two of them and Darwin certainly have to take the bulk of the blame for the idea that humankind was clay to be molded by men..

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 12:44 AM

I have a friend whose mind is broken. She prays to Jesus every day and has given all her money to the 700 Club.

She isn't getting better, she's getting worse.

Of all the lies that believers tell, the lie that God will provide is the cruelest.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 10, 2004 1:33 AM

I have no idea how many broken people God has cured, or what percentage of broken people God fixes, but very clearly, She does not deign to fix all broken people.

Therefore, it falls to humans to do what we can for the remainder.

Matthew 25:35 ~ For I did hunger, and ye gave me to eat; I did thirst, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye received me.

From that, I take it that we are to care for one another, and that was exactly what Freud did, perhaps badly, but no worse than anyone else in his time, and, AND:

He founded an endeavor which continues to this day, one which, for all of its flaws and foibles, helps people, in ways that religious faith cannot.
As I said above, even if Freud's cures were quackery, (and in large part they were), it's the modern result that counts.

We enjoy disparaging the psychiatric profession, and Thor knows that they take themselves too seriously, they assign infallibility to poorly tested theories, and many of them seem as though they could use some brain-shrinking themselves. However, as with lawyers, another profession we love to hate, as a group they perform needed work, work that makes life better.

Freud, Marx, and Darwin may have been the people whose names and works made an impact, but only because humans and their societies were ready for such ideas. If the times weren't ripe, their ideas would have fallen on barren ground, and their names would be academic trivia.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 10, 2004 2:29 AM

Max Beerbohm effectively annihilated all of Freudianism in a sentence: "A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, were they not?"

Huh? Is that supposed to be a joke? I don't get it.

I prefer Karl Kraus's "Psychoanalysis is the disease it purports to cure."

Or even better, "Oedipus, Schmoedipus: as long as he loves his mother!"

My highly unscientific, anecdotal observation of people who have been through psychonalysis is that they lose in spontaneity and generosity what they gain in self-confidence and stability.

Posted by: Eugene S. at September 10, 2004 4:50 AM

Oh, well, if CS Lewis has come to a conclusion, then we must all toe to its line.

I can think of at least one other completely coherent explanation.

Both can't be right, and there is no way of knowing which is.

Despite claims to Absolute Truth (Now, more powerful with Capital Letters!)

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 10, 2004 6:48 AM


freud fixed them all?

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 7:31 AM


Somewhere there's a psychoanlyst who can't put a room on his house because she didn't pick Freud.

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 8:46 AM

Lewis is a very articulate apologist, but I don't know of anyone who became a believer because of him. He's a favorite of the religious crowd because he provides them articulate arguments for God's existence based on beliefs and assumptions that they already hold. As with G K Chesterson or Dostoyevsky, he has written arguments that sound undeniable to the believing temperament, and which they imagine will devastate the unbeliever into submission. He never proved God's existence, he just gave the believer witty and articulate ways to express and defend their beliefs.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 10, 2004 3:10 PM

If only Darwinism, Marxism or Freudianism had a Lewis...

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 3:19 PM

Unworthy, Orrin.

She's suffering.

She also saw a psychiatrist (not psychoanalyst) for a while. He helped a little.

Not much.

But she cannot afford even that, now.

The point, though, is that God does not cure broken brains.

If you are not a Darwinian, you have to assume he breaks them, though.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 10, 2004 10:33 PM

So the Freudians cashed in too, eh?

Not everyone gets cured.

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 11:13 PM

"Lewis is a very articulate apologist, but I don't know of anyone who became a believer because of him."

Jack Dee. British comedian.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at September 14, 2004 11:37 AM

Is it just me, or is this deja vu all over again?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 14, 2004 11:49 AM

It's always deja vu all over again. (But most of us are blessed with very short memories.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 14, 2004 12:30 PM

Lewis is a very articulate apologist, but beyond Jack Dee, a British comedian, I don't know of anyone who became a believer because of him.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 14, 2004 1:43 PM


One comment about Lewis - there are times in life when we run into people who simply are more substantial than we are. People who are more learned, more wise, more real. People who have done the thinking and the internal work about life, where most everyone else just has vague cliches and pop culture impulses. People who are vital, in all senses of that word.

I don't know who those people are for you, but I seriously doubt if Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Peter Singer, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, or John Wesley Spong make the list.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 14, 2004 1:51 PM

CS Lewis strongly influenced my decision to convert to Christianity. I started with "Mere Christianity", then "Surprised by Faith".

