Science in Christian Perspective



Stanley E. Lindquist, Ph.D.
Sin and Psychoanalysis

From: JASA 12 (September 1960): 89-90.

When Freud developed his theory of Psychoanalysis, he posed a problem of prime importance for the thinking Christian. Never before had "science" (I use this word very loosely, as psychoanalysis is far from being scientific) come so close to the human personality, with respect to its concepts of right and wrong.

The application of this theory was deterministic, and in its ultimate expression removed personal responsibility for one's acts. Society, environment, parents, spouse, or children stood condemned. but not the individual, as he bad no real choice. His action was predetermined by those that bad affected his personality, either, in its formation, or in its immediate expression.

Any psychoanalyst would object to the above statement, first on the grounds that this is not exactly what Freud said; and second, neo-psychoanalysis has repudiated much that Freud presented along these lines.

It is obvious that such reasoning is circuitous, because the second reason would not be needed if the first were not true, and the fact that the second is given underscores the validity of the first.

While it is possible that one can separate Freud's personal philosophy and practice from his "school" philosophy, and that the first is less dogmatic than the second, the ultimate philosophical implications following rules of deductive logic must follow. To try to separate a "personal Freud" from his recorded statements is a problem similar to the one of trying to "hate the act, but not the child" in punishment. It is an impossible task.

The application of psychoanalysis to Christian life is disastrous. It has seemed a strange development that many ministers flock to this anti-Christian banner when studying pastoral counseling.

One of the most telling blows that has been brought against these ideas has been published by 0. Hobart Mowrer of the University of Illinois, and a former president of the American Psychological Association. In his position of prestige and prominence be has commanded a hearing which has gone beyond most. The articles noted in the bibliography should be read and studied in order to gain a more complete view.

Essentially, Freud's thesis was that in every human, there is a reservoir of instinctual drives and desires which he called "Id." These drives were primarily sexual in origin-at least most of the ones we have trouble with are.

As these come into the conscious, they are blocked, adiusted, or redirected by the "ego." The ego operates according to the realities of the situation, as the experiencing person sees it. This reality may be distorted in the individual by his training, or by neurotic or psychotic developments.

The ego operates only by principles of expediency. There is nothing necessarily moral about the decisions made. The only question: "Is this the right time, place, or condition for the expression of this desire?"

The desires that are not expedient are either repressed, or in some cases sublimated-changed-into socially acceptable ways of behaving.

The moral aspect of choice comes as the result of parental training, church schooling, and the expressed opinions of those the person looks upon as having proper authority. These ideas are internalized and make tip what is called "super-ego" or what was called by others before Freud "moral-ego," and which may be loosely called "conscience." This super-ego not only is interested in what is called the reality of the ego, but further, the right and wrong of a given act, according to the internalized principle.

If one may use a physical analogy, the id is the large source of desires. The ego funnels this large source to a smaller, according to the reality principle, and the super-ego further funnels and restricts behavior by the moral principle.

The process of restricting the behavior creates in the person many conflicts. These may result in neurotic or psychotic adjustments for which one must go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a psychoanalyst for psychotherapy. (A psychologist or psychiatrist may use psychoanalytic techniques in his therapy.)

It is at the point of psychotherapy where the big difference is noted. Psychoanalysis says that the super-ego is the result of your training. God is a projection of infantile wishes for an all-powerful father. Guilt is not real-only imagined. Therefore, the first step in getting well is to realize that it is "guilt-feelings" not guilt that must be removed. This is done through breaking down this learned "superego" so that we won't need to "feel" guilty about what we do. The way we break it down is to express ourselves freely (but still according to reality-in other words, don't get caught!) and eliminate the "feelings" that one has about it.

Mowrer's telling critique emphasizes that guilt is not imagined or unreal. It is real and the only solution is to accept the reality of it. We are responsible, not only for our actions, but also for getting well. The way to get well is to confess our sins, receive forgiveness, and then do something constructive about it.

The above, as is true in any reduction of large quantities of material, is oversimplification. In essence, however, it should help us see that changes in concepts -are in the offing,


Mowrer, 0. Hobart, Changing Conceptions of the Unconscions, J. Nerv. and Ment. Dis., 129:222-34, 1959.

______Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils. Unpublished.

______Some Constructive Features of the Concept of Sin, Unpublished.

______Judgment and Suffering: Contrasting Views, Faculty Forum, Oct. 1959.