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Moses and Monotheism is the last work written by Sigmund Freud in 1939, prior to his doctor-assisted death by morphine.
The book fancifully reconstructs the Biblical story of Moses, according to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.
Freud claims that Moses was an Egyptian who introduced the Jewish people to the Egyptian monotheism of Akhenaton. This eventually caused unrest among the Jews who, according to Freud, murdered Moses.¹
The resultant collective guilt necessitated a religion of atonement for slaying what Freud calls the ‘primal father’.
The book is variously regarded as a ludicrous view of history to a groundbreaking exercise in postmodern reconstruction.
The main critique of Freud’s view, however, is that Akhenaton’s monotheism advanced Aten, a solar diety, while Yahweh is far greater than the universe he creates, as made evident throughout the Bible (e.g. Isaiah 55: 8-9).
While it is easy to fault Freud for applying his own theories to the Bible, not a few New Age thinkers and contemporary religious zealots also offer facile reconstructions of the past to support their views, and far less cleverly than Freud did. Now called pseudohistory, a good example can be found in the idea that UFO‘s instead of real human work gangs built the Egyptian pyramids. Although there is plenty of hard archeological evidence that human beings built the pyramids, some pseudohistorians, for whatever reasons, simply overlook this fact.
Another example can be found among Christian fundamentalists who zealously proclaim that ‘the end is near’ whenever anything bad happens. Extremist Christians have been doing this for centuries. Nero, The Black Death, Napoleon, Hitler, the atom bomb, Y2K, 911… all have been taken as signs that the end of time was imminent. While we can perhaps understand why his might have happened earlier on in history, there’s really no excuse for it now.
¹ Some scholars suggest that Freud borrowed this idea from Ernst Sellin, deduced from Hosea 12:13-14.
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In the Old Testament, Moses (13th – 15th century BCE) is the son of Amran of the tribe of Levi. He became a major prophet and lawgiver as well as the leader of the Iraelites during their 40 years in the wilderness.
Like many heroes, mythic or not, Moses escaped premature death from a hostile power. As a baby he was placed in the Nile river in a basket, to be later discovered by the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter. Although the Jewish people and the Egyptians were generally at odds with each another, Pharaoh’s daughter, who is unnamed in the Old Testament, takes pity on the baby and rescues Moses from certain death.
Raised as an Egyptian, in the book of Exodus Moses eventually led the Jewish people out of slavery through the Red Sea and received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20: 1-17).
Tradition ascribes authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses.
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Monotheism is the belief in only one God as opposed to many gods. Just what this term means, however, varies from religion to religion.
Sikhism is also monotheistic and most Hindus say their religion is monotheistic (the many Hindu gods and goddesses are believed to be partial manifestations of the supreme One, Brahman).
Meanwhile, some question whether the Christian Trinity is rightly regarded as monotheistic, and other important variations to the idea of monotheism are found. As this quotation points out,
Monotheism can involve a variety of Conceptions of God:
- Deism posits the existence of a single god, the Designer of the designs in Nature. Some Deists believe in an impersonal god that does not intervene in the world, while other Deists believe in intervention through Providence.
- Monism is the type of monotheism found in Hinduism, encompassing pantheism and panentheism, and at the same time the concept of a personal god.
- Pantheism holds that the universe itself is God. The existence of a transcendent being extraneous to nature is denied.
- Panentheism is a form of monistic monotheism which holds that God is all of existence, containing, but not identical to, the Universe. The one God is omnipotent and all-pervading, the universe is part of God, and God is both immanent and transcendent.
- Substance monotheism, found in some indigenous African religions, holds that the many gods are different forms of a single underlying substance.
- Trinitarian monotheism is the Christian doctrine of belief in one God who is three distinct persons; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.¹
The more we study world religions (and not just from books), the more we find that sometimes a particular believer leans toward one definition of monotheism, while other times a believer of that very same religion leans toward another definition of monotheism. An example of this might be found in Catholicism, where St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun seems to include elements of, but is not limited to, pantheism.
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From his considerable study of world myth and religion, Jung came to the conclusion that this collective data is cross-cultural. In fact, he didn’t just see the collective unconscious in myth and religion. He saw universally recognizable motifs among dreams, myth, religion, the arts and architecture. One leading example he provides is the mandala. For Jung, the circular shape of the mandala represents the potentially limitless self.
Jung calls these hypothesized patterns of human existence archetypes.¹ Existing in a larger time frame than most people’s daily awareness, the archetypes of the collective unconscious apparently connect the past, present and future.
