The Question of God (2004) PBS

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

F Video 2 of 4 L
Views: 2,087
Added: 12 years ago.
Watch Part Number: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Video Description


Program One (1/2)


The Exalted Father

Armand Nicholi: Lewis, like Freud, associated the spiritual worldview with his father, recalling discussions in which the father encouraged him to attend church and become a believer. Is it possible that Freud's atheism and the atheism that Lewis embraced for the first half of his life can all be explained in part on the basis of early negative feelings toward their fathers Is it possible that our early life experiences, especially our relationships with our fathers, colors our attitude in later life toward this whole concept of an ultimate authority? What do you think from your own observations? From your own personal experience?

Louis Massiah: I'm curious — why just the father? I mean, why not mother and father? Or mother? There's something not entirely intuitive in that.

Armand Nicholi: Freud does mention parental authority, but because the father is often the strongest symbol of that parental authority, he speaks of the father as a Heavenly father.

Doug Holladay: My own father juxtaposed what you just led us into, since he died a rabid atheist. He wanted to remind me on his deathbed that he didn't believe the worldview that I had been embracing. There certainly is a dynamic there that I don't fully understand, but I know it was important to me to carve out my own way, and it actually uh, I haven't fully resolved why I did that. Part of it was the hound of heaven pulling me, and part of it was probably an adolescent rebellion against my father's strong atheism.

Armand Nicholi: So you're saying that this need to be independent from your father, to rebel against what he embraced, to be your own person, was an influence.

Winifred Gallagher: I think a very important issue that this initial question about the father raises is that in order to have a mature spiritual life, you have to move beyond God as the parent in the sky. I think it's almost inevitable that you start out there as a child, because that is your model of an authority or a caregiver or providence. But I think if you're really going to become a thinking person of faith, you have to realize that that's a childish vision of God. The best you can do at a certain point. And then you have to move beyond that to something way different than your daddy.

Armand Nicholi: And how do you do that?

Winifred Gallagher: I think it's a process.

Armand Nicholi: I mean, how do you change your image that's formed as a child influenced by the parental authority?

Winifred Gallagher: I think we have a great deal of information now from other spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism, Hinduism, the African faiths — things that have allowed us to see God or the sacred or ultimate reality, whatever you want to call that thing, from very different perspectives than just the Judeo-Christian monotheistic God father. So I think we have a more multi-dimensional way to look at the issue that these guys were struggling with, which was very Freudian.

Armand Nicholi: Once Freud defines his worldview, he writes that "the doctrine that the universe was created by a being resembling a man, but magnified in every respect, a kind of superman, reflects the gross ignorance of primitive peoples" According to Freud, God does not make us in his image – we make God in our image. Now, does that argument make sense today?

Jeremy Fraiberg: I'm a fan of Freud and a fan of his arguments. But just because you wish that something is so doesn't mean that it isn't so. What Freud's saying is that if you look at the data and you want to come up with the simplest theory – he'd say, well, maybe instead of saying that a God's there, it makes more sense to say that these are universal human wishes, and the best explanation as to why people around the world come up with different conceptions of God is because there's this universal need for explanations, comfort, order in the face of chaos and disorder.

Armand Nicholi: Would you say then that these are feelings both Lewis and Freud are describing, but they don't have anything to do with the reality of God's existence?

Frederick Lee: I disagree. Feeling can reflect truth. What if the feeling, or the need to be in communion with an ultimate being, is put there by design? Then that feeling is a reflection of truth.

Michael Shermer: How would you tell whether it was or wasn't?

Frederick Lee: That's the – that's the difficulty.

C.S. Lewis: A Leap in the Dark

At Oxford, troubled by his own once-fervent atheism, Lewis realizes and admits his will to believe.

Narrator: In 1922, Jack Lewis took his degree in classics and philosophy from Oxford University. At the time, reason and logic dominated academic thinking.

Colin Duriez: Lewis describes the new psychology of Freud, which made a tremendous impact upon undergraduates, particularly somebody like Lewis, whose life was so imaginative.

