Commentary Magazine

By Love Redeemed:
A Fantasy on “God and Freud”

“In this interior monologue,” Hans Meyerhoff writes, “all statements set off by double quotation marks are Leonard Gross’s own words in the book God and Freud [David McKay, 215 pp., $3.95]. Single quotation marks set off statements made by the authorities, both religious and psychological, whom Mr. Gross consulted and who permitted him to cite them literally. My own comments, or free associations, appear without quotation marks or inside brackets.”





Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray to Freud my soul to keep.
And if I dream—ah, that’s the ticket,
I pray that it be really wicked.
And if, perchance, I wake depressed,
Thank Freud, I know what I’ve repressed.

* * *

"And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it he also read in the church of the Laodiceans."


“Said a California clergyman, his back to an office window that framed a lovely palm tree: ‘What may have been sin, we would now consider an illness that the man had no responsibility for.’”

I see him, the clergyman, sitting in a comfortable office and looking like a junior executive. A lovely palm tree is silhouetted against the sky in back of him; the surf of Santa Monica pounds against the Pacific Palisades. He looks before him and his serene gaze comes to rest on a billboard of the Forest Lawn marriage and mortuary factory. It reads: Where Love Lives in Beauty, and shows a simple chapel—a “wee kirk,” as we like to say—in a lush, arborean setting with a young couple (just married) prancing, in Fred Astaire style, through the Elysian fields of Disneyland. That’s devotion, the clergyman nods, remembering another poster catering to this noble sentiment. It shows a giant torso of Michelangelo’s David, rather nude, and bears the simple inscription: Devotion. If the clergyman is a rabbi, he may think of the classic contribution to the theme of love and death erected by the Sinai Memorial Foundation. It features the head of Michelangelo’s Moses and spreads the good word of Foreverness. That’s it:togetherness in foreverness, with-in-ness in without-ness. Having worked himself into this devotional state, the clergyman nods again, blinks—smog gets into one’s eyes—and starts musing about “God and Freud.” A mighty fortress is our Freud.

No, we don’t dig sin. In a modern church, which is both “progressive” and “psychological,” we can’t have sin. We may be sick, yes; we may be ‘estranged from our true being’ and call that a state of sin. But sin is essentially an illness; or it’s a “symptom” like a tic. Sin is really a sign of a disturbed personality. And people are just a little disturbed these days. But that doesn’t make them sinners; that does not condemn them to eternal damnation, as the old, “traditional” preacher would have us believe. God must be a little disturbed, too, when He looks down in our direction; at least, it would be nice to think so. It would make Him more human.

We have tried to make Him more human in our progressive churches and synagogues. You see, the trouble with God in the past was that He was so inhuman. He was a forbidding and frightening father-figure, a terrible, cruel authoritarian personality. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. The Bible is full of these angry explosions of a wrathful God. These are unhealthy emotions. They reflect an immature outlook on life, if I may say so. They mobilize people’s unconscious difficulties with “authority figures”; and you’d be surprised to learn how many people have trouble with authority and don’t know it. Some sources estimate that 50 per cent, others say 80 or 90 per cent of the so-called religious people “never come to terms with” this authoritarian personality of God. Besides, this kind of God is politically reactionary as well. Says the sociologist—and we can’t do without a bit of sociology either: ‘The concept of a paternalistic, authoritarian church fits very well into a paternalistic, authoritarian society. But it is not pertinent in a democratic, permissive society.’ There is nothing like being a little permissive. The church must adjust its image of God to the age. That’s why we have replaced the distorted, immature image of “a vengeance-wreaking old man” by “the official and desirable concept of God as a loving, accepting, forgiving father.”

Of course, ‘God as He really is’ doesn’t change. He is the rock of ages. The only trouble is, ‘we can’t ever know’ what He is like. That’s why we need something official and desirable. This is not agnosticism, as it sounds, but higher theology—and enlightened psychology. The agnostic is only deluding himself. Says a Jungian analyst—and he gives one to think: ‘Even if people consider themselves agnostic, there is a very potent God image somewhere down in the unconscious. . . . After a certain amount of analysis, this image tends to become activated, jazzed up. At this point its nature has to be explored. . . . The tendency in analysis is to sweeten the parental image and to encourage the permissive aspect of the parental figure and thus God.’

