10 junio 2006


[Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He has taught a popular seminar at Harvard, for the past 35 years, on the worldviews of Freud and Lewis. Nicholi's seminar, which is the basis for his book The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.

Armand Nicholi’s book is well written and well worth reading by those who seek answers to life’s most important question.

Está editado en español, traducido por Alfonso Bielza y Eulalio Fiestas: La Cuestión de Dios (ed. Rialp, 2004, 372 pgs.).

El objetivo "es mirar la vida humana desde dos puntos de vida diametralmente opuestos: el de un creyente y el de un no creyente". No nos encontramos ni con una exposición, ni con una defensa de la fe cristiana, sino que ésta se manifiesta como una cuestión viva -por su presencia o por su ausencia- en las vidas de Lewis y de Freud.

Para Nicholi, C. S. Lewis resulta un pensador capaz de contrarrestar los argumentos freudianos. "Cuando Lewis era ateo leyó las obras de Freud y usó sus obras filosóficas como una defensa de su ateísmo; tras su conversión, muchos de los argumentos que respondió eran aquellos mismos que Freud había formulado y que el mismo Lewis había usado como ateo", explica Nicholi.

Publicamos ahora en inglés un resumen de la comparación que hace Nicholi en su libro entre el pensamiento de Freud y el de Lewis.

Para saber más: Harvard University Gazette, LeadershipU, Aceprensa (nº 117/04) y ForumLibertas]

#322 Varios Categoria-Varios: Etica y Antropologia

by Armand Nicholi

C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud:
a comparison of their thoughts

• The worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis, both prevalent in our culture today, present diametrically opposed interpretations of who we are our identity, where we come from, our biological and cultural heritage and our destiny.

• Few men have influenced the moral fabric of our civilization more than Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis.

• Freud was the Viennese physician who developed psychoanalysis. How we interpret human behaviour is strongly influenced by his theories. As part of an intellectual legacy, Freud vehemently advocated a secular, materialistic, atheistic philosophy of life.

• Though C.S. Lewis won international recognition long before his death in 1963, his popular books continue to sell millions of copies a year and his influence continues to grow. As a young faculty member at Oxford, Lewis changed from a secular, atheistic worldview to a spiritual one; a worldview that Freud regularly attacked, but which Lewis embraced and defined and described in many of his writings after his conversion.

• Both Lewis and Freud possessed extraordinary literary gifts. Freud won the Goethe prize for literature in 1930. Lewis, who taught at Oxford and held the chair of English literature at Cambridge University, produced some of the world's great literary criticism and scores of widely-read scholarly and fictional books.

Conflicting Worldviews

• Now, on to the question of defining "worldview." Freud defined a worldview as "an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis."

• All of us, whether we realize it or not, have a worldview; we have a philosophy of life our attempt to make sense out of our existence. It contains our answers to the fundamental questions concerning the meaning of our lives, questions that we struggle with at some level all of our lives, and that we often think about only when we wake up at three o'clock in the morning. The rest of the time when we are alone we have the radio or the television on anything to avoid being alone with ourselves. Pascal maintained the sole reason for our unhappiness is that we are unable to sit alone in our room. He claimed we do not like to confront the reality of our lives; the human condition is so basically unhappy that we do everything to keep distracted from thinking about it.

• The broad interest and enduring influence of the works of Freud and Lewis result less from their unique literary style than from the universal appeal of the questions they addressed; questions that remain extraordinarily relevant to our personal lives and to our contemporary social and moral crises.

• From diametrically opposed views, they talked about issues such as, "Is there meaning and purpose to existence?"

• Freud would say, "Absolutely not! We cannot even, from our scientific point of view, address the question of whether or not there is meaning to life." But he would declare that if you observe human behaviour, you would notice the main purpose of life seems to be to find happiness to find pleasure. Thus Freud devised the "pleasure principle" as one of the main features of our existence.

• Lewis, on the other hand, said meaning and purpose are found in understanding why we are here in terms of the Creator who made us. Our primary purpose is to establish a relationship with that Creator.

