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Carr, W. (1997). Some reflections on sin and evil in a psychoanalytic perspective. Free Associations, 7(1):49-63.

(1997). Free Associations, 7(1):49-63

Some reflections on sin and evil in a psychoanalytic perspective1

Wesley Carr


This Paper Was Presented with great diffidence. I am not a psychoanalyst but primarily a theologian. Through, however, a longstanding association with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations Group Relations Programme I have an interest in psychoanalysis and its social applications.

The question of sin and evil seems again to be becoming prominent. We are seeing the decline of that nineteenth- and twentieth-century optimism which implied that explanation of all human phenomena would soon become possible, the more we made the effort to interpret them. In the end, so it was thought, we (sometimes the new philosopher kings of the psychoanalysts, sometimes just society) probably could deal with all human problems and create a new world order. Existing, traditional religion, if it had a place, would be a private matter, although the public religious dimensions to the new sciences and the fervour of their advocates were overlooked. The categories of ‘sin’ and ‘evil’ dropped out of focus in all contexts, both old religious and new behavioural. Curiously, however, they became more popular as ways of describing everyday experiences. But they were undoubtedly given less attention by professionals in human relations. One of the century's formative disciplines, psychoanalysis, does not generally employ ‘sin’ and ‘evil’.

The twentieth century has been an extremely bloody era. The only language artists and others have often found for it has been that of the old apocalyptic. The experiences of this century have given the lie to the dream of a sinless humanity without evil.

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