The secularization of salvation and the role of Wilhelm Reich (Tamera 2)

This is excerpted from a book originally published 30 years ago, by Dieter Duhm, initiator of the Tamera community in Portugal.

This piece reviews the 3 main traditions of human emancipation, religion, marxism and psycho-analysis, ending with the role of Wilhelm Reich. As I lived in a Reichian community in my early twenties, it has been formative in my own evolution as well.

Dieter Duhm:

“The emergence of a new culture contains in some sense a theme of political theology. A political or rather a societal concept needs to be developed that, in its depth and existential meaning for the individual, is equivalent to the religious ideas of the past. What were once steps towards inner individual transformation are now steps towards a metamorphosis of the social fabric in which we live. In this social fabric – in our work, our social institutions, and our human relations – we must one day be able to occupy and truly know ourselves to such an extent that we need no other comfort and no other home outside it.

At some point in the development of man, the human mind deemed it necessary to go against the body and its sensual needs. Cultural development thereby took a path that led the human away from the entire organism of nature, to which he wholly belongs. Since then, history has resembled a dance around an unknown centre.


Religions have tried to uphold a vision of a better afterlife to compensate for earthly misery. Salvation lay in freeing the soul already here on Earth as much as possible from the physical world, for it was identical with sin, a prison, or maya. The goal was thus to conquer the body, to conquer sensuality, and to conquer earthly misery through mental-spiritual exercise. We find this fundamental idea in all the religious leaders of the past, from Buddha to Aurobindo, Plato to Rudolf Steiner, and from St. Paul to Pope John II. The idea was by no means a false one. Since the soul is truly an independent entity that can actually free itself from the body (as has been done, for example, by old cults of initiation, in religious ecstasy, in LSDexperiments, in peak experiences or in near-death situations), this healing concept was realistic. But it led the healing interest away from everyday life on Earth and away from earthly human longing. The atrocities on Earth continued unabated.


Next to the religious impulse towards liberation, we find the political one, a much later phenomenon that is still today in its early stages. It has so far found its most unequivocal philosophical formulation in Marxism. Marx’s epoch-making idea was to annul (and redeem) religious ideas of liberation through political practice (the class struggle). Salvation was no longer to be erected in heaven, but in the most materialistic point in the physical world: in material production. “The criticism of religion” said Marx, “ends with the teaching that man is the highest being for mankind, that is, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which the human is a degraded, enslaved, abandoned, and contemptible being.”

By creating a new order for human labour without class domination and alienation man was expected to find his centre and home in his everyday social practice. This mutational leap in the history of ideas was the most revolutionary feat so far achieved by the human Prometheus. It acts as a signpost from which there is no road back. But Marxism was not yet capable of thinking and formulating its idea of political selfliberation at a deep enough level. Its political-economic theories did not truly offer a full equivalent to the religious ideas of salvation: the human had not yet been fathomed deeply enough, his alienation and ultimate longing not yet understood deeply enough.


The next fundamental impulse towards a secularisation of salvation, as profound and as worldly as the Marxist approach but arising from an entirely different point, came through psychoanalysis (we leave Nietzsche aside, who is not so easy to fit in here, and whose work had almost no social impact, because a discreet understanding of his “heroic philosophy” will probably be grasped by later generations). Owing to its authentic humane motive, psychoanalysis was first of all an act of honesty. The puritan Sigmund Freud recognised in himself the overkill of sexual impulses present in the hypocritical culture of the Victorian era. He immediately saw the cultural universality of this situation. He noticed that here, in the libidinous realm, matters of happiness and misery were determined in an area that lay entirely outside official consciousness. He thereby pulled the question of salvation from the afterlife into the “basest” aspects of life on Earth, namely into the domain of sexuality. But, as with Marx’s work, sexuality turned out to be in a condition of utmost misery and perversion, as it had for so long led a repressed, insulted, exploited, and hypocritical existence. Freud recognised that the moralistic sexual barriers and sexual structure of the family led adults to live in deep captivity of the soul in a world of subconscious drives and fears, constructed from projections, fixations, and unfulfilled fantasies. He knew that this psychic underground would have to be redressed, if man ever wanted to be free.

Freud’s discoveries could have contained the seeds for a prodigious cultural revolution, had he not stopped it himself through his faint-hearted theory of culture and sublimation. In the struggle between needs and society, he finally came down on the side of society, presumably to save his societal position. We are entitled to view that as a barrier of his time and to pursue those unfinished truths beyond this barrier.

IV. Wilhelm Reich

The next great pioneer who drew back the veil still further was Freud’s successor, Wilhelm Reich. An unusual path of discovery led Reich to realise the identity of sexual energy and universal life energy. In the sexual orgasm he found the prototype and the key to an understanding of fundamental biological functions in all body tissue. In processes such as pulsation, peristalsis, tension and release, charge and discharge, and contraction and expansion, he saw the fundamental activity and functions of life energy itself. These modes of functioning are of a universal nature, that is, they are a part of the universal order of life. But in our culture’s human they are considerably disturbed through inner blocks and congestion, obstructions caused by society and morality. Reich termed this “body armour”. This discovery of a universal order of life in the dynamic realm of drives and urges made way for a new vision of liberation.

It consisted of a conscious reunion of the human with his most elementary functions of life. The possibility of salvation that Reich found here he called simply health. If the fundamental biological functions can flow freely then the organism, including its aspects of soul and spirit, is connected with the universal order of life and is healthy at its core. But if they are blocked and disturbed, then the organism is disconnected from the universal order of life and is sick at its core. Correspondingly, a society in which the biological currents of energy can flow freely is healthy at its core; a society where they are blocked is sick.

To base healing on the free flow of life energies in the human organism – would that be too one-sided, too narrow, too “biological” a concept? Perhaps. But let us never forget that “biological” does not refer only to what the mechanistic view of nature in the materialistic era has limited it to. In the unsolvable context of Bios and Psyche, life energies are also always of a soul and spiritual nature. Correspondingly, the mode of experiencing the world that spontaneously arises in a fearless and freely flowing organism is of a specific soul and spiritual nature. The world becomes alive. The landscape that I see is no longer purely an image, it is part of creation. One realises that being alive means taking part in creation. It is like an elementary encounter with the world. It leads to new and more intense perceptions, of sight, touch, taste, and smell, a new way of walking and of putting one’s foot on the ground. One suddenly understands animals, their elasticity and calm, their way of pointing their ears, and the power in their readiness to leap.

The organism becomes impressively strong, light, and transparent, almost musical. In this experience and mode of being there is an element of animal vitality, of soft power, and also an element of intensity and celebration that points towards a new sensual and vital kind of sacred perception. It is the religiosity of universal love that now flows by itself from its biological sources. Reich’s descriptions show that he knew this state. To him it was simply the autonomous functioning of life in the unarmoured human.

Reich’s advances into the realm of life were a pioneering feat that cannot be overlooked if we today want to lay a realistic foundation for a new culture. Marx’s great political thought, to cast off all conditions through which the human is demeaned, could now be thought through radically to its conclusion. All conditions means the working conditions and the psychicenergetic-biological conditions in emotional and sexual human relations. A remodelling is needed both in the organisation our working life and in the organisation of our love life!

The entire libidinous and intimate emotional texture of human society must be able to develop anew without restriction and prohibition, without fear and compulsion towards emotional lying. The ecological movement was the first political group to make life itself and the protection of life its main political theme. In this context Reich’s thoughts need to be updated.

Today it is not possible to realise an ecological humanism without taking into consideration bio-energetic and sexual-psychological interrelations.”

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