The Question Of God: C.S. Lewis And Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, And the Meaning Of Life, by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.
Admittedly, I probably read more about C.S. Lewis than most people probably do , but although there is something about the book that intrigued me when I first read about this book, there is something about the book that initially concerned me as well. After all, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud never debated each other, and likely never met each other, although there is a slight chance that they met during the end of Freud’s life when he was an exile in England just before World War II, and there is always something unsavory about manufacturing debates between people who did not have the chance to interact with each other in life. That said, the book was far more subtle in its approach than may be indicated from its title, in that the author is a professor who makes a subtle case for faith while appealing to an audience interested in psychology, science, and literary criticism, a heady mixture of fields that does not tend to encourage sound religious belief according to its own press.
The contents of this book are straightforward in their own way, but somewhat unconventional. The book is divided into two parts: What should we believe and how should we live. Within those two sections there are nine chapters that take up about 240 pages, including an epilogue that makes a quiet case for a reasoned faith. The author starts by comparing the biographies of C.S. Lewis and Freud, and finding a lot of similarities, including troubled relationships with their father and early childhood trauma. The author then compares the views of Lewis and Freud on the existence of God, the existence of a universal moral law that serves as a conscience for humanity, as well as their thoughts on which is the correct road to reality. In the second part of the book the author compares Lewis and Freud in their view of happiness, sex, love, pain, and death. In the end, the debate does a good job at showing both Lewis and Freud as people, and in demonstrating the benefits of faith in making life better, so long as that faith is an internal and genuine one.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of the book, and it is a considerable one, is that it keeps both Lewis and Freud from appearing as caricatures. Although the author steers clear of Lewis’ problematic relationship with “Minto,” who can be considered his first wife, in a common-law sense, the author includes enough that most readers would feel compassion for his struggle to relate to his father, and the grief over the death of his wife Joy late in life. Likewise, the reader of this book will feel a sense of sympathy, if not empathy, with Freud’s shyness and timidity, his ferocious hostility towards the anti-Semitism of his time, and his lifelong struggle with depression, even if they will likely dislike a lot of the author’s petty and insistent quarrels and his intellectual snobbery. The book accomplishes what it sets out to do, presenting two starkly different worldviews of God and practical morality, and leaves it to the reader to choose life or death, blessing or cursing. The book as a whole is a poignant reminder that belief systems have consequences, and that we all are responsible for the choices we make.
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