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JPII and St. Nicholas

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Freud and JPII revisited

Rarely does one find in the writings of St. John Paul II warnings about specific individuals identified by name. More often than not, Karol Wojtyla drew the good out of whatever intellectual argument he encountered and put it to the service of the Gospel without pause. In the case of Sigmund Freud, however, there are numerous warnings from Wojtyla written before, and during, his papacy. While he still is able to draw some ‘converging’[1] points between Freudian psychoanalysis and Christ's judgment, by and large he notes a substantial ‘divergence’ with Christ's Redemption—entirely contradictory to the Christian message. Indeed, he numbers Freud among three perennially influential thinkers of the 20th century (Nietzche, Marx, and Freud)—all of whom he notes have a substantial ‘divergence’ with Christ's Redemption.

Referring to a French philosopher’s work on the three aforementioned thinkers, Wojtyla identifies in his Theology of the Body the “Masters of Suspicion”[2] who essentially accuse the human person of three corresponding forms of lust without affirming the personal dignity due to human beings. A crucial point Wojtyla makes is that these men, including--and especially Freud, systematize the human person into categories for use rather than as an individual created for his/her own sake. Even in his Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla refers to ‘Freudian Libido’ as “Frank and straightforward utilitarianism”[3].

It could be argued that Freud’s ‘system of thought’ concerning the human person is far broader than just his understanding and insistence on libido. But in reality, his entire theory is based upon the ‘pleasure principle’[4] and the unconscious motivations of the Id as analyzed chiefly in dreams[5]. While not condemning Freud outright, Wojtyla warns of the contradictions between his system and the Redemption. In light of the damaging effects of Sigmund Freud’s influence on the modern world, to say that somehow his system of thinking is entirely acceptable or even remotely beneficial to personalism is inconceivable.

The chief damaging effect of Freudian thought is what Wojtyla calls a “hermeneutic of suspicion”. It corresponds with St. John’s 1st Letter, 2:15-16 on concupiscence or “lust of the flesh”, again in St. John Paul II’s own words “theology of lust”[6]. This is problematic for modern man because it puts him in a state of constant “accusation and suspicion” regarding lust, without escape. The Pope goes so far as to say that man is unjustly placed in such an indefinite state by Freud’s diagnosis, “ Man cannot stop at putting the heart in a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the lust of the flesh and libido, which among other things, a psychoanalyst perceives by analyzing the unconscious”. And the Pope’s footnote for this passage further explains, “Then that ‘core’ or ‘heart’ of man would be dominated by the union between the erotic and the destructive, and life would consist in satisfying them.”[7] This is no small warning! Here, very clearly, Wojtyla is sounding the alarm against a truly destructive ideology that is quite literally in the air we breathe today (mass media, public policy, legislation, etc.). Unlike Freud, of course, St. John Paul II offers the “ethos of Redemption” as the remedy for such destruction. He offers a way out of the “hermeneutic of suspicion”, that so plagues a society convinced of Freud’s theory of Libido.

Another unavoidable example (on account of its influence) is Freud’s emphasis on the “Oedipal Complex”[8] whereby a child’s instinct is against his father and for his mother. Freud even cites examples of ancient peoples who cannibalized the father figure so as to gain his power[9], etc. Wojtyla would have been all too familiar with the former of these ideas since he himself translated a version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex [10] into polish as a student. He also identifies the root of original sin as being fundamentally in rebellion with the Father.

Something I have written about before, and use as another example, is the difference between St. Paul and St. John’s understanding of the human person versus Freud’s. I admit that much of this is my own interpretation, and I do not claim to have Karol Wojtyla’s endorsement. However, even in his footnote about Freud’s Abriss der Psychoanalyse I referenced from Theology of the Body, he hints at the difference between Freudian and Pauline/Johannine terminology: ‘heart’ vs. ‘core’ or ‘ego’; ‘lust’ vs. ‘libido’, ‘Flesh’ vs. ‘Id’, etc. Freud is a modernist in the sense of his success at literally wiping out the use of traditional forms of reference for the human person in favor of his own system: Id—Ego—Superego. He has been so influential on intellectuals, in fact, that any use of the former terms like heart, lust, etc. is viewed as naiveté and with condescension. In the secular world, Christians are forced to accept the pervasiveness of lust dismissed as unconscious libido and the ridicule of chastity as freedom from repression.



Lastly--By way of testimony, this topic is particularly close to my heart. I was once a staunch defender of Freudian psychology fascinated by Jim Morrison’s incorporation of Freud into his music. I read Interpretation of Dreams and I invested all of my intellectual energy in living out Freud’s system of the human person. Then I read the Theology of the Body… And I’m not talking about Christopher West’s watered down version. I am talking about St. John Paul II’s own words.

I experienced more interior freedom from his section on the “Masters of Suspicion” vs. the “Ethos of Redemption” than I ever have in my whole life! I was freed from the Freudian ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ that I had so willingly bought into; was possessed and dominated by. It originally manifested itself in me not just with a subjective guilt but also an accusation of others, indeed a ‘suspicion’ of the libido of others as motivation for all of their thoughts and actions—this is Freud’s influence on the layman. But then I read these words by Wojtyla: “man is called and called with efficacy to an ethos of redemption and not left merely in a state of accusation”. I cannot overstate the freedom and truth that accompany this gift of insight from Karol Wojtyla in opposition to Sigmund Freud! It affected every way in which I viewed the world from that point on. It affected the very core of my being in a convincing and lasting way, assuring me that creation was good and that man is indeed “very good”. Subject to original sin, yes, but with the grace of baptism—called and transformed! This is why I am so passionate about this topic, and will not meet any endorsement of Freud whatsoever with immediate approval or unquestioned acceptance.


[1] John Paul II, Pope. Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan with Foreword by John S. Grabowski. Pauline Books: Boston, 1997. p. 166

[2] Ibid. Reference is to Paul Ricoeur, Le conflit des interpretations (Paris: Seuil, 1969), pp. 149-150.

[3] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility: “The Libinistic Interpretation”; Ignatius: San Francisco p. 61

[4] Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover: New York, 1920

[5] Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Wordsworth Classics: New York, 2000.

[6] John Paul II, Pope. Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan with Foreword by John S. Grabowski. Pauline Books: Boston, 1997. p. 166.

[7] Footnote from Theology of the Body p.167 for S. Freud. Abriss der Psychoanalyse, Das Unbehagen der Kultur. Frankfurt-M. Hamburg: Fisher, 1955, pp. 74-75.

[8] Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover: New York, 1920.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Nota Bene: Freud erroneously assumes that Oedipus was unconsciously acting against his father and for his mother when the tragedy itself makes clear that he had no evidence of either. That is to say that Oedipus killed a man he did not know was his father at all, and married a woman he did not know was his mother. One could just as easily argue for a Orestes’ complex whereby a child acts against his mother and for his father—and probably have more evidence from the myth since Orestes’ willingly killed his mother, etc.

1 comment:

Acton said...

http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2015/05/20/moral-limits-psychology