The Question of God (2004) PBS

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

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Program One (2/2)


Moral Law

Armand Nicholi: Where do we get our concept of right and wrong? Our moral code? Freud's worldview says that they just come through human experience. What works, what doesn't work has been developed over time. Whereas Lewis gives a long argument to show that this is indeed like laws of mathematics that we discover rather than make up, and that it transcends time and culture. What are your reactions to those statements?

Margaret Klenck: To me it's both and. There's religious instinct, there's spiritual experiences, we have history behind us, we have civil codes, moral codes, we have all kinds of stuff that come at us from all different levels of consciousness, for me, you put — you turn this around and these two things go directly together like the two sides of a magnet.

Armand Nicholi: So, you're saying that this could indeed come from God. But it would be reinforced through human experience?

Margaret Klenck: You could put it that way. Or there could be more of a dialogue, kind of what to do. And, clearly, we don't know what to do yet, because this world's a mess.

Michael Shermer: One question. What is the origin of the moral sentiments? So, they evolved through natural forces and culture and history, or God implemented — put them in... ?

Margaret Klenck: Why can't it be both?

Michael Shermer: How can it be both?

Margaret Klenck: How can it not be both?

Michael Shermer: Unless you wanted to just say that forces of history and nature is God's way of doing it. But it doesn't add anything.

Margaret Klenck: No, I don't agree. I think it adds an element of our humility, I think it adds an element of the unknown. That we, no matter what, we don't know. We don't know.

Jeremy Fraiberg: Well, another thing that I think it's important to be clear on is that the moral principles of a particular religion may be true from the standpoint of someone who's secular — but for different reasons than merely the fact that they were promulgated by God. You can reject the Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist arguments about creation and about the existence of God, but yet buy in almost entirely to their moral conception. Not necessarily because you think it's divinely inspired, but just because there's a lot of wisdom inherent in these belief systems. 'Cause lots of smart people spent lots of time thinking these things through, uh, articulating the principles, and look they've been successful, right?

Armand Nicholi: You're saying they come from human experience over time. Is that right?

Jeremy Fraiberg: Well, I'm saying it's a possible argument. And I might say, well, just naturalistically this has come to be. And it is good for the species, and these principles are good principles by which to govern our lives.

Louis Massiah: My sense of morality comes from a community dealing with certain historical issues. And in particular the situation of African-Americans in this, in this land. And that helps determine what the work is. And from those past experiences we, we learn what, what is right and what is wrong.

Frederick Lee: What if I came to you and I said that I believe social justice is really an unworthy cause. I feel that the earth has only limited resources, and therefore we should maximize the use of those resources in certain ways that will allow the ultimate achievement by the human race. I mean, that's an old philosophy that, unfortunately, was adopted by the Nazis —

Louis Massiah: A type of manifest.

Frederick Lee: Yeah, a horror, right? And yet, without a conception of God, how do I explain to someone like Adolph Hitler, that this is immoral?

Jeremy Fraiberg: I don't think God would've been much help convincing Hitler of anything.

Doug Holladay: We don't want to convince them, we just want to shut them down.

Frederick Lee: Wait a minute, I'm just staying, let's stay with this question. A very simple question, and it says, without an absolute standard on which to stand, how is it that one human can say to another, "What you are doing is immoral." Do you say, "Okay, what you did was wrong, only for practical reasons," as Freud would say.

Michael Shermer: No, not just for practical reasons. Because you wouldn't want to have it done to you.

Frederick Lee: But, regardless of whether it is done to me or done to anybody else —

Michael Shermer: And isn't it a better principal that — of how you'd like to be treated, versus "Cause God said I shouldn't do it."

Doug Holladay: The Golden Rule.

Michael Shermer: Yeah, I think the Golden Rule is far superior to any theological "God told me this was bad" argument.

Frederick Lee: Well, wait a minute, the Golden Rule is religious — it's from God.

Michael Shermer: I don't care what religion said about it, I think religion got it from our evolutionary history. I think in a social species, this is the first rule, the first moral rule. Since the Enlightenment, we have values that we put on human life and freedoms and civil liberties that have nothing to do with religion and they don't come from religion and we enforce those, we run around the world overthrowing dictators because we want to help people. And because they're people. Just because of that, and that's good enough.

