For those thinking about buying the book a selection from the concluding chapter:
...Freud’s criticism [of religious belief] seems reasonable. Freud, despite his militant atheism, is not just “criticizing” religion. He is describing a real phenomenon, one backed by laboratory research and easily recognized by both believers and non-believers. And while these psychologically-based criticisms of faith do not have any logical purchase upon the ultimate claim regarding God’s existence, they do alter the debate and place believers on the defensive. For if Freud is correct, if believers are using their faith as a means for existential consolation, why should we trust their appeals to “reason” and “evidence” when it is clear that they cannot be objective and fair conversation partners? In the end, the atheist will argue that you cannot dispassionately discuss hard questions when your conversation partner is afraid. As Freud noted, “The believer will not let his belief be torn from him, either by arguments or by prohibitions. And even if this did succeed with some it would be cruelty” (p. 62).
So we are left, then, in the wake of [Freud's argument in] The Future of an Illusion (along with other works of “suspicion”) with the analysis of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1955) from the quote that started this book:
It has long been known that need and desire play a part in the shaping of beliefs. But is it true, as modern psychology often claims, that our religious beliefs are nothing but attempts to satisfy subconscious wishes? That the conception of God is merely a projection of self-seeking emotions, an objectification of subjective needs, the self in disguise? Indeed, the tendency to question the genuineness of man’s concerns about God is a challenge no less serious than the tendency to question the existence of God. We are in greater need of a proof for the authenticity of faith than of a proof for the existence of God. (p. 35-36)This is the terrain for a new sort of apologetics. No longer are we seeking a proof for the existence of God. We are, rather, now sifting through psychological “need and desire” to determine how they “play a part in the shaping of beliefs.” For in light of the work of the masters of suspicion there is now a “tendency to question the genuineness of man’s concerns about God.” Thus we face a “greater need of a proof for the authenticity of faith than a proof for the existence of God.”
But is such a proof even possible? And what might it mean to say that faith is “authentic” and “genuine”?