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Religion as an Illusion: Prospects for and Problems with a Psychoanalytical Model

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The hermeneutical model of illusion, just as that of projection, has always been part of the psychoanalytic views of religion. The author presents a brief critical summary on this subject, and underlines that in relational psychoanalysis, the concept of illusion refers not to religion as such, but to the subjective experiences of desire and relatedness, that is, the source of the desire for God in man. Because of personal conflicts and their outcome, besides illusions one encounters also in such experiences, disillusion, disappointment, and even delusion. The author, while challenging the views of many scholars taking part in this debate: a) maintains that psychoanalytic interpretation is not concerned with the question of religious truth but with the formation and transformation of the process of believing; b) calls for special attention to the fact when speaking of religious representation, the focus is on the process rather than on the objects represented; c) raises his criticism at the often used expression, "unconscious representation of God", because according to him, religion gives a name to the object of desire only when placed at the conscious and cultural level. Coherent with his basic distinction between conscious religious behaviour and the deep psychological pre-conditions, the author underlines the differences (and not necessarily the connections) between the unconscious processes of desire and the religious concepts, particularly, between the representation of God and the concept of God; between the parental imagos and the transcendent God; and between the capacity to "believe in anything at all" (Winnicott) and religious faith. The author concludes that in the illusion model, it is suggested that as part of religious maturity, one could construct the representation of God as something that is deeply connected with primary objects, while at the same time, assuming the capacity to take the necessary distance from personal desires and projections.


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