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

Armand M. Nicholi
2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2003
For all the variety of specific religious beliefs, there are fundamentally only two kinds of people: believers and non-believers. In the 20th century, no spokesman was more prominent for non-belief than Sigmund Freud, and nobody argued for belief more successfully than C.S. Lewis. Indeed, their arguments are remarkably parallel, and equally wide-ranging. From pain and suffering to love and sex, from God to morality, Lewis and Freud carefully argued opposing positions. After years of studying both men, and teaching a popular course at Harvard comparing the two, renowned psychiatrist and educator Armand Nicholi has gone public. Nicholi is a guide to the Great Debate, letting each man speak clearly and concisely. Drawing on published and unpublished sources, including wide access to Freud's letters, Nicholi offers a gem of a book that strikes at the deepest chords in our souls.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster International; 1st Edition edition (1 Dec 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074324785X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743247856
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 69,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The Question of God allows readers to listen in on one of the most articulate debates possible by creating a virtual meeting of Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis. Of course we can never really answer the question of whether God exists. And of course it would have been highly unlikely for Freud and Lewis to discuss this question in person, considering that they were born in different countries and a generation apart. Nonetheless, the imagined tête-à-tête provides subject matter for an interesting and intelligent read.

For the past 25 years, Armand M Nicholi has taught a similar course at Harvard, where he compares Freud's atheist-based reasoning against the atheist-turned-believer CS Lewis. Both men were considered brilliant, highly educated thinkers who profoundly influenced 20th-century thought. And both men presented compelling arguments for and against the existence of God.

At the core is Freud's assertion that God is a figment of the imagination (more accurately, God is an outcome of our deep-seated need for protection, stemming from the helplessness of early childhood). Lewis, on the other hand, did not see the belief in a higher power as a childish need for comfort. In fact, he wrote, "rendering back one's will which we have so long claimed for our own, is, in itself, extremely painful. To surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death." Nicholi never take sides. Instead he gives both men a chance to eloquently answer the big questions of humanity: why is there suffering? What should be our guiding belief? How do we form a moral compass? Surprisingly, this debate turns out to be a fascinating page-turner, with most of the credit going to Nicholi. Because he understands these men's arguments so well and respects their beliefs so thoroughly, believers could begin to have doubts and atheists could start to wonder. Regardless of where you ultimately land on the question of God, this stellar book will deeply enrich your understanding of humanity. --Gail Hudson,


Francis Collins "National Public Radio" "The Question of God" is provocative and compellingly written.

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Although C. S. Lewis, a full generation younger than Sigmund Freud, embraced Freud's atheism during the first half of his life, he eventually rejected that view. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

2.2 out of 5 stars
2.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good read 10 July 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I found this a fascinating read. The author had been lecturing on Freud and started using C S Lewis as a counterpoint. This book is a distillation of those Harvard lectures. Two men who shared the atheistic worldview in their younger days but ended up poles apart in their views on God. i thoroughly enjoyed it.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Question is the Title 19 April 2005
By A Customer
This book promises a balanced and even discussion based on the views of Freud and Lewis. What it actually delivers is an interesting double biography with very little to do with "The Question of God".
About two thirds of the book are dedicated to Lewis, who is a model Christian converted from atheism and released from its depressing world view, the rest takes Freud who (based on the evidence in the book) is a severely depressed, coke addicted, atheist who blames his depression on his world view. Can you see where this is heading? Freud is often mis-interpreted or just plain ignored. I'd put a lot of money on the author having a devout faith in god.
The basic pretext of the book is that people who have a faith in God are generally happier as opposed to atheists. This is possibly true, but what does that say about the existence of God? Actually nothing, just because one path is easier to take than the other doesn't meant its correct one to.
I could go on for days because this book annoyed me so much and I'm a Christian.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Wading through treacle! 12 Sep 2011
By Steve
I really didn't like this book, I've read and enjoyed many Christian books which have challenged and encouraged my faith. This book does neither. My only recommendation is that buyers of the kindle version should download a sample first, which if I had done I would never have bought the entire book. Reviewers are requested to write at least 20 words, I could have used just one, 'waffle'.
