Volume 25, 2000
Freud’s Wretched Makeshift and Scheler’s Religious Act
Freud finds it impossible to accept the existence of a Supreme Being because he thinks that there is no way to scientifically demonstrate or prove the existence of a being so defined. Consequently, Freud maintains that individuals who claim to have a religious experience of God suffer from a delusion. Such individuals remain in an infantile state of neurotic denial, fooling themselves about the reality of extramental existence.
In contradistinction, Max Scheler, a student of Husserlian phenomenology, can accept the existence of God because he finds that God. understood as the summum bonum, is the superlative value to which humanity can give assent in the religious act. Within the context of the religious act, an individual can come to discover or realize God. But this discovery is not made through a scientific demonstration or proof. Unlike Freud, Scheler shows that this discovery comes about via a phenomenological methodology which endorses a broader view of experience. Scheler ultimately makes the further claim that those individuals, like the scientist, who choose not to engage in the religious act are, in fact, involved in a delusional state.
So, both thinkers claim that the other is in a delusional state. The task I undertake in this paper is to place these two thinkers into dialogue with one another in order to evaluate their specific methodologies. First, I explicate Freud’s view of religion. In doing so, I make explicit Freud’s empirical methodology and mechanistic materialism which is the root for his claim that God exists as an illusion or “wretched makeshift” of the neurotic unconscious mind. Next, I present the Schelerian response to Freud and positivistic science by making explicit the parameters of the religious act which recognizes God as the superlative value. Finally, I assess the views of Freud and Scheler, and in so doing, show that Scheler’s phenomenological methodology, with its emphasis upon bracketing empirical presuppositions, has merit in that it broadens experience beyond merely what is scientifically observed. We see that Freud’s claim that all experience needs to be scientifically demonstrated is too narrow a view of experience. And so, by denying other types of possible epistemologies and methodologies, he and his followers of the empirical methodology of strict positivism involve themselves in a delusional state by not accepting these approaches to extramental reality. However, I maintain that the psychoanalytic method advocated by Freud has merit in that it can be a useful aid to a person involved in or seeking to be involved in the religious act. In the end I show how it is possible to view the empirical methodology of Freud and the phenomenological methodology of Scheler as coexisting and harmonizing with one another.