Perhaps I will start a “Thoughtful Thursdays” series. The entry about a quote from Capote on tattoos attracted a fair number of comments and personal anecdotes.
From Sigmund Freud's book, Civilization and Its Discontents, published in 1930:
“In my Future of an Illusion, (1927) I was concerned much less with the deepest sources of the religious feeling than with what the common man understands by his religion – with the system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand explains to him the riddles of this world with enviable completeness, and, on the other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will compensate him in a future existence for any frustrations he suffers here. The common man cannot imagine this Providence otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father. Only such a being can understand the needs of the children of men and be softened by their prayers and placated by the signs of their remorse.
"The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is still more humiliating to discover how large number of people living today, who cannot but see that this religion is not tenable, nevertheless try to defend it piece by piece in a series of pitiful rearguard actions. One would like to mix among the ranks of the believers in order to meet these philosophers, tho think they can rescue the God of religion by replacing him by an impersonal, shadowy and abstract principle, and to address them with the warning words: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain!” And if some of the great men of the past acted in the same way no appeal can be made to their example: we know why they were obliged to . . .
“Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering. Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner – which presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence. At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism, and by drawing them into a mass delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. But hardly anything more.
"There are, as we have said, many paths which may lead to such happiness as is attainable by men, but there is none which does so for certain. Even religion cannot keep its promise. If the believer finally sees himself obliged to speak of God's 'inscrutable decrees', he is admitting that all that is left to him as a last possible consolation and source of pleasure in his suffering is an unconditional submission. And if he is prepared for that, he could probably have spared himself the detour that he has made.”
We may choose to agree or disagree with Mr. Freud's attitude towards religion. However, I think that we ought to take into consideration what his life experiences had been up to this point. Austria had suffered through the first World War; Freud expressed a weariness of the “endless slaughter” according the biographical notes by Peter Gay. The losers of WWI were penalized heavily for their aggression, and their citizens coped with widespread food and fuel shortages. The great flu pandemic claimed his daughter Sophie in 1920. Freud suffered through a bout with oral cancer in 1923; he was operated on for a growth in his palate and was fitted with a prosthesis. By 1930, when this book came out, it seemed to him that civilization was on the verge of catastrophe. He saw the forces of Nazism spring up and take root; by 1938 when Germany marched on Austria, he was forced to take flight with his family to London.
He was undoubtedly influenced by the thoughts of other pioneers and intellectuals then gaining currency, such as Sartre (1905-1980) et al. So clearly, his personal and intellectual mindset was on the pessimistic side when he was writing the book.
Contrast this with Friedrich Nietzsche's writings supportive of religion's intrinsic meaningfulness:
Nietzsche discusses Christianity, one of the major topics in his work, at length in the context of the problem of nihilism in his notebooks, in a chapter entitled 'European Nihilism'. Here he states that the Christian moral doctrine provides people with intrinsic value, belief in God (which justifies the evil in the world) and a basis for objective knowledge. In this sense, in constructing a world where objective knowledge is possible, Christianity is an antidote against a primal form of nihilism, against the despair of meaninglessness. However, it is exactly the element of truthfulness in Christian doctrine that is its undoing: in its drive towards truth, Christianity eventually finds itself to be a construct, which leads to its own dissolution. It is therefore that Nietzsche states that we have outgrown Christianity "not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close."
The value of religion is not in the dogma, it is in helping people to become better persons, and to find meaning in their humdrum lives.
Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, 1930, Chapter Two.
Nihilism, Wikipedia, History of Nihilism, Wikipedia.org quoting Nietzsche's work Sämtliche Werken. Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. C. Colli and M. Montinari, Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-007680-2.