Doug Holladay: But that's being challenged in fundamental ways. As a former diplomat, these ideas have huge consequences and that came out of a worldview that said, there is evil and part of our mission is to confront that.

Margaret Klenck: But the other side to it is that, I mean I absolutely agree that there is evil. It's a real thing. But to say there's evil out there, you know, to project all the evil out there and to say, I am the good and therefore I'm going to — but that's the underbelly of this, this worldview. And I think the, the idea of tolerance, when it's a profound idea, has to do with wait a minute, before I accuse you, you know, I have to look at mine. And then if I see what that instinct is, then I can talk to you about it. But I can't just squash you.

Frederick Lee: I think that's the fear with absolutism that, Margaret, you're referring to — the idea that what I believe is right and because it is absolutely right, I have the right to impose it on you, to force it on you. And if it means that I can go around as certain elements in the world do and claim that as part of their religious mission they need to kill certain people, then it's justified, right? So clearly that's a very dangerous ground to stand on. On the other hand, this notion of tolerance I find equally intolerable; the notion that sort of all versions of truth are equally valid.

Michael Shermer: Okay, let's think of it between the relativism of all views are equal and the absolutism that there is one right way. There is what I call provisional morality. That is, there are principles that are true most of the time for most people in most circumstances. Tolerance is one of those. Most of the time in most circumstances, tolerance is good — not a hundred percent of the time. Sometimes you just have to be intolerant. You take the knife away from the baby, you don't allow 'em to jail people, whatever. So what's the principle there? What's the guiding principle?

Frederick Lee: Right, right.

Michael Shermer: We can start with the golden rule. We can start with freedom, greater freedoms for more people as a guideline.

Frederick Lee: Why is freedom a good thing?

Michael Shermer: Well, because we've decided that since we each individually would prefer freedom versus less freedom, that as collectively as a group, this is a good value to have.

Jeremy Fraiberg: I don't know why you necessarily need God in order to have morality, which is, I think, what's at stake in this discussion if I understand it. Is that right?

Jeremy Fraiberg: Well, you seemed to be saying earlier that you needed God to have a sense of right and wrong. I don't think you do.

Doug Holladay: Well, let me tell you practically how I think that this works. In 1833, the British Empire abolished the slave trade. Forty-seven years earlier, a young member of Parliament underwent what he referred to as the great change. He went from unbelief to belief. In his diary, you can see — William Wilberforce — in 1791 he wrote in his diary, October 28th, God Almighty has set before me two things to do. The suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. But the thing that I found really interesting, he was able to transcend a, a cultural captivity, if you will, of young Parliamentarians of his age. And I would say, Jeremy, that my view has been if you look over the past 2,000 years, repeatedly people of faith have been able to transcend their times, look at a reality and address it.

Jeremy Fraiberg: Right.

Doug Holladay: And I, find that a very powerful argument for being able to somehow see the world differently. And that's what I believe this transcendent set of values can do.

Louis Massiah: All of those things have provided that same sort of transcendent force. I mean, so it's not just religion.

Doug Holladay: But I'm saying real change, real cultures, the abolish...

Michael Shermer: Yeah, but the slave trade was justified biblically.

Doug Holladay: Of course it was.

Michael Shermer: And when you look back and say, oh, well, they were wrong — how do you know they were wrong?

Doug Holladay: Do you think they were right?

Michael Shermer: Because, because our society has decided that slavery is bad and they didn't decide that because of God or any biblical thing. We decided it because as humans, it leads to lesser freedom and the Enlightenment values that more freedom is better prevailed. Because people said we're not going to put up with this anymore. It has nothing to do with God or the Bible.

Armand Nicholi: Well, wait a minute — let me ask a question. Do you think the people that were enslaving others, or the, the Nazis that were murdering millions of people — do you think that they at some level knew that what they were doing was wrong?

Jeremy Fraiberg: They may not have and the reason they may not have is if they based their positions on flawed premises. But if you correct, if you correct that error, then presumably their beliefs change. And similarly with slavery — there's a belief in, you know, some people tried to justify slavery unsuccessfully on the grounds that there was a difference between the races. But that's false.

