The Question of God (2004) PBS

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

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Program One (1/2)


Sigmund Freud: Libido

Freud's developing theories on sexual desire cause controversy among his peers.

Narrator: In the first decade of the 20th century, Viennese society was all gaiety and glitter. This is how they wanted to be seen. But day after day in his practice, Sigmund Freud saw the other side of Vienna: people who were deeply unhappy — and who did not know why.

Harold P. Blum: Freud showed that humans are not masters in their own house, that to some degree we are ruled in an unruly way by unconscious forces outside of our awareness.

Freud: Psychoanalysis has taught us that our intellect is a feeble thing, a tool of our instincts, and that we are all compelled to behave cleverly or stupidly by the commands of our emotional attitudes.

Peter Neubauer: For him, unconscious life is a dynamic life, is the repository of our experiences, of our wishes, of our needs, which have been repressed, which couldn't be acted upon. And he said there's nothing more important in his work than to say, I opened up a new territory of man's existence — namely his unconsciousness. It is important, it is large, it influences everything we do.

Freud: What is more natural than that we should persist in looking for happiness along the path on which we first encountered it? Sexual love has given us our most intense experience of an overwhelming sensation of pleasure and has thus furnished us with a pattern for our search for happiness.

Narrator: In 1905 Freud wrote a series of essays on sexuality. He stated plainly that sex — or the libido — drives our desires and impulses, whether we know it or not. And that this drive is formed early in childhood. Viennese society was scandalized.

Sander Gilman: He's accused of being a pornographer from day one. The accusation is that he's obsessed with sex. Maybe the problem that Freud has is that he should've chosen another word, rather than sexuality. Sex for Freud is what we are as human beings. It is not simply genital sex. It's what underlies all relationships. But what he says is the drives are the ones, the underlying — can we say, amorphous unshaped drives, are those things which, in a sense, morph into various forms of relationships. As an individual, we relate to other people, to our care-givers when we're infants, to our spouses. At the base of who we are as a human being is, in point of fact, the sexual drive.

Freud: We psychoanalysts are unable to see anything forbidden or sinful in sexual satisfaction. But it must be said to believe that psychoanalysis seeks a cure for neurotic disorders by giving a free reign to sexuality is a serious misunderstanding, which can only be excused by ignorance.

Narrator: But Freud's theories were misunderstood. What most incensed the public was that Freud claimed that sexuality began at birth, not puberty. He was accused of violating the innocence of childhood.

Neubauer: When he spoke about infantile sexuality at the beginning, he spoke about genitality step by step in our development as the sexual component. Later on in life he does not just speak about the body component pleasures and their impact on us, but he spoke about sexuality as an overall component which connects us together with affection and with the capacity to love.

Freud: The making conscious of repressed sexual desires in analysis makes it possible to obtain a mastery over them. It can be said that analysis sets the neurotic free from the chains of his sexuality.

Neubauer: When Freud says science wants to achieve that we are free of suffering and that we are slowly learning to love thy neighbor, to be social, this is a condition which is difficult for us to achieve. So happiness is not something which is our aim. What he really said very often is we want to be in a state of comfort, but we don't achieve it, but we want to be.

Narrator: Although he was called a sexual libertine, in his private life, Freud was a typical straight-laced member of the middle class. He had six children with his wife, Martha, and found true pleasure in family life.

Blum: He was a typical paterfamilias. I think he took great pride and pleasure in his children, he said of his children, "They're my pride and my treasure."

Freud: We are living rather happily and steadily growing if modestly. The two boys Martin and Ernst are naughty and funny. Our Sophie is now becoming so beautiful.

Narrator: When he was not seeing patients, Freud taught and developed his theories about people's deepest conflicts and fundamental needs. What he wrote about happiness was a definition of his own happiness.

Freud: One gains the most if one can sufficiently heighten the yield of pleasure from sources of physical and intellectual work such as the artist's joy in creating or a scientist's in solving problems or discovering truths.

