This poses a challenge at ACU. Students coming to college from Christian high schools already have some pretty strong biases and opinions about Freud. Like they do about Darwin.
Basically, these students are already convinced that Freud is no one they should take seriously.
But when I introduce Freud I tell the class that they already are very Freudian. Our culture is steeped in Freudian ideas. By the time you are an adult you've already internalized a ton of Freud's theory. The unconscious. Dreams. Repression. Defense mechanisms. Fixations. Analyzing people. Neuroses. The Id, Superego, and Ego. The Oedipus Complex. Anal retentive. Freudian slips. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
And from there I go on to point out to the students that there is quite a lot in Freud that resonates with Christian theology. For example, Freud's view of human nature is pretty similar to some Christian notions of total depravity. Which brings us to some recent search terms that guided someone to this blog:
freud and theology
Those terms linked to my "Freud and Faith" series from 2009. That was a series where I wrote about some of the things I share with Christian students when talking about Freud.
For example, Freud's vision of the Id, motivated as it is by sexual and aggressive urges, is interesting to think about in terms of "original sin" and human depravity. Sex and aggression does explain a lot about us. Consider the amount of sexual and aggressive content in our entertainments--from movies to fiction to video games to music to sports to film.
For my part, I think Freud's greatest insights had to with neuroses. I can be pretty Freudian in this regard.
For example, psychologically speaking, I tend to think that human beings are pretty sick. And that we're sort of doomed to be sick.
According to Freud, our neuroses--the psychological sickness I'm speaking about--is what makes us human beings. Neurosis is the critical ingredient. Where Aristotle said that humans are rational animals, Freud argued that humans are neurotic animals. If we lacked things like shame, guilt, and self-consciousness--if we were wholly indifferent to how others approved or disapproved of us--we'd be sociopaths.
So this seems to be our lot in life: to be a neurotic basketcase. We're doomed to worry about what others think about us and how we compare to others.
But the benefits of this neuroses are plentiful. Neuroses is what makes society and civilization work. We care about what everyone thinks, and while the burden of that care is worry, this mutual concern helps us create and navigate a predictable and normed social world.
The question I think a Christian theologian would ask about this Freudian formulation is this:
Can we ever be free from neuroses? And could this be done in a healthy rather than sociopathic way?
That's an interesting question.
What Jesus neurotic? Was the Buddha neurotic?
When we think of these two persons we tend to picture them as non-neurotic and the exact opposite of sociopathic. They were non-neurotic but loving. So there seems to be, in some religious traditions, this vision of an empathic non-neuroses that we can aspire to. Psychological indicators of this state seem to be tranquility/peace, joy and love.
So how do you go from being psychologically sick into this state?
Buddhists and Christians get there in different ways. Buddhism suggests that you step out of neuroses by begging out of the whole game of evaluation, the sorting of experiencing into good and bad. That's the goal of sitting meditation, to simply sit--to exist as a human person--without evaluation. To sit "as a mountain," where the clouds of mental evaluation drift past without our clinging to them. To sit, to exist, still and tranquil--non-neurotically.
The Christian vision is to transfer the evaluation of the self from the human sphere to the divine, to experience yourself as loved by God. To be found in Christ. To store your treasures--what you value--in heaven rather than on earth. And when you receive yourself from God in this way, your neurotic concern about "what people think" attenuates. For Christians, the experience of grace breaks the anxious sickness of neuroses. (This is, incidentally, a theme in my book The Slavery of Death.)