• Freud and Lewis also discussed the sources of morality and conscience. Everyday we get up and make a series of decisions that carry us through the day. Those decisions are usually based on what we consider to be right: what we value, or our moral code. We decide to study hard and not use other people's ideas, because somehow that is part of our moral code.

Now, Freud said our moral code comes from human experience, like our traffic laws. We make the codes up because they are expedient for us. In some cultures you drive on the left, in others you drive on the right.

• But Lewis would disagree with that. He said that while there are differences in cultures, there is a basic moral law that transcends culture and time. This law is not invented, like traffic laws, but is discovered, like mathematical truth. So Freud and Lewis had an entirely different understanding of the source of moral truth.

• Lewis and Freud also talked about the existence of an intelligence beyond the universe; Freud said "No," Lewis said "Yes." Their viewpoints led them to discuss the problem of miracles in an age of science.

• Freud claimed miracles contradict everything we have learned through empirical observation; they do not really occur.

• However, Lewis would ask, "How do we know they don't occur? If there is any evidence, the philosophy that you bring to that evidence determines how you interpret it." So, according to Lewis, we need to understand whether our philosophy excludes miracles and colours our interpretation of the evidence.

• Freud and Lewis both spoke at length about human sexuality.

• Freud considered all love a kind of sublimated sexuality even love between friends. Lewis said that anybody who thinks that friendship is based on sexuality has never really had a friend.

• It's significant to note that Freud's philosophical works have had a much greater influence on the secularization of our culture than his scientific works.

The God Question

• As we look at the world around us, we make one of two basic assumptions: either we view the universe as an accident and our existence on this planet a matter of chance, or we assume some intelligence beyond the universe who not only gives the universe design and order, but also gives life meaning and purpose. How we live our lives, how we end our lives, what we perceive, how we interpret what we perceive, are all formed and influenced consciously or unconsciously by one of these two basic assumptions.


• Freud divided all people into "believers" and "unbelievers."

• Freud came down clearly and strongly against the notion that there is "Anyone" out there. He described his worldview as secular and called it "scientific," and he claimed that no source of knowledge of the universe exists other than "carefully scrutinized observation what we call research."

• Freud described the concept of God as merely a projection of the childish wish for the protection of an all-powerful father. He added that "religion is an attempt to master the sensory world in which we are situated by means of the wishful world which we have developed within us as a result of biological and psychological abnormality."

• He concluded that the religious view is "so pathetically absurd and . . . infantile that it is humiliating and embarrassing to think that the majority of people will never rise above it."

• He certainly attacked this view with all his intellectual might and from every possible perspective. Yet, for some reason he remained preoccupied with these issues; he just could not leave them alone. He spent the last thirty years of his life writing about them.

• Anna Freud, Sigmund's daughter who died a few years ago, explained the only way to know her father: "Don't read his biographies;" she instructed, "read his letters." During the last thirty years of Freud's life, he carried out a continuous exchange of hundreds of letters with a Swiss theologian, Oskar Phister. It's interesting to note that his longest correspondence was with this theologian. He said that Phister was, "In the fortunate position of being able to lead men to God."


• How do people change their worldviews from one to another that is dramatically different? With C.S. Lewis, this transformation happened over a long period of time. Nevertheless, his conversion was no less dramatic than St. Paul, St. Augustine, or many others.

• First, Lewis gradually became aware that most of the great writers he had been reading for years were believers. This began to make him think about a deep yearning in himself; he recognized that it was a kind of yearning he experienced periodically but did not quite understand. He called it "joy" and he wrote a great deal about it. He realized that this joy was not an end in itself, but a reminder of something or someone else.

• Second, Lewis was shocked during a conversation with some of his Oxford faculty colleagues to hear one of them, an avowed atheist, state that the evidence for the historical authenticity of the gospels was very good. The evidence was sound and the gospel stories actually appeared to be true. Lewis said one cannot understand the impact that had on him coming from this particular faculty member.

• Third, he read G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man (ed. español: El hombre eterno) and finally arrived at a belief in God. He writes about it very briefly this way in Surprised by Joy (ed. español: Cautivado por la alegría).

