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The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life

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Throughout the ages, many of the world's greatest thinkers have wrestled with the concept of -- and belief in -- God. It may seem unlikely that any new arguments or insights could be raised, but the twentieth century managed to produce two brilliant men with two diametrically opposed views about the question of God: Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. They never had an actual m Throughout the ages, many of the world's greatest thinkers have wrestled with the concept of -- and belief in -- God. It may seem unlikely that any new arguments or insights could be raised, but the twentieth century managed to produce two brilliant men with two diametrically opposed views about the question of God: Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. They never had an actual meeting, but in The Question of God, their arguments are placed side by side for the very first time. For more than twenty-five years, Armand Nicholi has taught a course at Harvard that compares the philosophical arguments of both men. In The Question of God, Dr. Nicholi presents the writings and letters of Lewis and Freud, allowing them to "speak" for themselves on the subject of belief and disbelief. Both men considered the problem of pain and suffering, the nature of love and sex, and the ultimate meaning of life and death -- and each of them thought carefully about the alternatives to their positions. The inspiration for the PBS series of the same name, The Question of God does not presuppose which man -- Freud the devout atheist or Lewis the atheist-turned-believer -- is correct in his views. Rather, readers are urged to join Nicholi and his students and decide for themselves which path to follow.


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Throughout the ages, many of the world's greatest thinkers have wrestled with the concept of -- and belief in -- God. It may seem unlikely that any new arguments or insights could be raised, but the twentieth century managed to produce two brilliant men with two diametrically opposed views about the question of God: Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. They never had an actual m Throughout the ages, many of the world's greatest thinkers have wrestled with the concept of -- and belief in -- God. It may seem unlikely that any new arguments or insights could be raised, but the twentieth century managed to produce two brilliant men with two diametrically opposed views about the question of God: Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. They never had an actual meeting, but in The Question of God, their arguments are placed side by side for the very first time. For more than twenty-five years, Armand Nicholi has taught a course at Harvard that compares the philosophical arguments of both men. In The Question of God, Dr. Nicholi presents the writings and letters of Lewis and Freud, allowing them to "speak" for themselves on the subject of belief and disbelief. Both men considered the problem of pain and suffering, the nature of love and sex, and the ultimate meaning of life and death -- and each of them thought carefully about the alternatives to their positions. The inspiration for the PBS series of the same name, The Question of God does not presuppose which man -- Freud the devout atheist or Lewis the atheist-turned-believer -- is correct in his views. Rather, readers are urged to join Nicholi and his students and decide for themselves which path to follow.

30 review for The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    A good premise, but a flawed execution. Worth reading if you have an interest in one of the men, but I wouldn't hold this up as a prime example of scholarship... Nicholi never quite gets into his groove when he discusses these two men. Sometimes he switches back and forth between them with each paragraph, and sometimes he devotes whole long sections to one man, before ending it and moving on to another long section for the next. He constantly throws in quotes, but never really addresses, evaluate A good premise, but a flawed execution. Worth reading if you have an interest in one of the men, but I wouldn't hold this up as a prime example of scholarship... Nicholi never quite gets into his groove when he discusses these two men. Sometimes he switches back and forth between them with each paragraph, and sometimes he devotes whole long sections to one man, before ending it and moving on to another long section for the next. He constantly throws in quotes, but never really addresses, evaluates, or analyzes them enough for the reader -- he should be using quotes to get a sense for who the man is, pointing out unique characteristics, distinctions in personality, inconsistencies in worldview... but so often he leaves the quote hanging there and moves on to another idea. There were also key points in Lewis's life that he got wrong or ignored. Nicholi refers to The Screwtape Letters as "an address at a dinner for young devils in training" -- but this is not the format for The Screwtape Letters. The Screwtape Letters are letters from one demon to another over a long period of time. It's Screwtape Proposes a Toast that is formatted as an address at a dinner, which is section of prose Lewis added as an addendum to the book publication 15 years later. Nicholi also never addresses Lewis's relationship with Mrs. Moore at all, which is often claimed to have been romantic, in his section on sex and love. And for being a debate, this discussion seems a little off-kilter. On the one hand you have a late 19th century scientist writing in the medical field, and on the other hand an early 20th century classicist/apologist, writing about literature and philosophy. It's clear who Nicholi favors in this comparison, and if I were an atheist I think I would be very annoyed by how shallow he takes some of Freud's points. There's a reason these two men never met or talked, and often this debate felt contrived, forced, and uneven. Often Nicholi lapses into purely biographical information for these authors in his "debate" -- something necessary only to a certain degree in a comparative book like this. Throwing out facts and quotes from a person's life doesn't make for a good "debate" unless you are actually going to contrast and juxtapose the two points of view. So often he throws out useless questions, but this is not a classroom where students need to think about these issues to study for a test -- this is a scholarly, researched, analytical book that should be doing the thinking for the reader! So often I winced at formulaic questions like "So what was Freud's views on topic A?" or "Can the answer to Freud's views on this be seen in his life and writings?" or "So is love really only about sex?" (the last one is actually on page 162). Sometimes he even throws in his own perspective with a few "I did this..." statements, and two sentences later he's quoting Freud saying "I think this..." with barely any transition. It's disorienting for the reader to be tossed around so much. Nicholi even is so self-inflated as to put in a "I have often wondered why," about the fact that Anna Freud never married. Why don't you actually analyze why you think she never married, instead of commenting that you're curious!? Nicholi needed an editor to chop stuff out and heavily rearrange his ideas. And make him write more. Good topics about good authors, but this guy's definitely no Alister E. McGrath.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    I'm a bit conflicted about how I feel about this book. It was for sure worth the read; I learned a lot, and I went through different emotions as I read it and thought both about the material in the book and how the ideas fit into my life. The book is flawed, in my opinion, but could of the bias it takes on the side of Lewis. It's main argument boiled down to: Freud had a depressing life and was an atheist, Lewis had an enjoyable life and was a believer, ergo, believing is the right way to go. I I'm a bit conflicted about how I feel about this book. It was for sure worth the read; I learned a lot, and I went through different emotions as I read it and thought both about the material in the book and how the ideas fit into my life. The book is flawed, in my opinion, but could of the bias it takes on the side of Lewis. It's main argument boiled down to: Freud had a depressing life and was an atheist, Lewis had an enjoyable life and was a believer, ergo, believing is the right way to go. I don't think this makes Lewis' worldview right or Freud's wrong, but instead are the possible costs/benefits of these worldviews. And yet, I am compelled to somewhat agree with this, though not quite full-heartily. I've been agnostic all of my adult life, and while secular humanism, to me, has a wonderful, uplifting aspect to it, this aspect kinda has a peak to it, and you can only suck so much out of that peak at any one time. The rest of this worldview has a lot of emptiness and despair in to it. This is what troubled Freud most of his life, what troubled Lewis during the first half of his life, and has recently been shaking my own "non belief." I think that both Freud and Lewis have accurate views of the other's worldviews. Freud says we come up with religion because we need that authority in our lives that we loose when we grow out of childhood. Lewis says, in terms of his own atheism at one point, says that quite often he was mad at God more than he didn't believe in God. This is how I often find myself: though I can rationalize that there is no God, I often hate God for not existing. Lewis sees this kind of feeling as an innate desire for God that we all have, which to him is a main piece of evidence for God's existence. I don't see that as evidence of God's existence, but I can see and feel the atheist's anger at God and the believer's need to create God. In addition, I generally just learned a lot from the book; much of it is made up of the letters and works of the subjects and makes me want to seek out more to read from Freud and Lewis. So with that said, this is a book that I liked reading, though I didn't totally like some of the basis for the book in general.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erinina Marie

