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Pathologies of Desire and Duty, Freud, Ricoeur, Castoriadis on Transforming Religious Culture

Pathologies of Desire and Duty, Freud, Ricoeur, Castoriadis on Transforming Religious Culture

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Published by radical_imaginary
J Relig Health (2008) 47:398–414 DOI 10.1007/s10943-008-9180-3 ORIGINAL PAPER

Pathologies of Desire and Duty: Freud, Ricoeur, and Castoriadis on Transforming Religious Culture
William H. Wahl

Published online: 3 June 2008 Ó Government Employee 2008

Abstract This article emphasizes an underappreciated aspect of Freud’s critique of religion taken up in the writings of Ricoeur and Castoriadis: the degree to which pathologies of desire and duty imbue our relation to shared cultural forms, i.e., n
J Relig Health (2008) 47:398–414 DOI 10.1007/s10943-008-9180-3 ORIGINAL PAPER

Pathologies of Desire and Duty: Freud, Ricoeur, and Castoriadis on Transforming Religious Culture
William H. Wahl

Published online: 3 June 2008 Ó Government Employee 2008

Abstract This article emphasizes an underappreciated aspect of Freud’s critique of religion taken up in the writings of Ricoeur and Castoriadis: the degree to which pathologies of desire and duty imbue our relation to shared cultural forms, i.e., n

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ORIGINAL PAPER
Pathologies of Desire and Duty: Freud, Ricoeur,and Castoriadis on Transforming Religious Culture
William H. Wahl
Published online: 3 June 2008
Ó
Government Employee 2008
Abstract
This article emphasizes an underappreciated aspect of Freud’s critique of religion taken up in the writings of Ricoeur and Castoriadis: the degree to which pathol-ogies of desire and duty imbue our relation to shared cultural forms, i.e., narratives, ideals,and values. Both thinkers find in Freud’s anti-religious polemic a valuable attempt toaddress the intransigence, fanaticism, and violence that can result from an unreflectedaffirmation of Tradition. Alongside developing a respect and acceptance of other cultures,they argue for the need to establish a critical relation to ‘sacred’meaning structures, onethat mirrors interpretive strategies within the psychoanalytic process. Ricoeur and Cas-toriadis critique Freud’s accentuation of neurosis while extending his thinking intopersonal-philosophical and social-political contexts.
Keywords
Freud
Á
Ricoeur
Á
Castoriadis
Á
Ethics
Á
Religion
Á
Psychoanalysis
Á
Intransigence
Á
CultureAs a critique of western religious precepts, many regard
The Future of an Illusion
as aseverely reductive, even tendentious work—particularly those for whom religion remainsan important opponent of cruelty and human ignobility. In anticipation, Freud takes upsome of these potential accusations by means of a dialectical structure, through hisinterlocutor. Yet, at times, the rhetorical zeal in these passages leads Freud into general-izations that can easily be misconstrued if disconnected from his main intentions; such aswhen he lays the entirety of these precepts upon the Procrustean bed of infantile wish-fulfilment or compares religious instruction for children to a constricting bandage thatdeforms natural curiosity (p. 47). Although these undoubtedly broad assertions can causeoffense, as readers, we too become overly reductive if we take them as a sign of Freud’sactual view of religion. For how do we then explain his appreciation of its civilizinginfluence, its efforts to attenuate the compulsiveness of human sexual and aggressive
W. H. Wahl (
&
)Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canadae-mail: wm.wahl@utoronto.ca
 123
J Relig Health (2008) 47:398–414DOI 10.1007/s10943-008-9180-3
 
