Once You Become Parents We Still Want To Hang Out With You

May 19th, 2014 No comments
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Recently, I read yet another ‘open letter’ from a parent explaining to their childless friends why they don’t have time for them in their lives anymore. Sigh. Seriously, parents – these letters are getting old, particularly to some of us childless friends you are directing them too.

Last week, a post on Huffington entitled, Once We Become Parents We Don’t Want to Hang Out With You Anymore (But Not for the Reasons You Think), made the rounds on social news feeds.  I have to admit, I was offended. This isn’t the first time I’ve been offended by posts such as this one.  Perhaps what I find most insulting are people who have kids assuming that those without kids could never imagine how much life changes. Well, yeah, we can. You know why?  Because at every turn our friends with children remind us.

Here’s the other thing, parents. We know that you’re going to be busy and that life for at least the first five years of your child’s life is going to be completely consumed by them. It comes with the territory.  We also know that you won’t have the same time available to commit to our friendship. We get it. We’re not idiots.

Guess what else? We also know that you’re going to start making new friends. You know, friends with kids. That’s cool. We’re happy for you, because we’re your friends too. Sometimes we know it’s just easier for you to hang out with people who have kids.  We get it. We’re not idiots.

Yes, we know that you’re tired, have less money and time now. We know that life has new priorities – tiny, but infinitely important priorities. We also know that we have moved down on your priority list. We get it. We’re not idiots.

Stop assuming that you, your kids, and your wonderfully complicated and busy life can’t somehow still be a part of ours.

Stop assuming that your childless friends can’t try to empathize. Of course, we don’t know, but we can try to understand.

Stop assuming that we won’t try to accommodate you and your family so that we might see each other more often.  We will because you are our friends and any child of yours gets an automatic ‘in’ to the friendship circle.

Stop assuming that we just wouldn’t want to hang out with your kids. For some of us, it’ll be our first taste of what parenting will be like, and for others it may be the only opportunity we have to spend time with children.  Besides, you’re awesome which means your kid is going to be even more awesome.

And remember, the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, we consider ourselves part of your village and part of your resources in raising your child. It’s your choice how you wish to utilize our skills and wisdom in your child’s development. We are not idiots and we may be able to actually contribute to the positive development of your child.

So in response to all those letters addressed to childless friends, such as myself (read more about why I don’t have children here), stop apologizing for being a parent. We’re not idiots. We get it. 

M. xo

P.S. 7 am for breakfast sounds lovely.

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The Five Aggregates: Buddhism and the Human Personality

May 14th, 2014 No comments
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The Five Aggregates (khandhas)

According to Buddhist thought, in particular the Theravāda tradition, the human personality is composed of five aggregates (khandhas).  These constituents are often referred to as, ‘The five aggregates of clinging’.  The five aggregates, in addition to the chain of dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda), are believed to play an integral role in the formation of suffering (dukkha) or ‘clinging to the wheel of suffering’.  The existence of suffering is known as the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.  Attachment or clinging to any of the khandhas continues the wheel of suffering, through the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (saṃsāra).  It is the eradication of these attachments and the realization of the self as impermanent that leads an individual to the path of eliminating dukkha.  Although no formal definition of the aggregates is found in Buddhist literature, they can be rudimentarily defined as: matter (rūpa); feeling (vedanā); perception (saññā); volition (saṅkhāra); consciousness (viññāna).

Rūpa-khandha

Defined as matter and form, rūpa is comprised of four primary elements: earth, water, fire and air.  In the context of the human being, these elements are linked to various physiological processes that reflect the nature of these forces.  The earth element emulates bodily elements which are solid such as teeth, nails and bone.  This element supports the others, much like the earth itself supports the various forms that inhabit its sphere.  Liquid bodily constituents such as blood and saliva are represented by the water element, which is further characterized for its liquidity and binding nature.  The heat produced to process foods is represented by the fire element and is indicative of the quality of temperature.  The last of the primary elements, air, is attributed to motion and mobility.  This element is represented in biological functions such as the various abdominal gases.  These four elements are interdependent – each relying on the existence of the others.  Further, they are believed to exist in equal quantities, yet varying intensities in all matter.  Rūpa is the only physical or material aggregate, while the remaining four are more aptly described as cognitive.  The realization of the impermanence of matter, including the physical self, is integral toward eradicating dukkha.

Vedanā-khandha

Vedanā, described as feeling, sensation or emotion, is typically categorized as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  The experience or perception of vedanā occurs through the six sense organs.  Five of these sense organs are physical, including: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body, while the sixth, mind, falls into the mental realm.  Despite vedanā being primarily based on the physical senses of the body, there is an integral mental aspect comprising them as well.  The eradication of vedanā, particularly craving arising from pleasurable sensations, is an important aspect for the annihilation of dukkha.  Emotions are a fundamental aspect of being human; however, it is the assessment, attachment and proliferation of these emotions that lead an individual toward a path of unhappiness or a path of the eradication of suffering.  While vedanā is an aspect of craving that leads to unsatisfactory states, it can also be attributed to states that are more wholesome and conducive toward annihilating dukkha.  This is primarily achieved by one who has mastered acknowledging and then ‘letting go’ of vedanā.  While vedanā can lead to detrimental states, such as craving, it is not the only contributory factor to these states.

Saññā-khandha

Craving can also arise from certain conditions of saññā, which is typically defined as perception; however, more accurately thought of as recognition.  Similar to vedanā, saññā is categorized by six sense areas: visual form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental form.  It is also further classified as wholesome, unwholesome or neutral.  Saññā is responsible for how an individual perceives feelings (vedanā), and may have both positive and negative effects on the eradication of dukkha.  Wholesome saññā leads to the recognition of the nature of certain liberating characteristics of existence, such as impermanence, selflessness, and pain.  In contrast, unwholesome saññā leads to the interpretation of reality that is not favourable toward liberation and the eradication of dukkha.  It is the propagation and attachment to obsessions that hinder spiritual progress.  In order for spiritual progression to occur, an individual must recognize notions of the permanent self as merely obstacles on the path of enlightenment where one recognizes the true nature of reality as impermanent and without self or ‘selfless’.