    Always a touchy question, there were probably never two more notably opinionated scholars to debate it. Overall, the author uses his research into their letters, lives and published writings to try to formulate a debate on the main topics of love, sex, death, pain and how to live life from a materialist vs. spiritual worldview. Saving the author’s notably biased conclusions for your own perusal, I found the work enlightening not only on topics of spirituality and psychoanalysis, but as a biograph Always a touchy question, there were probably never two more notably opinionated scholars to debate it. Overall, the author uses his research into their letters, lives and published writings to try to formulate a debate on the main topics of love, sex, death, pain and how to live life from a materialist vs. spiritual worldview. Saving the author’s notably biased conclusions for your own perusal, I found the work enlightening not only on topics of spirituality and psychoanalysis, but as a biography of the two men themselves. The most personal epiphany that I had while reading the book was early on when reading Lewis’ comments about love and its pusuit as a purely selfless act as the means to happiness. While I found this helpful and a lovely idea, I was still painfully aware of certain facts and criticisms of biblical history that either he or Nicholi omit. Lewis seems to find most of the proof for his spiritual worldview in literary criticism of the Bible, but addresses the books as eye-witness accounts of Jesus that are in perfect agreement, instead of addressing the fact that their authorship varies by up to centuries and deeply reflects different early branches and sects of Christianity’s political biases. I found this failure to address a rather large materialist criticism dissapointing, but recognize that the error could in fact be Nicholi’s. As far as Freud goes, I found myself not hating him quite as much as the sexist egotist archetype that he represents in my mind and finding some pity and recognition for his contribution to society and his personal grievances. However, perhaps it is mainly his male dominated world view that often made me wonder what a woman’s perspective in this dialogue could show, particularly a spiritual (but not Judeo-Christian) woman.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    At some point, I saw the author on PBS leading a roundtable discussion similar to what's covered in this book. I did a bit of digging. The reality is that he's pushing the C.S. Lewis POV, which I recognized in this book. At some point, I saw the author on PBS leading a roundtable discussion similar to what's covered in this book. I did a bit of digging. The reality is that he's pushing the C.S. Lewis POV, which I recognized in this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Toth

    Like comparing apples and rocks. Freud's the apple from the nonexistent Tree of Knowledge, and C.S. Lewis the unfortunately all-too-prevalent Christian apologist whose arguments take rocks in the head to accept. Consider this paraphrased example, which Lewis uses to explain the beginning of his career in helping people better deceive or come out of the wisdom of doubt into into the molesting hands of faith: ~~~ I felt joy. Therefore, a place for joy must exist. Therefore, someone must have made Like comparing apples and rocks. Freud's the apple from the nonexistent Tree of Knowledge, and C.S. Lewis the unfortunately all-too-prevalent Christian apologist whose arguments take rocks in the head to accept. Consider this paraphrased example, which Lewis uses to explain the beginning of his career in helping people better deceive or come out of the wisdom of doubt into into the molesting hands of faith: ~~~ I felt joy. Therefore, a place for joy must exist. Therefore, someone must have made that place. Thus, joy is to be found in the maker of joy. Thus, a maker must exist and I believe in that maker. I feel pretty goddamned good! Oops, "Thou shalt not...anything." ~~~ Secondly, why is Freud, a man who made his career in what arguably may be called medicine, pitted against the premier Christian apologist? Why not choose for Lewis' rival someone who made a career out of explaining why there is god no, or at least no reason for a god...unless one is a sadist? Dawkins would shred Lewis. The latter could still smoke his pipe, but from the other end. A ridiculous conceit, and one upon which I'm afraid Nicholi wasted an academic career, and his students' time. "teaching."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joshua D.

