Was Sigmund Freud right about religion and faith?

A guest blog from Dr. W. Rod MacIlvaine…

In his book The Future of an Illusion (1927) the father of psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, argued that religion is a false belief system. He likened the various religions of the world to “childhood neuroses” and “wishful illusions” that can only lead to a “disavowal of reality.”

Like other atheists of his day, his words were particularly rancorous against the Christian faith. He believed human beings created the God-concept as a means of wish-fulfillment, nothing more.

Clearly for Freud, no real truth could be found in the Christian faith, nor in any other religion, for that matter. On the contrary, Freud believed that only science can lead us into reality.

These truth assertions, however, were never tested scientifically through rigorous experimentation and research. Therefore, they were faith-assertions and mere opinions, nothing more! And yet, they were almost blindly accepted on the basis of Freud’s reputation as a physician and theoretician.

But now, 85 years later, these claims have been tested! And Freud has been proven wrong in his own arena, the arena of science.

In the past 40 years, mountains of research have been published seeking to answer this one simple question: Does active adherence to the Christian faith provide any measurable results in terms of wellness – both physical and mental?

The Bible clearly indicates that adhering to its precepts and commands should indeed lead to significant patterns of mental wellness.

  • In the Old Testament, Psalm 16:11 is a case in point: “In your presence is fullness of joy at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
  • In the New Testament the fruit of the Spirit is a vibrant picture mental health: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
But does adhering to the Christian faith also produce clear patterns of physical wellness?

When Dr. Jeff Levin began to research this emerging field in 1982, he was surprised as he noticed a pattern: Frequency of attendance in weekly worship services was associated with diverse patterns of physical wellness, including better cardio-vascular functioning, lower blood pressure, faster wound healing and better recovery from surgery.

One study even examined the relationship between church attendance and mortality rate. The study tracked over 21,000 people from the ages of 18-65 over a 9-year period. The found that non-attenders lived to an average of 55.3 years beyond the age of 20, but attenders lived for an average of 61.9 years after the age of 20. That’s nearly seven years longer!

One possible explanation for this was that religious people follow healthier habits. And yet, in one study, religious adherence had marked benefits, even if the person did not necessarily engage in healthy eating habits.

So radical were these emerging claims that researchers subjected them to very stringent testing protocols, and yet in each new study the pattern was clear: adhering to the precepts presented in the Bible was a predictor of overall wellness.

Today the most published researcher in this field is Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical School. He is professor of psychiatry & behavioral sciences and the director for the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. Other scholars in this field include the epidemiologist Jeff Levin and practicing physician Dr. Dale Matthews.  

At Teleios we too have actively sought to add to this growing body of literature. We are not only passionately convinced that the Bible is God’s Word – we believe that adhering to its precepts increases the health and vitality of the whole person. This is an exciting field because it leads us back to a statement that Jesus made on the night before he was crucified: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

About Rod MacIlvaine – Director of Faith-Based Research – W. Rodman MacIlvaine, III, DMin is on the adjunct faculties of both Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the founding senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Northeastern, Oklahoma – a church that has worked extensively to serve educational needs in the Spanish Speaking Caribbean. A Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Dr. MacIlvaine works with men and women in transition, especially those who are shifting into second careers. Dr. MacIlvaine specializes in apologetics from an historical and theological perspective. His emphasis is in showing how adhering to God’s word has generated many benefits to societies, cultures and individuals.