Commentary Magazine


Mr. Kristol Replies

To the Editor:

The distinction that Dr. Cronbach makes between religion and theology is important, though I fail to see why it should be an occasion for flippancy with regard to “theological quandaries.” Do not theological quandaries arise from religious ones, from trying to justify the ways of God to man, from trying to explain how it is that the wicked prosper and the good perish? In any case, from the fact that religion is not identical with theology it does not follow that religion is everything that theology is not. And that is what Dr. Cronbach seems perilously close to asserting when he parcels out religion to the various arts and sciences.

Actually, the history of Western civilization is precisely the opposite of Dr. Cronbach’s description of it: from an original impingement of the sacred upon all the arts of life, we have seen the arts develop into autonomous, secular, non-sacred activities, and the sacred has become—the specifically religious. Dr. Cronbach’s desire to reincorporate the secular into the sacred is a noble one, but it cannot be achieved by deciding to call things sacred when they are not so in fact.

It is pointless to quarrel with Drs. Cronbach and Gittelsohn as to what psychoanalysis really is. I had taken it for what Freud said it was. Drs. Cronbach and Gittelsohn prefer other authorities. A conflict of authorities, matching quotation against quotation, would be sterile. But there is one point where the possibility of reconciling psychoanalysis with religion is crucially posed: the origin of the belief in God. Here, even the post-Freudian schools of psychoanalysis will admit, if pressed, that they cannot in all good scientific conscience regard the religious experience as a genuine confrontation of the divine. They must reduce the experience to something “psychic,” “mental”—in other words, an “illusion.” The only psychoanalytical theory I know of that has tried to accept religion on its own terms (unsuccessfully, to my mind) is that of Jung and his followers. It is also the only theory I know of that finds no echo in the rabbinate.

As with psychoanalysis, so with religion: it is fruitless to argue over definitions. Drs. Cronbach and Gittelsohn find my definition primitive and retrograde. I find theirs devoid of spiritual content. Dr. Cronbach concedes some utility to “the word ‘God’ “—I do wish he had said something about His reality. Dr. Gittelsohn, on the other hand, assures us positively that “God’s word is a progressive, growing, never-ending revelation.” This is either a genuine theological statement (of a Hegelian cast) or else an empty metaphor. In the context of his letter, it does not look to me to be the former.

A final point: Dr. Gittelsohn suggests that Freud’s attack on religion may have been motivated by his “unconscious resentment against being a Jew.” This is a common and irresponsible perversion of the psychoanalytic method. To deny that a Jew can be an atheist except through “self-hate” is to substitute mud-slinging for intelligent discussion.

Irving Kristol
New York City

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