Have you heard of Freud’s Last Session? It’s a popular off-Broadway play in which C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate love, sex, morality, and God. Since it has not come through here on tour, I read the book: The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. It’s not an easy read, but it compares their lives and worldviews in a fascinating manner.
Freud predated Lewis by some years, but their youthful feelings on the topics of sexuality and religion, as well as their experiences (early loss of vitally important figures in their life) give them similar footing. There are massive distinctions in them in their approach to life and how much pleasure (or lack of it) life gave them. Each when young pursued fame with great ambition, clung to atheism that left them unhappy, and eventually came famous… Freud for his achievements, Lewis for his remarkable understanding of theology. While Freud lived and died a chronically depressed atheist, Lewis overcame depression and one could tell he was in a room simply by the “riotous laughter” coming out of it.
The book has endured criticism for its author favoring the side of Lewis… but in comparing these two lives, how can you not? Freud proves himself to be an arrogant, unforgiving soul whose partings from friends and colleagues is never amiable and often concludes with bitter and harsh words of condemnation. Lewis changed from a bitter, depressed man into one far more outwardly focused and happy, even when faced with tragic loss. Freud was terrified of death. C.S. Lewis was not. Freud took his own life with the assistance of his physician; Lewis embraced death as “his time.”
What the book asks us to compare a life of faith with that of atheism. It is not an exploration of whether or not God exists (though there are good arguments for and against) so much as the result a belief in God has upon an individual life. So why choose Lewis and Freud? Because they are both highly influential in their field and each came from a similar state of mind. Lewis’ simply changed over time.
The conclusion one reaches is not that God definitely exists, or definitely doesn’t, but that believing in Him had a significant impact on Lewis, just as not-believing had a significant impact on Freud. So what are we left with? Some have said that individual happiness (or misery, in the case of Freud) is not a good argument for God. Yet, how could it not be? How could such peace and faith prevail even when faced with devastating loss? Lewis suffered the death of his wife and both parents of cancer. While he wrestled mightily with God (illustrated in The Problem of Pain), he never lost his faith; in fact, once he stopped “trying to kick the door down” (“ask, and it shall be opened to you”) he found a sense of comfort that Freud never had in the loss of his favorite daughter and grandson.
Freud did not believe in God, had no purpose other than fame, and lived and died in depression, misery, and despair. Lewis embraced a belief there is meaning in life and was happy in spite of suffering. Happiness cannot be built on a foundation of uselessness. Freud had no belief in life that would allow him to believe he was in any way important, or that his actions carried significance.
How completely sad.
Is the absence of bitterness, despair, and depression a suitable indication that Christianity, rather than robbing us of our freedom, does in fact sustain, deepen, and improve on it? Much is said about the “evils” of mass faith, yet when it is adopted into a single life, few can argue that it does not improve that life significantly. In the lives of individuals, it has proven to be an enriching experience with a result of far more human kindness than a life chosen to believe nothing exists outside oneself.
Putting aside all theology, is that not a reasonable argument for faith? ♥