Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis

Because a good portion of the time I'm lucid enough to think I still have to lie on the couch, I am currently reading quite the collection of books. Our ward's compassionate service leader asked around some of the other gals in the ward and delivered to me a bag full of all kinds of books and I have just finished the second one. I loved the first one I read: A Walk in the Woods, by John Bryson (I think). Though he's foul-mouthed in conversations, he's incredibly witty and entertaining throughout the rest of the book as he talks about his adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail. He includes natural history, civil war history, American commerce history, geology, and all kinds of other things that just blow your mind. His view on the wilderness in general is enjoyable as you watch him go from almost couch potato to a man craving the wilderness even when he's home. I recommend it.

The one I just finished is also incredible. It's The Question of God, Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. I can't remember the author, but he's a Harvard professor that was asked to teach a class on Freud and it evolved into much of what is in the book. The background is that Freud was a stout atheist and Lewis was an atheist, turned Christian when he was 31. They may have met before Freud died (he was a generation before Lewis and their lives overlapped by a couple of decades or so), but it's not recorded. The author sets up a series of ideas and questions that with quotes from their books and letters to friends and family portrays each perspective almost as if they are debating. It's astounding. The author tries to be as unbiased as possible, but keeps finding many a whole in Freud's arguments and multiple occasions where he contradicts himself.

Freud's biggest beef with the existence of a God is even if there was one, he's obviously not concerned with us (it's a childhood wish of having someone as powerful as a parent watching over us that extends into adulthood) because if he did care, why is there so much sorrow, pain, and suffering? At the same time he thinks it's ludicrous to "love one's neighbor" because all his neighbor ever does is hurt him and there's no advantage in that.

Lewis didn't want to believe there was a God, partially because he'd been through so much suffering as a boy, but also because he didn't want someone else to interfere with or run his life. After many discussions with colleagues and studying things out on his own he was slowly converted to being "a believer," though he still struggled with the concept of pain and suffering and the purpose it served. But his answers came and it's humbling to read all of this and think through it. The author of the book states at the beginning that this isn't something you can just look at and think, "oh, that's interesting," but that you need to make a choice. One of these points of view is right and one is wrong, they can't both be right and you must read and decide and live accordingly.

What have I gained from this? A lot. First, I wonder now how often I sit on the fence about any issue because having an answer makes me responsible for what I know. But ignoring it is the same as choosing a side, and not really a good one. Second, C. S. Lewis' thoughts on happiness and joy put things in a very clear light. He more or less says as human beings, created in the image of God, our only source of lasting happiness and joy is to develop our relationship with our Creator, the God and Father of our souls. We were made to have this relationship with Him, to learn how to develop it while here on this earth. All other things that can bring us happiness or pleasure are blessings from Him, but to point us towards Him. They were never meant to satisfy completely and they do not have that power. He says that all of our vices are really souls trying to replace our only true source of happiness with temporal things - power, sex, money, recreation, entertainment, whatever. None of these things are bad, but become such when we use them as "other gods" and seek our happiness from them instead of our relationship with God. He also said we may create the wrong perspective of who God is if we only look to the imperfect people around us instead of studying out who He is through the scriptures and what they teach us about God. This struck me hard, especially as I now wonder about raising three girls in this world.

How often as a parent do I focus on teaching her how to read, wondering what she will become, wondering how to help her succeed in life, hoping she has the life skills to get through this world and the motivation to go to school? Just like the above things that can bring temporary happiness, none of that is wrong or bad, it's all good and necessary. But how much time do I spend focusing on how to teach her honesty, to have a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, to have a desire to read the scriptures on her own, to be kind and non-judgmental to everyone, not just friends? There is a balance in all things and I want all my girls to know how to read, to count, to play and succeed in whatever they choose. But just as lasting peace in joy is only found in a relationship with the Savior and Heavenly Father, so is a true sense of identity and purpose. Though I need to teach all of them how to live in this world, I need to help them know they are only here for a time and all of their best laid plans may change.

I can look back on my own life and think of how I wanted things to be and how they've changed, how many joys, disappointments, sorrows, and triumphs I've gone through as have so many friends and family. We all have plans of how life will be and I bet anyone you ask would say it's not worked out the way they thought it would. Some wanted to get married right out of high school or soon after and a decade or so later are still searching for someone or find themselves divorced. Some who wanted to go to school never got the chance. Some who wanted children cannot conceive, or then there's my case where both Jeremy and I want them, but it is a walk through fire to get there every step of the way. Others have children with disabilities. Financial issues seem to face everyone in one way or another. Trials of faith that we never expected to face wash over us when we least expect it. Friends or family may pass from this life long before we ever expected. Or family we thought would stay healthy spend years watching their health painfully slip from them. Goals and dreams we have get replaced with current needs and we wonder why we ever had those if we feel we'll never achieve them. Loneliness can be overwhelming and consuming even if you are surrounded by family and friends as you struggle with things you don't know how to talk about with anyone else. Communication break-downs with family or friends leave heartache you never imagined. We've all made mistakes in actions, words, or the lack of that we cannot let go of. You can look at all of this and get so discouraged and look to the skies to beg the question, "Why? What is this all for and is there no mercy?"

But it takes us back to that simple answer. We are here to become like God, to develop a relationship with him and to understand who we are as his children and why we are here. Would you ever seek Him out as earnestly as you do in times of trial if everything went according to your original plan? Would you be as willing to listen if you didn't so desperately need His guidance? Would you want to return to Him if you felt you had all you needed here in this earth life? To Freud all of the sorrows of the world just meant misery. Just accept there is no hope, accept it as truth, then at least you won't be disappointed. But if you believe, suddenly there is reason behind sorrow. There is hope with trials. I remember Elder Worthlin's talk "Sunday Will Come." The Savior of the world was crucified and falsely accused and all looked bleak to His followers. Yet because of His death, He overcame ALL when He resurrected. He could not have if He hadn't gone through those darkest hours in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary. We cannot expect to have something better if we can't pass through the difficult. Don't get me wrong, I'm often one of the first to say I don't want to go through hard things (especially bringing kids into this world). But reading through this and pondering over it, I'm so grateful for the hope of the Gospel. I love Christmas for this reason. Forget the presents and dinners (though they are fun and fabulous). I'm just so excited to know there is more than the trials of this life. That all of those moments of joy we have here are to point us to the greater joy we can have there in the next life with Heavenly Father if we let Him teach us through our experiences here.

Sheeze louise, have I talked enough yet? I don't know if anyone is even still reading this. I just wanted to get all of that out while I was thinking of it. It makes me happy to know there is a loving Father in Heaven and a Savior to help me overcome my own long list of weaknesses.

And I really recommend that book to anyone.


Julie said...

Thank you for this, Jami.

Carrie said...

I was still reading. Hi Jamie! Have been thinking about you and wanted to say hi. The summer came to an end so abruptly. I felt bad we didn't get to say a proper goodbye or help you out any. Did we move the same week? I can't remember now, but we miss you and enjoyed the time we got to spend with you. I enjoy reading your blog and seeing your family pictures. You inspire me! We're praying for you and your twins.