THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 11, September, 1948
(Pages 513-517; Size: 15K)
(Number 5 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
V: FREUDIANISM VS. RELIGION
WHILE it is an oversimplification to state that the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud have become a structural part of the modern mind, it is nonetheless true that the influence of the Viennese psychoanalyst has been a profound catalytic agent in molding the thinking of the whole western world. Freud did not accomplish this single-handed. Heir to the "liberated" research and re-thinking of the human dilemma that followed the Renaissance, Freud carried the new point of view boldly into matters of personal psychology. He raised questions which no others quite dared to ask concerning the propensities of the human mind, in a manner similar to that employed by Darwin in his relentless analysis of biological evolution, and, like Darwin, Freud soon became the spearhead for a growing movement of opinion which in turn shocked and inspired.
Every student of psychology knows there is a vast difference between Freud's actual theories and their popular and distorted derivatives. More important, however, than any of Freud's theories, is the use made of him by the general public. For in the final analysis we must seek the understanding of the modern mind, not in the work of any theorist, whether ignoble or inspired, but in the apparently imponderable why of popular adaptation. Freud, like Darwin, moved the world of mind because enough men wanted to be moved, were waiting to find an impetus, and felt that the new theories provided a feasible point of departure for things that they might derive satisfaction from believing.
One of the clearest explanations of "Freudian" belief is to be found in Macneile Dixon's Human Situation, although the author was discussing neither Freud nor psychology per se:Christianity took upon itself an intellectual burden never contemplated by its Founder, a burden it was unfitted to bear. For the souls afraid, mortally afraid of life -- and how many they be, and have reason to be -- Christianity came with healing in its wings. But to the lovers of life and the world, fascinated by the wide range of its vital and vivid interests, its sunlit landscape, the brave show of its human figures and enterprises, Christianity had no clear message.The reason for the "silence" was simple enough; Christian theology made one un-retractable pronouncement -- that all of the impulses of the flesh were evil. This having been said, there was little else to say on the matter of "love." Remained but the matter of classifying the types and seriousness of sins, and of trying to establish a reputation for formal virtue by means of repressing "fleshly desires." (The early Church, be it noted by the way, was consistent enough to see that this doctrine applied not alone to relations between the opposite sexes but to all matters of sensuous enjoyment, i.e., the production and appreciation of all art forms which represented the body or the emotions in other than morbid fashion. This offers a logical enough reason why Greek forms of art were banned until after the first successful surge of the rebellious Renaissance.) Repression for the sake of personal merit, once condemned by Patanjali and other Eastern Sages, was the keynote of theological morality, and led to every form of rationalized and unrationalized sexual and emotional perversion. Freud, as a young Viennese doctor, participated in an investigation of hysteria which revealed to him the extent to which mental maladies were correlated with conflicting feelings of lust and guilt, and these he guardedly referred to an origin in Christian theology. He talked openly of sex in a fashion shocking to many of his medical contemporaries, being himself dedicated to the belief that only when false prudery was eliminated would man come to have a healthy regard for the total human being and thus be able to prevent unnecessary insanity.
Take a single illustration. Let us ask, 'What has Christianity to say of love between the sexes?' -- surely a subject of central importance. Apparently not a word, or a derogatory word. Yet here you have a subject which more than any other has occupied the attention of the poets and artists, indeed all mankind, which gives rise to half, and more than half, of all the pains and pleasures of life, plays a leading part in every activity, creates family relationships, running through human existence like the veins through the body, omnipresent, entering into association with every side of our conduct and on every day we live, leading to crimes, treacheries, self-sacrifice, heroism, eternally occupying the thoughts of society, and present in all its conversations. Upon this transcendent theme with its endless ethical ramifications, a strange silence reigns in the Christian documents.
Men and women were ready for some version of the Freudian thesis principally because they were tired of a "repression" they could not understand nor feel to be valuable.
The earliest exponents of Freudianism were, in the early days of martyrdom for the new sect, primarily "lovers of life," and only secondarily researchers into the roots of common mental disorders. That is, they trusted what they thought to be the goodness and beauty of all natural processes, and believed that morbid psychological states were the result of fearing life rather than an inevitable part of human existence. They distrusted any theological notion which proclaimed the innate depravity of man, the pre-ordained unseemliness of all sexual expression and the desirability of fear. Freud's theories, again like Darwin's, extended rather than lessened human stature in the minds of his disciples. Whatever might be discovered was good because it was true. If Darwin showed that men were closely related to animals, why, how good it was to recognize a further closer kinship among all creatures; if Freud showed that sex was inextricably intertwined with nearly all human activity, why, how good it was to know this so that we might more intelligently deal with our passions and conflicts!
