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Alford, C.F. (2009). Job, Abjection, and the Ruthless God. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(3):431-459.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(3):431-459

Job, Abjection, and the Ruthless God

C. Fred Alford

God does not frequently appear in the Old Testament, but neither is His appearance, what is called theophany, extraordinary. He speaks to Moses from a burning bush, and from Mount Sinai (Exodus, 3:1-6; 19:3-25; 24:9-11). God speaks to Elijah (or perhaps one should simply say that God is present to Elijah) in the silence that follows the wind, the earthquake, and the fire (1 Kings, 19:11-13). God makes several other appearances, but in none does He reveal his character as He does in His speeches from the whirlwind in the Book of Job (38-41). Since I am particularly interested in God's character, at least as it is revealed to us in those texts called Holy Scripture, the Book of Job is especially rewarding.

The usual psychoanalytic approach to religion has changed from an analysis of the defensive psychological function of religious belief, Freud's approach, to an analysis of the transference. For Freud (1912), particularly in Totem and Taboo, religion is an obsessional neurosis, an attempt to ward off guilt by repetition. The guilt stems from the primal horde's killing of the father, an event reproduced in every boy's oedipal struggle with his own father. Religion is the obsessive repetition of the ritualized reconciliation with an idealized patriarchal father god. “By rooting religion in the instinctual life of the child, Freud offered a biological hermeneutic of the sacred” (Jones, 1991, p. 2).

In his later The Future of an Illusion, (Freud, 1927) understood religion in both less reductive and less speculative terms. Religion reduces the terror of an uncaring nature by personalizing the natural order. Religion removes the fear of death by providing the illusion of immortality.

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