• “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalene, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

• Then, in the fall of 1931, he had dinner with two faculty members, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, and Hugo Dyson, a professor of English literature. After dinner, the three of them talked about the great question concerning the truth of the Gospels and asked the question that one of Lewis' pupils referred to as, "And is it true, and is it true, this most amazing tale of all?" They talked and walked for hours along a path. This talk had a profound effect on Lewis. Nine days later, Lewis wrote: "When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did." Later, Lewis wrote: "My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it."

• Lewis' conversion revolutionized his life. Because he himself embraced atheism the first half of his life, he knew the arguments well. For example, Lewis agreed with Freud that we do indeed possess a deep-seated wish for God. But he disagreed with Freud's notion that God therefore is nothing but a product of wish fulfillment. What we wish for, Lewis pointed out, has nothing to do with whether or not God exists. According to Freud's theory, the wish that God not exist would be as strong as the wish that He does exist. Lewis therefore said that all of this tells us something about our feelings, but very little about whether or not God exists. So Lewis tended to answer most of the arguments raised by Freud.

The Question of Pain and Suffering


• The main obstacle Freud had with the idea of some intelligence out there was his inability to reconcile an all-loving, all-powerful God with the suffering that all of us experience to some degree.

• In 1933, Freud said: It seems not to be the case that there's a power in the universe which watches over the well-being of individuals with parental care and brings all their affairs to a happy ending. (…) Earthquakes, tidal waves, complications make no distinctions between the virtuous and pious and the scoundrel or unbeliever. Even where what is in question is not inanimate nature, but where an individual's fate depends on his relationships with other people, it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and evil finds its punishment. Often enough the violent cunning or ruthless man seizes the envied good things of the world and the pious man goes away empty. Obscure, unfeeling, unloving powers determine our fate. The systems of rewards and punishments which religion describes to the government of the universe seems not to exist.

• We must remember that Freud suffered considerably in his life, emotionally as a Jew in Vienna, and physically with an intractable cancer of the palate that he struggled with for sixteen years of his life.


• Lewis, throughout the first half of his life, also described himself, like Freud, as an "out-and-out unbeliever." If Freud wavered in his unbelief as a college student, Lewis flaunted his atheism as a student at Oxford. He strongly expressed cynicism and hostility toward people that he called "believers" and shared Freud's pessimism toward life generally.

• When thirty-three years old, by then a popular member of the Oxford faculty, Lewis experienced a profound and radical change in his life and in his thinking. He rejected the materialistic and atheistic worldview and embraced a strong faith in God and eventually in Jesus Christ. This conversion from one worldview to the other began an outpouring of scholarly and popular works that have influenced millions of people.

Death: The Question of Mortality

A fundamental fact of our existence, one that we learn very early in life, is that we're on this earth for a very short time. We are the only creatures on earth that can foresee our own death.

Now, how do you process that information? How do you come to terms with this? Psychiatrists say this issue is so important that you can't really live your life until you do come to terms with it. But how do you process it without being filled with anxiety or filled with fear?


• Freud referred to as "the painful riddle of death." Socrates said the true philosopher is always pursing death and dying. Freud often wrote about death.

• In 1932, Freud made the interesting observation that death does not exist in our unconscious mind: "Our unconscious then does not believe in its own death. It behaves as if it were immortal." Freud avoided giving any philosophical interpretation of his rather provocative observation that in the deepest recesses of our mind, "everyone of us is convinced of our own immortality."

• Freud spoke often of “the painful riddle of death”. He closed one essay with the curious suggestion that if you want to endure life you must prepare yourself for death.

• Freud became utterly obsessed with death. His official biographer, wrote: “As far back as we know anything about Freud's life, he seems to have been prepossessed with thoughts about death. (…) He once said he thought of it every day of his life, which is really unusual.”

