Essay: Precepts of Freud’s Model of Religion

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It is in his Future of an Illusion that Freud spelled out some of his most important ideas about the origins of religion and how religious beliefs are linked to other aspects of human psychology, including especially the workings of the unconscious – although it should be noted that in his writings in The Future of an Illusion are closely linked to those in both Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism.

In the former he argued that sons feel unresolved sexual feelings towards their mothers and thus hostility toward their fathers (the Oedipus complex), an original psychological state with humans that lead early humans to live together in small groups, each dominated by a father. In each of these groups, the father would eventually be – usually violently – displaced by one of his sons. At some point in human history, the killing of the father was stopped and the sacrifice of a animal was substituted for patricide, with a ritually designated animal coming to be symbolic of the dead father.

His clinical observations led Freud to posit the mental mechanisms of both repression and resistance. He described repression as a psychological device that operates unconsciously for the purpose of allowing the memory of painful or threatening events to be pushed out of the conscious mind and so to become inaccessible and harmless. Resistance Freud defined as a form of unconscious defense against the awareness of repressed experiences – since awareness of them would cause anxiety.

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