Saṅkhāra-khandha

The fourth aggregate, saṅkhāra, is the most difficult of which to formulate a concrete definition.  It is often associated with volition, will and disposition.  Saṅkhāra is also viewed as all conditioned phenomena encompassed within the entire universe.  Philosophically, this can be thought of as all things that cause and are caused.  The concept of karma (kamma) is also connected to saṅkhāra as seen through the association of volition viewed as any action which produces a result.  Saṅkhāra falls under the realm of mental formations that have an imminent influence on an individual’s situation.  There are 52 mental elements that constitute saṅkhāra and these can be further categorized as positive, negative or neutral.  The kind of saṅkhāra results from its interaction with the other aggregates and the subsequent influence this has on an individual’s kamma.  Particularly, this cognitive phenomenon plays an important role in the formation of the final aggregate; however, the interdependent nature of all five aggregates must be recognized as a fundamental aspect in binding an individual to dukkha.

Viññāṇa-khandha

The fifth and final aggregate, viññāṇa, is most often translated as consciousness; however, it is as difficult to define as saṅkhāra.  As with previous aggregates, viññāṇa can be divided into six categories of sense.  These six kinds of consciousness are visual (eyes and material forms), auditory (ears and sounds), olfactory (nose and smells), gustatory (tongue and tastes), corporeal (body and touching), mental (mind and cognitive states).  Viññāṇa is seen as displaying or manifesting the characteristics of the other four aggregates, that is all conditioned phenomenon.  These inseparable components arise together and create the formation of an abstract, intangible mental representation of the self.    It is the realization of the impermanent nature of the self that leads to the eradication of dukkha.

These five khandas are integral to the theory of dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda).  The relationship of each of these aggregates to each other, and to paṭiccasamuppāda, speaks to the conditioned causal nature of all things.  It is the conditioned arising of form, feeling, sensation, mental formation and consciousness that lead to ignorance, craving and clinging which bind an individual to the wheel of suffering.  As such, an individual will continue to experience dukkha through rebirth (saṃsāra).  Through meditation practices an individual may realize all that causes is caused, and the impermanent nature of reality and the self.  It is here where one finds enlightenment and freedom from the wheel of saṃsāra.  This freedom leads to the state of nirvana (nibbāna) which is the highest attainment of the Buddhist practitioner – namely, the transcendence of mind and matter.

M. xo

Further Readings:

Bodhi, Bhikku. (1976). Aggregates and Clinging Aggregates.  Pali Buddhist Review 1(2), 91-102, accessed March 14, 2012, http://www.ukabs.org.uk/ukabs/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/PBR-1.2-1976.pdf.

This article provides an explanation of the meaning of “clinging aggregates” as a whole concept, rather than breaking the aggregates down into their separate parts.  It further illustrates the relationship of the aggregates to the concept of dukkha.  Beginners will find this article difficult without established knowledge of the meaning of each of the aggregates.

Boisvert, Mathieu. (1995). The Five Aggregates: Understanding Theravada Psychology and Soteriology.

Boisvert provides a comprehensive overview of each of the aggregates and their relationship to the theory of dependent origination.  Overviews of many arguments and translations assist in understanding the complex nature of translating the ancient texts.  For beginners this book would be the most useful for providing more in-depth knowledge on the subject, particularly within the Theravāda tradition.

De Silva, Padmasiri. (2005). An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology, 4th Edition.

This easy-to-read book provides an overview of general concepts in Buddhism that relate to general psychological models.  Beginners will find this book as a straight-forward introduction to many Buddhist concepts that intersect with psychology, including discussion of the five aggregates.

Kalupahana, David J. (1987).  The Principles of Buddhist Psychology.

This complex and comprehensive book provides a comparison of Buddhist thought and psychological concepts.  A chapter entitled, “The Buddha’s Conception of Personhood” provides a discussion on each of the aggregates.  A good book for beginners who are interested in gaining knowledge of the aggregates and many other concepts of the notion of self and the mind in Buddhist thought.

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The 32 Marks of the Buddha

May 12th, 2014 No comments
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Have you ever noticed the many variations of Buddhas depicted in different pieces of artwork? Some of these differences can be attributed to tradition or cultural influences, while others are simply artistic liberty. Many artistic renditions  incorporate primary ‘Buddha’ traits described in the Pali Canon. Some Buddhist streams of thought believe another 80 secondary characteristics also exist. The 32 marks of the Buddha, also known as “The 32 Marks of a Great Man,” are physical characteristics believed to have been endowed by the Buddha.

What are the 32 marks of the Buddha and how have some of them been represented in artwork? 

THE 32 MARKS OF A GREAT MAN (OR THE BUDDHA):

  1. The soles of his feet are level.
  2. The soles of his feet (and palms of his hands) display discus or wheel patterns.
  3. His fingers are long and slender.
  4. His hands and feet are soft.
  5. He has finely netted (or webbed) hands and feet.
  6. He has projecting heels…
  7. … and arched insteps…
  8. … and thighs like a royal stag or antelope.
  9. When standing, the palms of his hands reach his knees
  10. His sexual organ is well-retracted/concealed (usually in a sheath).
  11. His body height equals that of his arm span.
  12. Every strand of hair grows from a single pore…
  13. and turns upward to the right forming small curls that never grey.
  14. His skin shimmers like gold…
  15. … and there is an subtle aura radiating from his skin so that dust and dirt never cling.
  16. His skin is soft and smooth.
  17. The soles, palms, shoulders, and crown of his head are well-rounded.
  18. The area below his armpits is well-filled or there is no hollow space between his shoulders.
  19. He has the body of a lion.
  20. He stands erect and upright…
  21. … with full, round shoulders.
  22. His forty teeth…
  23. …are white and spaced evenly .
  24. He has four pure white canine teeth…
  25. … and a jaw like a lion.
  26. His saliva improves the taste of all food he eats.
  27. His tongue is long and broad…
  28. … and his voice deep and resonant.
  29. He has eyes that are deep blue…
  30. … and eyelashes like a royal bull.
  31. ūrṇā curl releases light between his eyebrows.
  32. He has a fleshy protuberance on the crown of the head.

