Book Review: Question of God

Recently a work friend lent me the book:

Nicholi, Armand M. 2002. The question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, love, sex, and the meaning of life. New York: Free Press.

I finished the book and I recommend it to anyone interested in Lewis, Freud or in how life’s “big questions” are addressed by atheist and believer.

Dr. Armand Nicholi is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. The purported purpose of this book is to use the writings of C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud to debate issues of life in the context of belief (or lack thereof) in God and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.

I say the “purported purpose”, because by the middle of the book it seemed to me that Dr. Nicholi made it clear that he himself favored the spiritual worldview and had his thumb on Lewis’ side of the scale.

But this is a minor matter to me. People can still read Freud’s writings and ignore Dr. Nicholi’s commentary on it.

The book is accessible and well documented. Dr. Nicholi appears to document every quote from either Lewis or Freud in his endnotes. There is an index as well. In addition to presenting the men’s writings, Dr. Nicholi also presents biographical information from published materials and from interviews with people who knew the men well.

I learned some surprising things from this book. Freud was, in my opinion a fairly messed up man. Two things bring me to this. First is Freud’s ongoing conviction that he was soon to die. He believed he would die at 31, 51, 61 or 62 or at 80. He had himself euthanized at 83. See chapter 9 for details. Secondly, throughout the book, Freud is quoted as believing that the great mass of humankind was mean, bitter, and could not be trusted. He saw his neighbor as someone laying in wait to harm and/or humiliate him. Granted he was a Jew in prewar Austria, but he held that this was a universal trait of people.

If you’ve read this book, I’d be interested in your thoughts on it.

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