The Question of God (2004) PBS

The Question of God, Program One (1/2)

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Program One (1/2)



Narrator: All over the world people are asking the same questions:

What does it mean to love your neighbor? Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? What does it take to be a moral person? Is there a god?

A man who has spent his life exploring these questions is Dr. Armand Nicholi, a Harvard University professor and practicing psychiatrist.

His lectures and seminars draw on the lives of Sigmund Freud — the founder of psychoanalysis and an atheist — and C.S. Lewis, the most influential voice of faith in our time.

Armand Nicholi: Why Freud and Lewis? Well, few individuals have influenced the moral fabric of contemporary Western civilization more than Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.

Lewis: We mortals have a root in the absolute. We yearn for that unity which we can never reach except by ceasing to be separate beings called we.

Narrator: In Dr. Nicholi's seminar, C.S. Lewis the believer and Sigmund Freud the atheist are brought together in debate.

Freud: It has been my life's work to show man that his beliefs and his behavior are rooted not in divine truth but in his own childhood fears and desires.

Narrator: For this series Dr. Nicholi invited a panel of seven thoughtful men and women to grapple with the fundamental riddle of our existence.

Armand Nicholi: Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. We make one of two basic assumptions. We view the universe as an accident or we assume an intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and for some of us, meaning to life.

Louis Massiah: To me there is an order for the way things are and — and uh, the central question is whether you want to say that the orderer is God. That's — that's another thing.

Margaret Klenck: Can I jump in for a second? I think that, that —

Louis Massiah: Order.

Margaret Klenck: Order doesn't necessarily mean intelligence. And intelligence you know, consciousness —

Narrator: Throughout the series we will move from their debate into episodes from the lives of Freud and Lewis. The panel will discuss issues of faith and doubt in their own lives.

Frederick Lee: Uh, a large part of me, at many times for a lot of reasons, has wanted to not believe because it would be so much easier in many ways.

Jeremy Fraiberg: The question is, I think, for me anyway, to what extent can somebody foist their beliefs on others or claim that their beliefs are true and that your beliefs are false? True for you or true for all?

Margaret Klenck: I've experienced God, and I can talk from my experience, and I can trust, as you say, and I have surrendered to that trust.

Michael Shermer: Naturalism is my philosophy. That all, all phenomenon have natural explanations. There is no supernatural, there's just the natural and stuff we can't yet explain.

Doug Holladay: We're all betting on something and we have incomplete information to place that bet.

Winifred Gallagher: Ever since I've been a little girl, I've had very powerful experiences of God's presence.

Armand Nicholi: Let's look at these early life experiences as they occurred in Lewis and Freud's lives.

Sigmund Freud: Golden Child

Despite his upbringing, sudden poverty and early scientific encounters lead Sigmund away from religion.

Narrator: The man who would become an atheist was raised in a world steeped in religious belief. His home was a small town where — like so many towns in the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe — a community of Jews lived among a majority of Catholics.

Freud: It is not easy to recall those early days. Only a few fragments reach into my memory, but one thing I am certain: deep within me, there continues to live the happy child from Freiberg, the son of a youthful mother, the boy who received from this air, from this soil, the first indelible impressions.

Narrator: The Freuds were a traditional Jewish family who lived in Freiberg — a distant outpost of the Austrian Empire. There Jacob Freud traded in the wool business. Twice a widower when he met Amalia, they were married and had their first son in 1856. The young mother doted on the boy she called her golden child.

Freud: I have found that people who know they are favored by their mother give evidence in their lives of an unshakable optimism which often seems like heroic attributes and brings actual success to their possessors.

Narrator: For Sigmund — as for everyone at that time — religion, education and family were woven together.

Freud: I was still a young boy when my father started to teach me to read using the Bible to instruct me in both German and the Hebrew of our ancestors.

Harold Blum: Freud had a very close relationship with his father. He was home instructed probably till almost the age of nine. And as he wrote later, Freud became very immersed in the Bible and in studies of the Bible. He identified with significant figures in the Bible. I'll just mention two that were very important. One was Joseph, who interpreted the Pharaoh's dreams, and Freud later became the interpreter of dreams. The other one was Moses, a very powerful identification with Moses. I think he saw himself as a kind of modern Moses bringing a new understanding to humanity.

Narrator: The young Sigmund felt the strong emotion of faith from his nursemaid — a devout Catholic.