M. xo

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#TBT: Untitled #7 (1991)

May 8th, 2014 No comments
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For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing short stories I wrote in my youth for Throwback Thursday (#TBT). Crafting fictional tales was just one of many styles of writing I explored. Indeed, my teenage years were all about the poetry – and some of it was pretty terrible. You see, I didn’t write poems for the purpose of being a poet. No, I wrote poems to get the ‘ick’ out.

There was another purpose to my poetry – one much different than easing torrid teenage thoughts. I also wrote poetry to express my love and adoration to people I cared about. So, today I present the first love poem I ever wrote. Warning: the content you are about to read may be so sickly sweet that it could leave an ache in your heart.


Untitled #7

A kiss upon a rose petal
A whisper in the wind
The sound of the river flowing
The coming of day’s end

The warmth of your caress
The beauty of your soul
The gaze of your eyes
Never wanting to let go

A smile which has faded
A tear falling free
A thought of you today
Tomorrow and through eternity

M. xo

 

 

 

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Why Does Jesus Appear in Cheese? [VIDEO]

May 7th, 2014 No comments
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Cheesus. You may have heard of him. It’s the ‘cheesy’ name given for savior sightings à la fromage.  It’s not just cheese that Jesus is appearing in either. He’s making the rounds in baked goods, crumpled clothing, rocks, trees, and even ultrasounds.  The video compilation below shows just how much he gets around.  Sure, some of them display what appears to be a classic Jesus silhouette.  Others, well, you be the judge:

Sightings of Jesus is apparently not all that unsual.  More specifically, seeing images of famous mugs in common objects (known as face pareidolia) is a normal psychological function. Of course, how one interprets those images is entirely another matter. This phenomenon can be caused by our brain trying to interpret incomplete visual input. Our brains attempt to fill in missing bits with familiar images. Someone’s experiences and expectations will also pay a role in determining whether it’s Jesus, Mary, Beyonce, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster who appears.

For more information on face pareidolia research being conducted at the University of Toronto, check out this article.

M. xo

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Pro Sports and Religion

May 6th, 2014 No comments
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I admit to being rather ignorant when it comes to the world of professional sports.  Unlike the millions of die-hard fans out there, any kind of engagement in professional sports for me is little more than a novelty.  So, it’s little wonder that I have minimal knowledge about the ways in which professional sports franchises address the issue of religion.

Some might ask, what has religion got to do with sports?  Well, apparently a lot more than just the shout-outs to God imparted on the podium.  A recent article in USA Today examines how religion unites and divides teams in the NBA.  One particularly revealing bit of information (for me, at least) was the mention of pregame chapel rooms which are provided at every NBA arena.  It’s a room where players can come together for a bit of pregame spiritual inspiration.

The sport of football even has its own ‘faith and football’ movement that boasts such events as family-oriented concerts and Super Bowl Gospel celebrations.  Of course, if you’re familiar with American football and the fierce loyalty of its fandom, then it probably isn’t all that surprising that faith (another area of fierce devotion for some Americans) and football seem to coalesce. Heck, there’s even been entire books written about the subject.

Early on in this blog, I wrote a piece called, ” Fore… the love of G-d,” that discussed sports as a metaphor for religion.  Whether mere metaphor, or real-life circumstance, the domain of sports and the realm of religion are more akin than one might imagine.

Check out the Youtube playlist below, dubbed:  Athletes Playing for God.  It’s a compilation of athletes speaking about faith – and what it means for the world of sports.

M. xo

Looking for more game day inspiration?  Check out these offerings:


 

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The National Church of Bey (That’s Beyonce, For the Unindoctrinated)

May 4th, 2014 No comments
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Whether serious or satire, this is certainly a curious piece of news circulating the religion feeds. It also highlights the complexities of defining religion (and perhaps, how not-for-profit religious organizations are granted such status).

Sometime last year, a group of about a dozen Beyonce Knowles fans in Atlanta (GA) formed a church dedicated to Her worship. Practicing what adherents dub, ‘Beyism,’ worshippers meet weekly; sing Her songs; seek spiritual meaning from Her lyrics; and generally worship Her (purportedly also seeking out transcendent assistance with the use of certain herbal aids, cleverly named: ‘Beyha’).

The Church is led by self-titled ‘Minister Diva,’ Pauline John Andrews and is reportedly a registered non-profit organization. A note posted to The National Church of Bey website last month responded to public criticism:

“We are very disappointed in the failure of the public to recognize the existence of a divine Deity walking among them. Deity’s often walk the Earth in their flesh form. Beyonce will transcend back to the spirit once her work here on Mother Earth has been completed.”

The statement goes on to address some misconceptions about the beliefs of ‘Beyists':

“As our congregation continues to swell, we ask that you consider what is more real; an invisible spirit on high, or a walking, talking, breathing Goddess who shows you her true form daily. Beyonce’s spirit is entrancing. We know that she was sent to this place to spread love, peace, and joy. While we do not believe Beyonce to be the Creator, we recognize that she still sits among the throne of Gods. There is a lot of false information being spread about our beliefs, but we will correct all of the vicious lie-tellers. As Beyonce spreads her gospel through song and dance, her message provides uplifting, loving, and many times real-life happenings. We humbly ask you to respect our beliefs, just as you want those to respect yours. Open your mind to new possibilities and you will see, just as we did, that Bey is a true higher power.”

Despite the limited amount of information available on the website regarding the Church’s beliefs, a recent posting suggests that Her divine word will be made available to the public shortly. The Church is organizing the production of a ‘Beyble’ (get it?).

One final note, it’s important to point out that Beyonce Knowles herself has not endorsed this newly minted Church. She may not even be aware of its existence. That doesn’t dissuade Church members from hoping that Queen ‘Bey’ herself might someday preach at one of their sermons.

Want more information on The National Church of Bey?  Check out their website and view their promotional video below.

M. xo

P.S. Please note, that I took liberties in capitalizing the word ‘Her’ when referencing the divine.