Lewis: The new Psychology was at that time sweeping through us all. We were all influenced. We were all concerned about fantasy, or wishful thinking. I formed the resolution of always judging and acting with the greatest good sense.

Walter Hooper: He was saying that all youth at that time were trying to escape from wish fulfillment dreams. They got that from Freud. And they wanted to in one way spit on the images of their youth, and go onto they knew not what. But, anyway, leave that behind because it was juvenile.

Narrator: Lewis was writing a long poem called Dymer. In it, he portrayed belief in God as a tempting illusion — one that had to be resisted. But he found that in his own life he wasn't so certain. The question of God's existence would not let him go.

Lewis: I was at that time living like many atheists; in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with him for creating a world. Why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent?

Narrator: More than anything, Lewis wanted to write poetry — and for that he needed the security of an academic career. He applied for teaching jobs at Oxford, but college after college turn him down.

Lewis: I was attacked by a series of gloomy thoughts about professional and literary failure. Such a rage against poverty and fear and all the infernal net I seemed to be in that I went out and mowed the lawn and cursed all the gods for half an hour.

Hooper: Lewis's first ambition, a burning ambition, from the age of about 15, was to be a poet — a great poet.

Lewis: I cannot say simply that I desire, not my fame, but that of the poem. Nor was the feeling a disinterested love for Dymer simply as a poem. It was a desire that something that I recognize as my own should publicly be found good.

Narrator: His hopes were finally fulfilled in 1925. Magdalen College made him a fellow. The next year, he found a publisher for his long poem Dymer. Success at last — but it was not enough.

Lewis: All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. The most religious were clearly those on whom I could really feed.

Hooper: The poetry he really cared about was not Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. All these years the greatest pleasure he ever had was from Christian poetry. Things like Spencer, Milton — all of these great poets. And yet he found out that he was reading them, as he later said, with the point left out. The same thing was happening with his friends — the people he thought he should've liked were the college atheists. But the ones he really liked were Tolkien, a practicing very devout Catholic, and Owen Barfield, who asked all the right questions.

Lewis: I can only describe it as the Great War between Barfield and me. When I set out to correct his heresies, I find that he had decided to correct mine! And then we went at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, night after night.

Duriez: Barfield believed that the imagination plays a very important part in how we know. He rejected the model that science is the only way to truth, to acquiring truth. He felt that the imagination was laid behind even the work of science. It gave meaning to propositions. And so he felt that Lewis was missing out in his whole approach to reality on what made knowledge possible.

Lewis: I was suddenly compelled to read the Hippolytus of Euripides.

"Oh God, bring me to the sea's end

To the Hesperides, sisters of evening,

Who sing alone in their islands

Where the golden apples grow,

And the Lord of Oceans guards the way

From all who would sail

Into their night-blue harbors —

Let me escape to the rim of the world

Where the tremendous firmament meets

The earth, and Atlas holds the universe

In his palms.

For there, in the palace of Zeus,

Wells of ambrosia pour through the chambers,

While the sacred earth lavishes life

And Time adds his years

Only to heaven's happiness"

... I was off once more into the land of longing, my heart at once broken and exalted as it had never been since the old days. I was overwhelmed. I called it Joy.

Peter Kreeft: When Lewis talks about joy, he talks about something that he labels the central theme of his whole life. But what he means by joy is not the satisfaction of a desire, but a desire that is more desirable than any satisfaction.

Lewis: There was no doubt Joy was a desire. But a desire is turned not to itself, but to an object. I had been wrong in supposing that I desired for Joy itself. All value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. The naked other. Unknown, undefined, desired. I did not yet ask "Who is desired?"

Kreeft: The very experience of Joy that Lewis had was an arrow that led to the target of belief in God. Lewis argued innate, deep desires do not exist unless they correspond to something that can satisfy them. If there is hunger, there is food. If there is sexual desire, there is sex. If there is curiosity, there is knowledge. So if there is the desire for this thing that is beyond this world, there must be something beyond this world.