Freud: My nanny was an elderly but clever woman from the town, who told me a great deal about God Almighty and Hell. She took me to church. When I got home, I would preach and tell my family what God Almighty does.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto: He lost the nanny abruptly. He was told that she was caught stealing, supposedly from him, a story that to me is not believable. Something else must have happened, but we don't know what. The story he was told is that she was sent to jail for ten months. He was quite desperate about her disappearance. He turned to his father as someone to help him and be with him replacing the companionship, affection, that the nurse had provided for him. However, catastrophe happened once more.

Freud: The branch of industry in which my father was concerned collapsed. He lost all his means and we were forced to leave Freiberg and move to Vienna.

Rizzuto: So they changed from this little town, in which they had a comfortable, good enough life, accepted, respected, to the ghetto of Vienna. And there the father was unable to earn a living. And from that moment on they had poverty.

Narrator: The one hope in this new, diminished life was their gifted son Sigmund. But his future presented a dilemma. Jacob Freud wanted to maintain his son's religious heritage — yet he also wanted him to succeed in the secular world outside the ghetto.

Sander Gilman: His father hired a tutor, and that tutor gave him some rudimentary lessons in biblical Hebrew, so he could read prayers. In retrospect, he sees this as a kind of a — part of his secularization, because the man who teaches him, a man named Hammerschlag, is, in point of fact, a secular Jew and Freud becomes a great friend of the family as he grows up.

Freud: A spark from the same fire which animated the spirit of the great Jewish seers and prophets burned in Hammerschlag. Religious instruction served him as a way of educating the young toward love of the humanities. He made Jewish history flow out far beyond the limitations of nationalism or dogma.

Narrator: Sigmund easily won admission to secondary school. There he would enter a whole new life.

Ismar Schorsch: The second half of the 19th century is distinguished by the war between science and religion. That was not always the case. Newton was a deeply religious man. Kepler said, "I think your thoughts, oh, God."

Blum: The more and more natural phenomenon were explained in a scientific way rather than supernaturally, the more religion felt threatened. And I heard one clergyman say that belief in miracles began to subside with the invention of the electric light bulb, that ... let there be light.

Narrator: The new teaching captivated his imagination.

Freud: I felt an overpowering need to understand something of the riddles of the world in which we live and perhaps, even to contribute something to their solution. I came to know all the fields of science. But to which of them would I choose to dedicate my life?

C.S. Lewis: Surprised By Joy

"Jack's" idyllic boyhood is marred by his mother's death and his father's volatile grief.

Narrator: Clive Staples Lewis tells us his own life story with a purpose — his is a journey toward belief in God. He was born in 1898, 42 years after Freud.

He grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His grandfather was a Protestant minister. His father Albert, a lawyer. His mother Flora was a mathematician.

Walter Hooper: In 1907, they moved into Little Lee, which Albert had built for his wife. And there they were a very happy family. I think Flora knew her son better than the father did. She gave him a good foundation in Latin, and in French, and in English.

Narrator: When he was five, Lewis told his family that he would no longer answer to the name of "Clive." They were to call him "Jack."

Lewis: I am a product of empty sunlit rooms, indoor silences, attics explored in solitude ... Here my first stories were written and illustrated. They were an attempt to combine my two chief literary pleasures: dressed animals and knights in armor.

Narrator: Jack and his older brother, Warren, spent all their time together — playmates and companions. Together they made a magical private world.

Lewis: Once in those very early days my brother Warren brought into the nursery a box, which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers. That was the first beauty I ever knew.

It made me aware of nature — as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant.

Everything seems like a dream, anything seems possible, and all sorts of ideas float through your mind.

Lewis: It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure, something, as they would now say, in another dimension. It was a sensation of desire. But before I knew what I desired, the desire was gone ... the world turned commonplace again.

Narrator: Throughout his life, Lewis would often remember the feeling aroused in him by the toy garden. He named that feeling Joy.

James Como: There's a pang of desire that this garden brings back as though he once was someplace which is now beyond his reach. It's lost to him. And he wants desperately to return to that.

Lewis: I must now turn to a great loss that befell our family when my mother became ill. There were voices and comings and goings all over the house. Our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises.

... I remembered what I'd been taught — that prayers offered in faith would be granted. I set myself to produce by will power a firm belief that my prayers for her recovery would be successful.

The thing hadn't worked.

Lewis: With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. And there has never been really any sense of security and snuggness since. I've not quite succeeded in growing up on that point. There is still too much of mommy's lost, little boy about me. My father's good qualities as well as his weaknesses incapacitated him for the task of bringing up two noisy and mischievous schoolboys.

