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Farrell, B.A. (1955). Psychological Theory and the Belief in God. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 36:187-204.

(1955). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 36:187-204

Psychological Theory and the Belief in God

B. A. Farrell

My purpose in this paper is to diagnose a philosophical difficulty felt by many psychologists and many interested in psychological theory. The difficulty is well known. Can a belief in God be reconciled with contemporary psychological theory? I shall concentrate on one small but, I think, important corner of this difficulty. It is not possible to do more in one paper. But even to do this I shall have to spread myself excessively; and in spite of this prolixity my treatment will be bald and schematic—to the point of caricaturing psychologists and philosophers, including myself.

When we ask the question: 'Can a belief in God be reconciled with psychological theory?' the particular psychological theory we usually have in mind is psycho-analysis or Freudian theory. For this is the theory with the most obvious relevance. Consequently, I shall simplify the question and ask: 'Can a belief in God be reconciled with Freudian theory?' I shall begin an examination of this question by briefly recalling what I take to be the relevant essentials of one version of Freudian theory.

One Version of Freudian Theory

The infant and child go through certain stages in the course of development to maturity. In particular, the infant begins by ascribing omnipotence to himself, and later as a child to his parents. His parents come to figure as omniscient, omnicompetent, and dominating persons; and it is from them primarily that the child acquires his fundamental moral attitudes and ideals.

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