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Jessie M. Dryden

The Awakening

Political Psychology

As If

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

A man woke up one morning divided. Tormented by the life he lives and the life he will never truly know, he searches for answers deep in the labyrinth of his mind, where each corridor is an experience that holds a key to the knowledge he so desires. Some lead to closed doors, but others provide direction; and his natural yearning to make sense compels him forward with each step. He walks with trepidation around each memory, only stopping in brevity to process their significance: the stories of the failed dreams of his father, the burden which he inherited; the confusion from straddling two races, two cultures; throwing himself into textbooks to escape; reviewing each relationship with scrutiny only to discover that the purpose of all of it was to lead him to this point, this direction, this place in time. He finds himself sitting in a pew in a place called Trinity, not moving forward, not stepping back but stopped—as if he trapped by circumstance and stifled by memory. And so he sits—resigned to the despair of indecision and waiting for anything to motivate his next step.

Cutting through the deafening white noise of his thoughts, a voice resonated from the pulpit. With each word, he found himself moving again—forward this time and with purpose, processing his life rapidly and with remarkable clarity—until he reached a passage different from the rest that lead to a door. On it was written a curious word, one so familiar yet so foreign, one that kept blurring in and out of sight. “Hope,” it read. He runs around the remnants of hopelessness and rejoices for he has found hope. And without stopping to hesitate, he turns the knob, leaps through the door only to discover that he has ended up at the beginning where he started. But this time better armed—for hope has opened the door for faith. A divine plan has washed away the blemishes of doubt and vacillation. Faith has given him the hope of possibility—of something greater than the present that can be achieved in the future through faith in God.

Designate the act a spiritual about-face; declare the man born again—or proclaim it superstition and reduce it to a feeble attempt to fill a void with folly. Regardless of whether an individual is the believer or the skeptic, it is never the end result that sparks interest in this spiritual awakening. The real significance is the motivation behind an individual’s change of heart—a change that incites curiosity for further scrutiny of the role of religion in the individual and the community. But not all conversions to Christianity lead to a presidency, as it did for President Barack Obama, whose story of conversion was summarized in the opening narrative. And as this paper will intend to argue, it is not the religion itself

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

that instigates the criticisms of cynics. But, in fact, it is the concept of faith that initiates the argument and baffles the minds of nonbelievers by its very conception. Faith is pursued as if it was tangible. Faith is discussed as if it is its own entity. By the threat of its very existence, faith challenges widely accepted pathology of Freud and Ingersoll regarding what motivates individuals to pursue religion, to believe in God. Using the experiences expressed by Obama in Dreams from my Father , Obama’s recollection of his life and spiritual journey transform the uncertainty of the “as ifs” to faith in the possibility of something greater—by placing faith in the “what if” despite the illusion.

Faith as if it is Religion

“You’re delusional!” Freud would say in response the perceived conversion experienced by Obama the day he attended Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon on the “Audacity of Hope.” But if that was the case and he was, in fact, delusional, then that would provide a valid explanation for the political malpractice of all religious officeholders in government over the course of history. Freud, however, is neither challenging Obama’s sanity nor questioning its effect on his decision-making as the Head-of- State. Instead, Freud is questioning his moral obligation to the illusion of a higher being, to the illusion of God. In his book, The Future of an Illusion (1961), Freud investigates the emergence of religion as a phenomenon of civilization using the science of psychology to identify underlying motivations for believing in God. Freud argues that embedded in the history of civilization is a struggle to control nature, both in the external, natural environment as well as the internal struggle man has to control his

passions. Culture rejects instincts and places moral restraints or “prohibitions” on participants. Religion, to Freud, is a phenomenon of civilization because it places moral authority on gods who are tasked to “exorcize the terrors of nature,” “reconcile man to the cruelty of fate,” and “compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them.” Religion, then, is composed of a “treasure of ideas born of the need to make human misery supportable” and in contestation of that faith, man offers science and technology to make life endurable, as if to believe that scientific progress will prevent man from making future mistakes—not religion but science, not faith but trust (Freud, 1961, pg. 24). Because this experience in nature is harrowing to the individual and man cannot control nature, a supernatural being is conceived, superior to all things, to compensate for the unknown, and pacify the masses with the promise of an after-life. Freud writes, “[M]an makes the forces of nature not simply into persons with whom he can associate as he would with his equals—that would not do justice to the overpowering impression which those forces make on him—but he gives them the

.” (Freud, 1961, pg. 24). Religions are then formed as an

character of a father. He turns them into gods

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

extension of this illusory God to manage the clash between culture and nature, as long as the individual submits to the illusion. The individuals who do so act to fight off the feelings of helplessness, the same feelings experienced as children.

