“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” (A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket)
Many people, at least since the time of Freud, have held that belief in God (and by extension the “Happy Ending”) is nothing more than the phenomena of wish-fulfillment. An interesting treatment of an answer to Freud by C. S. Lewis can be found here where the PBS documentary “The Question of God” was reviewed.
I was recently reading the book “Beyond Words” by Frederick Buechner, who writes the following which to my mind also sheds some light on the question of faith as wish-fulfillment. Buechner points out that children, who are more apt to demonstrate the natural response of humans to the mystery of life, do not take the “happy ending” for granted. To me it would seem that something we do not naturally take for granted would probably not warrant enough support to become the main pillar of the life of faith. Buechner wrote:
Regardless of how many times you have read the books you loved as a child, the elements of surprise and suspense are always present, so that right up to the last minute you can believe that Scrooge will go on being miserly in spite of everything and that Dorothy may never find her way home.
To us, as to the child, the happy ending always comes as an unexpected gift from on high. It is the deepest truth that children’s books have to tell. possibly it is the deepest truth there is. (Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner, “Children’s Books”)
Probably the difference between Freud and Lewis & Buechner is in their actual definitions of faith. Lewis and Buechner held that faith is actually believing that there is an actual “happy ending” which has been revealed by the God who exists, while Freud seemed to have seen faith as merely hoping (naively) that there is a “happy ending” which cannot be actual since God does not exist.
This is why faith in faith, which is the “faith” that many people of today have, is actually (in my opinion) wish-fulfillment. Faith in God is another matter entirely.
Lewis believed that true faith was more than mere wish/hope because it did have a rational basis in the revealing/redeeming God who exists and the faith derived from that basis, although our natural desires present “trials” to that rational basis:
When we exhort people to Faith as a virtue, to the settled intention of continuing to believe certain things, we are not exhorting them to fight against reason. The intention of continuing to believe is required because, though Reason is divine, human reasoners are not. When once passion takes part in the game, the human reason, unassisted by Grace, has about as much chance of retaining its hold on truths already gained as a snowflake has of retaining its constancy in the mouth of a blast furnace…
…If we wish to be rational, not now and then, but constantly, we must pray for the gift of Faith, for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference that which reason, authority, or experience, or all three, have once delivered to us for truth. And the answer to that prayer will, perhaps, surprise us when it comes, For I am not sure, after all, whether one of the causes of our weak faith is not a secret wish that our faith should not be very strong. Is there some reservation in our minds? Some fear of what it might be like if our religion became quite real? (Christian Reflections, “Religion: Reality or Substitute?”)
Therefore you may observe that Lewis believed, contra Freud, that if humankind has a wish-fulfillment regarding faith, it could just as easily be that God does not exist and that faith would be “not…very strong.” And also, para Buechner, we can see that we may be unexpectedly surprised by a “happy ending” in answer to our prayer for “the gift of faith.”
What is interesting, and the perceptive reader may have noticed, is that “happy endings” are not the sole property of any particular religion, although I believe that Christianity offers the happiest ending of all with its doctrines of physical bodily resurrection in an environment in which suffering is no longer present and in which humans enjoy fellowship God, each other, the animals, and the natural world. But this fact of a faith in a “happy ending” of some sort that is nearly universally held by humankind, demonstrates that “religion” is more likely not the result of wish-fulfillment, but the result of intrinsic human longings due to our having been created” in the image” of God. Buechner thus called the happy ending” “the deepest truth there is.”
Lewis explained the fact of the Christian happiest ending what he called “myth became fact,” which I think is a better explanation of “happy” and “happiest” endings, than what I think in Freud’s thought may have called “naive hope become Christianity.”
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Any comments, critiques, questions, are welcomed!