Life, Hope & Truth

From the September/October 2019 issue of Discern Magazine

80 Years After His Death: Sigmund Freud’s Impact on Society

Freud’s philosophies greatly changed the world. What is the lasting effect of Freud’s ideas? Consider six aspects of his teachings and how they stack up to the teachings of the Bible.

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This month marks 80 years since the death of Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), considered by many to be one of the most influential thinkers in history. Time magazine once called him one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century.

Freud authored hundreds of books, papers and essays outlining his views on the psyche, sexuality, society and religion. Several of these books are still best sellers today.

Freud’s influence

Why is Freud considered such an important figure? It’s not because of his scientific contributions. Over the years, many of Freud’s psychological theories and methodologies have been discredited, debunked or derided by mental health professionals.

When references are made to Freud’s influence on Western culture, it’s almost always in terms of his philosophical ideas. Freud helped open the door for social changes that continue today.

“Freudian theories have exerted an unrivaled influence on modern thought,” writes Robert Downs in Books That Changed the World. “Freud formulated ideas and terms that have now become part of our daily living. Virtually every field of knowledge—literature, art, religion, anthropology, education, law, sociology, criminology, history, biography, and other studies of society and the individual—has felt the effects of his teachings” (1983, p. 303).

The truth is, while most of Freud’s theories cannot be proven scientifically, they are exactly what mankind wants to hear. Freudianism fits right in with the secular agenda of many of the movers and shakers in Western nations today.

Freud was an atheist, openly opposed to God and the Bible. In his 1927 book The Future of an Illusion, he described religion as “a system of wishful illusions” and “the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity.” That said, he had no problem with the occult.

Ultimately, Freud’s teachings have undermined the Bible and morality and cast doubt on our Creator.

Suddenly, wrongful desires, shortcomings and sins (which should be viewed as problems to repent of) now seemed acceptable. From that sad standpoint, Freudian psychology has indeed made a major impact on our modern world—but not a good one.

On the surface, some of Freud’s ideas might seem harmless or reasonable. But we need to understand the ramifications of Freud’s teachings, what they mean and how they’re being packaged, so we can avoid being taken in by them.

What follows are six of the biggest lies promulgated by Freud, all of which are unbiblical, yet permeate our modern age.

1. “I can’t help how I am.”

Before Freud’s time, scientists understood that there’s a conscious mind, where our current thoughts and feelings reside, and a subconscious, which is the part of consciousness we aren’t actively aware of, but can recall from memory.

Freud proposed that a third region existed: the unconscious mind. He theorized this is where irrational and disturbing thoughts (usually forbidden sexual and aggressive urges, or memories of traumatic childhood experiences) have been moved to and repressed.

Freud asserted that we can’t control what’s in the unconscious mind, or even know what’s stored there. Yet he claimed the unconscious mind determines human behavior, and the conscious mind is actually subordinate to it.

These were radical concepts in Freud’s time. Today there’s no universal agreement among mental health practitioners regarding whether an unconscious mind exists, as it cannot be observed or tested scientifically. However, the concept seems to have taken hold in the general population.

Many people believe their unconscious is the reason they blurt out things they shouldn’t, make bad decisions or are attracted to people with opposite personalities. At the very least, it’s become an easy excuse for their behavior. Some figure that since they’re not “in charge” of their actions, there’s no reason to try to overcome personal problems.

Yet the Bible nowhere indicates that there’s such a thing as an unconscious mind. Far from it. God gives us free will, rational minds and intellect so we can decide how to live our lives. Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us to “choose life.” Verses like Philippians 4:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 instruct us to control our thoughts. Each of us can and must take control of what we think, say and do.

2. “I’m not the problem; I’m a victim.”

Freud’s conclusion that people aren’t really in control of their behavior leads to the next fallacy, that we aren’t responsible for our actions and are merely victims.Freud’s conclusion that people aren’t really in control of their behavior leads to the next fallacy, that we aren’t responsible for our actions and are merely victims. We then pass the blame onto whoever (or whatever) we think is at fault.

Very often the blame is directed at parents. “The common denominator of virtually all counseling and psychotherapy is the Freudian assumption that intrapersonal and interpersonal problems originate in childhood experiences, especially in one’s relations with mother and father,” explains E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., in Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud’s Theory on American Thought and Culture (1992).

