There are many psychological theories of religion from various thinkers. However, they are united in their belief that it is a way of meeting our psychological needs as humans. Freud regarded religious beliefs as ‘illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind’. He went on to describe it as a ‘neurotic illness’ that stems from the unconscious mind which he supports with the fact that religious belief is obsessive due to aspects such as rituals. Freud thought that religion helped us overcome inner psychological conflict, stress from the structure of society and fear of the dangers of the natural world. Another feature of Freud’s psychological theory is Oedipus Complex. He viewed religion as a result of sexual tensions which are rooted in all our childhoods. He says young boys are attracted to their mothers and perceive their fathers as threatening to their maternal relationship. The young boys’ desires to possess their mothers leads to feelings of ambivalence towards their fathers which are known as the Oedipus Complex. Freud saw our repression of these feelings into our unconscious as being incomplete and ineffective and so they reappear in neurotic symptoms – one of which is religious belief.
Freud also believed that for religious believers, God is the projection of a ‘father figure’ onto something greater. He said it was a result of longing for a father figure and derived from our feelings of helplessness in the face of adulthood and the fears that come with it. Freud therefore believed that due to the lack of protection we feel without our father, we seek comfort in believing there is a supreme father figure who is God.
Although Jung agrees with Freud’s view of religion as a psychological phenomenon, some of his beliefs differ from Freud’s in that he acknowledges religious as a ‘cure’ rather than an ‘illness’. He also disagreed with religion stemming from sexual traumas, that religion was dangerous and that these dangers should be exposed. He also has a positive view of religion in terms of it meeting psychological functions and thought that ‘knowledge of God [was] knowledge of self’. Jung had an anti-realist view of religion, meaning he believed that to those who experience God, it is real. He said that ‘God is an absolutely necessary psychological reality’.
Jung proposes the concept of archetypes which are situated in the collective unconscious mind and generate images. He saw religion as stemming from archetypes in that God-images were created by our God-archetype. He refers to the three archetypes we all have: persona, shadow self and God and explains that without all three we cannot be a balanced person. At the heart of Jung’s perspective is the worth of religion as a positive entity. One reason for this is that it helps individuals maintains our mental health through individuation. This process is that of becoming oneself and he believed that by experience of this, religion creates individuals who can relate to each other.