P.P.S. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the ‘Beyble’ for sale online.  If you’re looking for other ‘Bey’ inspired items, check out:

 

 

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#TBT: The Great Goo (1987)

May 1st, 2014 No comments
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I’m delighted to offer up another short story from my youth to mark this week’s Throwback Thursday (#TBT). I remember being particularly proud of this story because it was the first A+ I had ever received on a creative writing assignment. Yep, I was proud as a peacock – so much so that I even wrote a second story featuring the same characters in a new adventure.  I’ll save the second ‘chapter’ for next week’s #TBT. Happy reading!

 

The Great Goo

 

Bright Eyes was bathing in her pool.  Ever since she had been a young sea lion she had loved bathing in her pool. KLUNK! KLUNK! CRACK! Tubby had been walking on what used to be a diving board.  Tubby as the fattest tiger in all the land.  Wobbles came stomping out to see what was the matter.  Wobbles was a very sentimental elephant.

“Oh my poor Tubby!” said Wobbles.

“What do you mean, ‘my poor Tubby’? I’m the one he landed on,” complained Bright Eyes.

“Hmph! Bring the first aid kit, Cuddles,” Wobbles said in a panic.

Since Cuddles was a bear, she walked very slowly, but whenever Cuddles got mad she moved like an express train.

“Whoa!” Cuddles had slipped on some water.

Patches burst out onto the deck with the first aid kit.  Patches was the only gibbon who wanted to be a doctor.

“Make way!” yelled Patches.

As Patches was running he tripped over his tail. When Patches was a baby, he tripped, banged, and smashed into everything and everyone.  He always had to be bandaged up.  His parents thought that Bandages would be a more suitable nickname for a mummy, so they decided to call him Patches.  All his relatives and friends agreed.

As Cuddles lay in agony, Patches stood up and tied his tail to his ears. He walked cautiously towards Cuddles.  Patches collapsed beside Cuddles.  His tail was still tied to his ears.  Patches opened his kit.  He pulled out a pair of scissors. All Patches really wanted was a lock of Cuddles’ soft, cuddly fur.  Patches had always wanted a piece of her fur.  It was so soft and cuddly.  SNIP!  SNIP! He had it!

Patches stood up and observed the piece of fur.  The fur was pink and sticky.  Cuddles’ fur was gray, not pink.  Patches tried to throw away the pink goo.  He yanked and struggled.  Finally, he pulled it off, but just as Tubby was struggling out of the pool, the wad of goo stuck to the tip of Tubby’s tail.

Tubby ran around the deck chasing his plump tail.  Cuddles stood up, wobbling back and forth.  She noticed her fur was cut off. She started to get red, almost like a beet.

“Who did this!!!!” Cuddles yelled so hard she shook some of the apples off the trees in the orchard.  The commotion stopped.

Tubby stopped running around and instead he said calmly, “Will you take the piece of goo off me, Cuddles?”

Cuddles walked slowly over to Tubby.  She yanked off the goo and stuck it back on her fur.

“That was mine,” said Cuddles briefly.

“Well, what was it?” Bright Eyes asked curiously.

“Gum,” answered Cuddles.

“All that because of gum?! There’s a moral to this… but I’m not sure what it is?” said Patches.

“Don’t play with gum, Patches!” they all scolded.

To this day Patches has never touched gum in his life.

– THE END –

M. xo

Author’s note:  Once again, life seems to imitate art.  A few years before writing this story, one of my brothers and I decided it would be neat if we made headbands out of gum.  My Mom did not think it was so ‘neat’.  She did, however, learn the trick to removing gum from hair – peanut butter.  While she did manage to get most of the gum out of our hair without having to cut too much off, she did clip off some blond locks matted with pink goo to keep as a reminder.  Judging from the preceding story, I think the lesson ‘stuck’.

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Illusion in the Freudian Theory of Religion: Part Two

April 30th, 2014 No comments
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ILLUSION IN THE FREUDIAN THEORY OF RELIGION con’t…

Read Part One here.

Freud put forth some intriguing ideas about the origin, motivation and tenacity of religion.  He has, however, been harshly criticized for his lack of validity, and some have suggested that he, himself, engaged in mythologizing and counter-narration of already established myths. A brief overview of the validity of his work in terms of its ‘historical’ accuracy and evidentiary value will demonstrate that much of his theories are based on unsubstantiated reconstructions of Biblical history and weak scientific inquiry.  Despite these weaknesses, it will be suggested that the primary benefit of Freud’s theory doesn’t lie in its robust application, historical accuracy or scientism, but rather its use of illusion and fantasy as an explanatory mechanism of religious motivations.

In his critical appraisal of Freud’s theory, Michael Palmer suggested that there are three types of evidence that Freud provided in support of his hypotheses – anthropological, historical and psychological.[1]  Indeed, several scholars and authors have criticized Freud for the lack of validity in the evidence he used to put forth his ideas.  Using Palmer’s triad, a brief examination of these components will assist in ascertaining as to what extent Freud’s theory is rooted in the scientific paradigm of which he so staunchly advocated and to the veracity of his application of anthropological considerations.

From the overview of Freud’s work presented at the beginning of this paper, one of the anthropological foundations of his theory rests on the notion of a primal horde.  This Darwinian idea allowed Freud to substantiate his Oedipal theory which would become his psychoanalytic basis for religion.  While Darwin’s postulations are intriguing, it is important to point out that there is little valid data to support the universality of the primal horde.  In fact, research has demonstrated a remarkable variation in the social organization of primates,[2] and while there is noticeable similarity between the social organization of some primates and that of very early man, the generalization of this observation in Freud’s account is highly misleading.  Freud does not shy away from universal application of this sort, and this manifests as a blatant weakness in his theories.  When examining the matrilineal family structure of some societies, the theory of primal hordes fails miserably.  In these societies, the women provide authority and discipline for the clans.[3]  This suggests a fundamental flaw in Freud’s attempt to apply such reductionist ideas to the highly dynamic nature of social structures and its various components, such as religion.

