Against Wholeness: The Ego's Complicity in Religion
Gay, Volney Patrick
Many students of religion suggest that wholeness or the attainment of an integrated self is an especially valuable goal whose attainment marks a moment of religious insight. Theoreticians like Jung, Allport, and Maslow strongly support this belief. Freud does not. To reconcile the two camps one must either drop Freud altogether or confine his critique of religion to an attack upon neurotic religion, or more exactly, religion based upon superego functioning. One could then claim that healthy religion is a function of the ego, e.g., the ego's tendency towards integrated functioning and the attainment of "wholeness." I argue that this ploy, which is itself a function of an egosyntonic desire for wholeness, is altogether wrong. It misrepresents Freud's ego psychology and it therefore misrepresents his critique of the ego's role in religion as well. First, his theoretical, as opposed to his literary, critique of religion is also a critique of certain characteristics of the ego. Second, these characteristics, especially the ego-syntonic drive towards feelings of wholeness, are functions of the ego's obedience to repetition compulsion. Third, the later texts on religion cannot be understood apart from their roots in Freud's earliest theory of ego functioning, especially the physicalist program he developed in his "Project" of 1895. The ego creates and takes part in religious dramas which present an illusory world of wholeness and completion of self. But as the seat of reality testing it must pierce the veils as quickly and as repeatedly as it weaves them. We look in the things we count for an order we can follow in the counting, beginning here and going on this way to end up there; but usually this order is more or less arbitrary, our choice of a sequence where none is unmistakably present. Telling a story we may likewise want to follow the natural succession of events. But it is not in the nature of things that they always come one after another in time; it is owing to the arbitrariness of language that they have to come one after another in the telling.
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