Ilive about two blocks from my parish. Nothing unusual there except that, on my way to noon Mass on Sundays, I have to pass in front of Sigmund Freud's house. The home is now a museum which opens at the same time as my Mass begins. The true believers are usually lined up, often in the London rain, waiting to visit the Maresfield Garden sanctum where Freud spent roughly the last year of his life.
Passing that house en route to Mass is a paradox. In a sense, the two faithful remnants lined up — at Freud's and at St. Thomas More's — represent the secular and the sacred, the cultural war between the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the new world order of a self-styled “completely godless Jew.”
A.N. Wilson, the British author whose books about Jesus and Paul have given him a certain name recognition, summed up Freud's “contribution” to modernity in the 1999 book God's Funeral:
“Freudianism was a cultural revolution. … [Freud] created a generation who not only believed that the virtues of his ancestral religion — to honor father and mother — were vices; but who also subscribed to the view that our inner selves were inescapable: the story which we believe might be alterable by effort or luck has already been written in the forgotten or half-forgotten years of infancy.”
Therein lies the paradox. Judaism and Christianity endorse filial piety, not just as a natural virtue of justice but as a divine injunction (the only commandment with an explicit blessing attached). For Freud, the Fourth Commandment's blessing of long life represents just that much more repression. Jews and Christians, on the other hand, recognize in fatherly obedience not just a natural debt of justice toward one's progenitor, but also some share in that divine Fatherhood from which all paternity in heaven and earth derives its name (cf. Ephesians 3:15).
That's not to say that fathers should be paternal dictators. Both the Old Testament (in Sirach 3) and the New (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) warn fathers to give their children good example “lest they lose heart.”
A father as father is worthy of respect, but he should also make himself worthy of that respect. There's truth in a recent advertising slogan aimed at discouraging teen-age boys from engaging in sexual intercourse: “Any guy can be a father; it takes a man to be a dad.” A father should enfold his child in the love which father-hood represents.
Hugging the Killer
One of the press stories that ran in the wake of the recent Michigan school shooting quoted the prosecutor as saying that the 6-year old boy who killed his classmate should not be prosecuted because he had no sense of right or wrong. His moral impoverishment was due largely to the boy's coming from a fractured family produced by a loser of a dad. The prosecutor' s sentiment going in to the case was something along the lines of, “We need to hug him and put our arms around him.”
With all due respect, district attorneys are not hired to hug our 6-year olds. That is supposed to be Dad's job. Children, honor your fathers. Fathers, make yourselves worthy of that honor.
Freud led Western civilization down a dark path the day he opined that most human ills are traceable to unresolved conflicts with Father. His particular attack on fatherhood, however, also undermined another aspect of his Jewish heritage: the conviction that man is a free moral agent.
God does not control us. Our destiny is the consequence of our free choices to embrace or reject the Father' s covenant, to be his people, to share in his divine creative parenthood.
In lieu of this uncompromising proclamation of freedom, Freud offered us a declaration of dependence: we are the determined products of our rearing, launched in life on neurotic paths which only some measuring of dishonoring our fathers and mothers might ameliorate. “Don't blame me — I had lousy parents,” cries the juvenile delinquent. And his father, all-too-ready to wallow in his own blamelessness, fails to live up to the nobility his paternal vocation gives him. Pass the bottle — or the joint.
Across London from St. Thomas More parish and Freud's home, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, there is a medieval Italian pulpit. It depicts the early life of Jesus. There, in a corner, away from the pulpit's central focal points, stands St. Joseph. He is focused on his family. He is not distracted; nor is he preoccupied. His full attention is on his wife and his foster son, whom he clearly loves as his own.
In the next scene, he's leading them away from Herod.
As his March 20 feast nears, I wish I could introduce the ‘God-filled’ Joseph to followers of the ‘godless’ Freud.
That “completely God-filled Jew” doesn't get too much New Testament press. In fact, all he seems to get besides near-anonymity is blisters: en route to Bethlehem or Egypt or in the Nazarene carpenter' s shop.
And Joseph's boy was “obedient unto” him (Luke 2:51).
As the March 20 feast of St. Joseph nears, there are some people standing in the London rain — all wet — whom I'd really like to introduce to that Jewish dad.
John M. Grondelski is a moral theologian living in London.