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Freud′s final session and the question of God

Those who could not get tickets in Madrid, to attend the Spanish Theater, an unusual dialogue in Freud′s office in London, shortly before his death, now have a new opportunity, at the Figaro Theater, until July 12 . In the work of New Yorker Mark St. Germain, the father of psychoanalysis - known for his atheism - invites Oxford professor, C. S. Lewis - converted to Christianity - to talk about how an intelligent man can believe in God ...

Article by José de Segovia from Madrid on Wednesday, January 13th 2010 ·.·★ Reading takes 10 minutes or 2095 words.

His imaginary encounter, the same day the United Kingdom entered World War II, on September 3, 1939, would be motivated by ironic references to Freud, in ′The Pilgrim′s Return′ - where a petulant appears character called Sigismund, Freud′s real name, until at age 22, he changed it to Sigmund. The humanity of the characters and the honesty of their conversation make this meeting a memorable moment.

I have never seen so clearly expose the apologetic ideas of C.S. Lewis, as in this work brought by the English Tamzin Townshend of Buenos Aires - where it has been directed with great success, by Daniel Veronese. His compassion for a Freud, suffering from cancer, is linked to a lucidity that makes one of the most brilliant presentations of the Christian faith, which I have seen on stage.


The Freud we find here is not that of the provocative and arrogant tone of his best-known works. He is the one who is about to die in his exile from London, on September 23, 1939. He was 83 years old - while Lewis was in his forties. He had had to leave Vienna, beset by the Nazis, who burned his books and described his theories as pornographic, demanding money as ransom for his freedom. No one could imagine then, that one day, we would use its terms (ego, repression, complex, projection, inhibition, neurosis, psychosis) as part of our language.

Lewis would die twenty-four years later, on the same day as the murder of John F. Kennedy, on November 25, 1963. When this literary critic, perhaps the most popular defender of the Christian faith in the twentieth century, began teaching in Oxford was not yet thirty years old - while Freud was in the mid-sixties. During World War II, his radiated talks made his voice one of the best known, after Churchill. Shortly after it would appear on the cover of Time magazine, winning the hearts of the Americans.

The father of psychoanalysis waged a continuous battle, against that spiritual worldview, which he called ′the religious Weltanschauung.′ His atheistic vision of life played a fundamental role in the secularization of our culture. That was also, Lewis′s perspective until his conversion to Christianity. Freud may have read some of his first books, such as ′The Allegory of Love′ - about medieval and Renaissance literature - but in the work, someone has told him about the satire that appears in ′The Pilgrim′s Return′.


Did Freud and Lewis ever see each other? asks psychiatrist Armand M. Nicholi, a Harvard professor, who has been doing a seminar since 1967, comparing the two thinkers. His answer is that the hypothesis was so tempting, that he thinks if Lewis could be the young Oxford professor who visited him when he lived in Hampstead, northwest London, shortly after emigrating to England.

What we do know is that during the Second World War, a young woman named Jill Fluett escaped the bombing of London, moving near the house where the author of ′Chronicles of Narnia′ lived, with Mrs. Moore, the mother of his dead friend in the front - whom he promised to take care of her, causing a multitude of rumors about the possible relationship between the two, despite the age difference, when Lewis was single. Years later, Jill married a Freud grandson, Clement, who was a member of Parliament. One day, he called to go to eat at Lewis′s house, and introduce him to his family, but that same afternoon he died ...

From that Harvard seminar, came the book that Rialp publishes now (The question of God: CS Lewis vs. Freud), but also a documentary on American public television (PBN), which inspired the present work in the called ′Off-Broadway.′ Its author, Mark St. Germain, premiered it in New York in 2010 and has been represented in many Latin American countries, based on its success in Buenos Aires. The Spanish version is by Ignacio García May.

St. Germain made scripts for the Bill Cosby television show in the 1980s, but lately, he has made wonderful dialogues, such as the one he imagines Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald at the missing Hollywood hotel, The Garden of Wing (Scott And Hem In The Garden Of Allah, 2013). Before, he made a play about a little-known but exciting character, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, daughter of Orthodox Jews killed in Auschwitz, who joined the Haganah in Jerusalem - the Jewish paramilitary organization that fought against the British, until the foundation of the state from Israel-, later becoming the best known expert in American television sexuality in the eighties (Dr. Ruth All The Way, 2012).