Harry, the question is not what some psychiatrist or televangilist TV show is doing, but what you are doing to help your friend?

Posted by: Gideon at September 14, 2004 3:07 PM


Steven den Beste has done some serious thinking and writing on this very subject.

Simply because CS Lewis says something is so is nowhere near sufficient grounds for making it so.

However substantial CS Lewis may have been, or how powerful his feelings, if other explanations are as coherent as his, then they are in play.

Otherwise, don't you run the risk of abdicating your brain?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 14, 2004 3:11 PM


Your brain doesn't rule anything what throne would it be giving up.

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2004 3:18 PM

Jeff have you actually read CS Lewis? Abdicating your brain is the last thing CS Lewis wanted. He regularly bemoaned the intellectual laziness of his Cambridge collegues, much like George Orwell did.

"The Abolition of Man" is nothing if not an indictment of the loss of intellectual rigor in liberal education.

Posted by: Gideon at September 14, 2004 3:21 PM


Your brain is abdicated when you refuse to admit that there are people who have thought through philosophy (and literature, in Lewis's case) far more deeply and effectively than we ever could.

Steven Den Beste is a good blogger, and he writes good evaluations on a number of subjects, but philosphy and religion are not among them. And if he is your best example (of a substantial person), then aren't you saying that a contemperaneous engineer with a flair for writing is your guiding light? To be blunt, you might as well pick Orrin Judd, Glenn Reynolds, or Stephen Bainbridge.

Now, I am not asking that you assent blindly - but merely to recognize that neither you nor Den Beste is going to win any argument with most of what Lewis wrote. One of the reasons Charles Colson became a Christian is because he was humbled by Lewis's thoughts, to the point that he said he never would want to face Lewis in court, because he knew he could not win.

Remember, the strongest "attraction" for people to Lewis's writing is not his academic approach (that is almost always a turn-off), or the relentless pounding with persuasion (he did not want to be an evangelist), but his simple style, as though he was just having coffee with the reader.

And Lewis knew the road from atheism to faith, having been a 'militant' atheist for probably 10-15 years before becoming a Christian.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 14, 2004 3:59 PM


Jeff would never abdicate--he personally sailed on the Beagle to verify Darwin's observations and worked out Einstein's equations himself.

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2004 4:06 PM


CS Lewis provided an articulate, informed, thoroughly considered opinion to an utterly unanswerable question.

I don't fail to admit he thought about those things more than I ever could, only that doing so is not tantamount to correctness.

I beg to differ about Mr. den Beste's writings on philosopy and religion. If you analyze the content of his arguments and compare them to CS Lewis', you would find them both equally well grounded.

In other words, CS Lewis would not win any argument with what Mr. den Beste wrote, either.

You have abdicated your brain when you accept as Absolute Truth that which is beyond proof simply on account of someone's say so.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 14, 2004 9:22 PM

de Beste lost an argument to me, he'd cerainly lose one to Lewis.

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2004 9:56 PM

Gideon, no, the point is whether god is fixing her brain (or any other). Orrin made a flip and cruel remark, because his original statement was insupportable, as each of us knows from his own experience.

I'm not a healer. The most I can do for my friend is to try to keep her from being pauperized by the Christians. I'm not doing very well, but not for lack of trying.

I despise Christians, never more than when I'm with her.

Lewis can go jump in a lake.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2004 2:46 AM

Some folks are too sick for anything to cure, as your example shows. You Rationalists couldn't do much either, no? And there were no rebates from the Doctors either, were there?

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 6:56 AM

Which argument did den Best lose to you?

He makes arguments regarding materialism and atheism. In what way would they lose to Lewis?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 15, 2004 7:03 AM


Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 7:21 AM


The heck you have.

I have read his essays on the subject, and been extensively exposed to your arguments. You utterly fail to demonstrate your case in all respects.

What I find astonishing is you chuck your obvious analytical skills straight out the window on this subject, and rely on the sort of logic and abuse of evidence that you otherwise deride when it comes from the Left.

This thread is a classic example. Apropos of nothing, you assert human activity is the cause of the competition, and that there has never been a case of naturally induced habitat change other than catastrophic. The former is both unknown and irrelevant, and the latter roundly contradicted by evidence--continental drift is just one such example of widespread gradual change.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 15, 2004 10:40 AM


The stories and the scientists all assert it is human activity causing the extinction. Continental drift doesn't cause extinctions.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 10:49 AM

The stories do not all assert that. In the other thread someone posted a quote that the naturalists had no ideas what the cause was, and that it could have been going on for quite some time due to reasons having nothing to do with humans.

