Two of the 20th century’s most influential thinkers go head-to-head in an upcoming program about humanity’s most profound questions.
“The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud With Dr. Armand Nicholi” is a two-part series that will air on PBS Wednesdays, Sept. 15 and 22, from 9 to 11 p.m. ET.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Dr. Armand Nicholi, a psychiatrist and professor at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Harvard Medical School, first developed a course, then a book, and now this series exploring how atheist Freud and Christian Lewis dealt with questions about God, love, pain, death and more.
The series uses portrayals of the two men—Simon Jones as C.S. Lewis and Peter Eyre as Sigmund Freud—quoting from their works. It also uses archival photographs, as well as “home movies” of Freud in old age.
It features interviews with scholars and experts on Freud and Lewis, as well as a filmed panel discussion of Nicholi and seven thoughtful people discussing the key issues Freud and Lewis raise.
Nicholi originally taught a Harvard course about Freud only, but when students expressed a need for a complement to Freud’s “secular” worldview, Nicholi brought Lewis into the fold.
“I wanted someone who had the intellectual credibility of Freud,” Nicholi told EthicsDaily.com on the phone from his home in Concord, Mass. Nicholi had read Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain earlier in his career, and he recalled its power. He thought Lewis provided the needed spiritual counterpoint to Freud.
“Freud raises a question and Lewis attempts to answer it,” Nicholi said. The fit made sense because Lewis was familiar with Freud’s writings. Freud was born in 1856, and Lewis in 1898.
Nicholi said he hopes viewers will pay particularly close attention to “the arguments for the worldview that they do not embrace.”
“I would hope that they would find in the series and especially in reading my book an understanding of the people who do not embrace their worldview, who don’t share their worldview,” he said.
Speaking of Christians, Nicholi said: “If I understand their worldview, the Great Commission is for them to share their worldview with the secular culture. I hope this would help them understand that culture.”
The series may also help reclaim Freud’s humanity from an abyss of sexual punch lines.
“I hope it will provide some understanding of him as a human being,” Nicholi said. “He’s had an enormous impact on our culture.”
Nicholi pointed out that Freud’s work has infiltrated culture to the point of our vocabulary, with phrases like “Freudian slip” and “sibling rivalry” being commonplace.
“There’s no greater impact on a culture than influencing its language,” he said.
The series was underwritten by various foundations, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It was produced by Tatge-Lasseur Productions in association with WGBH and Walden Media.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.