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  • Preface
  • Peter L. Rudnytsky

Despite the undeniable centrality of Freud's Jewish identity to his life and work, this centrality was predicated on an experience of marginality. From his earliest years in Freiberg where he attended Mass with his Czech nanny to the bitter end in Vienna and then London, Freud lived in a world dominated by Christianity, and by the extremely conservative Austrian Catholic church in particular.

Thus, when Freud writes about religion, in The Future of an Illusion and elsewhere, it is above all what he terms "the final form taken by our present-day white Christian civilization" (1927, 20) that he has in mind. Jews, to be sure, are credited with the establishment of monotheism, from which Christianity is a "cultural regression" insofar as it "reestablished the great mother-goddess and found room to introduce many of the divine figures of polytheism only lightly veiled" (1939, 88). But even here, in Moses and Monotheism, Freud argues that Christianity, by virtue of being a "return of the repressed" in its acknowledgment of the guilt incurred by the primal patricide, is "an advance and from that time on the Jewish religion was to some extent a fossil" (88).

Just as Freud's polemics against religion, epitomized by his lament in Civilization and Its Discontents that "the whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone friendly to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life" (1930, 74), are aimed most squarely at Christianity, so too those who have sought to combat Freud's atheism while remaining on psychoanalytic ground—from Oscar Pfister and Romain Rolland in his own day to Paul Ricoeur, W. W. Meissner, and Ana-Maria Rizzuto in ours—have almost always been Christian apologists.

Insofar as religion is to be approached analytically, Rizzuto makes the important point that "the psychic rules that facilitate belief must also condition unbelief" (1998, 233), and therefore [End Page 1] neither atheism nor faith should be exempt from scrutiny. Of all the things I find to criticize about Freud, however, his attitude toward religion is not one of them; and I must dispute Rizzuto's notion (purportedly backed by clinical "research") that "positive attachment resulting from adequate maternal satisfaction of the small child's narcissistic and relational needs . . . creates the conditions of trust that later facilitates belief in God" (235). I do agree with Winnicott, in the words ascribed to him by Clare Winnicott, that "the capacity to believe is much more important than what you believe" (Rudnytsky 1991, 181); but it surely makes a difference whether one believes in gravity or flying saucers, and I would submit the burden of proof falls on those who would persuade us that their faith in a Supreme Being is an illusion in Winnicott's benign rather than in Freud's pejorative sense.

This issue of American Imago, brought to fruition with the steadfast collaboration of my coeditor Vera Camden, a past president of the John Bunyan Society and a newly certified member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, features three articles that combine formidable learning with theoretical acumen powerfully to illuminate as well as to interrogate some of the most fundamental texts and tenets of the Christian tradition. The author of our first contribution, William Shuter, unfortunately died in the interval between the acceptance and publication of his paper. His essay, "Sharing Our Humanity: The Psychological Power of the Catholic Mass," notes that the Mass is divided into two principal parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Shuter's thesis is that the transition from one to the other entails a "psychological regression" from "more recent" to "more archaic" levels of mental life, and that in the latter "the meaning of the Mass is communicated at least as much preverbally as verbally." As a "sacrificial ritual" if not a "ritual sacrifice," the Mass "activates the functions of the superego" by reenacting Christ's death, "which in turn recalls the oedipal rivalry from which the consolidated superego originally arose."

While not oblivious to preoedipal currents in the experience of the Mass...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 1-6
Launched on MUSE
2006-04-05
Open Access
No
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