Adolescent Rebellion

Freud describes cultures as needing ideals that can reign in the drives and desires of individuals.

Religion is the most important ideal a culture has, and therefore a culture discourages questioning its religious beliefs.  But religion is also based on a wish that is left unfulfilled, and as such, religion can entrap believers in an unhealthy relationship that prevents the maturity of individuals and cultures alike.

Freud sees religion as the adolescent stage of a culture; much as a child learns its parents’ ideals in order to become a part of a family, religion is a set of unquestionable norms needed for a culture to cohere.  But the adolescent must begin to rebel against those same ideals in order to become an independent adult.

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  1. angela March 1, 2013

    I quit my church when I was 16. Our sabbath was from Fri night sundown to Sat night sundown. My job at the movie theatre required me to work Friday nights. My church did not approve of my actions. We were not allowed to work /seek after our own pleasures on the Sabbath..No TV..No radio..No working. I had a car payment. I had fuel to buy..oil changes and car repairs. My car seemed to be my gateway to adulthood. I couldn’t afford religion and a car at the same time. So, I quit my church..and drove off into the sunset and never looked back. Here we are years later..and I don’t regret those 13 years of my childhood in that church. We didn’t celebrate birthdays or any of the holidays except for 4th of July and Thanksgiving. Men were the Head of the Household..we didn’t eat unclean animals like pigs or shrimp, crab or lobster. Women couldn’t wear makeup (my mom let me buy coverstick for my pimples in Jr High- it was a big deal) Church was everything to our family. When I was 4 an older man asked me what I wanted from Santa Claus?? I told him Santa Claus was pagan! I’m sure he looked at me like I was a devil child. Nothing has ever seemed exactly normal to me. I’ve been celebrating birthdays since my sweet sixteen..eating bacon and seafood (still trying to hide that in front of my father..although I think he suspects sometimes! I whisper to the waitress sometimes..Don’t say bacon out loud!! ) My dad would be discouraged if he knew I was on the edge of the agnostic/atheist cliff and ready to jump. So many people never question their belief in God and just skip through the forest with a smile on their face chasing squirrels and sunshine. I try to be positive and not whine all of the time about my life and how it’s not the most ideal and I might not wish it onto most. I’ve taken this Atheism for Lent pretty seriously and I can feel my attitude changing throughout the process. I don’t mind it. The last decade of my life I can see the changes my personality has taken on. I’m brutally honest at times and the older I get the less of a sugarcoating there is on just about anything! I’m like a gumball machine..You never know what’s gonna pop out of my mouth..and I’m ok with that. I saw “The Invention of Lying” movie years ago and it made perfect sense. Sometimes I just have to be quiet and not say anything at all. Just grip my can opener and leave the can of worms up on the shelf.

  2. Rich March 1, 2013

    1). I want it all to be O.K. that is the wish that I try to fulfill. It is not O.K. but I want it to be and have built my religion around that.

    2). It would be one based around reality, acceptance of that reality and not in denial of the past. I have seen this a lot, people coming from a rich tradition, grow up leave that tradition and then dismiss it. I think we need to move forward and mature our religious practice/ideals/dogma/thought etc. but we can not dismiss the past, even a painful one. If I dismiss everything from my controlling, overbearing, toxic, fundamentalist past, then I am doomed to repeat the mistakes I made while I was there and doomed to judge those that are still there.

    • Will March 3, 2013

      I agree with your sentiment on your second answer. I couldn’t agree more. It is literally how I live with my friends and loved ones. Not always comfortable but I understand where they are in their lives.

  3. Chuck March 1, 2013

    Religion is rooted in emotional reasoning to give an imagined sense of order to a world that is too often random. Tragedies continue to pile up around the religious but the emotional reasoning allows “good” to be derived from these things. The wish for an orderly world remains but is never fully realized outside of religion’s ad hoc explanations, called “theology”. The sad thing is that the unfulfilled wish drive of religious emotional reasoning retards moral development because obviously bad things must be fit within the order of a “good” god. It also gives warrant to a self-centered epistemology where knowledge is simply what an individual chooses to assent as real to them, from their experience, rather than known principles and facts regarding the natural laws.

    Stoicism seems to be an adult world-view.

    • Nathan March 1, 2013

      Isn’t every epistemology self-centered, by the very nature of what epistemology is?

