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Rizzuto, A. (1989). A Godless Jew. Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis: Peter Gay. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1987. 182 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 58:494-498.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:494-498

A Godless Jew. Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis: Peter Gay. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1987. 182 pp.

Review by:
Ana-Maria Rizzuto

This book is the transcript of the Gustave A. and Mamie W. Efroymson Memorial Lectures that Peter Gay delivered at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1986. Gay takes ironic pleasure in "reflecting at a theological seminary on Freud's atheism" (p. xi). He has a single argument to make: to demonstrate that if Freud had been a religious believer he would not have developed psychoanalysis. Gay follows Freud's own defiant rhetorical question to Oskar Pfister: "Why did none of the devout create psychoanalysis? Why did one have to wait for a completely godless Jew?" (p. 37).

In his well-known scholarly manner, Gay provides abundant and original documentation about Freud as an atheist in the context of the controversies of his time. For Freud, the controversy was a war between religion and science—all religions and one science. He appointed himself a chief leader in the war against those who got drunk on the wine of religion. "Freud," Gay points out, "could hardly contain his disdain for such weak heads" (p. 12). Gay portrays Freud's exuberant, militant, well-advertised, most satisfying atheism with unusual clarity. Freud appears as the creator of a new science eager to join Science in its efforts to submit all human knowledge to the power of reason. Religion, Freud argued, is the enemy, capable of harming humanity and Freud's cause. He had always needed a friend and an enemy. The fields were defined, the battle was on: religion became the principal enemy, science the friend he would fight for with fierce, relentless determination. He saw no truce or negotiation as the end of the combat. The enemy had to die, and science would live forever, free to lead humankind to sober detachment in knowing itself.

Freud was a man of his time, and Gay locates him in the middle of the European controversy between the two major religions, Christianity and Judaism, and the scientists of the day, who wanted absolute freedom for their disciplines.

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