Bond: Freud would say that human beings have always been internally conflicted, and the internal conflict is between insatiable desires and prohibitions that are absolutely necessary for society to continue, and this leaves us in a state of unease, a state of dissatisfaction, and often in a state of wretched pain. And so rather than to look for another mythological intervention, that we need to accept our condition as it is, that we're perpetually conflicted, and then with the help of what he called the talking cure, we can change this wretchedness into ordinary unhappiness.

C.S. Lewis: The Four Loves

Lewis explores the nature of divine love and finds kinship with other believers at Oxford.

Narrator: For Lewis, true happiness could only be found in relationship with God. When he entered into this relationship, it changed his life.

Lewis: To believe in God and to pray, were the beginning of my extroversion. I had been taken out of myself.

Narrator: Lewis was a bachelor living with Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen, the mother and sister of a dead comrade from the first World War. They were family to him.

After he embraced faith, Lewis broadened his circle of friends. He was drawn more and more to the writers and scholars at Oxford who shared his faith.

Lewis: My happiest hours are spent sitting up to the small hours in someone's college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea and pipes. There's no sound I like better than adult male laughter.

Narrator: The group gathered weekly to talk, drink and read their works. Literary critics Hugo Dyson and Owen Barfield, medievalist J.R.R. Tolkien, writer and editor Charles Williams, Lewis and his brother Warren. They called themselves the "Inklings".

Colin Duriez: The Inklings actually began around 1933 and Tolkein and Lewis were the — were at the core of it and they invited friends along. The 1930s was a time when modernism was very strong both as a literary movement and philosophically sweeping away the old idealism, and putting forward the scientific model as the only means to truth. Lewis and his friends passionately resisted this movement, and the Inklings actually functioned as a kind of an oasis to stand against this trend, and to give encouragement to each other, to develop their writings in a consciously Christian way.

Lewis: To belong to a group of real friends is to be armed against influences from without. The public opinion within the group may be tiny, but it matters more than the opinion of ten thousand outsiders.

Duriez: Lewis and Tolkien felt that the kind of stories they liked weren't being written, and that as nobody else was doing it, they should do it themselves. One stage they tossed a coin to see who would write a time story, and who would write a space story.

Narrator: Tolkien got the time story — which became The Lord of the Rings. And Lewis got the space story, which became the trilogy Out of the Silent Planet.

Duriez: Lewis began to realize that all kinds of theological ideas could be smuggled into people's minds by writing good stories which would inculcate these kind of concepts.

Walter Hooper: All this time Lewis had been spinning his wheels. Then came the conversion. What happened was when he was converted, he really lost all interest in himself. I can't underscore that enough — what a change that was in that man. He just lost his interest in himself. Not in the things that he was interested in — not in poetry. He was technically one of the most proficient men for writing you could think of. But he had nothing to say. Then, along came an invitation to preach in St. Mary, the Virgin. Which is one of the oddest things that they would ask him. But they knew he was interested in theology. Anyway, he preached this remarkable sermon.

James Como: He became this great defender of the faith. He said, I realized that one real service I could provide my fellow Christians was to explain and defend the faith to them, because, you know, he had this extraordinary rhetorical gift. So he became, he became as his friends saw, very selfless and looked outside of himself.

Duriez: There was a lot of resistance from his colleagues in Oxford. They felt that, whereas as a Don might write detective stories, it was another matter when it came to writing popular theology. They had a feeling that they should be the specialist theologians that wrote on theology. Lewis was a very intellectual person, a brilliant mind. But at the heartbeat of all his work is a preoccupation with the whole idea of human love. He wrote a book called The Four Loves, which is about the four kinds of love that we experience.

Narrator: Affection for family and friends, sexual love, these Lewis defined much as Freud would have. Then he added a fourth category — love of God.

Lewis: Divine gift love in a man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable — lepers, criminals, enemies, morons.