Hooper: Albert was distraught. Now, we all know that if possible, the survivor needs to be strong for the children. But in this case, I think the children were simply partly devastated by the fact that not only had their mother died, but their father was falling apart in front of them.

Lewis: One day my brother made a tent. He used a dustsheet from the attic and a stepladder taken from the house and turned into tent poles.

My father came home from work. Then the lightning flashed and the thunder roared.

He said he would close the house and we should be sent away to America.

Being still a boy, I believed in these threats. I would awake at night and if I did not immediately hear my brothers' breathing from the neighboring bed, I often suspected my father and he had secretly risen while I slept and gone off to America — that I was finally abandoned.

... No more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.

Como: The most heart-wrenching episode in all of Lewis's literature, I think, happens in "The Magician's Nephew." When the little boy picks the apple that Aslan sent him for, and, knows that his mother lies dying at home in England and realizes that this magic apple could cure her. And the witch says, "Take it. Take just a slice of it. The Lion will never know. And it will cure your mother." But the little boy, Diggery, doesn't do it. He brings it back to Aslan and is so surprised when Aslan gives him a piece and says, "Take it back." Well, the little boy takes the apple back to his dying mother and gives it to her. And we see ... the middle-aged C.S. Lewis writing in his book of fantasy what he couldn't achieve in life.

Narrator: Jack Lewis was sent to boarding school in England. He had lost his mother and been abandoned by his father — and the faith that had failed him.

A Trancendent Experience

Armand Nicholi:  Is it possible that we all experience what Lewis calls "joy" — these periodic, extraordinarily intense feelings of longing for something or someone and mistake it for something else? For having the perfect career? Or winning the Nobel Prize? Or having the perfect marriage? Do you think that this is universal? Have you experienced it?

Margaret Klenck: I certainly think there's a universal human drive for wholeness, for internal unity and unity with the universe, I think it's a religious instinct, if we can call it that way, not an organized religious instinct.

Armand Nicholi: Well, how much did that play a role in your own worldview?

Margaret Klenck: I think I was encouraged as a child to take stock of all the experiences I was having, and not just the intellectual ones. So I think I was sort of raised to understand that I could make decisions based on things that were not intellectual. So that started the worldview. But as I have grown up, it's deepened my sense that we all have an organic drive towards the Other — capital "O." I mean, we're born into it, we're born as relational creatures. The first things we do is we look at our Mom's faces. We won't survive if we're not in relationship. And I think that's part of how we manifest this religious instinct, this instinct for the Other, that we are not sufficient unto ourselves as creatures and as beings.

Armand Nicholi: Are you saying that everyone has this instinctive drive for a relationship with a creator?

Margaret Klenck: I think so; yes, I would.

Armand Nicholi: Has anyone else experienced anything in their lives that might be categorized by this description that Lewis gives of joy?

Louis Massiah: The greatest moments that I've experienced spirituality have been seeing people who make that life commitment to sort of break the momentum of living in a capitalist society; who say, okay, I'm going to try to create order in this society. I'm going to use my life to try to create peace. That's the transformative moment for me. It's not — it's not in churches for me, it's an active engagement in the world.

Jeremy Fraiberg: I agree that giving yourself to others is uplifting and — and actually may make you happier than if you live only for yourself. And I believe that people experience connectedness to the world and to others and have these transcendent emotions. But does that say anything about the existence of the supernatural, or is that just a phenomenon that we as human beings experience?

Doug Holladay: See, I think it's that notion that we really have the spark of the divine. Every person you meet, whatever culture, background, when you take the time to listen to the stories, you see where God, the hound of heaven, has really been after that person or has touched that person. And they've never had a chance to share it because they would not even call themselves religious.

Michael Shermer: But this, this hound of heaven, this small voice, the spark — these are words trying to describe something.

Jeremy Fraiberg: To the extent that people do have these religious or spiritual experiences — whether you call it an oceanic feeling or transcendent experience, or some sense of connectedness — it's not clear, even if you label it spiritual, where that gets you.

Michael Shermer: For me, the scientific worldview generates that kind of feeling of transcendence. An early experience, I suppose would be Carl Sagan's Cosmos. I think Carl, more than anybody else, gave the feeling of the pure, emotional awe and wonder and joy at the miracle of life, and the Cosmos is so big and vast, and grains of sand, and we're just one. And it certainly generates in me a feeling of spirituality. I feel like a spiritual person, without a belief in God.