tendencies? What can we make of the coincidental aims he sees between psychoanalysisand religion: cultivating the ‘‘love of man and the decrease of suffering’’? Or, in what senseis Freud’s admitted antipathy towards religion ‘‘only a temporary one and not irreconcil-able’(p. 54)? I can see no justification for characterizing these declarations as some sort of compensatory ‘bone-throwing to the opposition’ or as disingenuous. Given that the psy-choanalytic cure strives to make each side of a conflict conscious, rather than grantsupremacy to one side, Freud cannot possibly deny the value of restraining sexuality andaggression along collective lines.
1
His opposition to religion has no meaningful connectionwith what it has wrought in terms of its aims. When we look at the full scope of Freud’sassessment, we can see that what he directs his antipathies towards are the
means
by whichreligion instils and supports these cultural ambitions.Consequently, we must contextualize the acuteness of his opposition to religious pre-cepts within an intention to confront the psychological dishonesty of coercive,metaphysically justified ideals—rather than simply take it as an attempt to reject itsdoctrines. In fact, we understand Freud’s position rightly through his efforts to cultivate aless compulsive relation towards religious, moral, and cultural values. This cultivationnecessitates that we do more than simply find a new set of idols for a psychoanalyticfaithful.
2
The shift Freud proposes must be different in kind, precisely in relation to ourpsychological investment in private and public ideals. Indeed, given the discord andpotential violence that an unreflective allegiance to inherited cultural values can foster, thestrength of Freud’s antipathy towards ‘religious illusions’ is perhaps not forceful enough.His focus on the wishful aspect of its precepts, and the doctrines called upon to supportthem, targets the way we go about the civilizing process. Freud’s questions as to theviability of existing forms of religion for the future must be taken in the context of thisoverarching objective: to instil greater autonomy and flexibility towards the humanitarianaims religion has historically pursued. On this front, not only can we affirm that psy-choanalysis and religion ‘desire the same things,’we can also see that the psychoanalyticcontribution to the aims of religion is substantial. To appreciate the significance of theproblem Freud addresses—and, with the unapologetic fanaticism that is so rampant in ourown day, its continuing relevance—we need only note its extension in such thinkers asRicoeur and Castoriadis. Although both find deficiencies in Freud’s considerations, theystrongly support these same objectives.Appreciating Freud’s contribution to fostering this new relation requires that we firstdistinguish ideals as such from the emotional attachment that often governs their elevatedstatus. The frequent ‘‘pathologies of duty’’ Freud saw in his neurotic patients demonstratethe degree to which our ties to cultural values are replete with compulsions and fixations.The manner in which psychoanalysis actually contributes to religious ideals, therefore,requires that we bear in mind both the qualitative differences in the nature of theseattachments and the means by which we might support these cultural objectives. In Freud’sview, traditional religions seek to fulfil their moral aspirations through directives linked toparental love that, consequently, coexist with anxiety-inducing threats of its possibleremoval. Although this method of taming childhood wishes and impulses may meet withsome success, religion tends to ignore the fact that its programme also cultivates an oftenexcessive or facile obedience. The presence of such urgency, whether applied to beliefs orprescriptive ideals, betrays for Freud a motivation beyond conscious intentions. The
1
See
Introductory Lectures
, S.E., 16, p. 433.
2
Here, the psychological substance of 
Logos
and
Ananke
must be appreciated. They imply the new relationFreud wishes to establish, as I will outline in what follows.J Relig Health (2008) 47:398414 399
 123
 
imperviousness of such perspectives to argumentation, the sensitivity that surrounds eventhe possibility of their revision, further indicates the residues of emotional conflict. Onefollows them not because of the strength of the reasons advanced in their favour. As Freudsees it, they are supported out of an unconscious ambivalence to authoritative others, out of a lingering desire to win our parents’ admiration, out of an archaic fear of their disapprovaland subsequent loss of their love and protection. In short, he sees in the qualitativecharacter of this relation to ideals, that is, the ‘all or nothing’ mode of adherence, a clearcorrespondence with latent Oedipal dynamics.Freud’s objections to religious morality, therefore, are not so much about what it seeksas they are about fixated modes of attachment to these objectives, modes that arise largelythrough the coercive methods by which they are instilled and enforced. From this per-spective, his attempt to ground historical religious morality in rational explanations mustbe understood as an attempt to bridge the gulf between religion and psychoanalysis interms of the relation to ethical objectives.
3
In fact, significant therapeutic justificationsexist for thinking that Freud believed fixations and compulsions towards moral prescrip-tions can and should be altered. DiCenso (1999) emphasizes this often disregarded aspectof the psychoanalytic engagement with religious ideals, noting that Freud’s invitation tofollow the gods
Ananke
and
Logos
assumes that the transformation of this relation tocultural forms is possible. DiCenso argues that, within this view exists a supposition thatour development is not so much limited by ‘‘immutable innate predispositions,’’ as it is ‘‘byoutmoded cultural structures and their formative influences’(p. 35). In other words,Freud’s suspicions about religion are meant as a challenge to its overly restrictive culturalhorizon in relation to the individual’s capacity for freedom of inquiry. Whether or not onecan attribute the reduced spontaneity that accompanies childhood development solely tothe conditioning of religious morality, as Freud contends, it is nevertheless clear that hewell understands the effects of cultural forces as they concern psychological maturation.For these are familiar to the psychoanalytic process itself, especially insofar as advocatingan unquestioning loyalty to religious values comes at a cost to the emotional well-being of the individual. On Freud’s part, at least, this therapeutic connection enables us to see hisadmission of coincidental aims between psychoanalysis and religion as a constructiveeffort to resolve the roots of divisive social conflict.With these formative issues in mind, I would now like to shift to the suggestions of Ricoeur and Castoriadis, both of whom extend Freud’s views on cultural ideals whileseeking the possibility of a less compulsive relation to them through the adoption of areflective attitude. As we shall see, in general, these thinkers share Freud’s reticencetowards the threatening, coercive methods of traditional religious teachings—indeed, oftensupporting and even furthering his ‘‘hermeneutics of suspicion.’’ Yet, each finds Freud’stendency to dismiss the importance of meaningfulness somewhat impetuous if not insin-cere. For these reasons, although pressing the implications of Freud’s iconoclasm, they findit necessary in different ways to supplement its original application.Ricoeur engages Freud from a background in phenomenology and hermeneutics.
Freud and Philosophy
, his most sustained investigation, argues for the epistemological unique-ness of psychoanalysis while seeking to outline its proper conceptual home. Central toRicoeur’s study is the significance of interpretation to this conception; more particularly,he maintains that interpretative criteria within the psychoanalytic setting (not fully
3
In saying this I do not wish to give the impression that this meeting of minds could be easily realized. Nodoubt, the more open relation to desire that psychoanalysis proposes would continue to raise objections fromthe religious side.400 J Relig Health (2008) 47:398414
 123

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