    Armand Nicholi, Jr is a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. He is an expert in Freud studies and has done extensive research both on Freud's psychoanalytic method and his life (including regular meetings with Freud's students and even his children). For years Nicholi taught a class on Freud's worldview. But as the years went by he thought that for the class to be more effective, Freud needed a foil: someone who shared some common biography but ultimately embraced a different wo Armand Nicholi, Jr is a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. He is an expert in Freud studies and has done extensive research both on Freud's psychoanalytic method and his life (including regular meetings with Freud's students and even his children). For years Nicholi taught a class on Freud's worldview. But as the years went by he thought that for the class to be more effective, Freud needed a foil: someone who shared some common biography but ultimately embraced a different worldview with different empirical results. He chose C.S. Lewis as Freud's foil, and Nicholi's seminar on Freud and Lewis has been one of Harvard's most popular classes. The class has spawned a PBS series, a play called Freud's Last Session, and the book The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. The book begins with a compare and contrast of Freud and Lewis' thoughts on God and morality. In perhaps the most interesting chapter, Nicholi describes the phenomenon of conversion. He describes Freud's initial fascination and ultimate rejection of religion and Lewis' atheism and ultimate conversion to Christianity. Nicholi also describes his own clinical research on the phenomenon of conversion. The last part of the book attempts to tease out the effects of embracing one worldview or the other. He compares not only the beliefs of Freud and Lewis, but also the way it impacted their happiness, relationships, and ability to cope with suffering and death. The Question of God is a unique book. It was been very well received and indeed has endorsements from a wide variety of sources: Ken Burns (documentary filmmaker), Peter Kreeft (philosopher), Timothy Johnson (Medical Editor, ABC News), and Ralph Johnson (CEO, Johnson & Johnson). Nicholi is a Christian, and while he has tremendous affection and respect for Sigmund Freud, largely agrees with Lewis. That might not be noteworthy in itself. But Nicholi goes a step further and argues that as a clinical psychiatrist, he believes the worldview espoused by Lewis leads to a greater degree of mental health than the one espoused by Freud. He attempts to show this from Freud and Lewis' lives, but also from his larger clinical research. I recommend this book highly. A fun read: a mixture of biography, science, and philosophy. Well worth your time whether you consider yourself an atheist, believer, or somewhere in between.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    SO excited about this one. Taking all my willpower not to skip homework and just read it right now... ... Bother, I wanted to like this book so much. The Question of God wasn't bad, but it lacked. The author is immensely repetitive and he states the same facts and quotes in almost every chapter. While this might work for a book designed to function more as a reference, it made a chronological reading boring. The author also spoon-feeds the reader most of his conclusions. There is very little intel SO excited about this one. Taking all my willpower not to skip homework and just read it right now... ... Bother, I wanted to like this book so much. The Question of God wasn't bad, but it lacked. The author is immensely repetitive and he states the same facts and quotes in almost every chapter. While this might work for a book designed to function more as a reference, it made a chronological reading boring. The author also spoon-feeds the reader most of his conclusions. There is very little intellectual dialogue despite being a book contrasting new very different thinkers. What contrast there is comes from quotes from the two men and frequent, repetitive attempts on the author's part to remind the reader there is a 'great difference' between the two. Even more jarring is the author's own voice laced throughout the book. At random chapters, he references his own experiences or the conversion of students he studied. With all respect to Dr. Nicholi, I didn't read this book for him and I could care less about what he thinks. Unfortunately, what he thinks is on every page. His bias becomes more evident with every chapter. Of course, I agree with that bias and so I understood the conclusions he draws but I don't think he illuminates enough why you draw them. That is an entirely larger, more complex discussion. It is certainly one worth having but this book cannot do it justice and to focus so primarily on that is to create more confusion than clarity. The Question of God was hardly a waste. I am glad I read it. It was intriguing to see the two men contrasted and I enjoyed reading both their writings. There certainly is a dialogue between them. The problem, however, is that this book doesn't dialogue so much as repeat quotes and biographical facts, hype up a contrast that doesn't need to be hyped, and finally draw conclusions about the world that (while I agree with), hardly emphasize the 'lack of bias' promised in the Prologue. To conclude, I imagine this makes a wonderful class. This is a lecture series without the dialogue of students. You can lead a student to a conclusion over a semester. It is much harder to give that level of weight to a book finished over a few days (or in my case, one evening.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Ridenour

    An incredible read. This book compares the lives of Lewis and Freud from a fairly psychoanlytic perspective, that is how their signficant relationships and upbringing shaped their theology, philiosophy, and psychology. Its clear from reading this book why one chose to believe in God and the other saw it as a form of neurosis. This book tackles the important topics of Love, Sex, Friendship, God, Pain, & Death. I just re-listened to the unabridged audio and its a great book. The author is clearly An incredible read. This book compares the lives of Lewis and Freud from a fairly psychoanlytic perspective, that is how their signficant relationships and upbringing shaped their theology, philiosophy, and psychology. Its clear from reading this book why one chose to believe in God and the other saw it as a form of neurosis. This book tackles the important topics of Love, Sex, Friendship, God, Pain, & Death. I just re-listened to the unabridged audio and its a great book. The author is clearly a spiritualist as opposed to a materialist.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    A real debate between these two would have been deeply fascinating, but this book is a pretty flagrant critique of Freud and endorsement of Lewis. I pretty much adore Lewis and I still found it hard to read. The biographical material makes up the most interesting parts of the book, but you could just read a biography of either man instead.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brice Karickhoff