The intellectual duel interpreted by the actors Helio Pedregal (Freud) and Eleazar Ortiz (Lewis), introduces us to two opposite men, both in their ideas, and in the vital moment in which they meet. Lewis is optimistic and vitalistic, while Freud is disenchanted and seriously ill. Radio broadcasts remind us that the whole world trembles at the beginning of the Second World War. Anti-aircraft alarms sound and a state of chaos reigns.

There are generational differences, but also the continuous dichotomy between faith and reason. We face the pain and the need of the human being to understand. Lewis believes that ′God exists, that a man does not have to be a fool to believe in Him′ and that believers are not the ′mentally weak′ people Freud talks about, since his belief is not a ′pathetic neurosis obsessive′. However, this temperamental Ulster man likes provocation. He loves the debate.

The author of ′Basic Christianity′ recognizes that when he was a student at the university, they devoured Freud′s books, to discover new perversions. To which the professor of Vienna responds ironically, he hopes they will find them. Lewis adds sarcastically, that what happened, is that then, they competed to find worse. The complicity that is being created, announces that the dialogue will take us to surprising places ...

There is talk of Tolkien and the Inklings, fantasy and reality. Lewis tells his conversion, on the way to the zoo, to show him that he is not enlightened. It has bright phrases, taken from its books. His faith presents great challenges: ′I question my beliefs on a daily basis. And I have to say that I have never met a non-believer who spent so much time discrediting the existence of God. If I were a psychoanalyst, I would be intrigued by these constant efforts.′


The wonderful thing about St. Germain′s work is that it presents the arguments of faith, without threatening them. There is a humanity and compassion in the encounter, which makes one feel sympathy for both. The unbeliever will hear Lewis′s apologetics and the Christian will discover trivial, but funny, details of this professor′s extravagant character. Freud observes thus, his resistance to learn to drive - something, which as many know, I also share - when ′it is a skill that even circus bears show they possess′ ...

Many don′t know either, Freud′s peculiar way of understanding the religion of his people. Lewis tells him the book in which the father of psychoanalysis conjectures that Moses could be an Egyptian, that the Jews kill, for his insistence that men be circumcised. It is the last work that Freud published in life, ′Moses and the monotheistic religion′ (1939). He attributes the belief in a unique God, to the religion of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), explaining the religion of his people, as an attempt to ′bury the guilt′ of ′killing the father.′

As Lewis shows him, the arguments that deny the existence of God are totally reversible. If the believer believed that there is a God, because he would like to have a ′father in heaven′ who takes care of him, the same could be said of the unbeliever who does not want to have a father to judge and control him. His release from the father can not only be the reason for religion, but also for atheism. The problem of the unbeliever, then, would not be intellectual, but moral. It′s not that we can′t believe in God, it′s that it doesn′t suit us!


′The desire that there is no God can be as powerful as the faith that there is,′ Lewis observes: ′I would even dare to say that the choice of not believing may be the greatest evidence of your own existence, since one has to be aware of what he is denying. ′ To Freud′s classic answer about the existence of unicorns, Lewis replies that if he ardently desires his existence. Since a desire supposes the satisfaction of this desire, even if it is not in this life.

If the author of ′Surprised by joy′ is considered ′the most reluctant convert of all England′, it is because ′nothing hated as much as they told me what I had to do.′ That′s where ′the wonderful attraction of atheism comes from: it satisfies my desire to be left alone.′ The God of the Bible is a meddler.

Lewis explains to Freud why he trusts the gospels and how it is not logical to say that Christ is simply another religious teacher, such as Muhammad or Buddha. Recognize the problem of pain, whose arguments, clashes the brutality of Freud′s suffering. His words are empty, given the cruelty of his sufferings. Faced with that ultimate reality of God, there is nothing left but silence.

Lewis′s last words move me deeply. After apologizing, if he has disappointed, he says, quoting one of his writings: ′My idea of God is constantly transformed. He shatters it, again and again. Even so, I feel that the world is full of his presence. It is everywhere, incognito, and its mystery is very difficult to decipher ... ′Since as Barth said,′ when we speak of God, let us not forget that we who speak are us. ′

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as La sesión final de Freud y la cuestión de Dios

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