Factors like our upbringing, environment and heredity might influence or shape us, but we need to take responsibility for our mistakes, own up to them, and admit we’ve done wrong. Freudian psychology says that leads to guilt, which Freud viewed as unproductive and unfulfilling. But the Bible teaches that admitting mistakes leads to repentance and ultimately to forgiveness (1 John 1:9)—something we all need.

3. “Blowing off steam is healthy.”

Freud theorized that when people repress anger, it causes pressure to build up inside them, eventually resulting in an explosion of rage. His advice was to let out negative emotions before that happened. He believed this would reduce pressure build-up, lower people’s anxiety levels, and make them less aggressive.

Freud was the first to use this practice as a psychological therapy. He called it “catharsis,” but it’s also known as “venting.” Today it’s still used by therapists, but most people just do it on their own when they’re upset about something. We might gripe, yell or tell someone off—when praying about the situation or calmly talking about it would be better options.

Contrary to what Freud espoused, venting doesn’t solve anything. Things we say when we’re mad are likely to be things we’ll regret later.

Proverbs 12:18 compares rash words to the painful thrusts of a sword. If venting becomes a habit, it mars our character. Verses like Proverbs 29:11 dispel any argument that venting makes sense: “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.”

Expressing negative emotions may seem therapeutic from a human perspective, but it goes against biblical teaching.

4. “Guilt is always destructive.”

When we break one of God’s or man’s laws, feeling guilty afterward can be a good thing. Paul says, “Godly sorrow produces repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Remorse can help us identify our failings and motivate us to correct them.

Freud, however, saw guilt as something to avoid. He was all about preserving the “self” and getting rid of bad feelings, claiming feelings of guilt led to mental disorders (anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, aggression, etc.). In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), he called guilt the “most important problem in the development of civilization.”

This is not to say that all guilt is constructive. Excessive guilt can fill us with despair and drain our energy. But Freud claimed any type of remorse was damaging.

His “remedies” included removing the “sinful” labels from the infractions (seeing morality in relative terms), blaming biology (taking the stance that mankind is wired to behave the way it does), and making excuses to justify wrong behaviors.

This is exactly what humankind wants to hear—that it can continue sinning without feeling any pangs of regret for doing so.

5. “People should be able to satisfy their sexual desires any way they please.”

Freud saw sexual repression as a huge burden on mankind. He theorized people are compelled to repress their sexual impulses in order to comply with society’s moral and social standards. These urges are pushed into the unconscious mind where they create conflict with a person’s conscience, which also resides in the unconscious. This leads to feelings of guilt, Freud contended, and in turn, psychological disturbances.

Certainly the biggest lie perpetuated by Freud was that humanity doesn’t need God.Freud insisted that sexual desires should be released and gratified in any way desired, including premarital sex, infidelity, pedophilia, homosexual activity and pornography. He claimed that removing sexual restrictions improves one’s emotional health and reduces societal problems.

However, the Bible sanctions just one way to fulfill sexual urges: within a husband-and-wife union. Any desires outside of that must indeed be repressed.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 Paul admonishes us, “Abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body” (English Standard Version). Self-control is not a burden but a vital character strength, something we need to exercise in every aspect of our lives.

6. “God is not the answer.”

Certainly the biggest lie perpetuated by Freud was that humanity doesn’t need God. Freud insisted that God was nothing more than a “psychological projection” that served to shield people from realities and problems they couldn’t cope with on their own. He thought a “truly civilized society” was possible only if humanity was “set free” from its belief in God.

Freud saw science as the answer to all of mankind’s problems. He said that religion needed to be destroyed so science could prosper. He said art, philosophy and religion were the three powers that could dispute the position of science but added, “Religion alone is to be taken seriously as an enemy” (New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, 1933).

The irony is that while Freud put much work into studying neuroses, his theories were destined to be flawed. The subject matter of all his work was actually spiritual in nature. Controlling personal desires, understanding the mind, relating to others, responding to shortcomings, etc. all require godly understanding. His work could not be truly successful because he rejected the source of spiritual knowledge, God.

Freud’s ideologies were humanist in nature—based on human-centered thinking, rather than on God. No one can ever have a proper understanding of the human psyche when our Creator is left out of the reasoning process (Proverbs 9:10).

Like Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and other influential “thinkers,” Freud didn’t think God was the answer to mankind’s problems. In fact, God is the only answer.

About the Author

Becky Sweat

Becky Sweat is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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