God, Freud and Religion


The Bible tells us that God created man in his own image. Freud argued the reverse – that Man created God in his image. This book interrogates these two propositions to provide a coherent account of why people might believe in God. In God, Freud and Religion, a psychoanalytic perspective and Freud’s works on religion offer a framework for examining the genesis of religious belief and its use in manipulating human behaviour for secular or political purposes. Drawing on theories from psychoanalysis, developmental, cognitive, social psychology, and neuroscience, Dianna Kenny examines arguments for and against belief and explores the relationship between science and religion, and between religion and cognition and emotion. 

Cassandra Stamatis on 01/09/2015

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

“I have puzzled over the many questions tackled in Dianna Kenny’s book for most of my adolescence and adulthood. I have struggled with my agnosticism and am troubled by the seemingly endless global conflicts. This book has provided me with a new framework for thinking about these issues. It is the first book I have read that brings together so many pieces of the puzzle. This is the novelty of this book. It invovles many disciplines and the presentation of many perspectives that cast new light on ageless philosophical issues. Dianna is very erudite and convincing – she is so widely read; she presents very difficult concepts in an engaging and comprehensible way. One can apply much of the content of the book to one’s own thinking, which I found empowering. This book is a must read for anyone trying to make sense of human behaviour and our place in the universe.”


This is an arresting title, given the current political circumstances of our world, and whatever your major discipline there will be something here to intrigue and fascinate. Dianna Kenny has an astonishing breadth of thought, ranging through psychoanalytic theory, cognitive and behavioural science, neuropsychology, psychiatry, sociology, comparative religion and theology, spirituality, history and philosophy. 

She begins by placing Freud at the centre of the science/religion debate and argues that psychoanalytic theory provides a fertile and creative approach to the study of religion. Early on, in chapter two, she revisits the arguments for and against the existence of God, discussing morality and its possible derivations and the importance of subjective experience in religious belief. There is a very useful update and consideration of the evidence of neuroscience vis-à-vis out-of-body, near-death, and numinous experiences.

The whole book is shot through with references and pithy, but not extensive, quotes from Freud’s work. The generally received discourse that Freud expounds is that religion is so compelling because it solves the problems of our existence and offers comfort in an age of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. The big question, of course, is whether God created man or did man create God? Chapter four uses Freud’s argument to look at the crossroads where religion, culture, and philosophy intersect from a psychoanalytic perspective. This moves on to a consideration of religious belief and madness, with numerous examples from medieval times up to the present day, including a look at Richard Dawkins, the militant atheist. For therapists, this chapter is full of insight and may well provide echoes of clients seen in our everyday practice. 

Kenny then goes on to look at societies and movements. Nationalistic and religious violence comes under the microscope of psychology, psychoanalysis, and social psychology, illuminating much about the roots of fundamentalism and terror theology that impinge so forcibly on today’s world. 

As BACP’s first Lead Advisor in Spirituality and Counselling, I often pleaded for more research and an in-depth consideration of the motivation and meaning in people’s lives and for this to receive more attention in our professional community. Kenny certainly delivers the former, and deserves the latter, whatever our discipline or personal beliefs. 


John Eatock

Retired counsellor, trainer and supervisor and a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy