What a concept! Take the best proponents of atheism and theism from the twentieth century, and allow them to debate the pressing human existential questions. Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychology and psychoanalysis, and ardent materialist, atheist and naturalist, versus C.S. Lewis, Christian, scholar, literary critic and former atheist. Dr. Armand Nicholi Jr points out in The Question of God that atheist and theist are really the only two categories necessary (Freud thought so as well); one either thinks there is a God, or one thinks that there is no God. So why Lewis and Freud as representative of these two categories? For Nicholi it was their extensive writings on the subject and the availability of accurate biographical information, which showed how consistently each lived out their worldviews.
Nicholi sees two major questions that need to be answered, each of which is subdivided into more specific questions. Part one of this book looks at the question of what we should believe, with its related questions about an intelligence beyond the universe, the existence of a universal moral law, and which road (atheism or theism) is more realistic. Part two asks how we should live, with an investigation into happiness, sex, love, pain and death.
Nicholi quotes extensively from the philosophical and personal writings of both Freud and Lewis. The philosophical writings set out what each claimed to believe; the personal writings offer a picture of the viability of the worldviews set forth in the philosophical writings. Therefore, we are treated to a fascinating look at how Lewis and Freud thought we should live, and an insightful look at how Lewis and Freud each actually lived their lives. Though Lewis and Freud never debated in the course of their lives, Nicholi's side-by-side presentation of their views makes it seem like the two truly are in the same room debating. Their arguments are allowed to speak for themselves, and the reader is left to decide who has presented the better argument. Fascinating.
"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, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute
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.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette A marvelous new book that showcases the debate over such ultimate questions as God, love and the meaning of life.
Francis Collins National Public Radio The Question of God is provocative and compellingly written.
The Boston Herald Although there's no record of Freud and Lewis actually meeting...Nicholi makes readers wish they had in this earnest and thought-provoking volume.