Paul Ricoeur, who has written extensively about Freud’s theories, suggested that, “…the truth is that the primal parricide is merely an event constructed out of ethnological scraps….”[4]  Freud attempted to integrate his father complex (Oedipal) ideas with several observations taken from the social scientific realm in order to further validate his claim that the foundation of religion was rooted in supressed childhood wishes.  The problem with Freud’s attempt isn’t the fact that he looked for evidence to support his claims, but rather that the evidence he used wasn’t as empirical or accurate as one might expect from scientific inquiry – an inquiry of which he not only advocated, but also suggested as the only valid truth, calling it, “…our only way to the knowledge of external reality.”[5]

Perhaps, this propensity for Freud to use lacklustre science in explaining cultural phenomenon was due to the fact that his main research method was generalizing from individual case studies to the entire human population.[6]  It is little wonder that Freud employed this technique because the foundation of his practice of psychoanalysis was one of historical reconstruction through revealing the repressed past in an effort to understand one’s psychological problems in the present.  Through the use of free association, in which the patient was walked through reconstructing their past, classical psychoanalysts provided interpretations of any sensitive memories which might suggest suppressed feelings, desires or struggles.[7]

It is undeniable that one of the most obvious weaknesses of Freud’s theory is the exclusion of matriarchal societies, which speaks to the lack of universality in extending his thesis beyond paternally dominated religions, particularly of monotheistic traditions.  Interestingly, Freud acknowledged this as an issue by suggesting, “…I am at a loss to indicate the place of the great maternal deities….”[8]

Conceivably, the most controversial narrative Freud provided was the integration of his primal horde and totemism theories into a historical reconstruction of the biblical Moses.  This re-imagining of the historical origins of monotheism provides little more than an unsubstantiated counter-narrative.  Claims such as the name Moses meaning ‘child’ in Egyptian, or the fact that circumcision, which was widely practiced among Egyptian people[9] and adopted by the Jews, do not provide the evidence that Freud was desperately seeking.   Similarly, we find dubious assertions in the claims that Moses was executed by the Israelites or that the monotheism of Amentohep IV actually had an influence on the development of Judaism. Instead, Freud appropriated these biblical myths and attempted to weave a narrative of the history of religious origins which seemed to fit his psychoanalytic theory of the origin of neuroses.  His counter-narrative provided the link he required to justify his claim that religion was a neurosis of mankind.  Freud did so by providing an original sin which was repressed and remained latent, followed by a return of the repressed manifested as guilt, culminating in the establishment of an illusion as a defence against the resurfacing of these repressed memories.[10] In the story of Moses, and subsequently the story of Jesus’ execution, Freud delivered a recurrence of the memories of the first primal scene that allowed him to apply his Oedipal theory to the origins of religion.  In essence, it appears as though he has conveniently rewritten Biblical history in order to accommodate and advance his own psychoanalytic theories.  Ironically, the very nature of Freud’s theory that religion is an illusion seems to be predicated on illusory bits of history and evidence itself.

Given that Freud applied certain psychoanalytic concepts to his theory of religion, it behooves a brief examination of the criticisms and commentary that have been expended on these notions.  Many have suggested that Freud’s psychoanalysis lacked the fundamental requirements of scientific theory and empirical verification.[11]  Particularly, critics have lambasted its use of subjective interpretation of dreams and memories,[12] in addition to its use of individual case studies which were generalized to the entire human population.[13] These points assuredly strengthen the arguments criticizing psychoanalysis as an unempirical and unverifiable science, yet some of Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts do show validity in follow up studies; however, it’s the application of these concepts in which Freud erred.

The heart of Freud’s postulations on religion is embedded in the Oedipal complex theory.  Indeed, Freud, himself believed the Oedipal complex to be the single greatest claim to psychoanalytic fame.[14]  Given this grandiose claim, it’s little wonder that there has been much research around verifying its importance or, indeed, existence as part of the development of the human psyche.  Overall, research has demonstrated that there is evidence to support the existence of the Oedipal complex; however, there is little evidence to suggest that it can be generalized to all human beings, nor can it be claimed that it plays a central role in the development of mental processes.[15]

Wish fulfillment and repression are two other bases for the Freudian account of religious motivation.  The concept of wish fulfillment has been largely drawn from his work on the interpretation of dreams, specifically their latent meaning.[16]  As previously pointed out, the highly subjective nature of dream interpretation provides for an extremely weak methodology.  Clearly then, it cannot be considered scientific as such.  While we find little evidence to support the applicable robustness of either the Oedipal complex or wish fulfillment, the concept of repression as a defence mechanism has been widely recognized as verifiable.[17]

Finally, Freud adopted the concept of a collective unconscious or archaic memory heritage as the mechanism by which people acquired ideas and memories from their ancestors.  Although these theories weren’t cornerstones to psychoanalysis, they do play an integral role in his theory of religion.  Obviously, a concept of inherited memory is difficult if not impossible to test, and as such is highly unscientific.[18]

Ultimately, Freud’s psychoanalysis gravely lacks adequate application of the scientific model.  His observations were drawn from unrecorded and recollected therapy sessions with his patients, and his concepts have, for the most part, remained untestable.[19]  Thus, the bulk of Freud’s basis for his theory of religion is “…decidedly interpretative rather than empirical,”[20] because he based so much of this theory on his psychoanalytic model.

Freud clearly viewed himself as a scientist; however, he is more aptly viewed in the context of this paper as a culture theorist.  Perhaps in part due to the reductionist nature of his scientific pursuits, his cultural theories have been widely regarded as attempts to advance his own psychoanalytic model.  Additionally, his work has been accused of being piecemeal, limited in focus and the speculations of an aged man.[21] Given the aforementioned criticisms and inherent problems in his approach, is it possible to identify any worth in his theory of religion – other than merely part of the history of the psychology of religion?