Narrator: Lewis was still resisting — but growing tired from the struggle.

Lewis: The fox had now been dislodged from the wood and was running in the open, bedraggled and weary, the hounds barely a field behind. The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears to be a moment of wholly free choice. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words, and almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay.

I felt myself being given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. Drip-drip. And presently trickle-trickle.

I had always wanted, above all things, not to be interfered with. I had wanted — mad wish — to call my soul my own. I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight.

You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.

Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. I gave in, and admitted that God was God ... perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.

Why Believe?

Armand Nicholi: Lewis wrote in a letter about his transformation from being a militant atheist to the spiritual worldview that it was very intellectual, very gradual, and not simple. He first noticed that, throughout his life, from the time of his childhood that he periodically experienced a sense of intense longing — for someone or something, that he really didn't understand. He eventually came to realize that no human relationship could ever fulfill this longing, and he saw this as a signpost pointing with unmistakable clarity to the creator. Is there anything in your experience that parallels that? Do you think that his arguments are convincing?

Michael Shermer: No. I don't know, it seems like you have all the theistic arguments that are recognizing the signposts, and all the atheistic arguments to counter them providing natural explanations. It seems like it's really closely balanced. It's not obvious. It's like you have to take a leap of faith. And isn't that how it should be? Because if it was provable, and it was just obvious, then everybody would believe — or they should. But they don't.

Armand Nicholi: And what would be wrong with that?

Michael Shermer: Nothing, but it's not the way it is.

Armand Nicholi: Is there any reason why it might not be that way, that you can think of?

Michael Shermer: Unless God wanted you to make an emotional leap, and not just reason your way to believe.

Frederick Lee: I think for someone like me, a scientist, it's important that one do all the research, gather as much evidence as you can, approach it as a scientific question, evaluate the intellectual arguments. But then, as you said, it takes you all the way up, and what you find yourself standing at is a precipice, uh, extending infinitely down, with infinite implications. And whether you cross it or not, that is not an intellectual decision.

Winifred Gallagher: I think part of the problem is in opposing intellect and emotion. Even now in researchers who study intelligence, and different human capacities, the big hot new area is to look at the impact of the emotional on the intellectual, and to see how much those two processes go together.

Armand Nicholi: Well, now, are you implying that that leap across that chasm is based on emotion?

Winifred Gallagher: I mean, we all have a temperament. Some of us are more cerebral, some of us are more emotional. So there are going to be different ratios of what we bring to the party, but I think religion is both a matter of what we think, and a matter of what we feel.

Margaret Klenck: And what we've experienced, and what happens in community — I think we're going to fall into a real trap if we continue to assume that rationality is here, and everything else is below it, and that science and religion are incompatible, and that emotions are a lesser form. We become paupers, because we can't bring in so much else, we can't bring in so much of history, and emotional experience.

Doug Holladay: You know, Pascal wrote this great essay, "The Wager," where he talks about what we're all really getting at. We're all betting on something and we have incomplete information to place that bet. But in light of what we think is the most reasonable bet, we're putting something down on it. And it does strike me that that's as much certainty as we're going to get. You know, that everything is a bet, and the bet gets validated over time. And the payoff is maybe incremental. But you always have to compare it to other bets you've made.

Margaret Klenck: I've got to so disagree with that image. I think we're not betting on anything. I think this is about having meaning in our lives now, here, in relationship, in the present. It has nothing to do with the payoff at the end.

Doug Holladay: No, no, we're not talking about the afterlife. I think Pascal's argument is choosing your life, your worldview and your life path, that is a bet, that is a gamble. You are choosing a path.

Margaret Klenck: What are we gambling? What, what's to lose?

Doug Holladay: You're gambling your life. If I choose to follow and embrace a worldview, an atheistic worldview, I have put my money down.

Jeremy Fraiberg: I think Pascal said, I could either be a believer or a non-believer. If I'm indifferent between the two, I might as well be a believer, because if I'm not and it turns out that religion or a religious worldview is correct, I might suffer eternal damnation, and moreover, not benefit from eternal salvation.

