Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Friends in unlikely places

In this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Mark Edmundson, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Virginia, has written another electrifying piece on Freud. An article he wrote about Freud's continuing importance first brought him to my attention some years ago. Edmundson is one of the most original and most consistently surprising academics in America. This week's article presents a new thesis about Freud, possibly the most principled atheist ever (Christopher Hitchens is an amateur by comparison). Edmundson seeks to show that at the end of his life, Freud was thinking beyond the ideas he had expressed earlier in the indispensable "The Future of an Illusion." His late essay, "Moses and Monotheism" is a very peculiar piece of work in many ways (I have never been able to read it to the end) but the feature of Edmundson's essay that really grabbed me is his summary of Freud's evolving position about monotheism. Commitment to monotheism, he came to believe, is demanding work -- good for the mind, good for the spirit. This is an exhilarating idea and one that the churches (and the synagogues) need to hear in this multicultural era of "gods many and lords many." Moreover, Edmundson draws from Schopenhauer, another unbeliever, to whom life was "pain, grief, sorrow and little else"; yet he was able, Edmundson writes, to affirm that a faith with a Crucifixion at its heart "couldn't be entirely misleading in its overall take on life." Those who currently, and repetitiously, emphasize Jesus' table fellowship as the Alpha and Omega of the gospel could very well learn something about the larger parameters of our faith from these unbelievers.