    Here is one of those books that my friends will grow tired of hearing me talk about!! I absolutely loved this book - one of my favorites I’ve read in the past year. The book is written by a Harvard professor who has spent his entire professional life studying Sigmund Freud, and much of it studying CS Lewis. He uses this book, which he considers the culmination of his career, to pit the two against one another, and to, himself, play the neutral moderator. He does an incredible job. The author use Here is one of those books that my friends will grow tired of hearing me talk about!! I absolutely loved this book - one of my favorites I’ve read in the past year. The book is written by a Harvard professor who has spent his entire professional life studying Sigmund Freud, and much of it studying CS Lewis. He uses this book, which he considers the culmination of his career, to pit the two against one another, and to, himself, play the neutral moderator. He does an incredible job. The author uses each chapter to discuss a major issue - love, suffering, sex, death, etc. - along several dimensions: Freud and Lewis’s expressed views in their books and research, their expressed views in their letters, and the way in which they each approached the matter in their personal lives. The author is a true well of knowledge in regards to each of these men. He does them each justice, never strawmanning either of their arguments, and always qualifying what they said with what scholars believe they meant. He has spent much time with Freud’s daughter and has access to many of Lewis’s letters that he sent to friends and family. All of this information is compiled with a balance of eloquence and conciseness into, in my view, a remarkable book. I would absolutely love for anyone who is a big fan of Freud to read this book and discuss it with me. Although the author did well to remain neutral, I did not, and as I read, I just could not see how Freud had the upper hand in any topic where he and Lewis pushed against one another. Yet, I do think Freud is a genius. So if you read this book and think that Freud comes out on top, please hit me up.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Richey

    Really quite good. I was surprised how engaging and readable this was. Nicholi does a good job putting the views of Lewis and Freud alongside one another in a way that flows quite well and makes an interesting contrast between two of the 20th century's most influential thinkers. Really quite good. I was surprised how engaging and readable this was. Nicholi does a good job putting the views of Lewis and Freud alongside one another in a way that flows quite well and makes an interesting contrast between two of the 20th century's most influential thinkers.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Civilization and Its Discontents and Mere Christianity are on my list of most impressive books, so I’ve been wanting to read this book since I learned of the PBS series years ago. Although the author, Dr. Nicholi, seems to favor Lewis, as do I, I thoroughly enjoyed his review and analysis of the two men’s lives, ideas, and arguments with respect to the material vs. spiritual worldview. I read the paperback and also listened on Audible. (The paperback was a birthday gift from two dear members of Civilization and Its Discontents and Mere Christianity are on my list of most impressive books, so I’ve been wanting to read this book since I learned of the PBS series years ago. Although the author, Dr. Nicholi, seems to favor Lewis, as do I, I thoroughly enjoyed his review and analysis of the two men’s lives, ideas, and arguments with respect to the material vs. spiritual worldview. I read the paperback and also listened on Audible. (The paperback was a birthday gift from two dear members of Team Freud.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Cloyd

    Don't be fooled by the title, Armand is an apologist pretending to be a neutral moderator for a debate in which he speaks for both sides, & it is all too clear which side he is on. The book isn't so much of a debate as it is a biography, or rather 2 bios laced together. One is a celebration of the life & conversion of Lewis, the other a criticism of Freud & everything he stood for. This book does not deal with evidence, for or against God or Christianity, outside of the positive effects belief Don't be fooled by the title, Armand is an apologist pretending to be a neutral moderator for a debate in which he speaks for both sides, & it is all too clear which side he is on. The book isn't so much of a debate as it is a biography, or rather 2 bios laced together. One is a celebration of the life & conversion of Lewis, the other a criticism of Freud & everything he stood for. This book does not deal with evidence, for or against God or Christianity, outside of the positive effects belief has had on converts like Lewis, & the gloomy negativity of Freud's atheistic worldview. Armand may as well tell we should just accept Lewis' view bc Freud's is too depressing. I'll tell you what's depressing, this book & the way it portrays atheism. Belief in God certainly has a stronger emotional appeal, but that doesn't make it true, nor superior. Religion does not have a monopoly on joy or meaning. It may have helped Lewis get through some hard times, it may have improved his life... good for him, doesn't make him right. Life is hard, but everyone can't just make themselves believe in order to feel better, & we certainly don't need people like Armand trying to convince us unbelievers that we have nothing to live for. As for Lewis, though I admire him as writer, I can't help but find his arguments weak & even fallacious. I'm not saying he was a liar, & he was certainly no fool, but he was only human after all. Jesus, on the other hand, couldn't have been any of the 3, at least not according to Lewis. This famous trilema leaves out the possibility of legend, despite it's obvious alliterative value, bc Lewis can't see the gospels as fitting into the myth & legend genre. That's odd, since later he admits that all the myths he studied have the same theme of death, redemption, & resurrection. Lewis argues that these were only foreshadowings of real deal. This reminds me of Justin Martyr's claim that Satan, knowing the future, sent counterfeits of Christ in advance. So the later stories about a dying & rising god-man were the true ones on which the preceding myths were based? Got it. I suppose Socrates was plagiarizing Paul when he said things like "to die is gain" & Confucius was ripping off Jesus with his "do not do to others what you wouldn't want them to do to you." I'm sorry, but brilliant as he was, Lewis was thinking with his heart & not his brain, when he wrote about his faith.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gregory K.