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4 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Back to the Dark Ages 23 Oct 2005
This is shameless propaganda. I could hardly believe it when I got into this book. It promises to be a serious comparison between the views of Freud and Lewis, but behold: It is a poorly concealed advertisement for Christianity.
There are unsubstantiated opinions or untruths in the book, e.g. that 'the Gospels are historical documents' and, perversely, that 'He appeared in the writings of Roman and Jewish historians and therefore was more than a myth'. Shocking - since there was absolutely no mention of him by any contemporary Roman historians, and the only reference to him in Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian writing for the Romans, has been exposed for what it is: A much later insertion by a Christian monk transcribing Josephus. How can an academic be this insincere about sources and arguments? Well, the whole point is that Freud's views, based on science and fact, are counterbalanced by opinions of faith made to look as facts by the author. This reminds me terribly of the Dark Ages, when reason and argument was abolished, but it is awful that it should be packaged as a serious or even philosophical.
Perhaps it illustrates the problems of American academics: The bias, the political correctness, and especially, the aim for personal happiness at any cost.
And that is the only true argument of the book: That you should believe in Jesus to make yourself feel good. Freud is constantly put down because his arguments and conclusions have negative or problematic implications and makes life difficult. Also, the author gives the impression that Freud did not really believe in his own atheism, which is an extreme opinion considering all the passages he wrote which made him one of the most rational and well-spoken non-believers ever.
Actually, the author is not doing Christians a favour by consistently presenting Christianity as a blind belief one resorts to simply in order to avoid personal unhappiness. And that, by accident, may be the only merit of this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  161 reviews
165 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding contrast! 18 Nov 2003
By Matt - Published on
I thoroughly enjoyed exploring both the thoughts of Freud and Lewis through Dr. Nicholi's summary in this book. People who are not familiar with the writings of Lewis or Freud (or both) will find this a very readable primer on their basic worldviews.
I confess that I am puzzled at those who accuse Nicholi of "stacking the deck" in favor of Lewis, or merely feigning objectivity while actually casting Freud in a poor light. The thinly veiled assertion seems to be that Freud was actually very different than he is made out to be in this book, and that Nicholi either consciously or unconsciously skews Freud's real positions and ideas. I found that far from the truth.
First, Nicholi readily acknowledges that no one is truly objective and dispassionate, particularly on such fundamental questions as the meaning of life and existence of God. But I believe he does an excellent job of not injecting his own bias into the equation. Second, Nicholi takes pains to point out many of the (rather substantial) contributions Freud has made to modern thought, particularly in his field of psychoanalysis. Finally, Nicholi's text is historical. Where people may have encountered frustration (particularly supporters or Freud's wordlview) is when Nicholi attempts to look at the actual EFFECT of each man's worldview on his life; a perfectly appropriate tactic given the goal of the book. Nicholi cites nothing but historically verifiable facts about these two men. Whether one believes in God or not, the rather dramatic nature of Lewis' conversion is undeniable -- one may debate the cause(s) of his change, but not the existence of the change. The same holds true for the despair and lonliness that Freud freely acknowledges experiencing in heavy doses. If Nicholi omitted important information about Freud, then critique him as a poor historian and offer factual backup. But do not simply react against the picture he paints merely because of how it looks.
I, for one, am categorically not an adherent to Freud's worldview. But I actually came away from Nicholi's book feeling like I now understand and appreciate Freud far more than I did before.
95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read not to contradict,but to weigh and consider-A MUST READ 28 April 2003
By biz_buzz - Published on
Quite simply, The Question of God is an exceptional book. Where to start? Dr. Nicholi's basic premise is ingenious: compare and contrast the material (Atheistic) wordview of Sigmund Freud with the spiritual (Faith-based) worldview of C.S. Lewis. The result is an exceptional book that goes straight to the heart of life and living: Is there a God? Is death our only destiny? How can we/should we enjoy life? Answers to these and other life and death (literally) questions are addressed through Dr. Nicholi's remarkable and successful effort.
