MAKING CONSCIOUS THE UNCONSCIOUS: Psychoanalytical perspectives of our beliefs in God

Introduction to psychoanalysis: Making conscious the unconscious

“Psychoanalysis offers a view of the human being as containing its own demons and angels in the unconscious. All the projected contents of the psyche are withdrawn from heaven and hell: one no longer grapples with the angel of God or with the devil, but with one’s own desires, fears and hatreds.” – Horrocks

According to this article “Making Conscious the Unconscious in Social Reality: The Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Culture“, psychoanalysis can be used or applied to focus on events occurring outside clinical situations in social reality to interpret culture. It is interesting to study the psychoanalysis of political ideology, as a “royal road to cultural unconscious”, in terms of how a system of beliefs commonly held by a group of people in the society is embraced and perpetuated. I learnt that the reason people embrace and perpetuate an ideology is due to the psychic functions it performs for them, responding to their needs, desires, fantasies, conflicts and human dilemmas.

I agree with Norman Brown’s suggestion or hypothesis that the unconscious can become conscious, through projection into the external world. It is interesting to see, for example, how Hitler projected his own fantasies onto Nazi ideology, such as wishing to unite Austria his birthplace and Germany, not for economic reasons but personal convictions.

Psychoanalysis of Bible stories

In the same way, I think the Bible stories also depict how the people in ancient times had made the unconscious conscious through projection of their needs, desires, fantasies, conflicts and human dilemmas. As noted in the above quote by Horrocks, the imageries of demons and angels, heaven and hell, and God and devil may well be symbols of what is taking place in people’s unconscious mind as they grapple with their own desires, fears, and hatreds. For example, maybe the stories of how the people of Israel were captured into Babylon and returned to Israel after captivity, and the stories of how they wandered in the wilderness and reached out to an external god, are all a picture of how they had projected their need to unite with God or their divine self.

According to the article “Making Conscious the Unconscious in Social Reality: The Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Culture”:

“Norman O. Brown states that repressed unconscious energies must “go out into external reality before they can be perceived by consciousness.” The repressed impulses, he says, must first find “real objects in the external world and attach themselves to real objects before their nature can become manifest to the subject.” My method—consistent with Brown’s theory—enables us to apprehend unconscious fantasies. By observing how images and metaphors link to central terms of an ideology—how fantasies attach to “real objects in the external world”—it is possible to uncover the “unconscious of the text” (Ruth Stein).”

(From “Making Conscious the Unconscious in Social Reality: The Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Culture” by Richard Koenigsberg)

So Jesus could be that “external reality” that must go out in order to be perceived by the consciousness of people, in order for them to realise that God or their divine self has never been separated from them and is always one with them. The parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son may also describe how their needs and desires to be reconciled to their own divine self are eventually fulfilled.

So it seems that today’s institutional churches have perpetuated or projected the illusion of separation when in reality we are all already one with God. In fact, the verse “sheep gone astray” may apply to the institutional churches, not to the people leaving institutional churches. The institutional churches have chosen to remain as sheep gone astray by holding on to the illusion of being separated from God, whereas the mystics, progressive believers and postmodern thinkers who refuse to be bound by organised religions are the sheep that have found their true home outside of religion, and are enjoying communion with God, in whom we live and move and have our beings.

Is it all in the mind?

Maybe religions and belief systems are all in the mind, since psychoanalysis has described how ideologies are formed as a result of people’s projection of their unconscious into the conscious world. So the Bible stories could very well be a record of how the consciousness of humanity has evolved over time to see and understand “God” as grace, so to speak. It is unfortunate that some ideologies that became widely accepted as organised religions have inadvertently become dogma to the extent that the followers would seek to discriminate or condemn those who do not hold the same set of beliefs as they do, claiming that these people would end up in a literal “hell” for not believing in the same version of God as they do.

God: Projection or real?

This interesting article “God: Psychological Projection or Real, External Being?” forms the basis of our earlier discussion above. I note that the article deals with the comparison between the atheistic and theistic views of God, as stated in this paragraph:

“Today both atheistic and theistic arguments tend to begin with the human subject: The atheist reasons that God is the omnipotent byproduct of human psychological misgivings while the theist claims that an external God has created human beings with an internal compass that points the way back to him.”