      • Chuck March 1, 2013


      • Will March 3, 2013

        All of life is “self-centered.” The world as each person views it is very subjective because we are all working with the information that we have collected in life so far.

        I’m not saying that factual information does not exist or that it does not effect people but each person sees and deals with things in their own self-centered view. It is for each person a “fact” that the world functions in the way they understand things, regardless if it is factually true or not.

        We are all worlds forever colliding and learning about the existence of one another.

        • Chuck March 3, 2013

          “The first principle is to not fool yourself and, you are the easiest person to fool.”

          Will, get out of your post-modern navel gazing and spend some time with the scientific method to afford yourself the possibility that empirical epistemology is not the self-centered arena you entertain.

          Or just get a psychology 101 book and grasp the evidence behind the theory known as confirmation bias.

          There are objective facts that make up our current body of knowledge. I doubt your subjective view of reality allows you to believe a post-hoc reality in which your sensation of acceleration in a jumbo jet is the cause for flight propulsion. Or the consequence of health due to the ingestion of H2O is due to your experience of drinking it.

          The subjectivity you tout is immaturity routinized.

  4. Paul March 1, 2013

    I appreciate the questions, although they presuppose that religion is merely a developmental stage on the way to sapere aude; the courage to know for ourselves. Ascribing a singular voice to a group is always problematic, whether the group be the religious or atheists, which by the way, is a too neat dichotomy. I would want to push back against Freud to say that religion is not merely wish-fulfillment or a cultural superego, although it certainly serves those functions for some. Religion can also be conceptualized in terms of religiousness and spirituality, which refer to ways of being, thinking, apprehending, and imagining the world that are so thoroughly postmodern that they resist the temptation to sneak out of life through metaphysics or through grand scientific and objective truths. I am an atheist that participates in religion, specifically the Episcopal tradition. The God-image I inherited from my early social-historical-cultural worlds has been deconstructed and reconstructed many times over. It is much more incarnational and inclusive now, in that it integrates truths from the immanent frame.

    Developmentally speaking, the ability to hold paradox both birthed the death of God for me and precipitated the emergence of a new sense of the divine (which does not presuppose theism). I’ll never escape the life-giving tension created by my doubt, but I fear we’ve (mainstream modern westerners) grown so accustomed to thinking of truth in terms of rational, objective, certain knowledge that our need for imagination is given short shrift, if it’s not altogether conceived as some childish approach to the world. I advocate for imagination, enchantment, and science…incongruent as they may appear.

    • Chuck March 1, 2013

      Do you look both ways before crossing the street or do you simply rely on the, “. . . truths from the immanent frame,” to ensure you don’t get run over by a car?

      • angela March 2, 2013

        Oh My Chuck is the new OMG

        • angela March 2, 2013

          ( That was a compliment! )

      • Paul March 3, 2013

        Not completely sure if I’m following you correctly Chuck, but “looking both ways” points to the immanent empirical world of the senses, so “looking”, and listening too for that matter, are presupposed by the immanent frame. BY using the word “or” it sounds as though you are wanting to set them up in opposition to each other?

        Personally, I don’t see much constructive value in devaluing what may be offered by the immanent world of empirical science or the transcendent truths, myths, rituals, stories that speak to our existential position in the cosmos as the sort of creatures that are interested in the very questions that gave rise to this “atheism for lent” experiment in the first place. Of course, one of the luxuries of living in a pluralistic world is that we can choose the worldview that most resonates with our innate biases (positivism, constructivism, pragmatism). And, I would suggest that our subjectivity always leaps ahead of our reasons. For example, is there any empirical proof for empiricism? Perhaps it’s more likely that we see the value in valuing the empirical or hypothetical-deductive method as a way to better understand the world. I would argue that maturity is not found in abandoning religion or denigrating science, but in recognizing that we are always already radically contextualized AND that an objective world exists on the other side of epistemology. And the purpose of a mature science or a mature religion is to aid us in better apprehending that world, albeit with a dose of humility and wonder.

        • Chuck March 3, 2013

          Induction is good enough to show that the products of empiricism work, unlike the contradictions between the religious myths you pretend have value.