Jung speaks to the arbitrary nature of the term collective unconscious. Towards the end of his career he writes that he rendered essentially spiritual ideas in scientific-sounding language for the sake of professional and societal legitimacy. So this, in a sense, makes him something of a postmodern thinker way before the term became popular.
Because he was, in part, doing a sell job, his insistence on the bio-genetic base of the collective unconscious seems confusing to some, especially when he says:
The unconscious has no time. There is no trouble about time in the unconscious. Part of our psyche is not in time and not in space. They are only an illusion, time and space, and so in a certain part of our psyche, time does not exist at all.²
Could a timeless psyche be entirely biological? Perhaps Jung was saying that, although grounded in the body, the archetypes exhibit or resonate with a spiritual component. That is, a bio-genetic ground is necessary for the interplay of body and spirit.
What About Sigmund Freud and the Unconscious?
Freud and Jung’s views about the unconscious differ, but not so much as many believe. Some pop psychologists and New Age gurus quickly dismiss Freud’s ideas, unaware that his model of the unconscious also contains collective elements.
As we’ve seen in the above, Jung describes the archetype as a component of mankind’s psychological substratum—the collective unconscious. Freud similarly spoke of phylogenetic “schemata” and “prototypes.” And borrowing from ancient Greek and Jewish literature, Freud also devised the “Oedipus complex,” a “primal father” and likened the shadowy contents of the unconscious to archaeological ruins.
In addition, late in his career Freud revised his libido theory to include the general ideas of eros (life instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). Because Freud maintained that the fundamental aspects of the unconscious are universal, aspects of his model of the self, like Jung’s, point to a collective unconscious.³ And not only that. Freud, himself, said that Jung introduced nothing new with the idea of the collective unconscious. He wrote that the “content of the unconscious is collective anyhow.”4
¹ Jung’s notion of the archetypes borrows from ideas previously found in anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion and theology. The term archetype is traceable to St. Augustine, 354-430 CE.
² C. G. Jung Collected Works vol. 18, para. 684, cited in “Time and Space” at http://www.fundacion-jung.com.ar/ingles/citas.htm.
³ Michael V. Adams illustrates this point in The Cambridge Companion to Jung, (ed.) Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 101.
4 Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, p. 209, cited in R. J. Lifton with Eric Olson (eds.), Explorations in Psychohistory: The Wellfleet Papers, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1974 p. 90.
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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a Jew of Austrian parentage and the founder of psychoanalysis. He studied medicine in Vienna and then neurology and psychopathology. He was marginalized by the medical community for his interest in the idea of infant sexuality. Today he, perhaps ironically, is often frowned on as a reductionist.
Freud remains one of the great innovators of the modern age. He attempted to scientifically outline the idea of the unconscious which formerly had been represented in literature, philosophy and nineteenth-century occultism.
His psychoanalytic techniques of free association and abreaction were influenced by several other contemporaneous “doctors of the mind,” most notably Jean-Martin Charcot, but Freud made them uniquely his own.
His works were almost entirely destroyed by the occupying Nazis. In 1938 he reluctantly withdrew from Vienna to London, leaving behind several sisters, all of whom died in concentration camps.
A habitual cigar-smoker, his relationship with his daughter Anna became extremely close; she acted as secretary, friend and confidant. Freud eventually contracted jaw cancer but refused pain-killers because they dulled his mind and interfered with his work.
After Freud’s death Anna further elaborated on the idea of defense mechanisms, distinguishing herself as an important thinker in her own right.
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In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic thought, the libido is a form of mental energy stemming from the Id. The libido is associated with erotic areas and corresponding stages of psychosexual development–e.g. oral, anal, phallic, genital.
Freud originally conceived of the libido in terms of sexual energy but later expanded the idea to refer to a general life instinct, which he called Eros.
The concept of the libido is usually thought to be a result of Freud’s unique genius but in reality, he had much help from his psychoanalytic pupil and collaborator, Karl Abraham.
Freud’s equally gifted pupil, C. G. Jung, extended the meaning of the libido to refer to creative energy that must be allowed to flow from unconsciousness to consciousness. If the libido is not permitted appropriate channels of expression,the result may be depression or uncontrolled violence. Key to this process is the symbolization of the libido’s power.
Libido can never be apprehended except in a definite form; that is to say, it is identical with fantasy-images. And we can only release it from the grip of the unconscious by bringing up the corresponding fantasy-images.[The Technique of Differentiation," CW 7, par. 345.]¹
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Some contend that the idea of the ‘New Age’ originated as a marketing category in the 1980s, with New Age style ideas going back, of course, to the 70s and 60s.