Armand Nicholi: Were you agnostic before, or did you have a spiritual worldview, and change from that to what you might call a scientific or secular worldview?

Michael Shermer: My philosophy is that all phenomenon have natural explanations. There is no supernatural, there's just the natural and stuff we can't yet explain. That's basically my position. Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism, and science as a worldview, I guess, to be honest, I just liked the people in science, and the scientists, and their books, and just the lifestyle, and the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with — just socially. It just felt more comfortable for me.

Doug Holladay: Was it a real clear, one day here, one day here?

Michael Shermer: No, a couple years.

Armand Nicholi: So it was a relationship-driven decision.

Michael Shermer: Not solely. The intellectual stuff and all that is part of it, but if you're going to be honest, it's not just reasoning your way to a position.

Doug Holladay: Well, how do you make sense of the other, now?

Michael Shermer: In reality, I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact.

Armand Nicholi: Well, as a psychiatrist, I think that we are primarily beings of feeling, more than of thought. And I think that most of our decisions are often — are made on the basis of what we feel instinctively. And so, I wonder, in all of us, how much of it we're influenced by people that we meet whom we admire and want to be like.

Sigmund Freud: The Revelation of Science

At university, Freud discovers science and a secular worldview, discarding religion for good.

Narrator: Freud's mentors were from the new world of science. In the early 1870s, scientists were trespassing on the traditional domain of religion. This rebellion against the established order appealed to the young, ambitious Sigmund Freud.

Sander Gilman: Freud enters into the university at a point where materialism, the notion that our bodies are collections of chemicals and chemical processes, has been victorious. The body now becomes something mechanical that can be understood through science, through lab science. I mean, this is a world in which realities of the body are at the center, not the metaphysics of the spirit.

Freud: The theories of Darwin, which were then of topical interest, strongly attracted me because they held out hopes of an extraordinary advance in our understanding of the world.

Gilman: He's a very smart guy, and he's reading the hot philosophers of the late 19th century. He reads Feuerbach, he reads or at least learns about Nietzsche. They argue that human beings have to be understood as biological entities in the world.

Narrator: Freud's passion was science. But the material world didn't replace his old love of the humanities. Along with biology and mathematics, he also chose a class on religious belief given by the philosopher Franz Brentano, a former Catholic priest.

Freud: Brentano demonstrates the existence of God with as little bias and as much precision as another might argue the advantage of the wave over the emission theory.

Gilman: Franz Brentano is one of the cult figures at the university when Freud is studying. He's a guy who has this kind of charisma that we associate with the great teacher. Brentano's philosophy is, in point of fact, a kind of a throw-back philosophy; it's a philosophy that is, to be simplistic about it, romantic in its attempt to tie up every aspect of the universe.

Brentano: I hope that in the end you will all be more persuaded that a casual study of philosophy leads us away from God, but to delve more deeply into it is to be led back to Him again.

Freud: I have not escaped from his influence. I am not capable of refuting the simple theistic argument that constitutes the crown of his deliberations. Indeed I am making a thorough study of his philosophy. Meanwhile I reserve judgment as to the question of theism and materialism.

Harold Blum: Freud, not only with Brentano, but with others, and especially within himself, contemplated and reflected upon the whole question of the proof of the existence of God or the converse ... disproving the existence of God. He came to the conclusion that it was not possible to definitively prove or disprove God's existence, because it is not really a scientific question.

Narrator: Faced with the material world and the spiritual, Freud made his choice.

Freud: I found rest and satisfaction in the physiological laboratory of the great Ernst Brucke. For six years, through painstaking study, I learned the importance of observation in science. This was the foundation of everything.

Gilman: Through the end of the century, there are all sorts of major discoveries about the mechanics of the nervous system and Freud is right in the middle of that. Freud's a neurologist. He learns how nerves work. When Freud goes off and studies the nervous systems of primitive animals, he's doing cutting edge work!

Narrator: But his years in pure research ended in disappointment.

Freud: My teacher strongly advised me, in view of my bad financial position, to abandon my theoretical career. I followed his advice, left the laboratory and entered the General Hospital where I became a junior resident.

Gilman: Freud is establishing himself as a physician. He wants to be a professor, but this is really difficult. He's going to have to establish himself but as somebody who's going to have a practice dealing with sick people. So on the one hand, he's got this professional moment and this is the moment when young men decide they're going to get married.

Narrator: Freud had met Martha Bernays, a young woman from a distinguished and deeply religious Jewish family — and they fell in love.

