The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud felt that a belief in God merely represents an adolescent stage of thought – that belief in God marks someone as psychologically weak or immature.
Those psychologically weak individuals, Freud said, cannot handle the notion of a universe without a God.
Yes, the idea of a Godless universe can seem scary. Many people may believe in God because they cannot abide the thought that there may not be a God. But what makes these and other reasons for believing in God “adolescent” ideas? Is it just because Freud said so? Maybe Freud’s disbelief was an adolescent stage from which he never evolved? (Just having some fun here.)
Nevertheless, if belief in God is adolescent, then teenagers have some fine intellectual company.
Plato, St. Paul, Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, Kant, Spinoza, Newton, Buber, Krishnamurti, Einstein and hundreds of other world-class philosophers and geniuses believed in a Creator – and it’s nearly impossible to view their highly-sophisticated thoughts on the subject as adolescent. Still, some intelligent people put themselves squarely in the other camp – atheist philosophers like Hume, Russell, Dawkins, Hitchens, Hawking and Harris, for example. But their disbelief does not render their thought adolescent – it just means that proof of God through our narrow human lens is difficult, and that thoughtful people can reach different conclusions as a result.
Perhaps, as the Baha’i teachings suggest, we simply need to find ways to widen our definition and start to conceptualize a Creator as something far, far beyond our comprehension:
Existence is of two kinds: one is the existence of God which is beyond the comprehension of man. He, the invisible, the lofty and the incomprehensible, is preceded by no cause but rather is the Originator of the cause of causes. He, the Ancient, hath had no beginning and is the all-independent. The second kind of existence is the human existence. It is a common existence, comprehensible to the human mind, is not ancient, is dependent and hath a cause to it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 61.
A lower degree cannot comprehend a higher although all are in the same world of creation — whether mineral, vegetable or animal. Degree is the barrier and limitation. In the human plane of existence we can say we have knowledge of a vegetable, its qualities and product; but the vegetable has no knowledge or comprehension whatever of us. No matter how near perfection this rose may advance in its own sphere, it can never possess hearing and sight. Inasmuch as in the creational world, which is phenomenal, difference of degree is an obstacle or hindrance to comprehension, how can the human being, which is a created exigency, comprehend the ancient divine Reality, which is essential? This is impossible because the reality of Divinity is sanctified beyond the comprehension of the created being, man. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 114.
Then there are those who find that the universe is simply too frightening for it to have been created by a God who values life. Outer space is 270 degrees C (455 degrees Fahrenheit) below zero. That’s a deadly temperature for humans; indeed for everything except molecules. But even worse, we seem to inhabit a fragile film of life-supporting materials on top of a thin crust resting on a liquid core of molten rock that is hurtling through the immense cold and emptiness of space.
Yet here we are, living and thriving (though not responsibly yet) on this spinning rock, and regularly venturing out into the cold dark night of outer space in a manner not much different than the way we once set sail on an uncharted sea or the way we now venture out into a cold winter night. In both cases, we simply prepare for the trip. We inject ourselves into a greater whole and in the process become a part of it. The universe is not alien and out to get us. It is not lawless – neither physically, nor morally. It is the matrix from which we emerge. We are stardust one-and-all, and belief in God is more than just a comforting thought; it’s a statement that we find the universe to be ruled by an evolving, benevolent spiritual purpose that includes us.