A GODLESS JEW: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis by Peter Gay

A GODLESS JEW: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Adapted from lectures given at Hebrew Union College in 1986, this short volume is a minor addition to Gay's writings on Freud--but an intriguing warm-up for his forthcoming biography. Here, as elsewhere, the Yale historian places Freud firmly in a line with Newton, Voltaire, and Darwin (Gay is also author of a study of the Enlightenment)--stressing the central importance of Freud's atheism, de-emphasizing the role of his Jewishness in the shaping of psychoanalysis. An introductory chapter sketches in the historical conflict between science and religion: in contrast to the attempts of some scientists and philosphers (like William James) to find a place for God and faith in the post-Darwinian world, ""Freud's unbelief stands out sharply."" The next section--called ""The Last Philosophe""--focuses on the resolutely scientific nature of psychoanalysis, on Freud's appropriation of ""the whole range of the Enlightenment's agenda"" and his total rejection of all religion as illusion. Then, in something of a digression from the central argument, Gay discusses various attempts by clergymen and theologians to embrace psychoanalysis and reconcile it with religion; for Freud (and Gay), ""the common ground that some had discovered between psychoanalysis and faith was a swampy, treacherous bog in which both must sink."" And the final chapter examines psychoanalysis as ""a Jewish science""--in order to conclude that it is no such thing: Gay is fairly convincing in discounting the importance of Freud's substantially Jewish clientele (their problems were universal), less so in distancing Freud from Jewish religious and mystical heritages; and, while granting that anti-Semitism may have played a role in preparing Freud for the life of an isolated, much-attacked scientist, Gay seems to overlook (or dismiss) other aspects of Jewish culture and intellectual tradition that perhaps influenced the development of psychoanalysis. Throughout, in fact, Gay's determination to cast Freud (not wrongly) as a neo-Enlightenment hero may result in some overkill, even some tunnel-vision. But this is nonetheless a lucid, occasionally provocative close-up of Freud-as-nonbeliever, enhanced by Guy's suave, broadly allusive handling of the historical and theological contexts.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0300046081
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press