To rid oneself and then society of fear -- how noble a goal! The new world was to strive to become brave and natural. Yet, somewhere, something went wrong. In the field of human relationships a great many dimensions of life were overlooked, not so much by Freud, as is often assumed -- although his starting-points, in reasoning about the nature of man, were undoubtedly materialistic -- nor by Darwin, but by the eager enthusiasts who borrowed rather than helped to create the "new and healthy view." Freud's frank discussions of sex in all of its phases were taken as justification for the avowal of frank sensualism. And the brave new world did not become happy through its rather licentious interpretation of Freud's admonition to "escape from the inhibitions of the super-ego." These were, in Freud's terms, the perverted repressions of feeling, generated in a culture possessing a false moral structure. Freud believed simply that many poor inhibitions needed to be traded for a few useful ones. Yet popular Freudism finally found a peculiarly warped expression among hundreds of thousands of the well-to-do, who excused an increasing use of intoxicants and an increasing marital infidelity on the ground that they must "forget inhibitions."
It has been the old, old story of a structure demolished by artisans as yet poorly schooled in the technique of erecting a new edifice. It is just as "natural" to feel that moral ideals are involved in all questions pertaining to sex as it is to rebel against the rule-of-thumb morality manufactured by medieval theology. To neglect to choose all psycho-physiological experiences with an eye to the constructive purpose to be achieved is to deny a hearing to a most important part of one's self, just as did the unnatural repressions of authoritarian morality in an earlier epoch. Yet, in the modern world, where is it possible to find a balance between these extremes? The educators have divided themselves into two warring camps. On the one hand we have Bertrand Russell, and on the other, Reinhold Niebuhr; or, John Dewey versus Robert Hutchins. Bernard Shaw counters the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, finally, the "free love" protagonist Wilhelm Reich opposes Pope Pius XII. On a grand scale we have the Gandhian civilization of self-denial versus the American civilization of self-enjoyment. All of these contrasts are between world views directly pertinent to the proper use of man's capacity to live constructively in a sensuous world. It is a debate that rages within art, music and literature, reflected in the differing values of the various schools of authors, painters and musicians. Where is the synthesis? For only a synthesis can save our sanity. Unthinking indulgence, whether it be in the notion of our own irresponsibility as God's sinful creatures or in common sensual license, is productive of a further increase of psycho-neuroticism.
The soul and the body have to be able to get along in brotherly fashion, and this cannot happen until man in his inner life strikes the true balance between the spiritual and the sensuous worlds. The problem is lodged in the mind of the age, but focusses in the internal confusion of the single individual. Where is man's real life to be lived? "Our world," wrote H. P. Blavatsky, "is an artificial one." Yet this world is not absolute illusion, but rather reality in curious disguise.
Theosophy is thus a system of "objective Idealism." Although the present objective Universe is but an evanescent clothing for the real world of mind, "esoteric philosophy ... draws a practical distinction between collective illusion ... and the objective relations in it between various conscious Egos so long as this illusion lasts." The conditions which provide the soul with an area of experience and interaction with other souls are necessary to evolution. The Secret Doctrine does not concede reality to either Spirit or Matter as separate from each other, for it teaches that "in the manifested Universe there is 'that' which links spirit to matter, subject to object." This connecting force, in the individual, is mind. By its power to create and outlive relative illusions, the mind links the soul to the body and personality.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
THE RACE OF IMMORTALITY
Nature never leaves her work unfinished; if baffled at the first attempt, she tries again. When she evolves a human embryo, the intention is that a man shall be perfected -- physically, intellectually, and spiritually. His body is to grow mature, wear out, and die; his mind unfold, ripen, and be harmoniously balanced; his divine spirit illuminate and blend easily with the inner man. No human being completes its grand cycle, or the "circle of necessity," until all these are accomplished. As the laggards in a race struggle and plod in their first quarter while the victor darts past the goal, so, in the race of immortality, some souls outspeed all the rest and reach the end, while their myriad competitors are toiling under the load of matter, close to the starting point. Some unfortunates fall out entirely, and lose all chance of the prize; some retrace their steps and begin again.
The cause of reincarnation is ignorance of our senses, and the idea that there is any reality in the world, anything except abstract existence. Thus, like the revolutions of a wheel, there is a regular succession of death and birth, the moral cause of which is the cleaving to existing objects, while the instrumental cause is karma (the power which controls the universe, prompting it to activity), merit and demerit.
MIND OF THE AGE
VI: THE SUSCEPTIBILITY TO FASCISM
(Part 6 of a 15-part series)
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