Gilbert I. Bond: Lewis is differentiating between different experiences of love that all human beings have, and identifying that it is natural to love one's brother, one's family members, enter into relationships with friends, male and female, to enter into erotic and romantic love. But he also recognized this mysterious realm of love that did not have a direct and immediate personal benefit, and he identified that as agape, or a selfless love, a love that was truly committed to the well being of the other. And passionately so.

Peter Kreeft: What Agape means in the New Testament is the love of God. The love that God has to us. And that love mediated and explained by Christ is absolutely egalitarian. Agape or charity is a scandal to reason because it means loving people not just in terms of justice or what they deserve, but simply loving them absolutely.

Bond: For Freud, uh, what we're talking about as love he would designate as eros. But eros, as desire, sought an object, in other words it was a quantum of energy that goes in search of satisfaction with an other. That's a far cry from what Lewis understood to be the human manifestations of agape, because in that definition of love, there is a degree of selflessness, in other words, eros has an aim, it has a target, it has an object, it has an ulterior motive. Agape doesn't.

Francis Collins: The love that's being talked about in the love-your-neighbor exhortation is not necessarily the love that comes easy, the love that is full of emotion, of good feeling. It is a love that extends to all of other human beings, because we are of the same species. We are all creatures who are children of God.

Love Thy Neighbor

Armand Nicholi: In Freud's attack on the spiritual worldview one of his main complaints is that nothing runs so counter to the original nature of people than the basic precept of loving your neighbor as yourself. But Lewis is saying regardless of how we feel toward the person, we have control over our will to want the best for that person and act accordingly. What's your reaction to these two diametrically opposed opinions?

Michael Shermer: Well I agree with Freud. It's moral and good to start off cooperating and be altruistic, but if the other person defects and keeps cheating and lying or whatever, you're just an idiot if you keep cooperating. There's nothing moral about that. You're a fool. The Jesus ethic sounds better and it's a good way to start, but what people actually do is they start off cooperating, and if the other person defects, then they do a tit for tat thing, which is the wisest strategy in the long run.

Margaret Klenck: But cooperation's not love. I mean I absolutely agree with you that if somebody's kicking me in the shins I'm going to stop him. If somebody's robbing me I'm going to call the police. That doesn't mean I can't love that person. I mean I think we're talking about empathy here. I can still call the police on this guy, but I don't say "you're attacking me so you're bad and I'm good."

Michael Shermer: I think what Freud means is actually expressing genuine love and affection for somebody that's a stranger that's kicking you in the shins.

Margaret Klenck: I don't think that's what the precept is. I think Freud's misunderstanding the precept.

Winifred Gallagher: I think in my own life, if I can manage to love my neighbor as myself, meaning even just to give the benefit of the doubt to the stranger, it's an act of the will. Each time you have to decide to give the benefit of the doubt.

Michael Shermer: At the beginning. But what if they do it again and again?

Louis Massiah: I agree with Winifred. Not even going to Christianity, there's a certain pragmatism, I think, about loving your neighbor that actually you see in Martin Luther King — in that if you are able to love even those that oppress you and you really remain conscious that we are all part of a community, that's how we go forward,

Michael Shermer: That's a strategy, not a feeling.

Louis Massiah: It's a strategy and a feeling — but ultimately that gets you much further than sort of an oppositional stance that, okay we're at war.

Doug Holladay: The feeling's irrelevant. I think the reason you do this is that it changes the whole power equation. Martin Luther King used the principles of loving your enemy and it changes everything. For example, in the first century, Roman citizens could call upon Jews to carry their luggage one mile. It was required by law, and the Jews hated it. After one mile they would drop the baggage and go on. So Jesus says we can change this power equation. He said go the second mile. The idea in the second mile was , who's in charge now? I think the power now has shifted to the one that was powerless.

Jeremy Fraiberg: I find this a bit confusing. What relevance is this to the spiritual-secular debate?

