By Barry Taylor
When Freud published his landmark book Civilisation and it’s Discontents in 1930, it became one of his most important works. The original German title translated more literally as, Uneasiness in Civilisations and perhaps captures the central issue of the book, which was the tension between the human desire and pursuit of individuality and the pressure of social conformity. How we solve this dilemma is central to Freud’s work.
'Life is difficult' was his starting point and as humans we create a number of ways to deal with it. He called these palliatives and named four key ideas by which we attempt to find peace or calm or respite from the challenges of life. Sexual love, art, intoxicants and religion were what he termed the four main palliatives. The book examines how these ideas play out in our lives both positively and negatively. We need relief from life’s challenge, Freud argues, but there are dangers when palliatives become the dominant reality by which we make our life choices.
Our new course, Faith Without Illusions: Sex, Drugs, Art and God, is an exploration of Freud’s ideas and how they might play out in our lives today. Freud was harsh in his critique of religion as illusion and fantasy, as an escape from reality which he viewed as unhelpful, if not dangerous. But he was aware that it also spoke to an ‘oceanic feeling’ inside of us, how might we understand the role of these four palliatives and is it possible to practice a faith without illusion? We think that the future of faith lies in that direction and the focus of our course is how to reconsider and reframe faith for the 21st century.
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