It’s true, “priests often . . . stressed the fear motive ‘when nothing else worked.’” But ‘the old way [simply] wasn’t working any more.’ “Case histories galore attest to the toll exacted by emphasis on sin, wickedness, and damnation.” That was a “negative faith”; it ‘contributed tremendously to mental ill-health.’ It wasn’t ‘facing up to what people are like’—to what they want and need. The “psychological church” meets the challenge of people’s needs. That’s good religion—and good business. “This being the age of psychology, church members, like everybody else, are anxious to discover what’s in it for them.” “Religion would have sold itself to more people” if only it had used a little psychology. Says the rabbi: ‘The old-time theologians have a hard time finding work these days.’

‘Religion may never be the same again,’ says the man from Union Theological. Why not? Because, at last, we have got ‘religion . . . hooked up with life.’ Or, as the rabbi puts it neatly: ‘Religion has taken all the concepts it’s been preaching about for centuries without practical application—and finally put them in the kitchen.’ Hooked them up with the garbage disposal, I daresay.

We owe all this, and heaven, too, to psychiatry. There is a new movement afoot in the world that may yet save us from “our monstrous situation and . . . from our misguided hands.” It’s a movement that “extols psychiatry, the recent villain, as the hero in a great new chapter in religious life.” Says the Reverend: ‘We are really in the same business, you know. . . . Somebody just goofed up on the reasoning.’



Entered Freud and said, Let there be light—light and love. Of course, people at first didn’t understand him; in fact, he didn’t understand himself, but that’s often the case with prophets and men of genius. They need interpreters, you know, to be understood—properly. Anyway, at first things looked rather bad, because Freud kept talking about sexual drives that manifested themselves everywhere in human life, even in religion. Why, he even called religion a mass neurosis, which is almost as bad as saying that it is the opium of the people—and you know who said that! No wonder these ideas “were an affront to religious groups”; no wonder Freud looked like “the devil’s disciple.”

But ‘Freud was really all right; he just went a little too far.’ Or, as our Catholic colleague says: ‘Freud had the right idea, but he used the wrong word.’ It’s all a matter of semantics, you see. ‘He said, sex gave people thrust. That’s too simple. It’s not true. We say that love, or fulfillment—of which sex is only a part—is what gives people thrust.’ No, anybody as obsessed with sex as Freud was must have had a little sexual problem himself. He never achieved what we would now call a mature conception of love. Of course, he did the best he could in the Vienna of his days, that is, in the bourgeois, middle-class Jewish culture to which he belonged. One must see his achievement in the proper cultural perspective, don’t you know?

Then one understands his stubborn, wrong-headed attitude toward religion, too. It was part of the milieu or the Zeitgeist, as we would say. But ‘Freud was really all right; he just went a little too far.’ At heart, he was a “religious man” himself. He just wouldn’t admit it, didn’t dare to; it must have been too threatening after this funny business with the Catholic nanny in his early childhood. Thus he repressed his capacity for religious experience. But underneath his apparent hostility to religion, there was a deep love. That’s ambivalence, you know. And if, as the modern theologian says, “being religious means being concerned,” then obviously, Freud was religious. He was deeply, yes, ultimately concerned . . . no doubt. You might say, he was religiously concerned about being non-religious.



Says the man from Topeka: ‘Freud’s belief was really religious’; and that’s just what another famous psychoanalyst to whom we owe the cultural perspective is saying, too: “Freud believed profoundly in the inestimable virtues of truth, reason, brotherly love, reduction of suffering, independence, and responsibility. If that isn’t good religion, what is?” Yes, indeed, what is? You might even say that the trouble with Freud was that he was too religious—too deeply imbued with a sense of mission and prophetic zeal, too much of a Moses with whom he identified all his life. That was bad, because, you see, through this identification he fell into an ancient archetype, the Jewish patriarch, the jealous Jehovah, a kind of Mosaic archetype, as it were; and people don’t dig this archetype in our enlightened age. That’s why all his early disciples deserted him. They hooked religion up with life—and love, mature love, of course; a sweetened, jazzed up, loving father-figure.