Doug Holladay: I would say the difference it makes is in our worldview. I need a worldview that embraces the complex kind of ways I need to relate to life. I am going to face people that harm me that are my enemies, how do I deal with that? When, when somebody screws you in business, you have a choice, you know, kill the guy, you know, get bitter, all that stuff. Or you can choose to say, "be smart, but also forgive the person..."

Jeremy Fraiberg: Can't you do that without God?

Doug Holladay: Well, maybe you can, but I'm having a hard enough time doing it with God. Of course you can roll over and be a doormat, but I think it's so contrary to human nature to say "I'm going to forgive that person" and see them for what they could be and pray them into it, believe into it, treat them as they could become when you harm me or harm my child or my wife. And I think part of this idea of loving your enemy is saying "there's a better side of you, there's a image of God that's stamped on you and I want to, I want to believe you into that." And I think that's where the spiritual worldview is hugely ...

Armand Nicholi: Well, I think Jeremy has asked a [good] question. "How is this related to the spiritual worldview?" We need to understand that both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament: "Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself." Now if a person embraces this worldview, then that becomes the central organizing principle of their lives.

Now it's difficult, as Michael said, your first reaction is "This is kind of stupid, you know, love your neighbor as yourself, it doesn't make sense." But Lewis tries to shed light on that. He makes a very clear distinction that this kind of love, this that's the Greek word "AGAPE ," has to do more with the will than feeling. There's something revolutionary about this concept.

Michael Shermer: I think this came from the question, does it come from God or does it come naturally? So at dinner the other night, I'm eating alone in a city where I don't live, and I tip the waiter. Why? I could, I don't have to. I'll never see the person again. There's nobody to impress, I'm alone. Because it makes me feel better.

Doug Holladay: God's watching.

Michael Shermer: He might be, but I'm not worried about that. But why does it make me feel better? So I've been thinking about this. Why would it make me feel better? And the answer is that in our long evolutionary history of living with a small community of other people, it's not enough to just fake being a cooperator and a good person because it's hard to do and people will find you out. You actually have to be a good person. And you're more likely to believe it yourself if you actually do it. And then you're more likely to do it if you actually believe it yourself. And I think, over the long eons of our evolutionary history, we evolved a moral sense, an empathy, or a feeling of warmth about doing the right thing, not as a fake thing, but as a real thing.

Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents

Distraught by war and personal loss, Freud publishes his views on society's dangers and delusions.

Narrator: Freud saw human life drawn between two powerful and opposing forces: the life force on the one hand and on the other, the death instinct, the destroying drive.

Freud: Let us look away from the individual to the great war that is ravaging Europe. Think of the excess of brutality, cruelty, and mendacity which is now allowed to spread itself over the civilized world.

Sander Gilman: Freud starts out in 1914 as, by the way, most people start out in Vienna in 1914 — being a great supporter of the war. And by 1919, he is, as most people are in Vienna, aware of the horrors of what that communal response to the war really has brought. The death of an entire generation — a generation, by the way, in which his sons are part.

Freud: Two of my boys are still in artillery training. Martin, is already in the trenches. Oliver left yesterday. I discharged a Russian patient as cured. Two weeks later he became my enemy who might, for all I know, shoot at one of my sons. ...

Gilman: After the first World War, there's a very interesting kind of shift — which is that Freud, who in a sense, had been always interested in the growth potential of human beings, suddenly becomes aware that there's a dark side to human beings. He writes a series of papers on what he calls the death drive, about the fact that we, in a sense, not only want to preserve our lives, but that we are always moving toward death. And suddenly, he starts to understand evil not only is part of individual development, but also part of society.

Freud: These are indeed terrible times. It seems to us as though never before has an event destroyed so many precious possessions of our common humanity, confused so many of the clearest intellects, debased the highest so thoroughly. This war has let the primeval man within us into the light.