    For those who are not very familiar with the biographies and the ideas of Freud or CS Lewis I think this book would be a great starting point. This book paints a general picture of each man, of their lives and of what they believed. There are also many useful references to the books they have written and the books that influenced them at certain key points in their lives. It is important to note that this is not really a 'debate' as the book cover proclaims. Really this book is more of a comparis For those who are not very familiar with the biographies and the ideas of Freud or CS Lewis I think this book would be a great starting point. This book paints a general picture of each man, of their lives and of what they believed. There are also many useful references to the books they have written and the books that influenced them at certain key points in their lives. It is important to note that this is not really a 'debate' as the book cover proclaims. Really this book is more of a comparison between Freud and Lewis. But if there is any element of a debate at all in this book it could be said that the debate has to do with which lifestyle is better, whether it be the melancholy materialism of Freud or the playful spirituality of Lewis. In reality though it is very obvious from early on that the author is against atheism and in favor of spirituality. As a Christian I'm not bothered by that particularly but I do worry that the author is a little too general as he describes each man. Freud is a little too selfish and miserable and Lewis is a little too cheerful and well adjusted so that both almost become idealized versions of the angry atheist and the cheerful mystic. Having read about Freud and Lewis beyond this book I know that these sorts of labels are not entirely accurate and they only serve to gloss over the complex humanity (and the complex message) of both of these men. Had this book been an actual debate (where perhaps the author was a little more neutral in his examination of both lives) I may have given it more stars.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    The author is a practicing psychiatrist. The subject matter derives from a Harvard course he taught for twenty five years. The book deals with all the great questions: God, morality, pain, sex, and death. It explores them through the life and writings of two great men who were roughly contemporary: Sigmund Freud and C S Lewis. It forms, therefore, a marvelous intersection of psychology, biography, and philosophy, conducted by a highly capable and interesting guide. To be highly recommended to al The author is a practicing psychiatrist. The subject matter derives from a Harvard course he taught for twenty five years. The book deals with all the great questions: God, morality, pain, sex, and death. It explores them through the life and writings of two great men who were roughly contemporary: Sigmund Freud and C S Lewis. It forms, therefore, a marvelous intersection of psychology, biography, and philosophy, conducted by a highly capable and interesting guide. To be highly recommended to almost anyone. Fault: the face-off between Freud and Lewis is not as even or equal as it first appears to be. Perhaps this is inevitable. Freud, the atheist, is unhappy, self-contradictory, petulant, petty, and spurious of argument. Lewis, the atheist-turned-Christian, is joyous, perceptive, logical, warm, and wise. What purports to be a square match between two great minds quickly reveals Freud as the weaker foil to Lewis’s much greater insight. This may be the historical fact of the matter, but it reveals a shift in advertising. Another fault: there is really a third “expert” in the room who is called upon to resolve many of the questions where Freud and Lewis disagree; namely, the student Christian converts whom the author previously researched. Their experiences and life changes through their conversions provide Lewis with additional support and agreement. The evidence is useful and interesting, but again feels like a bait-and-switch: a book contrasting the ideas of two great men often measures the ideas through psychological research rather than reasoned argument or other evidence. Despite these faults, this remains a delightful and edifying read for a broad range of people: those interested in Freud, in Lewis, in psychiatry, in God, in atheism, philosophy, and in the great questions of life generally.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Wow, this book was so good. Is there a God? Two influential men’s viewpoints are compared and contrasted in this fascinating book. I stumbled across this AMAZING book and devoured it soon after. The author, a professor at Harvard Medical School, compares and contrasts the worldviews of Freud and C.S. Lewis on the subject of whether there is a God or not, primarily, and than moves into the topic of love, sex, and the meaning of life under those two worldviews. .He primarily uses their own words, Wow, this book was so good. Is there a God? Two influential men’s viewpoints are compared and contrasted in this fascinating book. I stumbled across this AMAZING book and devoured it soon after. The author, a professor at Harvard Medical School, compares and contrasts the worldviews of Freud and C.S. Lewis on the subject of whether there is a God or not, primarily, and than moves into the topic of love, sex, and the meaning of life under those two worldviews. .He primarily uses their own words, arguments, and private letters, allowing Lewis and Freud to both speak for themselves, but he also delves into their personal lives and how their experiences shaped their views. Why I think it’s worth the read: 1) We often don’t understand the root of certain beliefs. I hadn’t realized certain ideas came from Freud before, and I also didn’t understand how misconstrued some of Frued’s ideas are in popular culture. 2) Both of these men were extremely influential in their day, and argued against and for there being a God. We still use both of these men’s arguments. Seeing the origin of some of these ideas (specifically in the case of Freud), and the story of atheist-turned-Christian in Lewis, in a world influenced by Freud, gave me a better understanding and framework for what people argue and say now. .Way too often I see arguments about God (and/or Christianity) center almost completely on the more minor questions of how we understand certain passages (especially so- called problematic passages). That should never be the focal point of the debate, but rather, whether we believe there is a God, how our answer to that question affects how we live, and what it means for us. In other words, we need to start with the big questions first, and then go from there. This book recenters the conversation on what both Freud and Lewis knew was the most important question of all, is there a God? The book is not written to evangelize, or convince anyone of one side or another. What it does is give us a better framework to try to understand how these influential men answered and argued for opposite viewpoints.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mary Catherine