Clearly, Freud’s use of psychoanalysis as a scientific explanation for the motivations and origins of religion is unfounded; however, his work is regarded as influential in the psychological study of religion because it helped advance discussion concerning the cognitive aspects of religion.  Further, it drew analogies to the inherent need of people to feel safe and secure, which is arguably an intrinsic function of religion.[22]  Ultimately, Freud’s theory of religion should not be regarded for its scientism, or for its rejection of religion as a meaningful element in human life.  It is best interpreted as a tool for understanding the manifestation of symbol systems and the use of fantasy in positive personal and social development.[23]  This stands in marked contrast to Freud’s assertion that religion functioned as a negative consequence of repressed wish fulfillments.  Thus, Freud’s theory of religion can be linked to other cognitive developmental strategies involving fantasy and illusion such as creativity and imagination, which demonstrate a vital relationship between reality and the use of fantasy in the positive development of the human being.[24]  Through re-assessing the Freudian critique of religion a new appreciation of his work as a rich account of how fantasy and illusion influence experiences of external reality can emerge.[25]

Freud may have insisted that religion has negative consequences for the individual, and indeed society, by keeping it stuck in a state of childlike dependence; however another view can be adopted – one that speaks to the unfettered power of illusion in its ability to help the human species to reconcile those aspects of life which are conceptually out of the human ability to understand.[26] Perhaps the strongest argument for this view of religion can be found in Freud’s own views on the relationship between man and nature, and the subsequent need, “…to defend us against nature.”[27]  In this standpoint, we can draw parallels between the use of illusion and fantasy – or religious narratives – as a means to cope with the unknowable, volatile, and devastating events affecting human life.  Beverley Clack aptly suggests, “[r]eligion offers solace in the face of chaos.  It is this that connects religion most clearly with the concerns that drive the construction of phantasy: the attempt to limit pain and to master reality.”[28]  Accordingly, religion becomes a mechanism, propelled through the use of illusion and fantasy, which serves to regulate feelings of mortality, helplessness, and uncertainty.  The nature of the human species as self-aware inevitably leads to these postulations and the necessitation to mitigate the discontent that arises from these inherently emotional aspects of being human.  In this manner, Freud’s belief that religion was illusion may be accurate; however, his view of religion as neurosis should be more accurately articulated as religion as a source of inspiration for the human species.

There is no denying Freud’s influence on our understanding of the human mind – in particular, his enormous influence on engaging future scholars in debate concerning the curiosities of the psyche and the role of human cognition in the creation of cultural systems.  There is also little doubt that Freud rejected religion as a means in which to understand the world, although his motivations for doing so remain unclear.  Further inquiry into Freud’s life would assuredly lead to many assumptions; however, this remains outside the scope of this paper.  It also would fail to prove useful toward reconciling the argument herein.  Certainly, he was a highly polemical figure who sparked discussion and much criticism; however, these criticisms have not been fully warranted.  It behooves his critics to revisit his work for not its factual, empirical, or historical value – despite Freud attempting to conform to these standards – but rather for its interpretative value.  This is where we find the true essence of the Freudian theory of religion.  A theory which speaks to the depths of the human psyche and the fantasies employed to navigate through an often turbulent life.  Through reassessing Freud’s critique, one might rightly suggest that he was indeed a friend of religion, albeit a hesitant one.

 M. xo

Suggested Readings:

 


[1] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 61.

[2] Ibid., 62.

[3] Ibid, 65

[4] Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 208.

[5] Freud, The Future of an Illusion, 55.

[6] Roderick Main, “Psychology of Religion: An Overview of its History and Current Status.” Religion Compass 2, no. 4 (2008): 715.

[7] David G. Myers, Psychology, 7th Edition in Modules (New York: Worth Publishers, 2004), 668-69.

[8] Freud, Totem and Taboo, 192.

[9] Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 245.

[10] David Humbert,“The Return of Adam: Freud’s Myth of the Fall,” Religious Studies 29, no. 3 (Sep. 1993):  293.

[11] Robert Banks, “Religion as Projection: A Re-Appraisal of Freud’s Theory,” Religious Studies 9, no. 4 (1973): 412- 20; Palmer, Freud and Jung, 63-64; Ricouer, Freud and Philosophy, 345-75.

[12] Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 346.

[13] Main, “Psychology of Religion,” 715.

[14] Banks, “Religion as Projection,” 413; Paul Kline, Fact and Fantasy in Freudian Theory (Edinburgh, GRB: T & A Constable Ltd, 1972), 348.

[15] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 64 – 65; Kline, Fact and Fantasy, 348.

[16] Banks, “Religion as Projection,” 414-15.

[17] Ibid., 413-14.

[18] Kline, Fact and Fantasy, 351.

[19] Ibid., 1-2.

[20] Main, “Psychology of Religion,” 715.

[21] Howard L. Kaye, “Was Freud a Medical Scientist or a Social Theorist? The Mysterious ‘Development of the Hero’,” Sociological Theory 21, no. 4 (2003): 378.

[22] Raymond F. Paloutzian, Invitation to the Psychology of Religion, 2nd Edition. (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1996), 47-48.

[23] DiCenso, “Totem and Taboo”, 561; James DiCenso, “Religion as Illusion: Reversing the Freudian Hermeneutic,” The Journal of Religion 71, no. 2 (1991): 178.

[24] Clack, “After Freud,” 204.

[25] Ibid., 210.

[26] DiCenso, “Religion as Illusion,”179.

[27] Freud, Future of an Illusion, 26.

[28] Clack, “After Freud,” 214.

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Illusion in the Freudian Theory of Religion: Part One

April 28th, 2014 No comments
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Adapted from an essay submitted March 2012 to the the Department of Religion, Carleton University

ILLUSION IN THE FREUDIAN THEORY OF RELIGION

 

Sigmund Freud, 1921

Sigmund Freud’s theory of religion, as outlined in his seminal works, Totem and Taboo, Moses and Monotheism,and The Future of an Illusion, undoubtedly contributed to numerous classical and contemporary scholars pointedly labelling him as an enemy of religion.  Despite identifying with a Jewish heritage, many have suggested that Freud was – for all intents – an atheist who viewed religion as merely another manifestation of his psychoanalytic concept of wish fulfillment.  Freud’s reductionist treatment of religion established his adherence to scientific principles, which he viewed as the only means in which to understand the world.  In fact, religion was just another stepping stone for humanity on its way to the scientific age, one in which illusions and fantasy played no part in reality or understanding the human condition. Ironically, in his attempt at developing a theory of religion, he cast aside doctrines of scientific principles and cast a blanket of suspicion over the validity of his claims.   His theory is intriguing, innovative and bold – especially given the time period in which he first advanced his ideas.  Yet, despite his tenacious pursuit of explaining the origination and purpose of religion in scientific and historical terms, he failed to develop a theory that could be described as such.