Dr. Nicholi's writing style is lucid, learned and accessible. Other critiques of his writing style as merely being "Freud says this, but Lewis says that" simply do not hold water. Dr. Nicholi injects his text on Freud and Lewis with meticulous direct quotes from each man's writings, both public and personal, plus accounts from others who knew Freud or Lewis. Dr. Nicholi's writing succeeds on all levels: fairness (Dr. Nicholi's truly unbiased prose is to be commended), lucidity, and captivation: as the favorable comments from readers on the back cover notes, I too had a hard time putting this book down.
At least one earlier Amazon reviewer dismissed the book because Lewis, being a generation after Freud, always gets the last word, so the book's premise is hopelessly flawed. On the contrary, while Dr. Nicholi not only notes in the Prologue that Freud had no chance to rebut Lewis directly, he nevertheless anticipated some spiritual worldview arguements made by Lewis, and are so noted by Dr. Nicholi.
Finally, still other reviewers dismissed C.S. Lewis as just another "apologetic" and not a very good one. Ridiculous! I was aware of Lewis' Christianity writings (had not yet read them) but was surprised to realize that Lewis did indeed bring 'authority' to his critical reading of the Bible: his vast education in mythology, and ability to read Greek. Prior to this book, I had simply assumed Lewis was just a Max Lucado or Lee Strobel of an earlier era. Frankly, I very much dislike "Christian inspiration" books that seem to be written only to the "God says it, I believe it, that settles it" type of Christian, but no one else. I was pleasantly surprised to realize Lewis is not part of that "preaching to the choir" genre, but rather a leader in framing faith based on reason. I suggest non-believing and/or uncertain readers will find Lewis' reasoning intellectually stimulating and strong.
Quite frankly, the above raps against the book by some other reviewers puzzled me, as if reviewers were looking for a reason to disqualify this book and dismiss it out of hand. To those reviewers I wish to simply remind them of Dr. Nicholi's simple and quite reasonable request of the reader in the Prologue: he quotes Sir Francis Bacon (I'm quoting from memory): "Read not to contradict, but to weigh and consider." If you are willing to do this, your effort will repay you well.
Which brings up a key point: if you are a non-believer (as I have been), be willing to read this book with an open mind. Weigh and consider. Rest assured, this exceptional, fair book is worthy of your effort to do so. You will be glad you did. If you feel you are in the category of non-believer or uncertain or believe you must commit intellectual suicide to be a Christian, and you have been disappointed by weak "preach to the choir" books like Strobel's vapid "The Case for Faith," you owe it to yourself to read this finely executed, genuinely intellectual and thoughtful work on this important subject; no, make that the most important of all subjects.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars let the chips fall where they may. 30 Nov 2003
By Cipriano - Published on
Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Sigmund Freud, and already quite a bit about C.S. Lewis. To be honest, my initial interest in purchasing and reading the book was based on my shameless/addictive quest to own and read everything I possibly can, about LEWIS.
Having said that though, I am glad to have learned so much about Freud in the process. I think that the author does a good job of presenting the viewpoints of each man, with respect to their opinions on such topics as Creation, Conscience, Religious Conversion, Happiness, Sex, Love, Pain, and Death.
Big issues. Worthy of big, deeply felt convictions. And each man had them.
So many reviewers here have speculated that the author does not write this book from a disinterested stance, that he in fact, favors Lewis, and presents him as being a more consistent and (for lack of a better word) healthy individual. I agree that Lewis does come off as being such. But what is most important to me (as a reader of the information) is... is it TRUE? Is this slant toward Lewis as a more self-actualized person fair? Or is it fabricated? Is it manufactured? Is Lewis deliberately favored?
Dr. Nicholi has studied the philosophical writings of both men for over twenty-five years, and teaches a course at Harvard based on an examination of these two worldviews. Somehow, I do not imagine this present book as some latent "hate-on" for Freud finally making itself known in printed form. It did not appear that way for me, although yes, Lewis does come across as being someone who lived a more personally fulfilled, whole life.
I believe that the quotation marks speak for themselves. This is a well-researched book, I do not feel that Dr. Nicholi is really putting words or ideas INTO the mouth and mind of either figure. Over thirty-five pages of endnotes! In my opinion, this is one of those "let the chips fall where they may" type things!