Narrator: The savagery of war propelled him to a deeper study of man's nature. In the years following the first World War he brought together all his intellectual interests, psychiatry, history, mythology, religion, into one long essay, Civilization and Its Discontents.

Harold Blum: Civilization was based upon the fact that people were capable of regulating their instincts, regulating their most primitive, anti-social, anti-familiar instincts. One could be jealous of a brother, one could want to have incest with a sister, but it was important that a regulated human being never act out such impulses. In fact, Freud at one point said the person who first hurled a word, an insult, so to speak, instead of a spear was the founder of civilization.

Freud: Civilization is perpetually threatened with disintegration. Instinctual passions are stronger than reason. Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man's aggressive instincts.

Gilman: Freud does not assume any sort of external moral world, which is transcendental. He sees this as part of internal processes functioning in terms of the way that we set up laws.

Freud: In our view the truth of religion may be altogether disregarded. Its doctrines carry with them the stamp of the times in which they originated, the ignorant childhood days of this human race.

Blum: Originally religious attitudes, faith in a supreme being comes from the early parent relationship. The parents who help the child towards self regulation, towards self control, the parent who teaches the child that certain impulses, like the scratch, bite, kick and so forth are not to be expressed and have to be controlled. The child's sense of what is right and wrong, what's acceptable and unacceptable, in Freud's terms comes from what the parent approves of or disapproves of. But those relationships for Freud become internalized, so eventually the voice of conscience is from within. What's evil within us, then, is not the devil. The devil are the primitive passions and impulses within ourselves which threaten us from within, not from without. When we say "get thee behind me, Satan," what is really meant, in following Freud's thought, is I will not allow these passions to rule me, I will be master of my own passions.

Freud: It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressions. When once the apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained outside it became the inevitable consequence.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Freud saw his destiny to rescue human beings from their self deceptions ... their convictions that they were so great, so full of love, so full of self-knowledge ... and to demonstrate to them that they were deceiving themselves, that they were dominated by sexuality, by passions, by anger, by hatred.

Narrator: But there was another category of human misery not created by people and against which there was no defense.

In the great flu epidemic that followed in the wake of the first World War, Freud lost his daughter, Sophie. She was 23 years old and pregnant with her third child.

Freud: It was a senseless, brutal act of fate, which has robbed us of our Sophie. Tomorrow she will be cremated, our Sunday child. ... I do not know whether cheerfulness will ever call on us again. My poor wife has been hit too hard. ... Indeed, a mother is not to be consoled; and, as I am now discovering nor is a father.

Narrator: Three years later, Sophie's 4-year-old son Heinele also died.

Freud: He was an enchanting fellow. And I know that I have hardly ever loved a human being, certainly never a child, as much as him. I find this loss very hard to bear. I don't think I ever experienced such grief. He meant the future to me and thus has taken the future away with him. As the deepest of unbelievers I have no one to accuse and I know there is no place where one can lodge an accusation.

Rizzuto: He said that there are other people that can be consoled by religion, but he doesn't have that available to him. And once more he resorts to the same stance in relation to himself. He's going to hold himself up, he's going to tolerate the pain, he's going to tolerate the suffering without consolation. And that is what he has accepted. Life is hard and he will take it.

Human Condition

Armand Nicholi: Freud says that it seems not to be the case that there's a power in the universe which watches over the well-being of individuals with parental care, and brings all their affairs to a happy ending. Earthquakes, tidal waves, conflagrations, make no distinction between the good and what we consider the evil. And when it comes to relationships between people, uh, the good often come away with the short end of the stick. How do you explain that? Freud says, "The notion that good is rewarded and evil punished by the government of the universe just does not seem to square with reality." But Lewis, in response, points out that the government of the universe is temporarily in enemy hands. Do any of these arguments make sense today? And have they in any way influenced your own personal worldview?