Armand Nicholi: But how can you believe something that you don't think is true, I mean, certainly, an intelligent person can't embrace something that they don't think is true — that there's something about us that would object to that.

Jeremy Fraiberg: Well, the answer is, they probably do believe it's true.

Armand Nicholi: But how do they get there? See, that's why both Freud and Lewis was very interested in that one basic question. Is there an intelligence beyond the universe? And how do we answer that question? And how do we arrive at the answer of that question?

Michael Shermer: Well, in a way this is an empirical question, right? Either there is or there isn't.

Armand Nicholi: Exactly.

Michael Shermer: And either we can figure it out or we can't, and therefore, you just take the leap of faith or you don't.

Armand Nicholi: Yeah, now how can we figure it out?

Winifred Gallagher: I think something that was perhaps not as common in their day as is common now — this idea that we're acting as if belief and unbelief were two really radically black and white different things, and I think for most people, there's a very — it's a very fuzzy line, so that —

Margaret Klenck: It's always a struggle.

Winifred Gallagher: Rather than — I think there's some days I believe, and some days I don't believe so much, or maybe some days I don't believe at all.

Doug Holladay: Some hours.

Winifred Gallagher: It's a, it's a process. And I think for me the big developmental step in my spiritual life was that — in some way that I can't understand or explain that God is right here right now all the time, everywhere.

Armand Nicholi: How do you experience that?

Winifred Gallagher: I experience it through a glass darkly, I experience it in little bursts. I think my understanding of it is that it's, it's always true, and sometimes I can see it and sometimes I can't. Or sometimes I remember that it's true, and then everything is in Technicolor. And then most of the time it's not, and I have to go on faith until the next time I can perhaps see it again. I think of a divine reality, an ultimate reality, uh, would be my definition of God.

Sigmund Freud: Human Mythology

Freud turns to humanity's archaic past to explain the longing for an "exalted father."

Narrator: Freud called religion an illusion. For over 30 years, he developed this idea in his enormous body of work. His first major book, The Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1900, a book for the new century.

Freud: I completed the dream book. I was once again intoxicated with a hope that a step toward freedom and well-being had been taken.

Sander Gilman: The book flops. It falls on its head in a way that is unbelievable, because the medical scholars read this and say, "Nothing to do with medicine." The popular reception is virtually zero. Freud is desperate.

Freud: Not a leaf stirred to reveal that The Interpretation of Dreams had any impact on anyone. Understanding was meager; praise was doled out like alms.

Gilman: It takes an enormous amount of time to sell the first hundred copies of the book. But based on that book, Freud is now taken seriously in a sub-group in medicine and in culture in Vienna.

Narrator: A group of followers — Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Otto Rank — gathered around Freud and his work. The group gave themselves the name The Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Within 20 years, there were dozens like it throughout the world.

Ismar Schorsch: The essence of psychoanalysis, of Freud's creation, is interpretation. Reading symbols. Understanding stories. It's this interpretive thrust, which I've always felt is so Jewish in Freud. Judaism is an interpretive religion and psychoanalysis is an intellectual discourse which turns on interpretation.

Narrator: From his work in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud began to see that mythology reflected human history and human psychology too. On his desk, there was a collection of statues, heads, busts, figurines. Ancient objects that had been dug up.

Gilman: Freud imagined himself as the archaeologist of the soul. And so, one of the things that he does is to think about this notion of the psyche as having levels, as being equivalent to the levels that the archaeologist digs through. But he also understood that those levels represented different civilizations, different stages of development of civilization. Religion is something that Freud sees as something that has to do with the archaic past of human beings. And these objects, these beautiful aesthetic objects, are also ritual objects.

Gilbert Bond: He identifies in the language of religion and mythology, terms that can be appropriated for scientific use. He retools pre-Christian Greek stories and sees them as oracles to the inner workings of humankind and then arranges a scientific approach to understanding that phenomena within the structures of rationality.