    This book was a well-written, comprehensive, and clear study of the views of two major figures in psychology and theology. Although the author does not hide his own beliefs, which weigh decidedly on the side of C.S. Lewis, he provides equal space to the beliefs of Lewis and Freud, offering both quotations and examples of how each lived out his beliefs. I enjoyed reading this, and would recommend to anyone interested in exploring two major sides of the theological spectrum, although Freud present This book was a well-written, comprehensive, and clear study of the views of two major figures in psychology and theology. Although the author does not hide his own beliefs, which weigh decidedly on the side of C.S. Lewis, he provides equal space to the beliefs of Lewis and Freud, offering both quotations and examples of how each lived out his beliefs. I enjoyed reading this, and would recommend to anyone interested in exploring two major sides of the theological spectrum, although Freud presents a somewhat singular view of atheism that could be supplemented with a few more "mainstream" views in other works.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    A couple of years ago I went to a play called "Freud's Last Session". It was based on the possibility that these two men met one evening in Oxford and had a discussion/debate about their individual perceptions, beliefs, and philosophies. Whether or not these great thinkers actually had such an encounter is unknown, but it's an excellent play, very thought-provoking. So when I saw this book on the bookstore shelf I knew I had to have it. It's quite good. It was almost like the play in that there A couple of years ago I went to a play called "Freud's Last Session". It was based on the possibility that these two men met one evening in Oxford and had a discussion/debate about their individual perceptions, beliefs, and philosophies. Whether or not these great thinkers actually had such an encounter is unknown, but it's an excellent play, very thought-provoking. So when I saw this book on the bookstore shelf I knew I had to have it. It's quite good. It was almost like the play in that there was give-and-take from page to page.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Blynov

    Dr. Nicholi, a psychiatrist and professor from Harvard University, explores the many similarities and differences between CS Lewis and Sigmund Freud, both in terms of their worldviews and their lifestyles. The author draws upon many works and letters in order to understand how the two rivaling worldviews (Freud's athiestic materialism and CS Lewis's Christianity) answer questions of God, moral law, happiness, sex, love, pain, and death. 4.4/5 Dr. Nicholi, a psychiatrist and professor from Harvard University, explores the many similarities and differences between CS Lewis and Sigmund Freud, both in terms of their worldviews and their lifestyles. The author draws upon many works and letters in order to understand how the two rivaling worldviews (Freud's athiestic materialism and CS Lewis's Christianity) answer questions of God, moral law, happiness, sex, love, pain, and death. 4.4/5

  20. 4 out of 5

    AfroLit

    This was excellent, the debate on ideas, beliefs and learning about their lives and personalities this was a great read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Clayton Keenon

    Solid. Interesting way to frame the discussion of big ideas. But if you are basically familiar with Lewis and Freud, then not much will surprise you.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    Admittedly, I probably read more about C.S. Lewis than most people probably do [1], but although there is something about the book that intrigued me when I first read about this book, there is something about the book that initially concerned me as well. After all, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud never debated each other, and likely never met each other, although there is a slight chance that they met during the end of Freud's life when he was an exile in England just before World War II, and there Admittedly, I probably read more about C.S. Lewis than most people probably do [1], but although there is something about the book that intrigued me when I first read about this book, there is something about the book that initially concerned me as well. After all, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud never debated each other, and likely never met each other, although there is a slight chance that they met during the end of Freud's life when he was an exile in England just before World War II, and there is always something unsavory about manufacturing debates between people who did not have the chance to interact with each other in life. That said, the book was far more subtle in its approach than may be indicated from its title, in that the author is a professor who makes a subtle case for faith while appealing to an audience interested in psychology, science, and literary criticism, a heady mixture of fields that does not tend to encourage sound religious belief according to its own press. The contents of this book are straightforward in their own way, but somewhat unconventional. The book is divided into two parts: What should we believe and how should we live. Within those two sections there are nine chapters that take up about 240 pages, including an epilogue that makes a quiet case for a reasoned faith. The author starts by comparing the biographies of C.S. Lewis and Freud, and finding a lot of similarities, including troubled relationships with their father and early childhood trauma. The author then compares the views of Lewis and Freud on the existence of God, the existence of a universal moral law that serves as a conscience for humanity, as well as their thoughts on which is the correct road to reality. In the second part of the book the author compares Lewis and Freud in their view of happiness, sex, love, pain, and death. In the end, the debate does a good job at showing both Lewis and Freud as people, and in demonstrating the benefits of faith in making life better, so long as that faith is an internal and genuine one. Perhaps the biggest achievement of the book, and it is a considerable one, is that it keeps both Lewis and Freud from appearing as caricatures. Although the author steers clear of Lewis' problematic relationship with "Minto," who can be considered his first wife, in a common-law sense, the author includes enough that most readers would feel compassion for his struggle to relate to his father, and the grief over the death of his wife Joy late in life. Likewise, the reader of this book will feel a sense of sympathy, if not empathy, with Freud's shyness and timidity, his ferocious hostility towards the anti-Semitism of his time, and his lifelong struggle with depression, even if they will likely dislike a lot of the author's petty and insistent quarrels and his intellectual snobbery. The book accomplishes what it sets out to do, presenting two starkly different worldviews of God and practical morality, and leaves it to the reader to choose life or death, blessing or cursing. The book as a whole is a poignant reminder that belief systems have consequences, and that we all are responsible for the choices we make. [1] See, for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress... https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress...