Doug Holladay: Well, they did it for a long time. They were able to justify —

Jeremy Fraiberg: Right, right, but that's false. So it, so there is no justification.

Armand Nicholi: Say with the Nazis, though, that developed this theory of — do you think that they really believed that underneath? That these human beings were

Louis Massiah: You look at today in terms of the incarceration of African-Americans and Latinos. I mean, there are people that believe that young African-American men are dangerous and criminal. I mean, look at the prisons now. I mean, that's just false. And people believe it. So, but obviously, if you see what's, you know, who's in the prison, obviously there's something horribly wrong with the society and many of these people that are putting people in prison and writing the laws are quite religious. So —

Armand Nicholi: But, I'm not saying whether they're religious or not. I'm asking whether or not at some level they know that what there, what they're doing is unjust and wrong.

Sigmund Freud: The Promised Land

His final years filled with turmoil, a stoic Freud steadfastly refuses any solace in religion.

Anna Freud (voiceover): My father is here with a very old friend of his. In this picture, neither of these two men knew that they were photographed. That is why the whole thing is so natural.

Narrator: The 1930s would be the last decade of Freud's life. He already had cancer of the mouth and he knew it would kill him.

Anna Freud: My father and mother.

Narrator: Freud's daughter, Anna, looks back at the family home movies.

Anna Freud (voiceover): This was at the time, when we couldn't leave Vienna anymore in the summers, because of my father's illness, and so we took a house in the suburbs. And my father enjoyed the flowers so very much.

Sander Gilman: Ah, he's an old man, he's extremely sick, he's had cancer for decades, and they've been cutting on him for decades, and he's got this huge implement in his mouth that's covering the opening in his palate so his food that he eats doesn't come out of his nose. I mean, you know, he's in terrible pain all the time.

Harold Blum: Freud knew that he was dying. And I think that that led him again to consider the — attitude towards death which he had written about before — [inaudible] times on War and Death and so forth and of course concern with death, disappearances run right through Freud's writings from the very beginning to the very end. He would even say to Ernest Jones "Good bye, Jones. You'll never see me again." [Laughs]. So it was a preoccupation that he had.

He was superstitious about the date of his death for years, through his life. And I think that as death approached and became a reality, he again tried to understand what is the meaning of death. And of course one of the wishes that's involved is a wish for immortality, a wish to not die, along with a wish to be relieved of the suffering, a wish to die. So I think that absolutely preoccupied him.

Anna Freud (voiceover): It is the day of my parent's golden wedding. Now you will see a whole string of visitors — people from the country, a little girl. This is one of my father's sisters, one of those who died in concentration camps, Mitzi Freud.

Narrator: Hitler had been elected Chancellor in Germany. When the Nazis started burning books, Freud's were among the first consigned to the flames.

Freud: What progress we are making; in the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Nowadays they are content with burning my books.

Ismar Schorsch: It was the tidal wave of anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere in Central Europe that brought Freud back to confront the historical phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Why was it such a continuous and pervasive, poison in the history of the West.

Narrator: In the summer of 1934, Freud began to work on the last book he would write, Moses and Monotheism. In it, he would turn his attention once again to religion, this time the Jewish faith.

Peter Neubauer: Freud has a long affair with Moses. Long before his last book he went to Rome. He spent days sitting in front of Michelangelo's Moses to study it. That this is not Moses in anger, but Moses in trying to restrain his anger.

Schorsch: Here was Freud arguing that much of what we identify as Israelite religion in the Torah actually is of Egyptian origin.

Freud: Moses was not Jewish, but a prominent Egyptian who led the Jews into freedom and he gave them monotheism. In other words, it was not God the Father who chose the Jews but Moses the Man.

Narrator: Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt, into the desert. But then Freud departs from the Bible.

Neubauer: He gave himself a very interesting Freedom. He says this is not a scientific study, it is a novella, a short story. I will try on some of my ideas and play with it.

Narrator: In Freud's version, the Jews follow Moses into exile, but they do not accept his revolutionary new belief in just one god.

Freud: They revolted and threw off the burden of a religion that had been forced on them. They took their destiny into their own hands and did away with their tyrant. They assassinated Moses.