Thus “if you look hard enough in the worst imaginable clutter”—I mean, psychoanalysis—“you are bound to find something good. And in psychiatry, religion found something very good, indeed—the power of a single word: love.” Seek, and ye shall find. . . . “The psychiatric method dramatized the religious idea” of love—or “acceptance” and “redemptive fellowship,” as we would say in the psychological churches. But there is really nothing wrong with the word “love” if you know what it means. If “psychiatry was talking religious language,” why should religion not talk the language of psychiatry? Quod licet bovi . . . After all, “God is love”; and love, or fulfillment, is what gives people thrust.

Through the mushroom cloud above
God radiates eternal love.
A little Strontium 90, too,
Just for kicks, out of the blue.

With this thrust of love, we have regained the keys of the kingdom; for this love is a “power that redeems the sinner and creates a counter-thrust of love that completes [your] own life.” Thrust and counter-thrust—that’s dynamic psychology. It’s also dynamic religion. Psychology loves the unlovables. That’s “perfect religion” because religion has always loved the unlovables. “That’s why good religion and good psychiatry are identical.” God will love man, if man “loves the people he can’t stand. . . .” By love redeemed.

Of course, it’s got to be good; but when it’s good there is nothing like love—on the couch or in heaven. Says the gentleman from Union Theological: ‘Analysis for me made my religion come to life. I have never been loved that way before—and yet the analyst never said, “I love you.”’ That was not nice of the analyst. A little counter-transference helps to create the proper atmosphere of redemptive fellowship.

Jesus loves me, this I know;
My psychiatrist told me so

This may be a little off-key; but there is always more than meets the eye behind these popular parodies. For, after all, ‘Jesus was the first psychiatrist.’ Says the Reverend: ‘I used to feel defensive about some of the psychological criticisms of religion. [But] the more I studied eighth-century prophets and Jesus, the more I realized that these guys were saying the same thing’ as modern psyciatry. Of course, we have improved upon these guys. Now we have got the National Academy of Religion and Mental Health; and we have got Drs. Smiley (Love or Perish) Blanton and Norman Vincent Peale toiling mightily in the vineyards of the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry. But, above all, we have the Guidance of the Whole Person Program and the Parish Life Conference with a special three-day “group dynamics” session. That’s “a religious experience en masse” and “the most exciting group activity within American churches and synagogues today.” It acts out the religious meaning of the life and death of Susan Peters—the Hollywood actress, you know, who was the victim of a cruel hunting accident which paralyzed her from the waist down and who died several years later because she had lost the desire to live. Just imagine: “God, Freud, and Susan Peters” cooperating, all in one weekend, to produce a religious experience en masse.

You’d be surprised to see what comes out of group dynamics. ‘I start out being permissive as all get out,’ says the minister; but don’t worry, he gets them in the end. “After a day of insistent battering”—please note the subtle way of utilizing a displaced sadism on behalf of salvation—the group is reborn on Sunday, “reconstructed” as we like to put it in the psychological church. Says the Canon: ‘Anybody who has had analysis knows what it means to be born again.’ It’s like the Second Coming. Once you have a satori like that, it’s just like having a ‘Gee, whiz’ experience, as the man from Union calls it. And a child shall lead them—provided he has had “Sigmund Freud in Sunday School.”

Of course, the Church may have been a little behind the times in its “lack of realism in handling sex morals.” But that’s a thing of the past, too. Now we know—and “the Bible proves it”—that “sensual pleasure is a gift of God.” Count thy blessings. Why, the director of the clinical training program for ministers in the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry has even come out in favor of pre-marital intercourse, and masturbation is now “seen as a normal stage in [human] development.” Poor Onan didn’t have anybody to help him with his problems. “There is nothing wrong with various forms of love play practiced by many people despite church censure so long as they are found agreeable to the lovers.” You see, the big question is this: “If so many people do what the churches say they shall not, as has been proved, is not the church, in a sense, on the side of illness rather than heath?” That would never do. Of course, this is only a rhetorical question; but it makes you think.