(From “God: Psychological Projection or Real, External Being?” by David G. Bonagura, Jr.)

My take on this is that it needs not be the case of “either…or” but rather a mix of both. It may be the case that God is both a projection of the unconscious of human beings in response to their needs and desires for an idealised Being as well as an integral aspect of human beings that gives them the intuitive desire to know God as their highest self.

For example, the Judeo-Christian view of God can be said to have been borrowed from other ancient traditions in the pagan cultures in the Middle East, such as Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman cultures. So the idealised messiahs, such as Horus, Mithras and so on, are merely psychological archetypes of the perfect man-god, and Jesus could well be the Christian version of this archetype.

On the other hand, it could also be that each of us have a divine nature in us, such that we yearn to know God, and hence our projection of our yearning results in forming ideologies about God. It is said that we are the universe (or God) expressing itself for a little while as human beings. Thus, all in all, it is interesting to see our beliefs in God from a psychoanalytical perspective.

Is man created by God for God?

By saying that “man is created by God for God (or to know God)”, theists are only making circular arguments, especially if they were to claim that this idea is found in the Bible and imply this God is separate from man. It is not a valid argument because theists cannot prove this idea except to assert that the Bible says so. Yet the Bible is not the word of God as it is simply a collection of people’s writings about their various views and projections of God that evolve over time. Hence, I disagree with the article’s assertion of the so-called “Judeo-Christian understanding of God as a real, independent being who is the source of all that is”, as I see the Judeo-Christian religion as a syncreticised form of religion based on borrowed ideas and traditions from other cultures.

I think the theists also refuse to let go of the guilt mechanism that comes with their own religions, as expressed in this paragraph.

“But for Feuerbach and Freud the objectified and projected God is the end of the story. Once they have established that God is no more than a figment of the human mind, they can destroy God – and in doing so, they can set human beings free to reach their full, human potential without the burdens of theism’s superstition, guilt, and anxiety. Human beings can now find satisfaction within themselves rather than in an objectified idea.”

(From “God: Psychological Projection or Real, External Being?” by David G. Bonagura, Jr.)

Perhaps the theists know that if human beings can find satisfaction within themselves by realising God within themselves, the religious institutions will lose control and power over them because they will be set free from fear and guilt.

Is religion a result of anthropomorphic projectionism?

In this article “Feuerbach on religion: anthropomorphic projectionism and his influence on atheism”, the writer reflected on Feuerbach’s views about religion being a result of anthropomorphic projectionism. It is quite deep, and two paragraphs stood out for me:

“A society’s conception of god is a function of the moral value system of the society’s concerned, a fact that which indicates that morality is logically prior to, and independent of, religion. The genuine theorist is, therefore, the individual who values the good whether it has been obtained by God or not. A quality is not divine because God has it; that God has it because it is itself divine: because God without it would be a defective being.”

(From “Feuerbach on religion: anthropomorphic projectionism and his influence on atheism” by Alan)

Yes, come to think of it, different societies tend to have different conceptions of god. For example, in India where elephants are commonly found, the Hindu gods included an elephant god. This projection of god is specific to the particular culture and geographic region. In Egypt, cats are highly revered by Egyptians, and it is no wonder that the cat goddess is worshipped there.

“We have reduced the otherworldly, supernatural and superhuman essence of god to its particular foundations in the essence of man. Thus we have in the end arrived back at our starting point. Man is the beginning of religion, Man is the centre of religion, Man is the end of religion.”

(From “Feuerbach on religion: anthropomorphic projectionism and his influence on atheism” by Alan)

Yes, in view of the psychoanalytic perspective of religion, it can be said that man is the beginning, centre and end of religion. It is thus crucial for people to “destroy God” by deconstructing the religions. As the koan goes, “when you meet Buddha on the road, kill him”. People also need to kill God when they meet him on the road. Only then will they be free from idolising their own conception of God that is often limited within the confines of organised religions. Perhaps a paradox is that by killing God or destroying God, people will come to really know God (as alluded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) – not by projection but by intuition. That itself is a mystery, as I understand it at this point of my journey.

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