Jeremy Fraiberg: How can you believe in a Christian God when there are things in this world like little girls getting abducted, sexually tortured repeatedly and then hacked up into pieces. That just happened in Toronto, where I come from. I mean, this is unspeakably evil. And awful. And how could a good God let that happen?

Doug Holladay: He couldn't. The Old Testament documents seem to argue that the world isn't what it was intended to be. So I would say those things are because God's given free will, this world is on its own trajectory. But this is not Plan A, I'd say. This is Plan B, which is a broken world, that free reign of evil is everywhere.

Margaret Klenck: I wouldn't say that the spiritual worldview is that there are these two forces in the world, sort of Manicheism. I mean, I don't think we need to go to "All good God, all horrible devil." I think I can begin to get my mind around, and my heart around, a God who has a shadow, the way we do. A God who, because there's light, there will be dark. That there is a sense that this is all part of the entity. I don't believe that we're living in plan B. I think this is — I think this is plan. This is the plan.

Armand Nicholi: That God planned the evil?

Margaret Klenck: No, I don't picture a God sitting there with, like, a calculus and figuring all this out and saying, "Ah, and if I do this, this'll happen, if I do that, that'll happen." I don't relate to that God. I relate to a force that has set this in motion, and that enjoys the free will, not in a sadistic way, but in the way that I believe we're made in God's image, which is to be in relationship. If we can't be in relationship — if there's no evil, if there's no bad, if there's no sad, there can be no love, there can be no good.

Louis Massiah: I think I'm following what you're saying. It's not to say that we want evil, that we want bad, but confronting those forces actually helps us to rise to another level. Without struggle, you know, where would we be?

Jeremy Fraiberg: Hold on — this free will argument is really flawed in a number of ways. First of all, free will addressed only the third of the list of three things that Freud listed as being sources of pain — namely, the things that people do to other people. It says nothing at all about the decay of our bodies — people suffer horrible diseases, terrible pain, that has nothing to do with free will. Natural disasters, earthquakes, volcanoes, what does that have to do with free will?

Doug Holladay: If we are in fact living in enemy territory, then our life is lived in reality knowing there's evil in the world, and we've got these skirmishes all along the way. We're having fights where we have one victory — Nelson Mandela's released, this good thing happens, but there is evil, there's no question who's in charge of this world order. That is the spiritual worldview, as Lewis has articulated it. And it seems to me that if you don't get that, if I don't understand that the world is terribly different than God's plan A, then you're kind of surprised all the time by evil. I think Lewis is saying, "Don't be surprised by evil ... . "

Margaret Klenck: No, no, he's not surprised by evil... Nobody's surprised by evil. I mean, I think the point is —

Doug Holladay: No, if you just say everything's God, everything's good, I think the worldview that says there's real evil everywhere, and our job in life is to fight against that

Winifred Gallagher: A big piece of this for the religious person, though, whether it's Buddhism or Christianity or Judaism, or — the person of faith says, "Despite all this terrible stuff, I am putting my trust in the fact that it's still part of what will turn out to be a good picture."

C.S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith

Lewis gains fame through his wartime radio sermons and works of spiritual fiction.

Narrator: Lewis did not accept Freud's view that morality evolved from the harsh lessons of human experience. To him, morality came from God.

It was a message he brought to a mass audience in the years of the second World War. Even as soldiers fought overseas, German planes attacked the cities and shipyards of Britain. ... Military and civilians alike were constantly in danger. The simple security of everyday life was gone.

Parents feared for safety of their children — and the government organized massive evacuations of the youngest, the most vulnerable, to the countryside. Four of these evacuees were sent to Lewis's home in Oxfordshire.

Colin Duriez: This had an enormous impact on Lewis. He had been living with Mrs. Moore and they'd been joined by his brother. It was a relatively small household. He was very attracted to these young children, enjoying their zest as they explored the ground of the Kilns and discovered the pond in the distance, and found the chickens. And to them, it was almost like coming to a farm. This inspired him to start writing a story, about four children who came as evacuees to a house in the country.

