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Question of God, The

Product no.: 0-7432-4785-X
Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis never had the pleasure of meeting. But if the two famous men had gotten together, they probably would have intensely debated the existence of God.

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Publisher's Synopsis

Many of history's greatest thinkers have wrestled with the ultimate question of belief and nonbelief in God. Though it might seem unlikely that any new arguments could possibly be raised on either side, the twentieth century managed to produce two men who each made brilliant, new, and lasting arguments, one in favor of belief and one opposed. Few spokesmen have ever championed their respective positions better than Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. Sadly, as far as we know, they never met or debated each other directly.

In The Question of God their arguments are placed side by side, as if they were standing at podiums in a shared room. Both thought carefully about the flaws and alternatives to their positions; each considered the other's views. Both men considered the problem of pain and suffering, the nature of love and sex, and the ultimate meaning of life and death. Here, with their debate made explicit, we can take ringside seats at one of history's most profound encounters. For more than twenty-five years Armand Nicholi has studied the philosophical writings of both men, and has taught a popular course at Harvard that compares the two worldviews.

In The Question of God he presents the fruits of years of labor among the published and unpublished writings of Lewis and Freud, including an extensive exploration of their private letters. He allows them to speak for themselves on every major question of belief and nonbelief, but also skillfully draws conclusions from their own lives. Why did Freud have such difficulty maintaining lifelong friendships? How did Lewis's friendships change after his transition from atheism to belief? Why was Freud unable to willfully ignore his own internal moral sense, even though he believed it to be purely a product of socialization and not in any way eternally "true"?

The Question of God may be the best book about belief and nonbelief ever written, since it does not presuppose which answer is correct. Instead, it uses two of history's most articulate spokesmen to present arguments on both sides. In the end, readers must join Nicholi's hundreds of former students in deciding for themselves which path to follow.


"This elegantly written and compelling comparison of the worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis provides a riveting opportunity to consider the most important questions mankind has ever asked: Is there a God? Does he care about me? This profound book is for anyone who is earnestly seeking answers about truth, the meaning of life, and God's existence."         ~Francis Collins, The Language of God

"A careful examination of two major, and conflicting, currents of modern thought. Those currents, in the view of Nicholi (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School), turn on the question of whether God exists. The founder of modern psychotherapy thought not; Sigmund Freud held that the belief in an 'idealized Superman' is 'so patently infantile and so foreign to reality that... it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never rise above this view of life,' asserting that only scientific education could turn people away from 'the fairy tales of religion.'

British writer and popular theologian C.S. Lewis argued in the affirmative, having turned from youthful atheism to a more or less orthodox Christianity in middle life and becoming preoccupied thereafter with the 'questions of how to escape corruption in living and how in death to give meaning to life.'

Setting these thinkers in opposition is admittedly an artificial construct; it can be objected that Freud (1856-1939) and Lewis (1898-1963) were two generations apart and did not publicly debate each other. (Although Nicholi speculates that they might have met briefly at the very end of Freud's life.) Einstein and Muggeridge, Bohr and Schweitzer, or even Sagan and Tolkien might have done just as well in serving as spokesmen for their respective causes and in making the author's point. Yet Nicholi ably makes his case for pairing Freud with Lewis, and his essay takes inspired turns as he examines how believers and nonbelievers think about such thorny matters as forgiving those who have trespassed against us, dealing with the pain the world deals us, and even loving ourselves. Palatable food for thought for readers preoccupied with life's big, ultimately insoluble questions."     ~Kirkus Reviews


"The purpose of this book is to look at human life from two diametrically opposed points of view: those of the believer and the unbeliever. (Freud divided all people into these two catagories.) We will examine several of the basic issues of life in terms of these two conflicting views. We will look at both views as objectively and dispassionately as possible and let the arguments speak for themselves. (I am aware that no one - including the author - is neutral on such emotionally charged issues. None of us can tolerate the notion that our worldview may be based on a false premise and, thus, our whole life headed in the wrong direction.) Because of the far-reaching implications for our lives, we tend to dismiss and contradict arguments for the worldview we reject.

I hope each reader will critically assess the arguments of both Freud and Lewis and follow Sir Francis Bacon's advice to 'Read not to contradict... but to weigh and consider.' Socrates said 'the unexamined life is not worth living.' Within the university, students and professors scrutinize every possible aspect of our universe - from the billions of galaxies to subatomic particles, electrons, quarks - but they assiduously avoid examining their own lives. In the wider world, we keep hectically busy and fill every free moment of our day with some form of diversion - work, computers, television, movies, radio, magazines, newspapers, sports, alcohol, drugs, parties. Perhaps we distract ourselves because looking at our lives confronts us with our lack of meaning, our unhappiness, and our loneliness - and with the difficulty, the fragility, and the unbelievable brevity of life. Pascal may have been right when he observed that 'if our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it...the sole cause of our unhappiness is that we do not know how to sit quietly in our room.'

One of my Harvard students stated during a class discussion that 'living a human life is a scary business.' Perhaps the reason we find it difficult to sit quietly and examine our lives is because doing so makes us anxious. But until we examine our lives, we can do little to make them less unhappy and more fulfilling. It is my hope that Freud and Lewis can jointly guide us through just such an examination."

Author Nicholi, Armand
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 295 pp.
Publisher Simon & Schuster 2003
Browse these categories as well: Gods, Goddesses and Archetypes, Individuation and the Collective Unconscious, Mystic and Esoteric Christianity, Noteworthy Releases 2003

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