          • Paul March 3, 2013

            So, you are offering induction as proof for empiricism…that’s a circular argument. Empiricism is built on an iterative movement between deduction and induction, therefore you cannot offer one its premises as a consequential proof. Moreover, what framework are you using when you go out and make your inductions…there are predelineated for-structures through which inductive analysis is done.

            There is no empirical proof for empiricism…its an epistemology and all ontologies run the risk of being epistemological constructions, including the positivism you espouse! Who is pretending now…at least I’m willing to acknowledge the facticity implicit in my position, which seems more mature.

  5. Gavin March 1, 2013

    I appreciated Paul’s comments, although I didn’t completely comprehend some of the terminology he advances… I was unaware that Freud had characterized religion in terms of an adolescent level of reasoning; however I find the comment that it constitutes ” a set of unquestionable set of norms” to be in itself a symptom of an immature and overly simplistic mindset. Maturity accepts that, for better or worse, human understanding has its limits; that it’s OK to simply say “I don’t know” – that paradox and mystery exist, and that to be human is to acknowledge that there are things that move beyond the bounds of everyday consciousness….Far from being a quest for a permanent and absolutely inflexible set of dogmas, religious truth, in similar fashion to science, is subject to new and surprising twists and turns; if not, why even consider using a word like ‘revelation’?

  6. thule kinnison March 3, 2013

    How do you see religion based on a wish left unfulfilled?

    The way I see religion based on a wish left unfulfilled is in the way expectations are emphasized about what you “get” by being religious. Some believe that you “get” the healthy outcome, or you “don’t get” this or that, based on the time you spend following the religious rules, or by your lack of. Hoping/wishing for religion to have a reward left me confused and frustrated. This was my “wish left unfulfilled.”

    What does it look like for your adolescent religious belief to rebel and become an independent adult?

    My adolescent religious belief has rebelled over the past few years and I can relate to it now being an independent adult. The way this has looked is that I’ve been able to question, with safe people in my community, all of the ways the bible is interpreted, without having a direct answer. I’ve been allowed to sit in my questioning, being supported with love and encouragement. I have experienced some really dark and lonesome days but I never “gave in” to believe that I needed “God” to comfort or change the way I was feeling. I’ve been able to look at the world as it is instead of emphasizing that it came from “God.” I’ve become more encompassing with all people in the world, without judgment. What’s kind of funny now is that Christians are who I wonder about the most. It all seems so righteous and judgmental. Connecting to the independent adult allows me to believe that I’ve grown into something that was created for change. I’ve changed, and I’m grateful.

  7. Will March 3, 2013

    There is rarely a truer statement regarding “a wish left unfulfilled.” The wish is for completion, direction, happiness, a wholeness through holiness. It does not exist, we must seek “completion” through experiencing life and accepting that there is no “magic bullet”, no point of absolute completion.

    Religion is the training wheels for life and society.

    Religious views and attitudes in Europe seem to differ from the US for, in my opinion. The fact that the US is in its adolescent stage as a society. There are those holding onto tradition based on “God’s Will” and those who seek to break away from ALL religious tradition as a plague on society. These two extremes, for me, represent the struggle that goes on in people as we go through life, especially adolescents. Basically, I can see that Freud’s observation is pretty accurate. Religion has been a powerful and binding tool to build societies around the world (as well as a destructive source of conflict). We owe a debt of gratitude to religion as a building block for society. We need to remember to evolve as a people in this process though.

    • Paul March 3, 2013

      It would be easy to treat the “wish” as a sort of evidence, by way of a naturalistic fallacy (what is = what ought to be), that perhaps there is some sort of genie that granted the unasked for wish in the first place. I’m not really comfortable with that sort of apologetic argument. However, I aspire to take the wish seriously. Frued spoke of the “unheimlich” to point to the idea that we can never go home, and as such, we live with a longing to belong to something that feels like home; an edenic paradise where, similar to the womb, our needs were met without effort or struggle.

      Aside from Freud’s valid critique of some religious folks (it is true that people use religion as a crutch, but is it not also true that some people are in need of crutches…and physical therapy), I wonder how we are to live responsibly with a wish that cannot be fulfilled. What is the appropriate relationship to cultivate with this wish? Perhaps the growing demographic of “spiritual, but not religious” is one such response…

      • Chuck March 3, 2013


        • Paul March 3, 2013

          I very much appreciate the ancient virtue ethics espoused by the stoics. Ironically, they were considered spiritual athletes.