Narrator: One of the children had asked Lewis whether there was anything behind the big old wardrobe, and if she could open it. The question sparked his imagination.

Duriez: Several years later, he was able to pick the story up, and it became "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," the first of The Chronicles of Narnia, which, of course, was about four evacuees who come to the house of an old professor in the countryside.

Narrator: The Narnia stories, like Lewis's early science fiction, were allegories of the Christian faith. They told the tale of children who visited a magic land where good fought evil for power over the world. On this journey, the children encountered Aslan the lion, who has returned to redeem humankind.

Duriez: He has a mediator between God and human beings in the form of Aslan, who's very approachable, and yet also is quite frightening. And it's a beautiful picture of a Christian view of faith.

Narrator: But outside the oasis of the countryside, the war was still raging. Every night people who were huddled in shelters or confined to their homes tuned to the radio for news of the battlefront. In the face of the chaos, uncertainty, and cruelty of war, many questioned the existence of a loving God.

Duriez: People in the cities, with the bombs falling on them, were facing issues of life and death, and people losing their loved ones and war. And it's a huge issue.

Narrator: The director of religious programming at the BBC asked C.S. Lewis to give some broadcast talks about faith.

Duriez: Lewis, at first, was a bit uncertain. He didn't like traveling to London, and he didn't like the radio, but he felt a sense of duty to oblige, and he prepared the first of his series of talks to do with the moral law.

Narrator: It started as an experiment — just five broadcasts, 15 minutes each. Lewis was told to write as if he were speaking to the average citizen.

Lewis: [Reading on radio] The next step is from being mere creatures to being sons of God. We Christians don't call it evolution because we believe it isn't something coming up out of blind nature but something coming down from the world of light and power and knowledge beyond all nature.

Walter Hooper: It was so successful, the BBC couldn't get enough — they had so many replies begging them to get Lewis back.

Narrator: The first five talks were followed by another five, and then another.

Lewis: [Reading on radio] History isn't just the story of bad people doing bad things. It's quite as much a story of people trying to do good things but somehow something goes wrong.

Narrator: These radio broadcasts were collected in the best-selling book Mere Christianity. The 1940s were Lewis's most prolific years. He wrote The Screwtape Letters, in which a senior devil teaches a young apprentice the tools of the trade, and The Problem of Pain, a treatise on suffering.

Hooper: Lewis picked up his pen in 1939 and by the time he put it down, when the war was won in 1945, he had given Britain and the United States its major apologetics for Christianity.

Lewis: If there was a controlling power outside the universe, the only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we find in ourselves.

Narrator: The existence of an indisputable moral law was central to Lewis's beliefs. For him, the fact that we have a conscience points undeniably to a Creator.

Duriez: You might be in a dilemma, where you need to rescue somebody who's drowning, and you're risking your own life in the process, but the moral law puts that obligation above your own instinct for self-survival.

Peter Kreeft: There has never been a society in history which thought that courage, and justice, and charity, and honesty were vices, and that lying, and cheating, and stealing, and raping, and betraying were virtues.

Lewis: This Rule of Right and Wrong ... must somehow be a real thing ... not made up by ourselves.

Kreeft: If all of humanity is subject to moral obligation, what's the source of that moral obligation? How could it be something less than humanity? How could it be just our genes, or our past history, or our influences, or our biology? So from the moral law to a moral lawgiver.

Francis Collins: Lewis argues that if you are looking for evidence of a God who cares about us as individuals, where could you more likely look than within your own heart at this very central concept of what's right and what's wrong. And there it is. In the one place where you think you might most learn something about God, that's exactly where you find it. And not only does it tell you something about the fact that there is a spiritual nature that is somehow written within our hearts, but it also tells you something about the nature of God Himself, which is that He is a good and holy God. That what we have there is a glimpse of what He stands for.

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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