Erich Fromm is born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. As a psychoanalyst in America Erich Fromm will became known for linking human personality types with socioeconomic and political structures. Raised as an Orthodox Jew, he will give up religious observances but always retains a belief that religious teachings contain some basic truths about human nature.
He never shares Freud's ideas that religion is just an illusion and an expression of the human wish for a protecting father-figure. Fromm does, however, adopt some of the American views of Freud about psychotherapy being a good means for releasing human creativity and transforming some of the negative aspects of American life. He will also work on synthesizing the works of both Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx:
"I wanted to understand the laws that govern the life of the individual man, and the laws of society-that is, of men in their social existence. I tried to see the lasting truth in Freud's concepts as against those assumptions which were in need of revision.
I tried to do the same with Marx's theory, and finally I tried to arrive at a synthesis which followed from the understanding and the criticism of both thinkers."
Fromm's work will fit into four general themes: how psychoanalysis can help us understand individual motivations in social and economic circumstances, revisions of Freud's ideas on psychoanalysis, critiques of modern industrial society, and the analysis of religion's impact on human development.
Fromm will not idealize or romanticize religion; he will recognize that religion has many drawbacks and, as a result, he will argue for a differentiation between authoritarian and infantalizing religions and those religions which are humanistic and liberating.
For Fromm, a humanistic religion should be to help us overcome greed, hate, arrogance, and egocentrism. Fromm will write:
"Mental health, in the humanistic sense, is characterized by the ability to love and to create, by the emergence from the incestuous ties to family and nature, by a sense of identity based on one's experience of self as the subject and agent of one's powers, by the grasp of reality inside and outside of ourselves - that is, by the development of objectivity and reason. The aim of life is to live it intensely, to be fully born, to be fully awake.
To emerge from the ideas of infantile grandiosity into the conviction of one's real though limited strength; to be able to accept the paradox that everyone of us is the most important thing there is in the universe - and at the same time no more important than a fly or a blade of grass."