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The Question of God
Photo of Dr. Armand Nicholi
Why Freud & Lewis? - Introduction (6:51)
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Arguably, few individuals have influenced the moral fabric of contemporary Western civilization more than Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Scientific skepticism and religious belief — the two worldviews these men represent — form the basis of The Question of God series. The following is from the prologue to The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, by Dr. Armand Nicholi.

Why Freud & Lewis?

Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. A few years after birth, we all gradually formulate our philosophy of life. We make one of two basic assumptions: we view the universe as a result of random events and life on this planet a matter of chance; or we assume an Intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and life meaning. So each one of us embraces some form of either Freud's secular worldview or Lewis's spiritual worldview.

Our worldview informs our personal, social, and political lives. It influences how we perceive ourselves, how we relate to others, how we adjust to adversity, and what we understand to be our purpose. Our worldview helps determine our values, our ethics, and our capacity for happiness. It helps us understand where we come from, our heritage; who we are, our identity; why we exist on this planet, our purpose; what drives us, our motivation; and where we are going, our destiny.

The purpose of The Question of God — the book, television series, and Web site — is to look at human life from two diametrically opposed points of view: those of the believer and the unbeliever. We will examine several of the basic issues of life in terms of these two conflicting views.

On the morning of September 26, 1939, in northwest London, a group of friends and family gathered to mourn the death of Sigmund Freud. The New York Times article mentioned Freud's "worldwide fame and greatness," referring to him as "one of the most widely discussed scientists," mentioning that "he set the entire world talking about psychoanalysis" and noting that his ideas had already permeated our culture and language.

"In the 20th century, Freud is the atheist's touchstone"

We use terms such as ego, repression, complex, projection, inhibition, neurosis, psychosis, resistance, sibling rivalry, and Freudian slip without even realizing their source. Perhaps most important of all, his theories influence how we interpret human behavior, not only in biography, literary criticism, sociology, medicine, history, education, and ethics — but also in the law.

As part of his intellectual legacy, Freud strongly advocated an atheistic philosophy of 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.

"Lewis was the 20th century's most popular proponent of faith based on reason"

Twenty-four years after Freud's death, on the morning of November 26, 1963, at Oxford, England, northwest of London, a group of friends and family gathered to mourn the death of C.S. Lewis.

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 1963. During World War II, his broadcast talks made his voice second only to Churchill's as the most recognized on the BBC. 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. 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? 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?"

Freud argues against the existence of God. 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. He also argues against the objection of those holding the spiritual worldview that faith "is of divine origin and was given us as a revelation by a Spirit which the human spirit cannot comprehend." Freud says this "is a clear case of begging the question" and adds this comment: "The actual question raised is whether there is a divine spirit and a revelation by it, and the matter is certainly not decided by saying this question cannot be asked."

Lewis agrees with Freud that this is indeed the most important question. He writes: "Here is a door behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that's true or it isn't. If it isn't, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud...on record." Because so many people embrace Lewis's answer, Lewis is right: if not true, then the spiritual worldview is not only a fraud but also the cruelest hoax ever perpetrated on the human race. And the only alternative is to follow Freud's advice to grow up and face the harsh reality that we are alone in the universe. He says we may find less consolation, but the truth, harsh as it is, will ultimately set us free from false hopes and unrealistic expectations. But if the spiritual worldview is true, then all other truth fades in significance. Nothing has more profound and more far-reaching implications for our lives.