CS Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debating Christ

I look forward to seeing this play Freud’s Last Session when I have an opportunity:

Toward the end of the play Freud’s Last Session, a fictional conversation about the meaning of human life between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis concludes,“How mad, to think we could untangle the world’s greatest mystery in one hour.”Freud responds, “The only thing more mad is to not think of it at all.” The combined sense of the limits to human knowledge and the unavoidability of the big questions is one of the many impressive features of this dramatic production, the remote origins of which are in a popular class of Dr. Armand Nicholi, professor of psychiatry in the Harvard Medical School. Nicholi penned a book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, which the playwright Mark St. Germain turned into an off-Broadway play, now in its second year in New York and just beginning a run in Chicago. 

I had a chance recently to see the successful New York production, directed by Tyler Marchant and starring George Morfogen as Freud and Jim Stanek as Lewis. The play is not perfect; some of the dialogue is wooden, the result of the attempt to squeeze elements from the major works of the two authors into their conversation. Nicholi does a better job of this in his book, largely because he is free from the dialogue form. But the theatrical revival of the dialogue is what stands out in this production. In this case, the theater is an arena for the contest of ideas. There is a healthy reminder that philosophy itself has taken on various dramatic and literary forms; indeed, philosophy as a theater of debate hearkens back to the very founding of philosophy in the Platonic dialogue. Something of that original sense of philosophy as a live debate between interlocutors whose views and lives are at stake is operative in Freud’s Last Session.

Go here to Catholic World to read the remainder of Thomas S. Hibb’s review of the play. Faithful readers of this blog know what high esteem I hold CS Lewis in.  What will doubtless surprise most of our readers however is that I have a sneaking affection for Freud.  Not I hasten to add for his theories regarding human psychology, pseudoscience piled on the therapeutic value that many people experience from a good chat, but rather for his skill as a writer and his wry sense of humor.  When the old and dying Freud was leaving Vienna, after the Anschluss, he had to sign a form praising the Nazis.  He did so willingly and added this line:  “I heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone!”  Such a man would have made a worthy verbal sparring partner for CS Lewis!

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  1. I had the opportunity to see this play in Cincinnati and it was very well done. The way the play drew in all three story lines (Sigmund Freud’s last days, C.S. Lewis’ relatively new conversion, and the beginnings of WWII) really made for good theater. As the review above states, the dialogue doesn’t quite flow as well as one would hope and many statements are just left untouched, but I recommend it to anyone (especially to a C.S. Lewis and Freud fan).

  2. I also saw this play in New York in 2011 when began at the YMCA just off Central Park West. I think it is a wonderful play. And if anyone is concerned with who “wins” the debate, well without giving anything away, C.S. Lewis’ effects a subtle, but not insignificant, change in Freud’s routine as the play ends.

  3. Jesus Christ was crucified as the Son of God and died as the Son of Man. Since Sigmund Freud predicated his therapy on sexuality, Freud was not incorrect, only incomplete. What is highly visible in the play is the good will and trust of both C.S Lewis and Sigmund Freud.

  4. It’s interesting that as a literary critic, C. S. Lewis payed great attention to the growing field of psychology. He read Freud but found C. G. Jung far more insightful, I think.

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