I believe those who say that religion is ineradicable in humans, especially so long as humans fear the dark, death and the unknown, may very well be correct. I remain convinced that Freud was right, certainly regarding a substantial amount of the religious, in The Future of an Illusion wherein he explained that religion, as it was and is predominately being manifested, is the product of wish fulfillments, these being the cheapest forms of emotions and ambitions. That it is the product, the resolving manifestation, of the fear of an impersonal and random nature. As Freud says: “Man’s self-regard, seriously menaced, calls for consolation; life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors.” These terrors which are inculcated by nature, specifically the anxiety of helplessness, are resolved by humanizing them, by ascribing the random, impersonal, many times unjust and frightful machinery of nature human characteristics; such as will, intelligence, emotion and justice.
It is Freud’s theory that so long as humanity experiences such an anxiety of helplessness, such a burdensome fear of death, the dark and the unknown so shall there be religion. I am certainly in agreement, however, I am of the opinion that there are a number of reasons that may incite religious belief and behavior beyond wish fulfilling.
Another theory, of which I am skeptical of and of which Freud later dealt with in the beginning of Civilization and Its Discontents, is that the religious impulse emanates from a particular feeling. A feeling which a friend of Freud’s called “a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded – as it were, ‘oceanic’.” Freud’s friend went on to claim that this feeling was a subjective truth, it did not require faith to accept. However, it did not assure one of immortality, or any of the other illusions of religion, it merely brought forth the energy with which organized religion then buttressed such articles of faith to.
Freud first responds, as do I, that no such feeling is recognizable to him. He then provides a long and thorough explanation outlining an individuals’ development of a sense of ego, or “ego-feeling” as he phrased it, and the fact that such an ego is only a minute portion of the entire mental apparatus of the unconscious. He goes on explaining that an infant is not yet aware of its ego as distinguished from the external world and only through experience of sensations is such a distinction realized and made conscious. Meaning that, regarding sensations and feelings, the ego originally included everything, only later separating the external world from itself. Freud says “Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive – indeed, an all embracing – feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world about it.” The implication of this being that in some people such a primary ego-feeling may persist to a greater or lesser degree and, if so, it would exist along side the more distinct “demarcated ego-feeling of maturity,” the “ideational contents” of which would be identical to the feelings of limitlessness and of the ‘oceanic’ feeling thus accounting for the natural origins of such a religious impulse; an impulse Paul Kurtz has appropriately labeled “the transcendental temptation.”