Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis framework received worldwide attention in the 1920s, with intellectuals and artists flocking to his ideas. Historian Paul Johnson claims that “Gnosticism has always appealed to intellectuals” and by way of Freud’s work intellectuals found “a particular succulent variety.”
Here was someone who rejected religion and “believed in the existence of a hidden structure of knowledge which, by using the techniques he was devising, could be discerned beneath the surface of things.” Intellectuals embraced the notion of the “Freudian slip” and the sexual interpretation of dreams. In their eyes, Freud was wise to argue that religion was a fantasy, a human construct. Freudianism offered them liberation: “by virtue of Freud’s skill in encapsulating emergent trends over a wide range of academic disciplines, it appeared to be presenting, with brilliant panache and masterful confidence, ideas which had already been half-formulated in the minds of the elite.”
Of course, there was no room for the biblical concept of original sin. Thereafter, history witnessed more signs in literature of the decline of “the philosophy of personal responsibility – the notion that each of us is individually accountable for our actions.” There was also greater dismissal for the importance of “personal conscience” and an “objectively true moral code.”
For Johnson, the ideas of Freud (and Marx) caused great tragedy. But one other influential intellectual was Friedrich Nietzsche. He too welcomed the demise of God. Johnson writes: “[T]he decline and ultimately the collapse of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum. The history of modern times is in great part the history of how that vacuum had been filled.” Nietzsche perceived secular ideology replacing religious belief. The “Will to Power” gave rise to “a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind.”
Grounded in socialist theory, Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini (“a Marxist, albeit a heretical one”), and Adolph Hitler (National Socialist Workers Party) shared a disdain for Christianity and a passion for statism. Mesmerized by Freudianism and other modernist ideas in opposition to Christianity, many intellectuals were slow or unable to grasp the evil of socialism, whether it was in the fascist or communist format. As for Hitler, “he remained a Leninist to the end, particularly in his belief that a highly disciplined and centralized party, culminating in an autocratic apex, was the only instrument capable of carrying through a fundamental revolution.” Never a “defender of capitalism,” Hitler took his National Socialist Workers Party to terrible heights.
With the religious impulse weakened, Lenin (followed by Joseph Stalin), Mussolini, and Hitler had fewer obstacles as they proceeded with their movement of destruction and terror. Neither intellectuals enamored with modernism nor European theologians opposed to biblical inerrancy were a match for the totalitarian onslaught.
Reference: Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (1992)