Psychology comes from two Greek words. The ‘–ology’ comes from λόγος (logos = word, study of) while ‘Psych’ comes from ψυχή (psuché = soul, life). Hence psychology is the study of our souls or our minds, emotions, behaviour, and intellect. Psychology as an academic study took hold in the nineteenth century.
One of the most well-known pioneers of psychology was Sigmund Freud (Sigismund Schlomo Freud 1856 – 1939), the founder of the branch of psychology known as psychoanalysis. Though educated as a medical doctor, Freud became intrigued in using hypnosis as the means to explore and treat disorders. After resigning from his medical position, he devoted the rest of his life to pursuing both an understanding and a framework to treat personality disorders.
Freud’s Jewish heritage and his strong association with secular Jewish identity strongly influenced the development of his theories and his work, as biographers have pointed out. In fact, all his early co-workers and colleagues in psychoanalysis were Jewish. Even his first patient, Anna O, the treatment of whom launched Freud and psychoanalysis into prominence across the world, maintained a strong Jewish identity. So it is not an exaggeration to state that the insight and brilliance of Jews have opened up for all of mankind theories by which we can understand ourselves and our souls better.
Freud and Jesus as influential Jews
But Freud and his colleagues were by no means the only to contribute to our understanding of our psyche. Nineteen hundred years before Freud, Jesus of Nazareth teachings about your and my ψυχή deserves consideration.
We have been exploring the life and teachings of Jesus from his Jewishness, proposing that Jesus embodies the intended end-goal of the Jewish nation. As such, his insights, advances and experiences parallel to some extent that of the Jewish nation as a whole. Accordingly, we now turn to what Jesus taught about our psyche or soul.
Freud remains a polarizing figure because of his radical theories of the human soul. For example, he originated and popularized the Oedipus complex which he claimed was a stage in life when a boy hated his father and wanted sex with his mother. Freud postulated the existence of the libido, sexualised energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments. According to Freud, the libido should not be repressed but rather allow its appetites to be satisfied.
Jesus and our Psyche
Jesus likewise remains today a polarizing figure in large part because of his teachings about the human soul. Here are two discourses of his regarding the ψυχή that to this day generate much discussion
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life (ψυχή, soul, psyche) will lose it, but whoever loses their life (ψυχή , soul, psyche) for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul (ψυχή, psyche)? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul (ψυχή, psyche)?Matthew 16:24-26
Jesus’ Paradox of the Soul (ψυχή)
Jesus uses a paradox to teach about the soul (ψυχή). This paradox stems from a self-evident truth; we cannot permanently retain or hold onto our souls. No matter what we do in life, at death our souls are lost. This is true no matter our level of education, our wealth, where we live, or the power and prestige that we amass over the course of our life. We cannot keep our ψυχή. Inevitably it is lost.
Based on this some surmise that we should live with this in mind and fully maximize the experience of the ψυχή during its transient existence by protecting and preserving the ψυχή as much as possible. This is a view that Freud espoused.
But to do that warns Jesus, will result in permanently losing one’s soul. Jesus then confronts us by creating a paradox of the ψυχή by insisting that we give our ψυχή (soul) away to him, and only then will we be able to keep or preserve it. In a real sense, he asks us to trust him to such an extent that we give up that which we cannot keep (our ψυχή) to gain it back permanently. Note he does not suggest we give our ψυχή to a church, a religion or an important religious person, but to him.
Jesus’ second ψυχή paradox
Most of us hesitate to believe Jesus such that we would entrust him with our souls. Rather we go through life protecting and enlarging our ψυχή. In so doing however, instead of creating peace, rest and tranquility in our lives we find the opposite. We become weary and burdened. Jesus used this reality to teach a second paradox of the ψυχή.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (ψυχή, psyche) 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
Through history people have yoked oxen, donkeys and horses to do the heaviest tasks that have wearied the human race since the beginning of agriculture – ploughing soil. ‘Yoke’ is thus a metaphor for difficult labor that utterly tires one out. Yet Jesus, in thrusting his paradox upon us, insists that the yoke he would place upon us will rest our souls. Our lives will experience peace as we put on his yoke.
Practice what you preach
While the western world has to a large extent sought to apply Freud’s doctrine, especially seeking self-fulfillment, meaning and liberation in sexual pursuits, it is paradoxical that Freud never applied his ideas to his own family. He wrote and taught a radical social innovation especially between the sexes. But he ran his home utterly as a socially conservative. His wife subserviently made his dinners on his rigid schedule, and even spread his toothpaste onto his toothbrush. He never discussed his sexual theories with his wife. He sent his sons to their family doctor to learn about sex. Freud tightly controlled his sisters and daughters, not allowing them to go out to work. He kept them at home sewing, painting and playing the piano. (reference 1 below)
Jesus, on the other hand, applied his teachings of the soul first to his own life. With his disciples arguing from rivalries and jealousies between them, Jesus intervened:
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life (ψυχή) as a ransom for many.”Matthew 20:25-28
Jesus shouldered his yoke by living his life to serve, rather than being served. He did so to the extent that he gave his soul as a ransom or payment for many.
The Truly light Yoke?
Whether Jesus’ yoke truly is light and a source of rest, one may argue with. But the Freudian path of advancing one’s life seems indeed to result in wearisome burdens. Consider now how far we have come after about a century of applying his ideas. What dominates headlines and social media feeds? #Metoo, asexuality, Epstein, unending allegations sexual violence, endemic pornography addictions. When we think that we have advanced, just look at where we are.
Freud & Jesus: Credentials backing their Insights
Freud’s credentials and the credibility of his ideas rested on the perception that they were scientific. But how scientific were they? It is instructive that his ideas were not advanced based on the scientific method of observation and experimentation. Freud simply recounted stories as case studies. He told stories as other fiction writers of his era, but brought into his writings a conviction of truth, and we believed him. As Freud himself stated,
It still strikes myself as strange that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, the lack the serious stamp of scienceAs quoted in Paul Johnston, A History of the Jews. 1986, p.416
Jesus credentialed his teaching about (ψυχή) by not only applying it, but also by demonstrating authority over his (ψυχή)
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life (ψυχή) —only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”John 10:17-18
He based his credentials about his insight into (ψυχή) not on a paper he wrote, or a reputation he earned, but on his resurrection.
Next we delve into what he means by ‘my Father’. We do so by reflecting on the the coming AI-based virtual realities that offer clues to the source of our physical reality. We begin by reflecting on the fundamental building blocks upon which our civilization has been built – the alphabet, the actual letters as well as Googles’ parent company Alphabet.
- A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson. 1987. p413.