Freud: Religions owe their compulsive power to reawakened memories of very ancient, forgotten, highly emotional episodes of human history.

Blum: I think that Freud decided because of his analysis of myth that many of the myths were in common. The myths about paradise, about expulsion from paradise, about immortality, about resurrection or rebirth, could be found in so many different societies and cultures and in ancient cultures, that it made him think about how similar they were to many of the beliefs in current religions like Judaism and like the different branches of Christianity.

Gilman: Freud tells the story of being brought to a church and being sort of overwhelmed by the spectacle. He tells this as an adult about a childhood memory. He tells other stories about the nanny also, about the seductive power of the nanny, in terms of her belief, her piety. These stories Freud tells to talk about the pitfalls of religion. He doesn't like religious practice, so he says, "only a child would've been suckered by these candles and this incense."

Narrator: Later in his life, Freud would bring all his thinking on religion together in the book, The Future of an Illusion.

Freud: Religion is the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity. Like the obsessional neurosis of children, it arose out of the Oedipus Complex, out of the relation to the father. Our God, reason, will fulfill whichever of our wishes nature outside us loves.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Freud claimed religion is an illusion but our science is not an illusion. Darwin had shown us that we descend from monkeys, that Copernicus had said we are not the center of the universe, and Freud was saying "come down from your heights, human beings, you are not as great as you think you are. You have to save yourself from your delusions. You're full of sexuality, you're full of hatred and lust and envy. Face yourself. I am going to save you from those delusions."

C.S. Lewis: From Spirits to God

But how to worship? Lewis the reluctant convert gradually discovers faith in Jesus Christ.

Narrator: God was not an illusion to C.S. Lewis.

In 1931, he had converted to belief in God. He was a commanding presence in tutorials and in the lecture halls of Magdalen College. But beneath the outward mask of confidence and professional success, he still struggled with his faith.

Lewis: I am appalled to see how much of the change I had thought I had undergone lately was only imaginary. For the first time I examined myself with a serious practical purpose, and there I found a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions.

Gilbert Bond: Lewis still was very much aware of his own flaws, his shortcomings, his short temper, his impatience, you know, with ignorance, uh, his lack of charity toward other human beings, but he was aware that he was called to be differently with them.

Lewis: Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration. Pride! It was through Pride that the Devil became the Devil; it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. Pride is a spiritual cancer. It is my besetting sin.

... The real work seems still to be done.

Peter Kreeft: When Lewis first converted, he wasn't happy because the first thing that happened to him was the realization that God was God and that he was not his own God. God was a transcendental interferer, barging into Lewis's life and saying, "You're not God, I am God."

Lewis: It must be understood that my conversion at that point was only to theism pure and simple. I knew nothing yet about the incarnation. The God to whom I surrendered was sheerly non-human.

Narrator: Lewis believed there was a God — but he did not yet have a specific way to worship him. He was attracted to Hinduism and Christianity.

Kreeft: I think Lewis made the conventional objection to Christianity that it's so much like other religions, dying and rising gods, and redemption from sin, and the triumph of life over death. These seem to be common patterns so they could be explained psychologically instead of historically. And then one of his friends who was an atheist, who looked at the life of Christ and said, "Rum thing. Seems to have really happened once." And that shocked Lewis.

Lewis: If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of toughs, were not — as I would still have put it — safe, where could I turn? Was there then no escape?

James Como: He was reading G.K. Chesterton because Chesterton tells, in effect, the history of the world and how it was leading up to the incarnation.

Lewis: [Reading from Chesterton] A great man knows he is not God and the greater he is, the better he knows it. The gospels declare that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. The most that any religious prophet has said was that he was the true servant of such a being. But if the creator was present in the daily life of the Roman empire, that is something unlike anything else in nature. It is the one great startling statement that man has made since he spoke his first articulate word. It makes dust and nonsense of comparative religion.