• Freud's physician described his preoccupation with death as superstitious and obsessive. Freud was certain he was going to die at 41, then at 51, then at 61, then at 62, then at 70. He would check into a hotel and be given the room number 63. He would leave that room and for months be absolutely convinced that he was going to die at age 63…

• Freud died at the age of 83 after a sixteen-year battle with cancer. His favorite book was Goethe's Faust, the story of Faust making a pact with the devil. Just before Freud died, he walked to a library shelf and took down a book by Bolzac entitled The Fatal Skin, in which the main character also makes a pact with the devil. The book ends when the hero cannot master his fear of death and dies in a state of panic. How strange, as his last book. After reading the book, Freud reminded his physician of a promise he had made to help ease his passing when the time came. His doctor injected two centigrams of morphine that caused him to fall asleep, then after 12 hours he injected two more centigrams. Freud died at 3 a.m. on September 12, 1939.


• C. S. Lewis also wrote about mortality. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis described how as an atheist the problem of human suffering especially the capacity of man to foresee his death while keenly desiring permanence made it difficult for him to believe in an all-loving, all-powerful God. After his conversion, he understood death as the result of the fall, a transgression of God's laws, and that death was not part of the original plan.

• In his personal life, C. S. Lewis was confronted with death as a young child. At nine years of age he lost within a few months a paternal grandfather, an uncle, and his beautiful mother. In an autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he recalls being confined to his room, ill with a headache and a toothache. “And then my father, in tears, came into my room and began to try to convey to my terrified mind things it had never conceived before.” He was told that his mother was dying of cancer. He recalled that his "whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister whispered conversations."

• When 18 years old and a student at Oxford, Lewis joined the army. He suffered wounds during action in France and, in a lecture given at Oxford many years later, he made the interesting observation that war does not make death more frequent "100 percent of us die and the percentage cannot be increased." He stated that war puts several deaths earlier and that one of the few positive aspects of war is that it makes us aware of our mortality.

• When he was 23 years old he wrote: “A real person is so very real and so obviously living and different from what is left. And one cannot believe that something has turned into nothing, that one could suddenly turn into nothing. (..) there is something that disappears that is not there after death and that we are so much more than our bodies.”

• In A Grief Observed (ed. español: Una pena en observación), Lewis wrote about the death of his wife who was to him everything worthwhile. Lewis makes you feel the anger, resentment, loneliness, and fear. His anger becomes palpable when he wonders if God is "the cosmic sadist; the spiteful imbecile." He wrote, "It is hard to have patience with people who say there is no death or that death doesn't matter. There is death," he continued, "and whatever is matters. We might as well say birth doesn't matter."

• Lewis never lost his sense of humor. When he was 59 years old, a lady wrote to him and said how terrible it was that she had just lost a friend. Lewis wrote back, "There is nothing discreditable in dying. I've known the most respectable people to do it." In another letter a couple of years later he wrote, "What a state we've gotten into when we can't say, 'I'll be happy when God calls me,' without being afraid one will be thought morbid. After all, Saint Paul said just the same. Why should we not look forward to the arrival?"

• Lewis concluded that we can do only three things about death: desire it, fear it, or ignore it. He claimed the third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls healthy, is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.

• Lewis suffered a heart attack on June 15, 1963, and lapsed into a coma. He recovered, however, and lived the next few months quietly and happily. His latest biographer notes that before his conversion, Lewis was extraordinarily anxious about death and dying, but after his conversion he seemed to have a wonderful calmness about it, and even an anticipation. Records of his last days attest to a calmness and inner peace.

• Two weeks before his death, Lewis had lunch with a faculty colleague. He said Lewis was aware the end was near and that never was a man better prepared. On November 22, 1963, Lewis' brother brought Lewis his 4 p.m. tea. He noted that Lewis was drowsy, but calm and cheerful. At 5:30, he was dead.

We have considered the contrasting worldviews of two prolific minds. One view claims that the universe is an accident and our existence a matter of chance. The other sees the universe a result of design and our existence a part of that design. One view sees death as a painful riddle that causes great anxiety and despair and bitterness. The other views death as the final step in the design for one's life, a step that one can experience with a degree of calmness and even anticipation because of what Lewis called "that grand miracle," the resurrection.

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