Anyone studying religion will sooner or later read Sigmund Freud’s classic, The Future of an Illusion (1927). I was engaged in my fifth reading today and came across this passage:
Thus I must contradict you when you go on to argue that men are completely unable to do without the consolation of the religious illusion, that without it they could not bear the troubles of life and the cruelties of reality. That is true, certainly, of the men into whom you have instilled the sweet—or bitter-sweet—poison from childhood onwards.
But what of the other men, who have been sensibly brought up? Perhaps those who do not suffer from the neurosis will need no intoxicant to deaden it. They will, it is true, find themselves in a difficult situation.
They will have to admit to themselves the full extent of their helplessness and their insignificance in the machinery of the universe; they can no longer be the centre of creation, no longer the object of tender care on the part of a beneficent Providence. They will be in the same position as a child who has left the parental house where he was so warm and comfortable.
But surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted. Men cannot remain children for ever; they must in the end go out into ‘hostile life’. We may call this “education to reality’. Need I confess to you that the sole purpose of my book is to point out the necessity for this forward step?
Because nearly one hundred years have past since Freud wrote, we can ask whether his predicti0ns have come true. Are more people secularized or non-religious than before? Have most people surmounted what Freud calls their “infantilism” and recognized religion as illusion?
The answer is no. There are good reasons for this, including the powerful forces of history and culture — the former weighs upon and the latter patterns us in ways that are exceedingly difficult to recognize, and even more difficult to escape. Indeed, most do not recognize these profound influences, which combine to form the symbolic matrix in which we play out our lives according to rules and expectations which we neither created nor chose.
All this aside, all humans possess an evolved brain-mind that gives rise to beliefs in invisible souls-spirits and forces-agents. Therefore what we call the supernatural is actually natural, even if it always remains invisible.