Since the fathers in our reality cannot cure the frailty and uncertainty of life, this insecurity

grows with them from childhood into adulthood. And as long as they follow the dogma of that religion

which pleases God, the pleasures man seeks in life will be maximized.

several forms of relief to the individual. It is used as a defense with the act of protection projected in that of God. Religion offers absolution and makes adversity in life tolerable. It also defeats death by promising an afterlife. Religion is also the vehicle that spreads this delusional dogma amongst the masses. But, it is the sense of righteousness—of superiority that triggers controversy for Freud. Freud is a man of science. He argues facts that have been proven and accepted as theory. But, knowledge of the world cannot compete with the knowledge bestowed upon a believer in God. They are from two different worlds, so to speak. In order to disprove the validity of religious argument for divine knowledge, Freud suggests that instead of leaving that empty void to be filled with the illusion of religion, man should fill it with real knowledge acquired through the material, through education. Using

logic applied to geography, Freud tests the tenets of religion on three premises:

In this sense, religions provide

“Firstly, these teachings deserve to be believed because they were already believed by our primal ancestors; secondly, we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from those same primeval times; and thirdly, it is forbidden to raise the question of their authentication at all. In former days anything so presumptuous was visited with the severest penalties, and even to-day society looks askance at any attempt to raise the question again" (Freud, 1961, p. 39-40).

The last point, he notes, does not apply to religion because of this divine certainty whose claims cannot be evaluated based on material observation. As a result, the second and the first premises can be mistrusted if, in fact, the third represents society’s insecurities on the absoluteness of that claim. Moreover, supporters of religion are placing faith in a theory that can never be authenticated because there is a level of mysticism. Nonetheless, education to Freud is the key to resolving man’s conflict with nature.

Education was just as important to Freud as it was to Ingersoll but for the opposite reason. If the more knowledge acquired the more one rejects the insecure claims of religion, then it would appear that the less educated a person is the more likely he/she will be inclined to believe in religion. This is not the case, however, for Ingersoll. Ingersoll used education to dispute this claim by arguing that no one individual can possess enough facts to confirm or deny the existence of God, only enough to determine

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

that there is little difference between religion and superstition. He writes, “No human being has brain enough, or knowledge enough, or experience enough, to say whether there is, or is not, a God”

(Ingersoll, 1890, God

engaging in a pernicious and endless search—one in which the “torch of reason lights only the way to hell,” denoting that the pursuit is aimless and that using reason to pursue the unreasonable will only create more confusion and frustration surrounding such a lost cause. If “every Orthodox creed is a chain, a dungeon” then the feeling of liberation that hope inspired in Obama was an illusion (Ingersoll, 1887, Superstition). In fact, hope would only be an instrument of oppression keeping believers believing a fictitious doctrine. The illusion of religion, however, is permitted to exist “allowed only to exert its moral influence,” which is the ultimate conclusion that Freud reaches as well. Religion, although might be misinformed, still has an integral purpose in civilization as a social control.

