In 1955 Erich Fromm reluctantly published an essay he had written as a student when he was 30 years old. The topic was a psychoanalytic discussion of Christ, inspired by his teacher, Theodor Reik. Whereas Reik made a traditional analysis of an individual Christ, we find here a young Fromm who takes a social-psychoanalysis some five years before his official proposal of the approach as presented in The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy. In The Dogma of Christ Fromm discusses the “function of religion as a substitute for real satisfaction and as a means for social control”.
Understanding ideology and dogma, Fromm examines the life of the individual who develops the ideology, rather than how the ideology influences the individual. In this way, ideology is a product of the socioeconomic conditions within which a person functions. In his 1950 foreword to the first English publication, Fromm writes “the main emphasis of this study is the analysis of the socioeconomic situation of the social groups which accepted and transmitted Christian thinking.” We find in this essay what Fromm calls the “nucleus” of his developed theory of ideology.
The year of the writing of The Dogma of Christ, 1930, found Fromm completing his psychoanalytic training and becoming associated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. This writing was made five years after completing his doctorate, which examined “the function of Jewish law in maintaining social cohesion in three diaspora communities”. Whereas Fromm’s childhood and formative years were steeped in Jewish theology, his sociological interests continued to explore the function of belief and spirituality in the social person.
With his first psychoanalytic writings we find the same theme, only now interpreted through a Freudian lens. But even in this early essay, nine years before Freud’s death, Fromm is beginning to challenge core Freudian assumptions about sexuality and culture. Here we find a Fromm that is somewhat reverent of Freud, but not completely comfortable in Freudian ideology. The text is an overture to the thinking done in the 1935 paper The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy, as well as the later lectures/writings: Psychic Needs and Society (1956), Dealing With the Unconscious in Therapeutic Practice (1959), The Relevance of Psychoanalysis for the future (1975), and Psychoanalysis & Religion (1950).