As is stated in the Prologue, the philosophical speculations (the worldviews, if you will) of these two men are not at all ambiguous. "One of them begins with the basic premise that God does not exist, the other with the premise that He does. They are, therefore, mutually exclusive - if one is right, the other must be wrong. Does it really make any difference to know which one is which? Both Freud and Lewis thought so. They spent a good portion of their lives exploring these issues, repeatedly asking the the question 'Is it true?'"
Both men are presented as having troubled childhoods... both being touched with profound losses, alienations, disillusionments, etc. One of the main things that becomes clear in this book is that one of these men discovered the possibility of transcending this pain and disconnectedness experienced in childhood, and the other, quite frankly, did not.
Neither of them were ever perfect, and neither of them were ever perfect[ed]. Both men made great contributions to the fields for which they were formally trained (English Literature / Psychology)... yet both dabbled in these philosophical areas where they each OUGHT to have been out of their depth. This is what makes them so interesting to us.
My one criticism of TQOG is that there is a bit too much repetition of previously mentioned actual stories and/or quotes. But overall, I was impressed with the wealth of information and the dovetailing of ideas. It really IS as though these dudes are debating. I agree with Peter Kreeft, who said "It is as exciting as a novel, and we must supply the ending."
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Objective? Not Entirely...Factual? Absolutely! 25 Jun 2002
By Eric Wilson - Published on
The idea of paralleling Lewis' and Freud's thoughts and writings is intriguing, to say the least. I've long been a fan of C.S. Lewis' fiction, as well as his cerebral takes on the Christian message. I'm not as familiar with Freud, but his basic ideas and verbage are so much a part of our culture that his influence cannot be denied. (In fact, I did get to visit his home and office in Vienna. A visit well worth taking, if you ever have the chance.)
Nicholi's knowledge of his subjects is considerable. He puts forth the arguments of both men in a readable and concise manner, never failing to deepen our own knowledge. His writing is bright and well conceived. If, however, you expect pure objectivism here (is such a thing possible?), you might be disappointed. Nicholi's own views come to the front, although he makes a game attempt to keep all material within the writings of his two debaters. Personally, I agree with Nicholi's convictions and, in this age of political correctness, admired his courage to make them apparent. He highlights good and bad in both men's lives, and contradictions in their own beliefs. Yes, he seems to lean toward Lewis' views on God and faith, but he never does so by berating or undermining Freud's teachings. If you, like myself, are looking for deeper understanding of either man's thoughts, you will find it here. Just be warned that Nicholi, after his many years of studying and teaching this subject, has come to his own convictions and makes them clear. I suppose we, even by reading this book, seek to strengthen or challenge or own convictions as well.
I found the sections on love and sex particularly insightful, with deep insights from both Freud and Lewis. It's actually amazing how often their ideas overlap, with the difference being their belief in a moral or materialistic universe. I was prone to underline entire paragraphs at a time.
Lewis vs. Freud. This is the match of the century. The tantalizing thought that these two giants may well have met before Freud's death is material for a worthy novelist. Meanwhile, we are left with Nicholi's non-fiction work...and it's a work worthy of its cover price.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lively Debate 8 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on
I really enjoyed reading this clearly-written, extensively documented book on two of the twentieth century's greatest thinkers. Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis have to be the most articulate representatives of their completely opposite world views. Who would have surmised that their writings and lives would parallel one another so closely in their search to understand God, love, sex, happiness, suffering, death (and the meaning of life as the title says!)?
The author quotes extensively from both, using their works, letters, and the current literature to define, on the one hand Freud's empiricist, scientific view, and on the other C.S. Lewis' spiritual perspective. He devotes an entire chapter to Lewis' remarkable change from die-hard atheist to ardent believer. Through Freud's correspondence, we see the great psychoanalyst as human, struggling with the same issues as Lewis, but ultimately arriving at a completely different conclusion. Nicholi also brings in his own research as well as that of others to shed light on their world views, making them relevant in the here and now.
If you're looking for a lively debate on some central topics, this book is for you!
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