.). Anyone who takes on the task of investigating the existence of God are

Obama’s childhood was plagued by unanswered questions. He was from two different worlds, one that was real, tangible, familiar—the other ambiguous and foreign. But race played a larger role in his life than religion. His mother was a white American and his father, an African exchange student from Kenya—two vastly different cultures, different religions, different ways of life. He heard stories of his father but never really knew him. But searching from some connection across continents, Obama checked out a book on East Africa to prepare for his father’s arrival. Obama (1995) recalls that conversations had during that visit were lost over time and observes “that boys and their fathers don’t always have much to say to each other unless and until they trust—and this may come closer to the mark, for I often felt mute before him, and he never pushed me to speak” (pg. 66). As the chapters of his life play out, it seems that the unknown encouraged him to pursue answers. Obama was overwhelmed by the anxiety of straddling two races, unsure of where he fit in, and the frustration of inheriting the idealism from the failed dreams of his father only caused him to sublimate his pursuit for self- understanding to the quest for knowledge. One example of this shift in focus occurred when he began attending private school Punahou Academy where he find a place in the small, black community attending that school. Books became a source for answers that were not satisfied by his friends, family, or teachers, but he also began recognizing the limitations of that knowledge. During a basketball game Obama and his friends, Ray and Malik, discuss the philosophies of Malcolm X. Obama thought he won the dispute by pointing out that Ray’s argument lacked evidence because he’s never read the book. Ray responded, “’I don’t need no books to tell me how to be black,’” which challenged Obama’s conventional understanding that the more knowledge one acquires the easier it is to understand the complexities of life (Obama, 1995, pg. 87). Later in life, he would acknowledge the degree to which he

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

engrossed himself into education, as illustrated when his roommate, Sadik, remarked “You’re becoming a bore” in response to yet another failed attempt to get Barack to go to a bar. He comments that he did this because he was “uncertain of [his] own ability to steer a course of moderation, fearful of falling into old habits.” It was this uncertainty that lead him to the office of Rev. Phillips and then to the sermon by Rev. Wright.

References made to religion prior to Obama’s conversion play a small role; and for the most part, religion itself had very little bearing on Obama’s life from the beginning. He actually did not acknowledge the existence of religion apart from observing the religion of others, attending a private school founded by missionaries or learning that his father was Muslim and converted to Christianity. But what he observes the most consistently through the lives of his family and peers was faith—not from the helpless need for fatherly protection but from presence of virtue in his mother. He writes, “My mother’s confidence in needlepoint virtues depended on a faith I didn’t possess, a faith that she would refuse to describe as religious; that, in fact, her experience told her was sacrilegious: a faith that rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny” (Obama, 1995, pg. 50). He was introduced to faith first, not religion. Because of the influence of faith in the lives of others around him, he began to recognize his own faith, beginning with faith in himself and a sense of a divine purpose for his life. Even though he has escaped the indoctrination of a religion, the concept of a divine destiny was something he questioned every day. Being a part of the black community in America he learned that, “To be black was to be the beneficiary of a great inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear” (Obama, 1995, pg. 51). To be “Obama” meant something similar, as Barack would discover when his brother Roy visited, explaining the entitlement held by his father: “‘You are an You should be the best”’ (Obama, 1995, pg. 265). Still, it was not enough. Obama (1995) writes, “What I needed was a community, I realized, a community that cut deeper than the common despair that black friends and I shared when reading the latest crime statistics, or the high fives I might exchange on a basketball court. A place where I could put down stakes and test my commitments” (pg. 115). This search led him to community organizing, from community organizing to the sermon that gave new hope and new life to the man that would become president.

Freud believes that the knowledge to transcend religion lies in the strict pursuit of education. Ingersoll would argue that absolute knowledge that Freud would require to be able to say that God was an illusion—God does not exist because man can never be 100% confident that the claims are true, given that all the facts and evidence it would require to pass such judgment would take more than a

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

lifetime to acquire. In that way, Ingersoll avoids faith altogether, as if it did not exist because there are no substantial facts to sway his thinking either way. In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), one of Freud’s confidants insisted that he believed the conclusions reached in The Future of an Illusion , but that Freud has a skewed understanding of “religious sentiments.” Instead the friend argues that these sentiments "consists in a peculiar feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, which he may suppose is present in millions of people" (Freud, 1930, pg. 10-11). He described the emotion experienced as "a sensation of eternity, a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded--as it were, ‘oceanic'" (Freud, 1930, pg. 10-11). His friend acknowledged that with all the facts in the world, nothing could create the feeling that binds the believer to uphold religious doctrine.

