According to Christian theology, sin and guilt are the result of Adam’s transgression of God’s moral law, and are passed down and become ours individually by imputation.

Sin can only be atoned for and divine justice satisfied by Jesus Christ on the cross who voluntarily accepts the guilt of sin and accepts God’s punishment for sinners (Isaiah 53.4-12). On the cross we see that because the measure of the guilt of sin is infinite, it requires atonement by an infinite God who comes to earth and takes the guilt of sin upon himself.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founding father of psychoanalysis. Freud intentionally wanted to overturn traditional forms of religious thought and morality and so vehemently opposed the Christian concept of the atonement and posited that sin and guilt have a societal construct and are not the result of the transgression of an objective moral code. Rather, they have at their core a naturalistic basis.

Freud replaced original sin and salvation with the libido and the Oedipus Complex, the boy’s reaction against his father. In Totem and Taboo, Freudargues that “the beginnings of religion, morals, society and art converge in the Oedipus complex”.

If moral codes are a societal construct (i.e. morality is acquired through socialization and cultural indoctrination) and human nature does not have a divine origin, then there is no objective standard for right and wrong, and human guilt is able to be scientifically cured by psychiatry.

According to Freud, the cause of psychological problems, childhood traumas, sexual development and transformation needs to be investigated in the light of Darwinian theory.

In his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Charles Darwin attempts to explain emotional expression on simply physiological grounds. Darwin says that the emotion of rage can be magnified by its outward expression:

The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions. He who gives way to violent gestures will increase his rage; he who does not control the signs of fear will experience fear in a greater degree.

Freud used Darwin’s concept of the emotions to construct a framework for his theories about human behaviour.

Freud believed that human emotions are the legacy of natural selection and have developed as a result of our ancestors’ adaptive responses to their pre-historic drives and environmental pressures: Our ancestors’ consciousness evolved when they became self-aware. The ‘ego’ is aroused by the ‘Other’ and in the separateness between the ego and the object, I become aware of something outside myself. By relating to the ‘Other’ as subject I establish my own “I”. From this emerges the awareness or consciousness of the ‘self’. Social responsibility and morality begins when “I” responds to the ‘Other’ and transcends the self, becoming the place of community.

According to Freud, human awareness gradually evolved its different spectrums of consciousness to a stage of projected transference. The images of impulses and awareness of emotions that occupy the unconscious part of the brain are copied from past experiences, for example during childhood, and transferred within the psyche like mental objects so as to be invoked again during adulthood.

When I encounter an external stimulus resembling the past intangible impression, I ‘play act’ in my mind the virtual simulations and translate them into a multiplicity of ideas and eventually implement them into actions (or reactions). Freud argued that if we clinically analyse these intangible feelings and experiences that the subconscious projects, and differentiate them into their specific categories and scenarios, we will understand the human psyche and solve mental problems.

Freud tried to understand the subconscious by differentiating between two stages of awareness – the dream state (‘a theatre in the mind’) and the waking state, where human beings have the opportunity to implement certain scenarios from the subconscious into real action in their conscious relationships and their behaviour toward others. The external stimulus acts as a mirror or reflection of how we might feel inside.

The Biblical model is different. Adam and Eve, when they were first created, did not require consciousness to simulate them to behave. There was an objective moral directive (God’s commandment). God said ‘if you obey me about the tree you will live. If you observe my command in childlike obedience and not doubt, you will be safe in the environment in which I have placed you. If you disobey, you will die’.

Consciousness only emerges after Adam and Eve listen to the serpent and try to decide for themselves about what is good and evil. Satan’s shrewd temptation for rational experimentation about something that had to be taken on faith is what attracts Adam. The self becomes the centre of that reflection and Adam’s desire to know by investigation instead of living in fellowship with Christ. This is what awakens consciousness.

After the Fall, God provided an objective moral code (the Mosaic Law) which if obeyed was to bring life: “You will therefore keep my statutes and my judgments which if a man does, he will live in them. I am the LORD” (Lev.18.5). Our subjective experiences and emotional perceptions are unreliable as the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer.17.9). The heart can be manipulated by the sinful nature (the flesh). Paul says “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwells no good thing” (Rom.7.18).

So my response to life’s vicissitudes does not have to be determined by my childhood experiences, whether positive or negative. Distinguishing between what is good and evil is not a matter of subjective judgment. If I align my will with God’s word this should lead to correct behaviour. My thoughts and desires can be cleansed by the blood of Christ and my mind renewed and transformed by his word and the inner workings of his Spirit.

Our young children do not need to experience and experiment with what is right and wrong, good and evil in order to know how to conduct themselves in life. If they are steeped in the word of God, all they need to do is obey it and their parents (Eph.6.1; Prov.1.8; Ps.19.8). The word of God stands as a boundary fence around our children. They are safe within it. As children acquire the ability to read, listen to and memorize Scripture, they will know God’s will for their lives. They do not need to experiment with behaviours that are outside the parameters of God’s word (e.g. extramarital sex, drunkenness, and drugs).

Freud, in his failed attempt to replace the concept of original sin and guilt as defined in the gospel with a naturalistic one, has managed to evade and has not solved the dilemma of humanity’s moral accountability to a holy God who can only be known by those who have their sins forgiven and their hearts purified by the blood of the Lamb.