Culture > Television

The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis

Television | A PBS miniseries on the differing worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis

Issue: "Education: Sick schools," Sept. 18, 2004

C.S. Lewis was one of the 20th century's most influential advocates for Christianity. Sigmund Freud was one of the 20th century's most influential advocates for atheism. The two thinkers and their different worldviews are the subject of an ambitious four-hour series on PBS, airing Sept. 15-22.

The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis is based on a course by that name at Harvard, taught by professor of psychiatry Armand Nicholi. The existence of God and the truth claims of Christianity are taken seriously, which is refreshingly strange to see at an Ivy League university and on PBS. Mr. Nicholi ranks Lewis right with Freud as two of the great minds of the century.

In the course and in the documentary, Mr. Nicholi takes Lewis as the spokesman for the "spiritual worldview," which recognizes the reality of God, and Freud as the spokesman for the "secular worldview." The class discussion is carried out on TV by seven men and women: Two well-spoken Christians, two New Agey believers, and one political activist hold to some form of a spiritual worldview (though, as we see, that can mean many different things); an agnostic and a naturalistic atheist (Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine) hold to the secular worldview.

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In the documentary, episodes from the life of Lewis and Freud are dramatized, with actors playing the parts and quoting from their works-further illustrated by actual photographs and film footage, along with experts discussing their lives and works. Then the panel members discuss how they too have been shaped in their worldviews. Though the biographical segments are especially interesting, the series also presents the two thinkers' different ideas about the source of morality, the problem of evil, and the nature of death, with the panelists weighing in.

These are not just intellectual issues, of course. At one point, Mr. Shermer, the noted atheist, admits that he rejected his earlier religious beliefs because he liked his atheist friends better than Christians. He makes a remarkable admission for an atheist, that most people-including himself-form beliefs on nonrational grounds and develop reasons for them later.

This program does not settle "the question of God," since belief ultimately requires the gift of faith. But the program is an excellent introduction to worldview thinking (though some might be put off by Freud's sex talk). And it shows that when the playing field is scrupulously fair and balanced, Christian ideas can hold their own with the best of them.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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