Others note, more comprehensively, that the media also uses the term, as do many individuals and organizations. Whatever its origins, the ‘New Age’ refers to almost anything relating to contemporary spiritual discourse and practice.
New Age books, music, lectures, workshops, videos and websites deal with humanity’s development, usually with the goal of self-actualization and sometimes global transformation.
At the outset of the 20th-century, the American psychologist and philosopher William James outlined his The Varieties of Religious Experience several innovative spiritual trends remarkably similar to today’s concept of the New Age:
…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give [it] the title of the ‘Mind-Cure movement.’ There are various sects of this ‘New Thought,’ to use another of the names by which it calls itself.¹
From the 1980s to around the new millennium religious fundamentalists, especially of the North American Christian variety, targeted the New Age as the workings of Satan. Important figures like C. G. Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Fritjof Capra were caricatured as Satanic hostiles to apparently ‘true’ fundamentalist versions of the Christian faith.
However, the emphasis of fundamentalist reactionary attacks has arguably shifted from perceived psychological and spiritual threats to scientific ones. Believers in evolution sans God are the new devils in the flesh to be countered and corrected by those single-minded Fundamentalists who believe they have a privileged interpretation of Christian scripture.
This shift is probably due to recent advances in mapping and sequencing genomes. The possibilities of this technology are staggering, and the new is always scary to those deeply entrenched and invested in longstanding cultural biases.
¹ William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin, 1985 , p. 94.
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UFO simply means “unidentified flying object.”
UFOs are usually regarded as extraterrestrial spacecraft although a UFO conceivably could be a living entity, such as an orb.
Alleged sightings of UFOs have been reported throughout history. Since the 1950′s UFOs and aliens have been popularized by the media.
Authors such as George Adamski and, more recently, Rael and Whitley Streiber claim to have encountered aliens.
Opinions about UFOs vary dramatically.
Raelians believe that mankind was created by wise, loving aliens, whereas some Christian fundamentalists believe that aliens are demons.
Others take a middle path, claiming that aliens may be benevolent or malevolent.
Alien Possession Theory (APT) is the idea that ET’s, embodied or disembodied, might try to manipulate individuals through the use of psi.
Alien sightings and abduction accounts have increased in the media, especially on Sci-Fi TV networks.
Also making the newsstands was an apparent U.S. military cover-up of a crashed flying disc and its inhabitants at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.
The Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) quickly modified an earlier announcement about a crashed flying disc, saying later in the same day that the disc was attached to a weather balloon.
The Air Force has responded to charges of “controlling public information” by stating that there was “no evidence” of UFO air traffic over Roswell and the case has been officially closed.
Public figures like comedian Dan Akroyd, however, continue to explore the possibility of a government cover-up-that is, conspiracy theories.
And some UFO theories get quite bizarre. Hollow Earth theorists, for instance, believe that UFOs originate from the bowels of the planet, where an advanced civilization apparently resides.†
The psychiatrist Carl Jung conceded that UFOs could be real but also saw them as modern archetypal images of the self.
Meanwhile Jacques Vallée likens UFO lore to fairy tales and mysterious trickster beings.†
Since Vatican Council II (1962-65) inaugurated by Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church has endorsed inquiry into the possibility of ETs and UFOs.
† See the excellent entries in works by Stuart Gordon.
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Akhenaton The first ruler in recorded history to advocate a type of monotheism.
Originally Amenhotep IV, this 18th dynasty Egyptian King changed his title to Akhenaton (“he who is beneficial to Aton”) and reigned from 1350-1334 BCE.
He replaced the many Egyptian deities, particularly Amun, with the sun god Aton.
While this was a form of monotheism some scholars contend that worshipping a solar deity differs from worshipping a wholly-other creator God.
Sigmund Freud compared Akhenaton to the Jewish prophet Moses.
The debate continues, however, as to what representations of Aton attempted to represent. Some adhere to the more limited solar cosmology while others suggest a more universal conception of the godhead.
Along these lines R. C. Zaehner and others make a distinction between theism and pantheism.
Interestingly, Akhenaton became self-aggrandized to the point of proclaiming himself as the only true mediator of Aton. This is surprising because a good number of artistic depictions of Akhenaton from this period learn toward realism, stressing human detail rather than godlike or saintly gloss.
Prior to Akhenaton, Egyptian rulers were depicted in stylized, refined forms. Akhenaton, however, is sometimes visibly unattractive, marking a first for Egyptian art and influencing realism in general.
Akhenaton’s most well-known wife was Nefertiti. Together they rode in grand and imposing public processions, demanding servility and worship as their carriages passed by onlookers.
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