The Future of an Illusion is a book about religion written by Sigmund Freud, in the year 1927. This book gives us the idea of some of the future studies conducted by Freud. He begins his book by giving 2 characteristics of human civilization (vol. 1, pg. 1). He speaks about the knowledge and technology developed to organize and exploit the natural resources, and developed society for fulfilling human requirements (vol. 1, pg. 2). Human civilizations have also developed certain regulations to maintain a proper relationship between one another. Human beings depend on one another, and the extent to which relationships can develop depends on the degree to which the natural wealth can satisfy instincts. An individual can function as labor or as an object of sexuality for another individual. In spite of civilization being an object of universal interest, each individual is potentially an enemy of civilization. Civilization may have to defend itself from the individual and regulations need to be formed (vol. 1, pg. 6). Freud feels that civilization should be based on coercion and renunciation of instinct. Human beings contain a lot of destructive thoughts, thus anti-social behavior will arise. This is capable of determining the behavior of a number of people. Freud began to think of the extent to which it was possible to control instincts so as to restrict people. However, he felt that is was very difficult to control a majority by a minority, who knows how to attain the methods to power and force (vol. 1, pg. 7). Freud considers groups to be lazy and irresponsible and felt that certain individuals who could set examples could act as a leader for the group. He was capable of performing the work necessary to maintain civilization. Freud felt that humans instinctively did not like work and did not consider moral or intellectual issues against drives or passions (vol. 1, pg. 8). In general humans function in accordance with their instincts and desires.
Freud considered that since instincts were not satisfied by privation and frustration from human life, they had to be re-compensated. He distinguishes between privations that affect everyone, and those that affect certain groups, classes and individuals. Privations that affect individuals developed even before civilization, and are characterized by prohibitions formed when humanity began to detach itself from the animal condition. These prohibitions are still existent (in the form of cannibalism, lust for destruction, etc) and are creating hostilities in civilization (vol. 2, pg. 10). Freud felt that the Super ego has developed from social prohibitions. Some people have become vehicles, rather than opponents, with influence from the super ego. Cultures that have adopted prohibitions were secure (vol. 2, pg. 10). Freud feels that the under-privileged classes of the society will envy the more favored ones. This class will do whatever possible to free themselves from their privation. This could lead to dangers in civilization. Hence, presence of under-privileged classes will always create hostilities in the society.
According to Freud, civilizations are existent to protect us from nature. However, nature is not under the control of civilization. Freud feels that civilizations have still protected us from powerful forces such as terror. Freud tries to personalize nature in order to demonstrate its power (vol. 3, pg. 16). He considers that the forces of nature are converted in gods and goddesses as they have a paternal influence on humanity. Gods have three tasks, namely reconciling humanity to the cruelty of fate, exorcising the horrors of nature and have to compensate human sufferings, and privation condemned by civilization. However, with time these Gods and Goddesses have developed a role beyond nature. Humanity now considers that Gods and Goddesses should protect us from the evils of civilization and reduce our suffering inflicted on one another. Such human ideas of divinity protect against the dangers of nature and fate and from the evils existing in society itself. Freud considers that death is a new kind of existence that takes us to a higher form (vol. 3, pg. 19).
Freud feels that religious ideas develop as a need to defend us from the superior forces of nature. He also feels that another motive from the deficiencies of civilization inherent from religious beliefs is created (civilization may hand over ready made ideas to the individuals). The individual in such circumstance may be incapable of discovering their inner selves (vol. 4, pg. 21).
Freud considers religious ideas as teaching about the reality, which an individual has not yet discovered. Religious beliefs have three characteristics, namely they ought to be believed (as they have been by our ancestors), evidence has been reported by our ancestors and questions against religious beliefs are forbidden. Many people have doubts about religious beliefs, but pressure imposed upon them has suppressed their urge to ask questions (vol. 5, pg. 27). Freud has also attempted to justify religious viewpoints in two ways. The first one was being followed by the early Christian church and is beyond human reasoning (truth should be felt inside and cannot be explained or understood). In the second one, Freud says that human thought activities include a number of hypotheses which may be baseless, but due to certain reasons we begin to believe as if these fictions were true.
Freud believes that regarding the psychical origin of religious ideas, humanity has adopted them and they have become our strongest and oldest desires. He feels that they are illusions or desires to protect us from the forces of nature. He considers that illusions arise from mistakes made in fulfilling desires. Since illusions are derived from human desires, they may seem like psychic delusions. This may differ from religious illusions in their association with reality and falseness (delusions oppose reality, whereas illusions need not always oppose reality). A belief may become an illusion when in trying to fulfill a wish from motivation, are unable to do it due to the reality situation (vol. 6, pg. 31). Hence most religious concepts are illusions as no individual can be forced to believe them, nor can the concepts be proved or disproved. However, no one can be forced to disbelieve a religion.
Freud also considers that many other illusions exist in nature, which through unwritten rules are forbidden to talk about. Freud considers that religion has done a lot of benefits for the society by calming antisocial instincts (vol. 7, pg. 37). Many people have benefited from the fact that religion ruling civilization, and no wants to change it because they are satisfied. However, some people are unhappy with civilization and are trying to alter it. They may try to isolate themselves from society. Science has made advancements such that religion may not affect so much as it previously did.
Freud feels that the insecurities of life have has united society and has prevented one from killing another. This is how justice and punishment has developed. By killing somebody we are really going against cultural prohibitions and against God’s intentions (vol. 8, pg. 40). God has become a part of human culture, that it is very difficult to separate God (as rules are differing in nature suggest human insufficiency). It would be better to remove God from the cultural system and consider it to be a kind of human origin for all rules and regulations of civilization. Freud says that such rules have been recognized to serve us; hence we tend to blindly accept them, and aim for improving them rather than eliminating them. Freud considers this to be a step-forward in the road of civilization (vol. 8, no. 41).
Freud points out that just as a child while entering into adulthood, enters into a some form of neurosis (due to suppression of instincts), in the same way humanity has gone through several stages including neurosis (includes human ignorance and weakness of the mind), such that sacrifice of certain instincts was necessary for existence of the society. In the same way, religion developed out of universal neurosis (an association with our father). Believe in these universal neurosis safeguards believers who have high chances of developing neurotic disorders.
Some feel that Freud’s ideas of not believing in God are dangerous to civilization. Besides obedient followers to religion are being considered as neurotics. However, Freud feels that his ideas are harmless and no believer would let go of his or her faith. Freud feels that intellectual weakness may often be due to religious education (vol. 9, pg. 46). He also considers that a religious believer would not let go off his beliefs easily, either through arguments or prohibitions (vol. 9, pg. 49).
Freud feels that in the long-run religious concepts will be disregarded, even if the initial attempts fail. This is because reason and experience would survive the test of time. He considers that science has the power to gain more knowledge of the reality, thus increasing our forces. If we tend to consider that such beliefs are illusions, then it would be like considering some untrue beliefs. Science is able to prove several things about reality through evidence. Scientific evidence can be tested in nature, and would evolve if proven false.