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Terms related to this article: Judaism Analysis  Midrash Analysis  Hermeneutics Analysis 

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Continued from page 3

Fromm is far more deeply rooted in the Bible than in Rabbinics or in the general Jewish hermeneutics in which Fromm certainly has a place. To understand Fromm's more immediate motives or models for Bible interpretation, we must study not so much Fromm's Jewish education as his psychoanalytic training in the Freudian tradition. One place to begin that is with his Sigmund Freud's Mission (1959).

Whereas Freud is not at all ambivalent in his pronouncements that God is but a projection of the father-image upon the cosmos, and that the therapeutic science of psychoanalysis is all that the human soul really needs, Fromm's writings on religion are a network of contradictions and ambivalences. On the one hand, Fromm can observe that the worship of God is an attempt to get in touch with a part of ourselves we have lost through projection. [27] On the other hand, Fromm can assert that God has become an idol of words, phases, and doctrines, [28] so suggesting that there may be an objective divine reality outside of man. And yet, Fromm ends You Shall Be As Gods by describing an "x-reality," a kind of godless God-feeling, a non-theistic "religious attitude" that can save even the non-theist from the materialistic idolatries of modern man.

In Escape From Authority: The Perspectives of Erich Fromm (1961), John Schaar, Fromm's most effective critic, points to the weaknesses in Fromm's views of religion and ethics. Schaar notes that Fromm's psychoanalytic philosophy shuns authority with an almost obsessive aversion, and tells people with an equally obsessive temerity that they can achieve perfection. This is not the place to cite the many difficulties that emerge from Fromm's interpretation of Marxism or of social and economic conditions; Schaar is very helpful on these issues. Suffice it to say that the same ratio of insights and distortions that Fromm brings to the Bible may be found in his explanation of other texts and of other social and historical traditions. Like every intellectual, Fromm was guilty of all kinds of projections and verbal games. And like every genius whose life is directed toward service to humanity, he bequeathed both break-throughs and culs-de-sac.

In this respect Fromm was no different from Freud. Yet his approach to the Bible and to rabbinic tradition was part of the critical dialectic with Freudian doctrine in which he openly engaged in many of his works, especially The Forgotten Language, where he modified Freud's view of dreams, and in The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (1970), where he argues against Freud's understanding of the so-called "Oedipal Complex." Despite his protests against authority, Fromm's bible, like that of all neo-Freudian analysts, was the complete works of Freud. Fromm's work must therefore be regarded as a hermeneutic in the Freudian tradition that is colored and even distinguished by immersion in Jewish homiletics.

In Sigmund Freud's Mission, Freud's "Oedipus Complex" is questioned, re-interpreted, and re-named the "Joseph Complex." [29] (Fromm differs from Freud in that he regards competitiveness, and not incest-wishes, as the basic cause of normal sibling rivalry.) In this re-interpretation, we see that Fromm actually employs Freud's original text as a pious preacher would utilize the Bible: He cites the original, giving it all due deference. Only then does he recast the original Freudian mythos into what he regards as more appropriate biblical images.

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