Freud: If today were to be my last on Earth and someone asked me how I had fared, he would be told I have been happy simply because of the anticipation of one day having you to myself and of the certainty that you love me.

Narrator: Freud worked hard to save money while he courted Martha. They waited for four years. But when they finally married, Freud would not allow Martha to practice her faith in their household.

Gilman: Freud sees himself as Jewish, not religiously as Jewish but ethnically as Jewish, and he wants to have someone who is compatible to that construction. The trade-off is that in their home, after the marriage, ritual is simply not practiced.

Blum: Freud's rejection of religious belief was not just a rejection of Judaism. It was a rejection of what he considered to be a belief in the supernatural, in magic and mysticism, which he regarded as something quite a part from being realistic.

Freud: Science asserts that there are no sources of knowledge of the universe other than carefully scrutinized observations — in other words what we call research — and along side it no knowledge derived from revelation, intuition or inspiration.

Science or Revelation?

Armand Nicholi:  "The scientific method," Freud writes, "is our only source of knowledge." The Ten Commandments, according to Freud, come from human experience, not from revelation. Would contemporary science agree with this? Is the scientific method incompatible with the concept of revelation?

Frederick Lee: There are all sorts of philosophical schools, but one of the ones that seems to make the most sense in a sort of common sense way is that, you know, there is a truth with a capital "T." Certainly, that's true in the way we do science. We operate with the assumption that things work together in a coherent, unified way. And in an analysis of of the question of God, the first step is: "Does he exist, or doesn't he?"

Jeremy Fraiberg: The data are lacking.

Frederick Lee: Right. But I'm troubled by the idea that one can be willing to believe in something if it's not true.

Winifred Gallagher: But just because it's not scientific doesn't mean it's not true. If reality is sitting in the middle of the table and there's a wall around the table, then we all are looking through a different window. To me, science is just one of those windows. I can go over there and see the art window, I can see the religion window, I can see the music window of reality. I don't understand why science in our age by some people is regarded as sort of the be all and end all of reality.

Michael Shermer: Well, I'm one of those.

Winifred Gallagher: I know, but —

Michael Shermer: And the reason is because there's an actual method to find out whether it's real or not. At least a-

Margaret Klenck: According to who? I mean — real — what is real?

Jeremy Fraiberg: It's the only common objective standard. I mean, I can't quarrel with you if you say that you experience love or — or religion.

Doug Holladay: That's your experience.

Jeremy Fraiberg: That's your experience. The question is, I think, for me, anyway, in terms of organized religion: to what extent can somebody claim that their beliefs are true and that your beliefs are false. True for you or true for all? And if you want true for all, there has to be a common standard for evaluating those claims. Take a hypothesis or a theory, apply it to the facts. If the data doesn't fit the theory, you either have to discount the data, and somehow explain it away, or you've got to modify your theory. And that's how science works.

Margaret Klenck: But I think this is the problem. We keep making this be the criteria for understanding. If we can understand it, it's one thing. if we can't, it's another. And we keep making these enemies of each other.

Jeremy Fraiberg: But there's no other way to understand.

Margaret Klenck: Yes, there is. There are tons of other ways to understand. It's not rational, but rational understanding is only one way of understanding, and we have become such slaves in, in the West, and certainly in this country, to [it]. When, you know, when you hold a child, you are understanding things about that creature that you're not using your cognition for. I think a statistic that people have come up with is that we're one-quarter conscious and three-quarters unconscious at all times. And that both are functioning together in tandem with — with self-knowledge, without self-knowledge —

Michael Shermer: But isn't unconscious just another part of the brain that's operating? It's not some mystical force.

Margaret Klenck: We're not just brains. No, it's not a mystical force, but it's unconscious. We can't know it in the same way.

Michael Shermer: But we know it in a different way, a different naturalistic way.

Winifred Gallagher: I think the tricky part of this discussion and the sort of — the pink elephant in the middle of the table that we're not talking about — is really going to come down to experience.

Margaret Klenck: Yes.

Winifred Gallagher: And it's a very difficult thing to talk about with people who don't accept religious experience as being a real thing.

Jeremy Fraiberg: And that's the problem I think some people have with religion. If someone says, "I've had a religious experience and I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and rose from the dead," I can't quarrel with whether or not someone actually believes that. Perhaps they do. The question is whether I should believe it as well and whether or not the coercive power of the Church or the State should be brought to bear to get me to believe that same thing, or whether my life would be better for it.