Continental drift doesn't cause extinctions? Surely you jest. How many animals or plants exist both in NH and the Mojave Desert?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 15, 2004 1:55 PM


Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 2:05 PM

Orrin, you said God heals broken brains.

He doesn't. That somebody also doesn't cannot correct your original insupportable statement.

On the other hand, if God ever DOES heal broken brains, then all unbroken ones stand as a continuing reproach to his capricious cruelty.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2004 2:59 PM

He does, just not all of them. It's not cruelty, just a necessary flaw in/feature of Creation.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2004 3:09 PM

Harry would just love Candide.

(On his deathbed when asked by the priest to renounce Satan, Voltaire said "My good man, now is not the time to be making enemies.")

Posted by: Gideon at September 15, 2004 3:58 PM

"... just a necessary flaw in/feature of Creation."

Would that be the same necessary Creation flaw/feature that requires women in their agonized, terrified millions to die of childbirth? Does it require preeclampsia, ectopic pregnancies, breech births and bleeding to death for all kinds of reasons?

One would think a Creator powerful enough to create the Universe with man as its raison d etre, and possessing of any moral awareness would do something about that little "flaw."

Unfortunately, he didn't.

So Man had to.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 15, 2004 8:27 PM

Humans aren't making the Spotted Owl extinct, Barred Owls are, through both fighting and loving.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 15, 2004 8:32 PM

Well, if Creation has flaws designed in, let's hear no more about Intelligent Design, then.

And you still haven't answered the charge that God is capriciously cruel. That he designed Himself that way hardly excuses him. It just convicts him of a deeper crime.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2004 9:02 PM

Gen 3:16 To the woman He said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." 17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

In other words, life is painful - childbirth in particular - and our lot is hard toil, because we screwed up right at the beginning.

Posted by: Gideon at September 16, 2004 11:03 PM


Pure fable to explain away the otherwise irreconcialable.

And you had best discuss that with OJ--last I heard, that while Darwin had not the first clue of the process, OJ believes evolution (life changing over time) happened.

Which means Adam and Eve never existed.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 17, 2004 3:22 AM


Why not?

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2004 9:05 AM

Well, only a little, negligible matter of the archeological genetic record.

But more importantly, I presume epidurals contravene God's Law. As do jobs that don't involve toil.

Certainly Christian Fundamentalists and Bible Literalists have nothing to do with anethesia during delivery. Right?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 17, 2004 12:45 PM

There were initial humans and they were most likely produced by intelligent intervention in the evolutionary process, the same way we get evolution now. There likely were no epidurals used, but that seems a side issue.

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2004 12:51 PM

Initial humans from whence, whole cloth?

The barred owls have been pestering the spotted owls for thousands of years--how else do you think the latter got confined to the Olympia forest?

It isn't a side issue. According to the wholly authoritative Bible, which Gideon so lavishly quoted, anesthesia during delivery is against God's plan. How can a good Christian justify its use?

A life without toil is against God's plan. How do you justify yourself?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 17, 2004 8:13 PM

Yes, and it has taken us just a few years to get rid of them. We drive extinction.

I'm a bad Christian.

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2004 8:21 PM

Anesthesia during delivery is against God's Plan.

Surely, Catholic hospitals refuse the practice. As obviously, abetting Catholic doctors are refused communion. This corresponds with teachings from the pulpit evoking the evil of directly contradicting God's intent.


Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 18, 2004 9:12 AM


I suspect anasthesia is used in emergency situations--doesn't make childbirth much more pleasant that I'm aware of--safer though, and God probably likes that.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2004 9:26 AM


It is used whenever the woman wants it, and has nothing to do with safety.

"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth ..."

Man has greatly decreased those pains, directly contravening God's will.

Unless, of course, God's will is subjective, or everyone, theologians included, now consider that particular passage "inoperative."

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 19, 2004 8:59 AM


No, Christ brought us a New Covenant and rendered many of those Old Testament prohibitions null. He was the vehicle by which God finally came to comprehend His Creation--Forgive them Father, they know not what they do--and forgave us our propensity to evil. We are commanded to "Love one another" as He loved those around him. He'd have alleviated a woman's extreme pain in childbirth.

Posted by: oj at September 19, 2004 9:06 AM