Fortunately, in a democratic, permissive society, there is nothing to worry about. The needs of the people are the supreme law. Vox populi, vox dei, as we used to say. ‘People now recognize that the sexual aspects of their life are God-created, too. . . . Dogma will not satisfy modern men and women in dealing with their sexual yearnings.’ We need something more than dogma. And we have got it. ‘Partly by the Kinsey Report, but mostly by the needs of men, the best minds of the Church need [come unto me all ye who are needy!] to be challenged to [the] search for the will of God.’ That’s from a pamphlet called The Challenge of the Kinsey Report distributed by the National Council of Churches of Christ. “Another notable pamphlet” distributed by the same Council is called Sex, Love, and Marriage. It shows a fetching cover of a young man “nuzzling a pretty girl in an off-the-shoulder gown”—pretty daring cover, don’t you think? “After examining the various forms of immature and mature love, the pamphlet . . . says: ‘The taboos have been broken, and the public press has flooded the country with partial knowledge about sex.’” Now this will never do: we can’t have our young people, in this critical phase of the nation’s life, in this state of partial knowledge.



How do you account for this “fascinating movement” hooking religion up with life? Well, there is always a number of things that make such a revolutionary advance possible; but “not the least” of them in the present case, as “many clergymen now frankly admit with a remarkable lack of self-charity, has been competition.” And naturally we believe in competition, don’t you? There has got to be a little loving somewhere, permissive, of course; and if people don’t get it from the churches, they have got no place to turn but to soap operas. “Books, magazines, and even . . . television and the movies are increasingly reflecting the enlightenment of our times.” The church, loving, progressive, and psychological, has always been on the side of truth and enlightenment. Freud was a child of the enlightenment, too. That’s why good religion and good psychiatry are identical.

Of course, there are still some people who don’t see the new light on the couch. But there have always been dissenters and doubting Thomases. Bishop Sheen “equates [psychiatry] with Communism”; now, what could be more unfair, I ask you? The Communists hate Freud; we love him. But even priests who are more enlightened than the TV bishop still insist that ‘to the Catholic, standards of sin are a fixed matter established by divine law.’ Why, even a rabbi may invoke ‘objective moral standards’ and some Protestant sects, ever since Kant—a classical case study of the repressive rationalist—are fond of using such an old-fashioned expression as the “moral imperative.” There are even some people—anathema sint—who say such nasty things as that ‘many religionists are on the run’ and ‘have grabbed hold of [psychological] counseling’ because their ‘religion is bankrupt.’

But, then, one finds these cynical, defeatist elements everywhere and at all times; fortunately, they cannot prevent progress and enlightenment. “The current is running against Bishop Sheen”; and a little elementary semantics—there is nothing like a little semantics, you know—clarifies all this confusing language about objective moral standards and moral imperatives. What these terms “essentially” mean is “the command to men to live together in a relationship of love, acceptance, and understanding.” It’s as simple as that; and the social consequences are almost embarrassingly “obvious.” “To put it bluntly”—and we do put things bluntly nowadays—“a man is not going to get along very well with his neighbor, if he is having an affair with his neighbor’s wife.” That’s good religion and good psychiatry: do not covet thy neighbor’s Cadillac! What if his “sexual yearnings” get ensnared with his neighbor’s wife? Why, we must have him act them out in the next group dynamics session of the Guidance to the Whole Person Program.

The main thing is to have faith. I believe so that I may love and be lovable. That’s the credo of every deodorant. In hoc signo . . . “Psychiatry produced the high drama that implemented the high ideals [of religion] as never before.” All carping critics to the contrary notwithstanding, “religion’s newest, most exciting, and fastest-growing trend is toward the ‘psychological church.’”

That’s how we have hooked religion up with life. That’s how the new loving church looks after “Mrs. Cohen, an ordinary, well-meaning woman, who is not sick, but who nonetheless has the common, mainly depressing problem of finding love and joy in a mishuga world.”

Mrs. Cohen is on the move
With cross and star of David.
Mishuga is the world, but love
And Freud will save it.



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