An interesting NYT article chronicling the softening of Sigmund Freud’s attitude about religion. No, of course he didn’t begin believing in the primitive notion of an anthropomorphic or otherwise literal being. He recognized the value — perhaps the power — of invisibility.
And it was, but not chiefly because of the strange speculations
about Moses’ identity that worried Yahuda and scandalized the book’s
first readers. There is a more subtle and original dimension to the
book, and perhaps it was that dimension that made Freud so determined
to complete and publish it, despite all the resistance. For in “Moses
and Monotheism” Freud has something truly fresh to say about religion.
two-thirds of the way into the volume, he makes a point that is simple
and rather profound — the sort of point that Freud at his best excels
in making. Judaism’s distinction as a faith, he says, comes from its
commitment to belief in an invisible God, and from this commitment,
many consequential things follow. Freud argues that taking God into the
mind enriches the individual immeasurably. The ability to believe in an
internal, invisible God vastly improves people’s capacity for
abstraction. “The prohibition against making an image of God — the
compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see,” he says, meant that
in Judaism “a sensory perception was given second place to what may be
called an abstract idea — a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality.”
people can worship what is not there, they can also reflect on what is
not there, or on what is presented to them in symbolic and not
immediate terms. So the mental labor of monotheism prepared the Jews —
as it would eventually prepare others in the West — to achieve
distinction in law, in mathematics, in science and in literary art. It
gave them an advantage in all activities that involved making an
abstract model of experience, in words or numbers or lines, and working
with the abstraction to achieve control over nature or to bring humane
order to life. Freud calls this internalizing process an “advance in
intellectuality,” and he credits it directly to religion.
I have often observed — generalizing — that Jews are simply
way smarter and more intellectual that most everyone else. Look at the
disproportion in terms of scientific discovery, Nobel Prizes, and the
list goes on and on.
I speculate that the above may have a lot to do with it. Most Jews,
even religious ones I’ve talked to, I would technically classify as
atheists, i.e., they do not believe in a literal being. It’s "just" an ideal. The utter stupidity of Christianity was to take a powerful abstract ideal and send it to Earth in flesh & bone to essentially distract everyone from the point of the matter.