  23. 4 out of 5

    GD

    This was a really good book, despite the author. If it weren't for the author, I'd have given in 5 stars, because both Freud and Lewis are such interesting people, or at least wrote interesting things. But my god, this writer was so... argh!!!! First: There should not be debates between atheists and Christians. Christianity is too specific. There should only be arguments between atheists and theists. The details of theist should be left for later. Second: CS Lewis is of course well known for bein This was a really good book, despite the author. If it weren't for the author, I'd have given in 5 stars, because both Freud and Lewis are such interesting people, or at least wrote interesting things. But my god, this writer was so... argh!!!! First: There should not be debates between atheists and Christians. Christianity is too specific. There should only be arguments between atheists and theists. The details of theist should be left for later. Second: CS Lewis is of course well known for being a Christian polemical writer, but why Freud to represent atheism? He was an atheist, that's true, but, you know, Stephen King is an American, and writes a lot about America, but why would we choose him specifically to represent America in a debate about which country is right, America or Country X? One could go so far as to say Freud's atheism was a defining characteristic, but so is Stephen King's being American. It's just not the main things the two are known for. Third: If Nicholi were trying to rally give an open, even, fair presentation of both men's points of views, he failed hysterically. REALLY!!!!! He is so in favor of Lewis it's astonishing that he'd even write the book and present it the way he did. He's constantly pointing out where Freud was "wrong" (mainly because Freud wasn't happy) and where Lewis was "right" (because Lewis was happy). Dude, that's like saying Justin Bieber's life philosophy is better than, I don't know, Sartre's, because he's a happier person. Dumb. CS Lewis was not an atheist, ever, I don't believe it. His "atheism" is too romantic, too Byronic, too "if there WAS a god, then why do bad things happen, huh?" It's always fun for Christians to refer back to when they were atheists, because it makes atheism look like some youthful folly, and that people are atheists just won't "grow up." It's so condescending. The funniest part is when Lewis says something like Freud was a great thinking when it came to psychology, but when it came to religion, something Lewis knows a lot about, he was foolish. What's so funny about this is that fact that Lewis himself is one of the clumsiest logicians that publishers bother putting in print. His stepping from point A to B to C is so ridiculous and full of holes, I've thought this about him since I was a teenager and haven't changed my mind. It's like, "When I was an atheist I felt like there should be a better world, but how could I desire a better world if a better world didn't exist? Therefore, there is a better world after this one." I mean, seriously? On the other hand, Lewis is a fantastic writer, and his power over metaphors and similes is practically unmatched anywhere else in English, or at least that I know of. But this only makes him extremely interesting and a pleasure to read, not correct in his half-assed metaphysics. Freud, I don't know what to say about him. I liked him a lot more after reading this book that I did before, he's way more, I don't know, "human" than I'd thought he was. At the same time, however, he's kind of like Lewis in that he's an insanely gifted stylist but a lousy logician. The difference between the two, though, in that latter aspect, is that Freud didn't make his life's work center around the question of God, he stuck primarily to what he was good at, that is, psychology; Lewis, on the other hand, made the question of God almost the whole of his entire life, yet seemed to lack the most fundamental skills for arguing his points. He should have written more Narnia books.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lee Harmon

    A great book. I hated it. This isn't really a "debate;" it's a biography of three men: the pre-conversion Lewis, and the post-conversion Lewis, and Freud. Nicholi does a great job of portraying both Lewis and Freud, perhaps two of the greatest minds of the last century. Could any two men have needed religion more than Freud and Lewis? Both experienced suffering, as do we all. Freud was a noted atheist his entire life, yet the question of God continued to preoccupy him. Lewis was an atheist for the A great book. I hated it. This isn't really a "debate;" it's a biography of three men: the pre-conversion Lewis, and the post-conversion Lewis, and Freud. Nicholi does a great job of portraying both Lewis and Freud, perhaps two of the greatest minds of the last century. Could any two men have needed religion more than Freud and Lewis? Both experienced suffering, as do we all. Freud was a noted atheist his entire life, yet the question of God continued to preoccupy him. Lewis was an atheist for the first third of his life, and writes "I was very angry with God for not existing. I was also equally angry with Him for creating a world ... why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent." One embraced Christianity, the other did not. One died contented, the other remained forever trapped in misery, powerless to do anything about a world view that offered little hope of happiness, longing for death yet greatly fearful of it. Freud finally chose to end his life by morphine injection. Lewis' conversion brought inner quietness and tranquility. The book's author, Dr. Nicholi, is apparently a Christian; subtle hints throughout the book make clear his approval of Lewis' conversion to Christianity. Yet, whether Nicholi grasps this or not, his is not a book about choosing belief or unbelief. Freud and Lewis were both well-versed in the Bible. Freud could no more have chosen to believe than Lewis could have chosen unbelief. Experience, disposition, and impeccable logic developed the world view of both men. As many of you know, I am a "liberal Christian;" I can no longer take the stories and promises of the Bible literally. By the end of Nicholi's book, I had no idea whether to rail at God for the unfairness of life or sneer at Lewis for succumbing to a fairy tale so as to distract himself from life's suffering. One thing is clear: Lewis was happy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    As wonderful a book as I've read in some time. The author, Nicholi, walks a narrow, but fair path between both Lewis's and Freud's divergent philosophies on God and spirituality. As someone who has never read anything written by either Freud, OR Lewis, I found this book to be an amazing insight into their psyches as they grew and developed into adults, and grew to either embrace or grow disgusted with the world. Where Lewis sees a positivity and a goodness to await, Freud sees only the negative, As wonderful a book as I've read in some time. The author, Nicholi, walks a narrow, but fair path between both Lewis's and Freud's divergent philosophies on God and spirituality. As someone who has never read anything written by either Freud, OR Lewis, I found this book to be an amazing insight into their psyches as they grew and developed into adults, and grew to either embrace or grow disgusted with the world. Where Lewis sees a positivity and a goodness to await, Freud sees only the negative, and horrors or sadness to await. Lewis, who in mid-life, rejected his former atheistic beliefs, became a man reborn. In rejecting the idea of nothingness, and the claim that there is no God, saw his entire life changed. He became more aware of his own feelings and inner-criticism, and reacted differently to it. Freud, who is shown as an atheist (a reluctant one at that), always seemed to see negative outcomes, and expected negative reactions when faced with difficult situations. Freud found himself become pre-occupied with death, while only in his early 40s. Freud also seems to have set up excuses for failing relationships and conveniently found religion to be one of the easiest excuses to use (he frequently blamed antisemitism and the Catholic Church for falling outs with other psychologists and acquaintances).