Schorsch: Moses' ultimate triumph is assured by the manner of his death. The people of Israel are overcome with guilt at what they have done, so they internalize everything that they had rejected while Moses was alive.

Narrator: Freud goes on to re-interpret the Crucifixion in terms of Jewish history.

Schorsch: Guilt has to be relieved. You can't walk around forever, uh, burdened by excessive guilt. So Christianity has provides humanity with a way of relieving guilt. The murder of God's son is a sacrifice that atones not for the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden but for the murder of the primal father. So Christianity offers relief from unbearable guilt. And Judaism rejects that offer of relief. The world repays Judaism with eternal hatred. That's Freud's deep-seated psychological explanation for anti-Semitism.

Blum: Freud is identified with Moses, who brings the commandments, who preserves the tablets. And who brings a new not only a new set of regulations but a new way of understanding human nature to humanity.

Ana-Maria Rizzuto: The thing that is most significant for a reader of the Bible or anyone who knows the story, is that there is no God to tell Moses what to do. Like Freud, Moses tells himself what to do. He is his own man.

Narrator: But historic events forced Freud to stop working on the manuscript.

Anna Freud (voiceover): Now this is already Hitler in Vienna. That's our house, look, with the swastikas on it.

Narrator: In March of 1938, the German army occupied all of Austria. They began the systematic persecution and deportation of Austria's Jews.

Anna Freud (voiceover): Oh and that is the crowds, cheering Hitler. Look at the crowd. That's how it looked.

Blum: It was an extraordinarily disturbed period — people were refugees on the move all over the continent. He clearly didn't appreciate the monstrous nature of the brutality that the Nazis had in mind. He didn't foresee that the burning of the books was a prelude to the burning of people.

Narrator: Finally Freud saw the danger and allowed friends to buy the visas that would permit him to leave with his family.

Freud: We are waiting more or less patiently for our affairs to be settled. In view of the little time we have left to live, I fret at the delay. Anna's youthful vigor and optimistic energy have fortunately remained unshaken. Otherwise life would be difficult to carry on at all.

Anna Freud (voiceover): We left Vienna by night train and spent a day of rest in Paris. My brother Ernst came to Paris to meet us. My father had hoped to see something of Paris again but he was too tired from the trip.

Blum: Here is a man facing death in exile like Moses leaving Egypt. And he will not get into the promised land. He doesn't really believe that there is an afterlife. He faces death with an attempt again to review his own line of reasoning. The question of whether one believes or disbelieves in a paradise and a heaven or hell and a life after death and immortality. And he rejects all of that for him on the basis of the perpetuation of childhood fantasy into adult life. He thinks that this is not realistic and that one should face death stoically with a realization that that is part of life, it's the end of life, and we do not know why it was designed this way, that life should come to an end.

Narrator: Once established in London, Freud published Moses and Monotheism. The book outraged both Jews and Christians. Though old and sick, Freud was as defiant of his critics as he had been throughout his life.

Gilman: He's in England. He is suddenly freed from all of the constraints of that public face that he had to present in Vienna, and he could do things that, in a sense, he wants to now do as a public figure. At the same time that he writes Moses and Monotheism, he writes an open letter, in English, against the persecution of the Jews. Does he do it as a Jew, or as a scientist, or as a psychoanalyst? At this point, he's all of them.

Anna Freud (voiceover): This is definitely a birthday ... it's the last birthday.

Blum: Freud usually wound the clock in his study. He did not ... he was too sick. And Freud knew that his time was up. The end was very near.

Freud: Our unconscious does not believe in its own death, it behaves as if it were immortal. We cannot imagine our own death and when we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still spectators.

Blum: He faced a great deal of pain and suffering with as minimal treatment as possible, because he was always concerned it might interfere with his thought processes. He didn't want to be in a state where he might be low [inaudible], lethargic, dazed, unable to concentrate.

Freud: I cannot face the idea of life without work. What would one do when ideas failed or words refused to come? It is impossible not to shudder at the thought.

Gilman: All of the sudden, he has to come to terms with this new life, and he does it remarkably. I mean, it's an enormously productive moment given all of these other constraints, and his arrangement, of course, with his physician was that if he was no longer — and this was an arrangement that went back to Vienna — he was no longer able to deal with the pain of the cancer, he would be given an overdose of morphine, which at some point he decides he actually needs.

