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Roth, N. (1989). A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis: Peter Gay, Yale University Press, in association with Hebrew Union College Press, 1987, xvii+182 pp., $20.00 hardcover, $9.95 paperback.. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 17(4):682-683.
(1989). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 17(4):682-683
A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis: Peter Gay, Yale University Press, in association with Hebrew Union College Press, 1987, xvii+182 pp., $20.00 hardcover, $9.95 paperback.
Review by: Nathan Roth, M.D.
In this welcome book Gay discusses whether it required an atheistic Jew to discover psychoanalysis. Any of Gay's writings about Freud have been, and continue to be, a delight to read. Scholarly, gracefully written, profoundly thoughtful, they have always approached Freud from original vantage points. It is gratifying to learn from this work that another book about Freud by Gay is in the offing.
Gay points out that “if Freud had been a believer like [William] James, he would not have developed psychoanalysis” (p. 31). Freud “saw psychoanalysis not as a religion: it is susceptible to the criticism of controlled experience as religions are not” (p. 31). “[R]eligious ideas are incorrigible, scientific ideas corrigible,” thus Gay defines Freud's fundamental conviction that there are two wholly incompatible styles of thinking in the world, the theological or metaphysical on the one hand, the scientific on the other, and that no mental gymnastics, no effort of will, can ever reconcile them” (p. 32).
Freud, in a letter of 1918 to his clerical friend, Oskar Pfister, asked, “… why did none of the devout create psychoanalysis? Why did one have to wait for a completely godless Jew?” and Gay sets out to answer these questions.
Freud came under the influence of Franz Brentano, an “ex-priest who believed in God and respected Darwin at the same time. Freud esteemed him a “damned clever fellow” (p. 38). But “Freud returned to his atheism and remained there the rest of his days” (p. 38).
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