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jc

    This is the basis for a similarly titled PBS show, where Nicholi moderated a panel of citizens with different views of god and religion. The show & book both purport to use the lives and writings of Lewis and Freud to delve into deep questions of life, spirituality, and theology. Well, sort-a. Watching only a few segments of the program made me suspicious that Nicholi was NOT as neutral as he pretends. For one thing, I would argue that Lewis is NOT a good example (let alone the greatest of the 2 This is the basis for a similarly titled PBS show, where Nicholi moderated a panel of citizens with different views of god and religion. The show & book both purport to use the lives and writings of Lewis and Freud to delve into deep questions of life, spirituality, and theology. Well, sort-a. Watching only a few segments of the program made me suspicious that Nicholi was NOT as neutral as he pretends. For one thing, I would argue that Lewis is NOT a good example (let alone the greatest of the 20th century, in Nicholi's view) of thoughtful, intellectually complex christian theistic apologetics. Nor is Freud a good example (again the greatest of the 20th century to Nicholi) of deep-thinking defender of atheism. Well, the book, and further research, revealed that no, Nicholi is certainly NOT neutral. One, he himself is a psychoanalyst--skewing his viewpoint for certain--but also a politically active conservative christian (e.g., a founding member of "Family Research Council," an American conservative christian group and part of the "Focus on the Family" group). Is he blind to how he is misleading the reader/viewer, or purposefully disingenuous? I leave that to you to decide. But I do not recommend you waste your time on the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    Fantastic. A most interesting book. The Question of God is a fascinating book. I heard it is an audiobook. I listen to audiobooks as an interesting diversion during my commute to work and I found this book to fit the bill perfectly. It is narrated wonderfully by Robert Whitfield. Fans of Freud have complained about the book because they think that Lewis comes out of these debates much stronger than Freud. I agree. But, I do not think Freud was disparaged or misrepresented in these "debates." Fantastic. A most interesting book. The Question of God is a fascinating book. I heard it is an audiobook. I listen to audiobooks as an interesting diversion during my commute to work and I found this book to fit the bill perfectly. It is narrated wonderfully by Robert Whitfield. Fans of Freud have complained about the book because they think that Lewis comes out of these debates much stronger than Freud. I agree. But, I do not think Freud was disparaged or misrepresented in these "debates." Large, generous quotes from both men are the main feature. Both men speak for themselves with Nicholi adding releveant supporting information with occasional discussion of his own research. The arguments flow naturally and I cannot recall a time when the discussion seemed forced. Lots of biographical material is included as well. The reader (or, in my case, the listener) does not need to be an expert on either Lewis or Freud to enjoy the experience. The audio version lasts about 8 hours. See all of my reviews related to C.S. Lewis here: http://dwdsreviews.blogspot.com/searc...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    The Question of God was an interesting read. I am very familiar with the life and works of C. S. Lewis, but not as familiar with those of Sigmund Freud, so his ideas were new to me. I hesitate to give this book a higher rating than I did because the author seems slightly biased towards C. S. Lewis' arguments. I too leaned in his favor, but I would have appreciated the book taking a less subjective standpoint. Part of that may have been because (as the author himself said) Lewis' writing peaked af The Question of God was an interesting read. I am very familiar with the life and works of C. S. Lewis, but not as familiar with those of Sigmund Freud, so his ideas were new to me. I hesitate to give this book a higher rating than I did because the author seems slightly biased towards C. S. Lewis' arguments. I too leaned in his favor, but I would have appreciated the book taking a less subjective standpoint. Part of that may have been because (as the author himself said) Lewis' writing peaked after Freud's, and he was able to specifically discuss some of the earlier psychoanalyst's ideas. Also, the topics of God, love, sex, etc. were often the central topics of Lewis' works, whereas Freud was, technically, less educated in these topics as philosophy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    A fantastic, if somewhat academic, look into a couple of the most influential minds of the 20th Century. This book is essentially a post-humus debate about religion, the existence of God, and the relevance of God in our lives (with respect to morals, death, sex, etc.). Critical reading for any individual who is a fan of EITHER C.S. Lewis or Sigmund Freud. I would also recommend it to anyone who has struggled with this debate themselves (i.e. whether or not there is a God, and what it means in my A fantastic, if somewhat academic, look into a couple of the most influential minds of the 20th Century. This book is essentially a post-humus debate about religion, the existence of God, and the relevance of God in our lives (with respect to morals, death, sex, etc.). Critical reading for any individual who is a fan of EITHER C.S. Lewis or Sigmund Freud. I would also recommend it to anyone who has struggled with this debate themselves (i.e. whether or not there is a God, and what it means in my life if there is or isn't). As I said, it is a bit academic, but the significance of the subject matter should more than offset any boredom derived from the fact that it is not a gripping novel.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sørina

    Well, I guess I wouldn't say to avoid it. But it's not actually a book: it's a very clever string of quotes from the writings of Freud and Lewis. And the prose is not very smooth prose or well organized, which is annoying. Basically it's a substitute for thinking about the ideas of Lewis and Freud on your own; but since most of us don't have good enough memories or enough time to read all (or even most) of the works of those two thinkers and compare their works, it's very handy. Especially as I' Well, I guess I wouldn't say to avoid it. But it's not actually a book: it's a very clever string of quotes from the writings of Freud and Lewis. And the prose is not very smooth prose or well organized, which is annoying. Basically it's a substitute for thinking about the ideas of Lewis and Freud on your own; but since most of us don't have good enough memories or enough time to read all (or even most) of the works of those two thinkers and compare their works, it's very handy. Especially as I'm writing a paper on CSL's response to Freud. Very handy.

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