C.S. Lewis: School Days

The loneliness of boarding school and the brutality of war eventually drive Lewis to atheism.

Narrator: When he went to boarding school, C.S. Lewis reacted against what he felt was a disappointing and dull religious faith.

Lewis: The fussy, time wasting botheration of it all. Hymns were extremely disagreeable to me. Of all musical instruments, I like the organ least. Christianity was mainly associated, for me, with ugly architecture, ugly music, and bad poetry.

School life was almost wholly dominated by the social struggle, to get on, to arrive. The rivalry was fierce, the prizes glittering, the hell of failure severe. I came to hate school, I never ceased by letter or by word of mouth to beg my father that I might be taken away.

Narrator: At last, when Jack turned sixteen, Albert, his father agreed to take him out of school to study with a private tutor. His name was William Kirkpatrick, called The Great Knock by his students.

Lewis: If ever a man came close to being a purely logical entity, that man was The Great Knock. He had been a Presbyterian and was now an atheist.

James Como: The Great Knock had been Albert Lewis' tutor, had been Warren Lewis' tutor. Was a very severe logician. You know, Lewis records his first meeting with The Great Knock. And in attempt to make small talk so he said something like it's a nice day and The Great Knock said, "What do you mean by nice and on what grounds do you attribute those qualities to this day?" And Lewis realized that this is not a man to make small talk with.

Lewis: He was the very man who taught me to think. A hard, satirical atheist. A man as honest as daylight. His attitude to Christianity was for me the beginning of adult thinking. The impression I got was that religion in general, though utterly false, was a natural growth, a kind of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder.

Narrator: In 1914, the first World War engulfed Europe. Three years later, at the age of seventeen, Lewis won a coveted scholarship to Oxford University. But before his freshman year was over, he decided to enlist in the British army. Among his classmates going to the battlefront was his friend Paddy Moore.

Como: Lewis was a visitor to the Moore home and was received like a member of the family. And so they swore to each other if one of them died and the other lived in the war, the survivor would take care of the dead comrade's family.

Narrator: The war was a kind of crusade to the youth of Europe. All were convinced that the enemy were demons. All were convinced that theirs was a cause worth dying for. And nine million did.

Lewis: I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself still marching. The frights, the cold, the smell of high explosive, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the horribly smashed men still moving like half crushed beetles.

Como: Lewis was on intimate terms with pain. He was wounded in World War I. He saw the Sergeant who had saved his life blown up next to him. In other words, he knew as that generation did, the horrors of the Great War.

Walter Hooper: He thought God was at fault for causing the suffering he saw in the first World War. That was God's fault, he shouldn't have allowed that to happen. He thought he was a blackguard. That is the way he described God in his own poetry.

Lewis: 14th of May, 1918. Paddy has been missing for over a month and is almost certainly dead. Of all my own particular set at Oxford, he has been the first to go and it is a bitter irony to remember that he was always certain that he would come through.

Narrator: After the war, Lewis returned to Oxford. Good to his word he set up house with his dead comrade's mother and sister, Janie and Maureen Moore.

Como: She was a mother surrogate. She was a companion and of course, she was a comfort to him, as well. I mean, there was this household, it was home for Lewis. Home. This idea of home. This matters very much.

Lewis: The early loss of my mother, great unhappiness at school, and the shadow of the last war and presently the experience of it, had given me a very pessimistic view of existence. My atheism was based on it.

Sigmund Freud: Interpreter of Dreams

A young doctor in the age of Darwin, Freud looks to the unconscious mind for clues to illness.

Narrator: Life experience turned Lewis away from faith in God. But Freud believed that his atheism was the result of an intellectual process.

To the young Viennese neurologist, religion could not explain the complexity of the human condition. This problem led him to the most critical insight of his life and his work.

Sander Gilman: Freud gets a fellowship to go to Paris. And he's going to go to Paris to work on neurological diseases of children, with a man who was the world's greatest expert — a man named Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot is working with hysterics — that is, people who have physical symptoms that don't seem to have a physical cause.

Harold P. Blum: What Charcot demonstrated to Freud was that he could induce symptoms through hypnosis that mimicked and mimed the same symptoms that hysterics showed without hypnosis. So he could induce paralysis, convulsions, blindness and it made Freud realize there were mental processes that go on very significantly outside of conscious awareness.

Peter Neubauer: He puzzled about hypnosis. How is it that I can affect a human being's mind without his consciousness? What goes on here, that there is a powerful influence without the knowledge and the cognition of the patient?