Freud: My dear Schur, you remember our first talk. You promised me then you would not forsake me when the time had come. It is only torture now, and no longer makes any sense.

Rizzuto: He had all his antiquities with him, all his gods that he talked to, and his personal, intellectual life there with him. It is my personal conviction that the ghost of Moses was saying to him, "Come on, have the courage to get rid of God to the very end." And he died as self-possessed as he has lived, not asking for consolation, not asking anyone to protect him, but simply dying as he had lived, with this kind of rebellious defiance and conqueror stance.

Anna Freud (voiceover): Now this is when three men of the Royal Society came to present the book of the Royal Society for signature to my father because he was not well enough to go there. And I think on that same picture is a signature of Darwin. That was a very nice moment.

C.S. Lewis: A Grief Observed

Miraculous joy followed by grief shakes the foundations of Lewis's faith.

Narrator: By the 1950s, C.S. Lewis had become a famous figure and the most popular spokesperson for Christianity in the English-speaking world. Living and working in Oxford for over 30 years, he was content and had no plans to change.

James Como: He was a bachelor leading a chaste life. There was no reason to think he would never be anything other than celibate. Warren was never anything other than celibate. And of course when Joy Davidman came along — kismet.

Colin Duriez: Joy Davidman was a writer, a novelist and a poet from New York. She grew up in a Jewish background, and she came across the writings of C.S. Lewis when she was an atheist and a Marxist, and started corresponding with Lewis.

Narrator: She told Lewis in her letters that she had embraced the Christian faith in part because of his writing.

Como: Lewis got lots of letter from eligible ladies wanting more than just advice about Christian problems. Why would Joy be any different? Well, she was different. She was different first because she was very, very smart. She knew Lewis' work, she was a poet herself, she was a novelist herself, and she was his match in what Owen Barfield called "dialectical obstetrics."

Narrator: Lewis married Helen Joy Davidman so that she would not be deported. But as they became closer and closer friends, they fell in love.

Lewis: When two people who discover they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass into erotic love.

Narrator: At the time they were married, Joy and Lewis knew that she had bone cancer.

Lewis: I am very shortly to be both a bridegroom and a widower.

Narrator: Lewis turned to a former pupil who had become a priest, Peter Bide.

Como: Peter Bide comes to the hospital and Lewis asks if this man who has some reputation for possessing a healing gift would place his hands upon Joy and pray that she be healed. Peter Bide does this. And lays his hand upon Lewis who prays that he will get the pain that Joy is suffering. The pain is ferocious. And of course Joy is expected to die within a day or two. She doesn't. In fact, she starts to get better. Within a few months, X-rays show that her pelvis has grown back. The bone has regenerated. Doctors cannot explain it.

Narrator: After her remission, Joy moved into the Lewis home with her two sons, David, 11 and Douglas, 13.

Lewis: I never expected to have in my 60s, that happiness that passed me by in my 20s. For those few years Helen and I feasted on love.

Walter Hooper: Her great other worldly ambition in life was to go to Greece. She'd wanted this since she was a young girl. They went to Mysini, they went to Crete, they went to Rhodes. Joy climbed all the way up to the Acropolis. It was a wonderful bonus. And it was one of the happiest periods of Lewis's life.

Narrator: But the cancer returned. Joy and C.S. Lewis were separated by death on July 14, 1960.

Lewis: Oh, God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell, if it's now doomed to crawl back to be sucked back into it. Where is God? What pitiable cant to say, "She will live forever in my memory." Live! That is exactly what she won't do. What's left? A corpse, a memory, a ghost. Three more ways of spelling the word 'dead'!

Narrator: A Grief Observed is Lewis's description of the journey he took after Joy's death, a portrait of grief and a struggle with his own faith.

Lewis: Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand. The conclusion is not "So there's no God, after all" but "So this is what God is really like, the Cosmic Sadist. The spiteful imbecile?"

Peter Kreeft: He lashes out at God and he says, "How can you expect us to live this way?" Very much like Job. Very honestly, he doesn't just argue. He emotes, the whole of his being is there, in front of God, it's a deep trust in God that allows him to give vent to his distrust.