Bond: He begins to read the New Testament in Greek, he begins to understand that the New Testament is not just a set of stories, but actually a witness to the presence of a historical human being who embodied the spirit of God. That this person did not sin. And so this was only possible if this person truly was God in human form. The claims that Christians believe actually came from Jesus, are either absolutely true, and this argument stems from Chesterton, or Jesus needs to be confined to the lunatic fringe.

Kreeft: To believe in some sort of a God is fairly comfortable. It's more inconvenient to believe in a God who is so specific and so particular that you can say, "There he is in history, there are his words, there are my responsibilities, I can't make it up.

Lewis: As I drew near to Christianity, I felt a resistance almost as strong as my previous resistance to theism. As strong but shorter lived for I understood it better. But each step, one had less chance to call one's soul one's own.

Hooper: Lewis simply did not understand what Christ fitted into it. Until finally that night in 1931, he had invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, two of his closest friends, to Magdalen College. It was a windy night, they went along before dinner, they walked along Addison's Walk talking about mythology. They stayed up till 4:00 AM and Tolkien did his work well.

Lewis: What Tolkien showed me was this — that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a pagan story I didn't mind it at all — I was mysteriously moved by it. The reason was that in pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth.

Colin Duriez: His imaginative questionings and his imaginative longings came together by focusing upon the Christian gospels, as outlined by Tolkien and Dyson.

Como: He was a literary critic. And as such, he said, "I know myth when I see it, I know legend when I see it and I know an eye-witness account when I see it. I recognize metaphor when it's there. All of this is in the Bible. All of it is inspired. But far from all of it is literal history." Well Dyson and Tolkien pointed out that the only difference was we don't know that Osiris walked the earth. But Jesus left footprints. People saw him and talked about it.

Lewis: As we continued walking, we were interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We all held our breath, appreciating the ecstasy of such a moment.

Como: I think it would be a mistake to think that argument converted C.S. Lewis. Because he thinks that we have to be oblique. We can't look at things directly. They escape us. This is what his attempt at introspection taught him. When you're thinking and now you start to think about your thinking — you're not thinking about the original object anymore, you know. I'm thinking about baseball, now I'm thinking about how I'm thinking about baseball, so now I'm not thinking about baseball, you see. Very elusive. So Lewis understood that we had to have an oblique approach, as he put it, you have to sneak past the watchful dragons of self-consciousness.

Lewis: I know very well when but hardly how the final step was taken. I went with my brother to have a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo. We started in fog, but by the end of our journey the sun was shining. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did. I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, becomes aware that he is now awake. But what of Joy? To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.


Armand Nicholi: Lewis's worldview is very much based on a person that appeared in history. He looked very carefully at the historical documents, and this person who claimed to be God. And, indeed, Lewis concluded that this person was who he claimed to be, and that he died as he predicted he would, and that he rose again on the third day. Now if this person did appear today, so that we could experience him, would we believe?

Jeremy Fraiberg: No, you could still freely choose not to believe. You could say that the evidence is demonstrable and clear, but I choose to live otherwise because — for my own reasons I disagree with some of the claims of that authority.

Armand Nicholi: Did you not say that if you saw someone pick up this building, twirl it around on his finger, and set it down, that you would be forced to believe?

Jeremy Fraiberg: Strong motivating factor.

Frederick Lee: Do you believe in miracles?

Jeremy Fraiberg: I'd admit of anything, I just need to see evidence.

Frederick Lee: Well, I'm not asking about evidence; I'm asking about the philosophical question of is it possible? Is it possible?

Jeremy Fraiberg: Well, I operate by rules of induction, I mean — what happened before leads me to believe what will come in the future. But — I've never seen that before, and it would be so extraordinary that it would completely —

Doug Holladay: But you're open to the idea, that's the thing.

Jeremy Fraiberg: I am open to the idea.

Doug Holladay: That's the point he's trying to get to you on.

Frederick Lee: If you look at the Hebrew scriptures, though, I mean, it's filled with story after story after story of the Israelites, the chosen people, seeing God in the most miraculous ways, beyond anything that is conceivable in human terms, and certainly beyond anything that they had ... of science and intellect to explain.

Jeremy Fraiberg: What you presuppose in your argument is that these incidents actually happened. And show me the parting of the Red Sea. Show me turning water into wine.

Margaret Klenck: Yeah, but I think this is where we have to look at mythology, and how mythology is, is real — or is true, but not necessarily real, and that this is a way in which people make sense of the miraculous, make sense of the unknown, make sense of the battle to understand, to be loved, to not be loved, why does — going back to father or mother, you know ... why did mother love you best? I mean, we come up with Cain and Abel, I mean, we do have mythology, it grows out for a reason. It's not just stories.

Armand Nicholi: Isn't it true, though, that — as Lewis says — that the philosophy that we bring to our experience, to our observations, influences how we interpret them? Now, if we approach a miracle with a philosophy that has ruled out the supernatural, then we have to find some explanation for it.

Frederick Lee: If one excludes a priori the possibility of miracles, as most scientists do, then any unusual event will always be interpreted in some way in terms we understand. On the other hand, if one does admit to the possibility of miracles, what one is saying then is that there are forces that can act on the universe from outside the system — the system being what we normally consider to be obeying the laws of physics and chemistry and so forth.

Jeremy Fraiberg: I grant you that.

Frederick Lee: And that's when one comes down to: Is this story made up or not? And the key thing there is, here is a man, Jesus Christ, who's documented as claiming to be the son of God. Now, I've seen patients do that in my psychiatric rotations — "I'm Napoleon, I'm Caesar, I'm God, I'm Jesus," but they're invariably psychotic. And yet, from the scriptures, from all the witnesses that we have, what Jesus said reflects some of the deepest, most insightful wisdom into human nature. He's not a lunatic, okay? He's not crazy. There's no other alternative, other than to assume that this bizarre claim, this fantastic claim, that's never been made or spoken by human lips in the history of the world has to be true. There's no other explanation.

Michael Shermer: Fred, can I ask you, just a simple scientific question.

Frederick Lee: Yes.

Michael Shermer: The Resurrection. As a scientist, aren't you curious how God did it? Jump start the heart? Rebuild the cells? New DNA? How'd he do it?

Frederick Lee: Well, I guess that's akin to asking the question, how did he create Adam?

Michael Shermer: Aren't you curious? Don't you want to know?

Frederick Lee: Sure, I'd like to know, but in some sense — well, here's an example: You have a God of infinite wisdom — assuming that you believe in a God, right? So, of infinite wisdom, who created this fantastic thing by means, you know, that you've asked me to explain ...

Michael Shermer: But, if I can clarify that. Once you've tried to understand the forces by which God intervened into this system from outside this system, you're just back in the system again, looking for natural causes. God used some electromagnetic force to tweak the genome, to restart the heart, to whatever. If that's what you're doing, then you're just doing science. And the only other choice is, you just say, "beats me, it's a miracle." I give up.

Margaret Klenck: Well, there are a few other answers to that throughout history. I mean, well, one of the classic theological answers is that God's time is not in any way connected to human time and that therefore, God can break in to human time, at any point, at any time, and does, so that God is infant in the manger, and God is reigning on the cross, and God is dead and alive. God is not confined by human history, human time, and it's just as reasonable, if we're going to stay with, you know, qualifying things by reason, to assume that God can have God's own time, and not be controlled by us, or confined by, you know, our little, limited consciousness.

Winifred Gallagher: It sort of disturbs me that we seem to be heading in this direction, where in order to be a religious person or to have a spiritual worldview, you have to believe in miracles, which I think is absolutely not the case. I think you can be — you can have no interest in miracles you can disbelieve miracles, or maybe you could say, "Maybe there are miracles, maybe there are not, I don't know, I don't particularly care," you could have any of those attitudes, and still be a profoundly spiritual person.

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?


There are no comments. Be the first to post one.
  Post comment as a guest user.
Click to login or register:
Your name:
Your email:
(will not appear)
Your comment:
(max. 1000 characters)
Are you human? (Sorry)