He staunchly advocated methods of rational inquiry and empirical methodology, and through case studies and observational techniques he developed theories to explain the human psyche and a greater understanding of cultural phenomenon.  Despite these ambitions, many of his theories have gone largely unproven; ironically because they lack universal application as a result of limiting research methods.  His theory of religion is based on several of his psychoanalytic concepts, and as such suggests inherent weaknesses in his approach; however, Freud may have been his own worst enemy due to his refusal to waver from the scientific paradigm in an attempt to explain external reality.  In fact, his critique of religion may actually provide a more positive explanation than the one he overtly claimed.  Far from the parallel of religion as neurosis, his theory suggests that religion works as a mechanism through using illusion and fantasy as a means to resolve reality and the uncertainty of the human condition.  In this view, Freud’s religion becomes a positive mechanism for the development of the human psyche, similar to other concepts such as creativity and imagination.  Thus, Freud – or at least his theory – can be understood as an advocate for religion rather than a dissident.

Freud’s work in religion began in 1907 with a short essay entitled, Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices.  This paper heralded the beginning of a tumultuous relationship between Freud’s psychoanalysis and religion.  In it he drew parallels between the expression of belief in the religious and acts of neurotic psychiatric patients, which he called “ritualistic”.  Both, he suggested, had a shared origin in repressed instincts and supressed childhood experiences.[1]  Specifically, Freud viewed religion as an illusion based on early childhood fantasies, which had been supressed.  Re-emerging in adulthood, these suppressed instincts would ultimately influence the way in which the adult viewed the world,[2] such that reality would become distorted.  Religion was thus realized as a coping mechanism for unrealized childhood wish fulfillment, which ultimately had harmful consequences for the adult human.

Totem and Taboo (1913) by Sigmund Freud

In Totem and Taboo, Freud introduced the concept of totem prohibitions and their relation to modern day religiosity.  In his introductory chapter, he defined totems and their role within the social organization of a tribe, as the first tribal ancestor – animal, plant or force in nature – which held a unique relationship with the tribe.  This relationship was such that a taboo against killing the animal emerged – except for the ritualized annual act of killing and devouring the totem.[3]  This totem meal was instituted in an effort to obtain the power and strength of the totem animal.  Additionally, a strong familial connection to the totem extended throughout the entire clan such that every member of the tribe was deemed blood related.  This led to the practice of exogamy which created a second taboo in the totem social system, namely the incest taboo.[4]  Freud believed that these original taboos signalled the start of morality and ultimately of a social structure[5], which later propagated into religion and other cultural phenomenon.

Freud created a narrative using these totem taboos that extended his thesis in Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices and integrated previously developed theories of psychosexual development, specifically the Oedipus complex.  Drawing heavily from Darwin’s work on primal hordes, Freud described the later manifestation of these primal hordes into totems and subsequently modern day religious traditions.  He postulated that a lone dominant male maintained his status and claim to all females in the tribe through driving out young males to find mates in different totems.  The outcast males then came together and conspired to kill their father.  Subsequently, the sons consumed the father in an effort to assume his power.  Despite their efforts to end the patriarchal horde, the sons became consumed with guilt.  A brother horde was created and soon the practice of exogamy was reinstated, in effect supressing the motivation for the original sinful act.[6] With guilt subsiding and longing for a father-ideal, of which none of them could obtain, the brothers conceived of a symbolic father-figure in the totem animal[7] and commemorated the killing of the father through the annual totem meal.  This ritual was created to relieve the brothers’ guilt through honouring the father and attempting to harness his power.[8] Freud theorized the ceremony and associated symbolic father-image were the precursors to the creation of gods and modern religion.

Additionally, he surmised that the ceremonial act of the totem meal was similar to the obsessive thinking and ritualistic act of the neurotic patient.  Fearing the negative consequences of acting against prohibitions and taboos, these rituals provided both patient and prehistoric man a way in which to supress forbidden impulses and unconscious desires[9] – specifically, the latent desire to kill the father and wed the mother (Oedipus complex).[10] Moreover, the rituals served as a way to reconcile the guilt stemming from these unconscious wishes.  Freud believed that this original sin of the brother horde and the subsequent guilt brought about the totemic religious system which would later become a base for all future religions.[11]  In this way, the totem feast became, “…the repetition and commemoration of this memorable, criminal act with which so many things began, social organization, moral restrictions and religion.”[12]

Freud extended this theory further by suggesting that religious gods were always modelled after an idealized father-figure which was greatly influenced by the individual’s relationship with their own father.[13] The paradoxical nature of this relationship was exemplified by the simultaneous disdain and love for the all-powerful father-figure.  Here, the unconscious wishes of the child, the repressed guilt in the neurotic adult due to those childhood wishes, and the religious person converge in the Oedipus complex, and manifest in various ways in which humans view the world.

In The Future of an Illusion, Freud bridged his postulations on religion as illusion with his work in Totem and Taboo.  In it, he discussed the nature of ambivalence toward the father figure through suggesting that children experienced jealousy and fear toward the father for his all-powerful role, but also looked to the father for protection and care.  As the child grew and experienced the harsh reality of life, the realization that he was destined to be helpless forever emerged.  In order to harness the protective feelings experienced from their own father as a child, the adult transferred the father-image into gods that were both feared and revered.[14]

Freud suggested that modern day monotheistic patriarchal religion developed from this idea of helplessness, particularly in reaction to the harsh and unknowable power of nature.  Mirroring the father-child relationship, the relationship between man and nature was such that man was ultimately at the mercy of natural forces, thus creating fear, helplessness, and awe.  In order to adequately resolve these feelings and to identify with nature, man projected his image into illusory beings with humanlike traits in an effort to establish a relationship with these unknown forces.[15]  Realizing that this helplessness would not cease during the course of the adult’s lifetime, the father-figure beings were created as more powerful than any individual to whom the adult could conceive – namely, the father.[16]