Lewis: From the rational point of view what grounds has Helen's death given me for doubting all that I believe? Should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn't for a man whose faith had been real faith. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow it is because it was a house of cards. Indeed, it's likely enough that what I shall call, if it happens, a 'restoration of faith', will turn out to be only one more house of cards.

Something quite unexpected has happened, it came this morning early. Suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned Helen least, I remembered her best. Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off — waves or windblown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he's not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Lord, are these your real terms? Can I meet Helen again only if I learn to love you so much I don't care whether I meet her or not? When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of "no answer." It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent gaze. As though he shook his head, like, "Peace, child, you don't understand." How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back. She said, not to me, but to the chaplain, "I am at peace with God." She smiled. But not at me.

Narrator: Two years after his wife's death, C.S. Lewis began to have problems with his heart. He fell into a long coma, and then unexpectedly recovered.

Lewis: It would have been a luxuriously easy passage and one almost regrets having the door shut in one's face. To be brought back to life and have all one's dying to do again was rather hard.

I would like everything to be immemorial — to have the same old horizons, the same garden, the same smells and sounds, always there, changeless. Autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life. But of course, like autumn, it doesn't last.

Narrator: Clive Staples Lewis died three years after his wife in 1963.

Lewis: Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you. What are you afraid of? Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret?

Suffering and Death

Armand Nicholi: How do you equate an omnipotent, all loving being with what we've come to expect and experience in our lives? How do we cope with the problem of suffering?

Frederick Lee: There is no reconciliation. I think the definitive explanation, as far as from the spiritual worldview, is what was said in the book of Job, and this is a book that I cannot understand, and there is no answer to it. There is a wager —

Michael Shermer: But God's a sadist in that —

Frederick Lee: Exactly. There is a wager between God and the devil ...

Margaret Klenck: But we're back into dualism.

Frederick Lee: And the wager is Job only obeys you because you've blessed him, and God says, "Fine, torture him devil, do everything, but you can't kill him." And so he's tortured to the extreme, loses all his children, wealth, gets boils, and at the very end, you know, when his wife is telling him, "Curse God and die," he says, "No, I will remain faithful." Okay, but he still wants an account from God — "Why are you doing this to me? I have not been sinful. I have not committed anything that deserves this."

Jeremy Fraiberg: So why do you believe?

Frederick Lee: Because, as Lewis says, the problem of pain is only a problem because one believes in the spiritual worldview. In other words, faith creates the problem of pain.

Michael Shermer: Right. So just get rid of the faith, and that's it. There is no God —

Frederick Lee: Then there's no problem.

Jeremy Fraiberg: So what theory of the universe makes most sense given the data? Well, if you start with the premise that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, and then you run up against the data that bad things are happening to good people for no particular reason, it seems as though you can't reconcile the data to your theory.

Doug Holladay: I don't think I can know what I really believe, unless I'm challenged and face something that's beyond my capacity to deal with. When I've had periods like that, they have in a funny way strengthened me. During the challenging moments, like when friends are going through a divorce or they lose a child, it does matter what you believe. It absolutely matters.

Winifred Gallagher: One of my children got cancer, in perfect health, I just got a call from college one day. And it was such a horrible experience. It's much more horrible than getting it yourself, because there's nothing you can do. And the thing that amazed me about it was that in my worst moments I realized that I still thought that life was beautiful.

Armand Nicholi: That God is ultimately good? Is that what you're concluding?

Winifred Gallagher: That the difference between us and God, the test — I can't think of any other way of expressing it — that Job had, was "are you willing to" — because you have, if you're a person of faith, you have a good experience of God, you've experienced the sacred in some meaningful, positive way, or you wouldn't be on this path to begin with. So for that person, are you still going to believe the positive stuff when some negative stuff happens to you? That's the issue.

Armand Nicholi: Let me just ask one quick question, though. Did you feel, during that experience, like what several people here just said — that God is a sadist?

Winifred Gallagher: No, because my God is not up there and I'm down here. God is right here, right now in some way. God — one thing we know about God is, whatever you think God is, God is not that. God is deeply mysterious, and, and is somehow here right now in everything with us, so that when my son and I were agonizing about what he was going through, God was agonizing with us.

