Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Erich Fromm on religion (1)

The following was written August 11, 2012:

Fromm was one of my teenage heroes, beginning with Escape From Freedom, which I read and marked up several times. I don't remember how I reacted to Fromm's writings on religion, but I approach this book again with a much sharper and more critical eye as to the weaknesses of Fromm's methodology, weaknesses shared with liberal religion:

Psychoanalysis and Religion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is not a very good Wikipedia entry, but it's one entry point into Fromm's Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950). I know I read this book at least twice before, because my copy is full of marginal scribbling, beginning with "completed for the second time 7/19/73".

I read and liked much of Fromm's work in English. The only one that did nothing for me was his best-seller The Art of Loving. My criticism of him 35 years ago, when I last seriously engaged him, was that he was overly idealistic. I thought him rather uncritical and gullible in his selection of heroes; he even included Pope John XXIII somewhere, which I thought was unacceptably shallow on his part. And I think he was entirely too gullible about D.T. Suzuki's propaganda for Zen. But then I left Fromm alone until I re-engaged the Frankfurt School serious in the '90s.

This is an apt summary of the first 41 pages of the book:

Religious Experience Resources - Reviews

You may discern even from this bare abstract the conceptual beefs I will have with Fromm. Left out of account here is Fromm's advocacy of Freud as humanist and critique of Jung as reactionary authoritarian. Fromm was right about Jung.

The nature of this web site notwithstanding, this quote from Fromm nicely captures the existential dilemma of human existence which is one cornerstone of Fromm's work:

MY BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE: --Excerpt from: Erich Fromm " Psychoanalysis and Religion"

Fromm is interested, as religion and philosophy once were, in investigating the "soul", a word he uses to indicate something not captured in the purview of experimental psychology. Psychoanalysis and religion both have an interest here.
     I want to show that to set up alternatives of either irreconcilable opposition or identity of interest is fallacious; a thorough and dispassionate discussion can demonstrate that the relation between religion and psychoanalysis is too complex to be forced into either on of these simple and convenient attitudes.

. . . it is not true that we have to give up the concern for the soul if we do not accept the tenets of religion . . . . He [the pyschoanalyst] finds that the question is not whether man returns to religion and believes in God but whether he lives love and thinks truth. If he does so the symbol systems he uses are of secondary importance. If he does not they are of no importance. [p. 9]
Relegating the the symbol systems and belief to secondary status I think is quite wrong and indicative of Fromm's idealist abstractions. As we shall see later on, he was unduly influenced by the Talmud.

My memories of Fromm's other writings on religion are vague and scattered. I know at one time I read these relevant books:

The Forgotten Language; an introduction to the understanding of dreams, fairy tales, and myths (1951)
Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960)
The Dogma of Christ and Other Essays on Religion, Psychology and Culture (1963)
You Shall Be as Gods: a radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition (1966)

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