The Future of an Illusion
The Future of an Illusion (written 1927) by Sigmund Freud is a book that describes his interpretation of religion's origins, development, psychoanalysis, and its future.
Religion as an illusion
Freud describes religion as an illusion, wishes that are the "fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind" (Ch. 6 pg. 30). To differentiate between an illusion and an error, he lists scientific beliefs such as "Aristotle's belief that vermin are developed out of dung" as errors, but "the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization" is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, "what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes." (pg. 31) He adds, however, that, "Illusions need not necessarily be false." (p.39) He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.
Origins and development of religion
At first, Freud begins by explaining religion in a similar term to that of totemism. The individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function. "Among these instinctual wishes are those of incest, cannibalism, and lust for killing." (pg. 10) His view of human nature is that it is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The destructive nature of humans sets a pre-inclination for disaster when humans must interact with others in society. "For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving free rein to their indiscipline." (pg. 7) So destructive is human nature, he claims, that "it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends." (pg. 8) All this sets a terribly hostile society that could implode if it were not for civilizing forces and developing government.
He elaborates further on the development of religion, as the emphasis on acquisition of wealth and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from "the material to the mental." As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward.
Psychoanalysis of religion
Religion is an outshoot of the father-complex, and represents man's helplessness in the world, having to face the ultimate fate of death, the struggle of civilization, and the forces of nature. He views God as a child-like "longing for [a] father." (pg. 18) In his words "The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruetly of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them." (pg. 18)