Armand Nicholi: Now, how do we come to terms with what Freud called the painful riddle of death? He makes the interesting observation that our unconscious does not believe in its own death. It behaves as if it were immortal. Perhaps Lewis would say that our minds refuse death because death was not part of the original plan of creation. Does our worldview actually help resolve this problem? How does this work in your life, or the lives of your family and friends?

Jeremy Fraiberg: It absolutely affects your life and the way you deal with death, because if you believe in the life after death, then it's only a temporary goodbye, and not a permanent goodbye. So that's very comforting. So I could see it being incredibly comforting, and that's precisely Freud's argument, that's exactly what we'd wish it to be. And, therefore, it's not surprising that people would come to believe in this sort of thing.

Now, if you believe there is not an afterlife, as I do, it makes death frightening. I mean, I'm afraid of dying. I'm afraid of dying because of the unknown. I don't know what lies next. I also know that, if I die, I won't be able to see other people — I suppose I wouldn't know the difference, but if people around me die, that could be it forever, and that's obviously extremely painful. And I don't have something to latch onto, and say, "Well, you know what, could be a few more years, and I'll join them in a better place." It might be it forever.

Michael Shermer: I don't believe there's an afterlife at all — this is all there is. For example, when my mother was dying, she had these brain tumors. They kept taking them out, they kept coming back. And this went on and on for 10 years. You know, I felt from the moment this started happening, that since I'll never see her again and she's not going anywhere and neither am I, this is it — every single moment I could have with her, everything I could say to her that was loving, all that just to me was incredibly enhanced by the fact that there is nothing else.

Margaret Klenck: I don't look forward to an afterlife. I'm assuming that this energy that I live in, this libido that exists in me, is released into the universe, and continues life. I mean, energy doesn't disappear. And my experience working with dying people over the years in the hospital, is that there is energy that leaves. I've seen it. I've witnessed it. There's energy, it goes somewhere. So my feeling is, I have no idea.

Louis Massiah: I don't use "afterlife." That's not part of my concept. But, but I do believe in a conservation.

Armand Nicholi: But what does that mean, conservation?

Louis Massiah: I think that matter is conserved, energy is conserved. Folks who I have loved who have died, their influence stays with me. I hear their words, I see their work, I see the influence that they've had on so many people, so I realize that it continues.

Michael Shermer: In memory, you mean?

Louis Massiah: More than in memory. It's real. I mean, I think of, you know, writers, people like Toni Cade Bambara. I mean, her words, the way she animated communities as a cultural worker. That stays with me.

Armand Nicholi: Isn't there a difference between memory that goes on, and existence in another —

Louis Massiah: I don't know, but it's the energy, our lives have been changed as a result of people that have gone through it, and to me, that — that's the continuity.

Jeremy Fraiberg: We haven't spoken much about hell here, which I think is actually an obstacle of faith for some people. That is, if God is all good, and all powerful, forget the fact that bad things happen to good people, but what about people like Michael and me who have been struggling with these questions? It would seem kind of unfair if we had to suffer for eternity because we didn't believe after doing the best we could living according to our lights. I find that a very troubling concept.

Frederick Lee: I find it terribly troubling.

Jeremy Fraiberg: But you believe in it.

Frederick Lee: Well, I don't know that — there's not enough description in the scriptures to know, you know, whether there are nine circles, and that, you know, they're ordered in a certain way, I know, I know the New Testament scripture says, uh, there's gnashing of teeth. Sounds pretty bad, but —

Doug Holladay: No, it says fire and burning.

Frederick Lee: Right, he says — Lewis says "Well, it just means separation from God." And that's — during your life, that's what you've tried to do, you've tried to turn away from God and not pay attention to him, and so in your afterlife, that's what you're going to get, and that's all there is." And that's really bad because who wants to be separated for eternity from their creator?

Armand Nicholi: Lewis makes an interesting description of life as being, um, made up of decisions, and that every decision we make either draws us closer to the creator or further away from him, and that we, in one sense, determine our — the direction we end up in, by how we make these decisions, how we live our life.


Armand Nicholi: Is it possible that Freud and Lewis represent conflicting parts of ourselves? A part of us that yearns for a relationship with the source of all joy, hope and happiness, as described by Lewis. And 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.

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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