Narrator: Freud returned to Vienna convinced that neurotics could be treated with hypnosis. Then, he went a step further. Through experimentation, he found he could get the same result simply by letting his patients speak in free association. No one had tried that before.

Gilman: It's important to understand that Freud is trained as a materialist neurologist. A neurologist deals with people who are ill who come into the office and say, "I am not feeling well," and the doctor says to them, "Where does it hurt?" and they go, "It hurts right here." The psychiatrist, at this point, is running asylums. He is not dealing with individual patients, he is dealing with mentally ill people, as a group. The psychiatrist doesn't talk to their patients, because they assume they're crazy, they can't communicate.

Narrator: By listening carefully to patients, Freud uncovered forbidden, often sexual feelings that the patient had repressed — which then made them sick. This discovery was so threatening to Freud's professional colleagues that they completely rejected him.

Freud: Word was given out to abandon me, for a void is forming all around me. This year for the first time my consulting room is empty. For weeks on end I see no new faces, cannot begin any new treatments.

Narrator: Deeply in debt, Freud struggled to support his family and his aging parents who had never recovered from the failure of his father's business. ...

But on Freud's 35th birthday, his father gave him the cherished family Bible.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Jacob Freud gave the Bible to him with a most moving dedication, composed into a very particular way of petitioning Freud to return to the Torah.

Freud: [Reading] My dear son, in the seventh year of your life the spirit of the Lord began to move you and said to you: Go, read in my Book that I have risen, and there will be opened to you the sources of wisdom, of knowledge, and understanding. You have looked upon the face of the Almighty have heard and striven to climb upwards, and you flew upon the wings of the Holy Spirit.

Rizzuto: Each sentence had a profound Biblical meaning and at the same time a profound personal meaning for his son to whom he was addressing the dedication.

Freud: [Reading] ... For the day on which you have completed your 35th year I offer it you for a remembrance and a memorial of love. From your father, who loves you with unending love, Jacob Freud.

Rizzuto: He invited him to use the book again and to get the richness from the book. But Freud could not do it.

Narrator: Five years later, Jacob Freud's long life came to an end.

Freud: The old man's death affected me deeply. I valued him highly and he meant a great deal in my life. By the time he died his life had long been over, but at death the whole past stirs within one.

Blum: The death of his father was a notable point in further launching Freud toward an introspective examination of his own internal feelings. It left him somewhat depressed, somewhat anxious, but also in a very analytic frame of mind.

Freud: In my inner self the whole past had been reawakened by this event. I now feel quite uprooted. There is still very little happening to me externally, but internally something very interesting. I am led to my own dreams.

As I fall asleep, "involuntary ideas" emerge ... fermenting and simmering in me ... Masses of bristling riddles lie round about. ... They lead me through all the events of my childhood.

Neubauer: Since Freud primarily wanted to be the explorer of the unconscious, he raised the question, how can I get access to it? What are opening windows to take a look in to the unconscious mechanisms. And then he said the dreams — dreams while I'm not conscious, my brain produces a variety of images, pictures and stories beyond my consciousness. So it must be within the unconscious. So the dream gives me access to the function of the unconscious

Narrator: The founder of psychoanalysis turned his new technique on himself. For four years he carefully analyzed his own dreams, with startling results.

Freud: My libido toward my mother was awakened, on the occasion of a journey during which we must have spent the night together and there must have been the opportunity of seeing her nude. In my own case, I discovered that I was in love with my mother and now consider it a universal event in early childhood.

Narrator: Through his dream work, he recalled a scene with his father that revealed his childhood admiration and disappointment in this powerful figure.

Freud: My father began to take me with him on his walks and reveal to me his views on the world. One time he related to me a story that left a profound impression on my life, though not the one that he had hoped.


Documentary Description


The Question of God, a four-hour series on PBS, explores in accessible and dramatic style issues that preoccupy all thinking people today: What is happiness? How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? How do we reconcile conflicting claims of love and sexuality? How do we cope with the problem of suffering and the inevitability of death? Based on a popular Harvard course taught by Dr. Armand Nicholi, author of The Question of God, the series illustrates the lives and insights of Sigmund Freud, a life-long critic of religious belief, and C.S. Lewis, a celebrated Oxford don, literary critic, and perhaps this century's most influential and popular proponent of faith based on reason.

Why Freud & Lewis?

Arguably, few individuals have influenced the moral fabric of contemporary Western civilization more than Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Scientific skepticism and religious belief — the two worldviews these men represent — form the basis of The Question of God series. The following is from the prologue to The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, by Dr. Armand Nicholi.