It is important to discuss what Freud meant by illusion.  He believed that illusion stemmed from wishes and fantasies and were similar to psychiatric delusions.  The differences between the two are that delusion suggested a struggle with reality while illusion wasn’t necessarily opposing reality.[17]  Essentially, illusion was motivated by repressed fantasies and the content of the illusory narrative was possible, although not always probable.  For Freud, the narratives of religions were certainly possible, but mostly improbable.  As such, he considered them neurotic fantasies.  Freud translated this hypothesis into the notion of religion as illusion, and ultimately called religion, “…the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity,” [18] rooted in the infantile Oedipal stage.  For him, religion was keeping humanity stuck in a childlike wonderment that abandoned reality for the safety and security of fantasies.  The only proper course of action was the turning away from religious proclivities holding humanity in a middle stage of development and adopting the scientific view of external reality, which more adequately explained the world than religious doctrine.[19]

Finally, further development of his critique of religion was put forth in Moses and Monotheism, in which he applied his theory to the development of firstly Judaism, and then Christianity.  Using the story of Moses from the Hebrew Bible, Freud reimagined the narrative through claiming that Moses was born to Egyptian nobility.  He further claimed that an early form of Judaism was founded on an ancient Egyptian Aton religion, prominent under Pharaoh Amenhotep IV and was known as the only form of monotheism in Ancient Egypt.[20]  Freud speculated that this was the precursor to the rise of the first of the great monotheistic religions, Judaism.  He drew comparisons to the Mosaic religion and the Aton religion highlighting such points as a strict adherence to monotheism, which was very uncommon in the time period.  He also suggested that Moses gave the Jewish people more than just a new religion, but also the law of circumcision which was believed to be widely practiced in ancient Egypt. [21]  Additionally, Freud suggested that the Jewish people revolted against Moses for imposing this new religion on them and subsequently killed him.  He pointed to narratives in the Bible which described these uprisings.[22] In what he described as a latent period in the history of the Jewish religion, Freud suggested that after revolting and killing Moses, that the people turned away from the new religion and returned to their polytheistic ways with a particular emphasis on the worship of the volcano-god Jahve.  A long period of denial followed in which both the killing and the religion given by Moses were supressed.  It was only through oral traditions, which were kept alive by a few loyal followers, that the story of Moses came to permeate the cultural consciousness of the Jews and counter the non-objective historical accounts that were given forth. [23]  Freud said, “[i]t was this tradition of a great past that continued to work in the background, until it slowly gained more and more power over the mind of the people and at last succeeded in transforming the God Jahve into the Mosaic God and in waking to a new life the religion which Moses had instituted centuries before and which had later been forsaken.”[24]   This reworked Mosaic mythology provided Freud with the opportunity to tie in his theory of religion introduced in his previous works – particularly his notions of guilt and fantasy as outlined in the Oedipal concept.

Here Freud demonstrated the restoration of the father as he previously discussed in Totem and Taboo through the growing feelings of guilt among the Jewish people and the resurfacing of suppressed memories of the original sin of killing the father as proclaimed by a Jewish rabble-rouser, Paul of Tarsus.  Redemption and salvation were brought to the Jewish people and indeed all of civilization through the sacrifice of the son of god, Jesus.[25]  It was the leader of the brother horde, Freud suggested, that would be most befitting as a potential sacrifice.  He further illustrated connections to his theory by pointing to the Holy Communion ritual, one in which the flesh and blood of Christ is symbolically ingested, as similar to that of the totem feast.[26]  This account showed how Christianity rose from Judaism, but more specifically how the father religion was replaced by the religion of the son through the transference of repressed guilt.  It is here that Freud attempted to connect totemism to monotheism.  Obviously this re-envisioned account created much public criticism of Freud, as he had essentially claimed that the Judaic religion was not founded on the word of God, but rather the edicts of the Egyptians.

In support of this reimagined historical account of the rise of Judaism and then Christianity, Freud offered up the concept of an archaic heritage which he suggested may involve inherited memory traces that could help to explain why individually different people respond in remarkably similar ways to the same experiences.[27]  Essentially, this concept put forth the notion that repressed memories were passed on from generation to generation and remained dormant during the latency periods of mankind.  This concept allowed Freud to connect how the memory of Moses’ murder survived for generations and the subsequent guilt that consumed the Jewish people.

 Read Part 2 of Illusion in the Freudian Theory of Religion here.

M. xo

Suggested Readings:


[1] Kirk A. Bingham, Freud and Faith: Living in Tension (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 31-32; Michael Palmer, Freud and Jung on Religion (New York: Routledge, 1997), 12-13.

[2] Beverley Clack, “After Freud: Phantasy and Imagination in the Philosophy of Religion,” Philosophy Compass 3, no. 1 (2008): 203-204.

[3] Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. A.A. Brill (New York: Vintage Books, 1946), 134. Freud suggested that animals and plants were most often adopted as the tribal totem.  Taboos against destruction of the totem led to a refusal to kill the animal and avoidance in harvesting the plant.  Although he didn’t specifically address the plant totem in his discussion on the annual totem meal, it is feasible to extend the hypothesis and suggest that the totem plant may have been eaten once a year.  Freud did not include a discussion of the tribal totems identifying with forces of nature.

[4] Ibid., 5-7.

[5] Ibid., 45-48.

[6] Freud, Totem and Taboo, 182-83; Palmer, Freud and Jung, 23.

[7] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 25.

[8] Freud, Totem and Taboo, 183.

[9] Bingham, Freud and Faith, 35.

[10] Palmer, Freud and Jung, 24.

[11] James DiCenso, “Totem & Taboo and the Constitutive Function of Symbolic Forms,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion  64, no. 3 (1996): 572; Palmer, Freud and Jung, 25.

[12] Freud, Totem and Taboo,183.

[13] Ibid., 190.

[14] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, trans. W.D. Robson-Scott (Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2010), 41-42.

[15] Ibid., 29-30

[16] Ibid., 52

[17] Ibid., 54

[18] Ibid., 76.

[19] Ibid., 55.

[20] Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 7-26.

[21] Ibid., 28-29.

[22] Ibid., 58. Freud speculated that uprisings which were supressed by the God Jahve during the time of “wandering in the wilderness” may have been during Moses’ time, despite biblical texts failing to explicitly suggest such postulations.

[23] Ibid., 85-86.

[24] Ibid., 87.

[25] Ibid., 109-10.

[26] Ibid., 111.

[27] Ibid., 125.

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