A similar feeling was expressed by Obama during the sermon on the “Audacity of Hope” when Obama

experienced what seemed as if he felt “a light touch on the top of [his] head” (Obama, 1995, pg. 294).

Freud’s fatal flaw is equating fact with faith, to conceptualize faith as if it was religion. Faith cannot exist

in science. Regardless of how often the test is repeated and the desired conclusion received one can

only trust the outcome of an experiment. There is no room for error and cold, hard facts can be unforgiving. For when a mistake is made, the results are thrown out; trust is lost in man’s research and needs to be reestablished through another series of trial and error. Freud applies this theory to human pathology, stating that man’s experiences are the stimuli in the experiment and the outcome rests on man’s ability to use knowledge—the facts of life and that of science, to replace faith with trust—in order

to reconcile humankind’s traumatic experience in nature.

The events in President Obama’s life are, for the majority, supporting Freud’s argument. Freud would suggest that Obama’s conversion would be an attempt for him to fill a void for his father, replacing his earthly father with a Heavenly father—fallibility with perfection. With Obama’s life reading like an unsolved mystery, it appears that Freud practically predicted his religious conversion from the scrutiny of the events in his past; the circumstances of his present that fuel his excessive appetite for knowledge; and the pursuit of his father and the subconscious fulfillment of his dreams in the prospective future all . Where their paths diverge is the point when Obama’s emptiness was not remotely satiated by his pursuit of knowledge anymore. He recognized a burning desire in himself that could not be taught and yearned for something more. He thought maybe this desire was something inherited but concludes that it was something that always existed, something that maybe he forced out or neglected to acknowledge. Regardless that Obama filled the childhood emptiness with the facts necessary to formulate rational decision-making, he still chose something as irrational as faith in God, denying Freud’s assumption that the more educated one is the less likely they will pursue religion. But

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

religion is not faith. And, if it was then Obama could convert to any religion and still maintain faith in a higher power, in a divine plan.

What If

Despite the efforts of skeptics, faith is nothing more than the examination of moral ideals repeatedly throughout history, under different conditions, testing diverse variables case by case, person by person. But in the end of the experiment of life, there is no more testing and truth is indeterminate. Perhaps, then, the real test is left to the individual to determine its value to the individual self and not for the community to question or criticize the method for reaching the same or similar outcome—order (for when individual desires threatens the common good). Obama extracts those same values from life identical to that of a scientist through critical observation and the need to find answers. And, through trial and error, through accepting and rejecting hypotheses suggested by his family, friends, and peers he concluded that facts cannot explain all the unexplainable facets of life. But, Obama’s passionate pursuit of facts, not only about the world but about his own family history leads him to experience the sensation of faith.

Faith requires the ability to surrender the knowledge held to be truth by man for the relief of the unknown offered by religion. Trust is matter-of-fact, either is or is not. Because man cannot control everything, regardless of technological advancements and scientific progress, there is nothing morally binding to the conclusions that science offers apart from its general pragmatism and man’s limited capacity for reason. The pursuit of knowledge educates the masses to practically apply morality, teaching people to make right, moral choices as opposed to religion which urges embodiment of that morality. In that sense, man cannot have faith in another man—man can only trust man because man is fallible—man miscalculates, man makes mistakes. Trust in the science of pathology does not evoke the same emotion that faith in religion demands, if any at that. To this degree, Freud cannot account for the sensation that Obama felt when he was moved by a sermon on hope. He cannot provide a material explanation for the leap of faith from science to religion. For what if faith does exist and those who believe in faith reached that conclusion through education? Obama’s story exists as a living testament, showing that a single step can transform the hopeful to the faithful, the “as ifs” to the “what if,” binding himself to the promise of faith—pursuing it in any direction his divine path leads him.

Bibliography:

Jessie M. Dryden

Political Psychology

Paper #2 Freud/Obama/Ingersoll

Obama, Barack (1995). Dreams from My Father. The Rivers Press: New York.

Freud, Sigmund (1961). The Future of an Illusion. Anchor Books: New York.

Ingersoll, R (1877-1891). Assorted works from handout.