Why Freud & Lewis?

Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. A few years after birth, we all gradually formulate our philosophy of life. We make one of two basic assumptions: we view the universe as a result of random events and life on this planet a matter of chance; or we assume an Intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and life meaning. So each one of us embraces some form of either Freud's secular worldview or Lewis's spiritual worldview.

Our worldview informs our personal, social, and political lives. It influences how we perceive ourselves, how we relate to others, how we adjust to adversity, and what we understand to be our purpose. Our worldview helps determine our values, our ethics, and our capacity for happiness. It helps us understand where we come from, our heritage; who we are, our identity; why we exist on this planet, our purpose; what drives us, our motivation; and where we are going, our destiny.

The purpose of The Question of God — the book, television series, and Web site — is to look at human life from two diametrically opposed points of view: those of the believer and the unbeliever. We will examine several of the basic issues of life in terms of these two conflicting views.

On the morning of September 26, 1939, in northwest London, a group of friends and family gathered to mourn the death of Sigmund Freud. The New York Times article mentioned Freud's "worldwide fame and greatness," referring to him as "one of the most widely discussed scientists," mentioning that "he set the entire world talking about psychoanalysis" and noting that his ideas had already permeated our culture and language.

"In the 20th century, Freud is the atheist's touchstone"

We use terms such as ego, repression, complex, projection, inhibition, neurosis, psychosis, resistance, sibling rivalry, and Freudian slip without even realizing their source. Perhaps most important of all, his theories influence how we interpret human behavior, not only in biography, literary criticism, sociology, medicine, history, education, and ethics — but also in the law.

As part of his intellectual legacy, Freud strongly advocated an atheistic philosophy of life. Freud's philosophical writings, more widely read than his expository or scientific works, have played a significant role in the secularization of our culture. In the 17th century people turned to the discoveries of astronomy to demonstrate what they considered the irreconcilable conflict between science and faith; in the 18th century, to Newtonian physics; in the 19th century, to Darwin; in the 20th century and still today, Freud is the atheist's touchstone.

"Lewis was the 20th century's most popular proponent of faith based on reason"

Twenty-four years after Freud's death, on the morning of November 26, 1963, at Oxford, England, northwest of London, a group of friends and family gathered to mourn the death of C.S. Lewis.

A celebrated Oxford don, literary critic, and perhaps the 20th century's most popular proponent of faith based on reason, Lewis won international recognition long before his death in 1963. During World War II, his broadcast talks made his voice second only to Churchill's as the most recognized on the BBC. His books continue to sell prodigiously and his influence continues to grow.

But Lewis embraced an atheistic worldview for the first half of his life and used Freud's reasoning to defend his atheism. Lewis then rejected his atheism and became a believer. In subsequent writings, he provides cogent responses to Freud's arguments against the spiritual worldview. Wherever Freud raises an argument, Lewis attempts to answer it. Their writings possess a striking parallelism. If Freud still serves as a primary spokesman for materialism, Lewis serves as a primary spokesman for the spiritual view that Freud attacked.

Unfortunately, because Lewis trailed Freud by a generation, his responses to Freud's arguments were the last written word. Freud never had the chance to rebut. Yet if their arguments are placed side by side, a debate emerges as if they were standing at podiums in a shared room. Both thought carefully about the flaws and alternatives to their positions; each considered the other's views.

Their arguments can never prove or disprove the existence of God. Their lives, however, offer sharp commentary on the truth, believability, and utility of their views.

"It may be that Freud and Lewis represent conflicting parts of ourselves," Dr. Nicholi notes. "Part of us yearns for a relationship with the source of all joy, hope and happiness, as described by Lewis, and yet, there is another part that raises its fist in defiance and says with Freud, 'I will not surrender.' Whatever part we choose to express will determine our purpose, our identity, and our whole philosophy of life."

Through dramatic storytelling and compelling visual re-creations, as well as interviews with biographers and historians, and lively discussion, Freud and Lewis are brought together in a great debate. "The series presents a unique dialogue between Freud, the atheist, and Lewis, the believer," says Catherine Tatge, director of The Question of God. "Through it we come to understand two very different ideas of human existence, and where each of us, as individuals, falls as believers and unbelievers."

The important moments and emotional turning points in the lives of Freud and Lewis — which gave rise to such starkly different ideas — fuel an intelligent and moving contemporary examination of the ultimate question of human existence: Does God really exist?


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