          • Chuck March 3, 2013

            Equvocable to your use of the term.

          • Paul March 5, 2013

            equivocal? Precisely, the meaning of stoicism may be undetermined, which may arouse doubt, and challenge our need to pin it down in some monolithic way…I suppose I’m okay with ambiguity, uncertainty, mystery; which when taken seriously, can cultivate the sort of virtue the stoics so admired…courage, wisdom, discerning rationality.

            Is “spiritual” necessarily a bad word? Not for me, although, like most language, it’s prone to all sorts of projections and other abuses. Many of the words used by people in the churches I grew up in, lost all their meaning for a long time (10 years). More recently, I’ve recovered some of the language, but from a different paradigm. Words like spiritual now signify an altogether different meaning.

            I suppose when you use the term “stoicism” you are representing the “true” meaning, rather than my equivocation? Sounds like a “gods eye view of the world”.

    • Chuck March 5, 2013

      The equivocation seems to be on your use of spiritual relative to the stoical.

  8. Paul March 5, 2013

    Seems to me like we have different relationships to the word spiritual and how/where it is integrated in our way of life. I’m willing to own mine, are you?For what it’s worth, the idea of askesis as spiritual exercises comes from a book by Pierre Hadot; here’s the link if your curious as to how he sets up his argument:

    • Chuck March 5, 2013

      My definition of “spiritual” is not what we are discussing. I thought it was your desire to assign its meaning consonant with the Stoics.

  9. Paul March 5, 2013

    It was and is; my question still stands. Are you willing to own your definition and elaborate as to why stoicism is not consonant with spirituality from your perspective? Dialogue goes both ways interlocutor; I prefer reciprocation to one-sided interrogation.

    • Chuck March 5, 2013

      Stoics were monists. They’d find your dualism invalid.

      • Paul March 5, 2013

        Dualism? Must one be a dualist to have spirituality. You presume that spirituality presupposes dualism; not so.

      • Chuck March 5, 2013

        No but a reference to a non material “immanent frame” as a source of knowledge does imply substance dualism. That is included in your function of the spiritual, no?

        • Paul March 5, 2013

          “Immanent frame” as I understand it (and very much value by the way) is not “non material”, but material. It’s Aristotle’s, rather than Plato’s, world of real tangible things, that birthed the sciences and other humanistic disciplines. However, to your point, use of the world “immanent” implies that there is a transcendent. However, I see them as a useful heuristic, rather than reified categories, to think about the multiple positions people take with regard to spirituality, from the transcendent to immanent spectrum–deism, theism, panentheism, pantheism, animism.

          • Chuck March 6, 2013

            I’d probably understand you better if you used simple terms.

      • Paul March 6, 2013

        like parsimony…fair enough.

        • Chuck March 6, 2013

          It is hard to trust people who choose to use technical terms in a public space. Your intentions might be pure but they only come across as a desire to be more clever than others. Also, I am interested in theology and philosophy but when you insert terms like immanent frame within a subjective point of view it is hard to fully understand what you mean.

          • Paul March 6, 2013

            Perception, intention, subjective interpretation…these sorts of topics are hard enough to discuss in person, never mind in a web forum. Again, I appreciate your comments and candidness. Wittgenstein talked about how language is a game we play–how “words create worlds”–and how all philosophical problems come back to problems in language because language and consciousness are so indelibly linked. Personally, I wouldn’t follow him all the way down, but his point has merit, as evidenced by our very dialogue.

            As to intentions, I suppose they have been multiple…cleverness, the joy of dialogue, learning. I find great meaning, if not a little comfort and distraction, in these sorts of interdisciplinary topics.

          • Chuck March 6, 2013

            I appreciate your intelligence and apologize for my misunderstanding. I’m trying to test my intelligence by putting in simple terms the abstract or technical notions I am learning. I might be therefore biased against academic language.

          • Paul March 6, 2013

            Thanks Chuck; sounds like a worthwhile exercise/discipline; true to Stoic form perhaps! What does Holmes say about simplicity, “I wouldn’t give a fig for that simplicity on the near side of complexity, but I would give my very life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity”.

            I apologize too, for my moments of insulating myself from the more difficult moments of authentic encounter with academic garble!

  10. Rev March 22, 2013

    Religion arrests development beyond adolescence.

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