Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1856. When he was three years old his family moved to Vienna, where he entered the University of Vienna in 1873 to study medicine. He lived there until he was expelled by the Nazis, whereupon he moved to London, where he died in 1939.
In his early days as a student in Vienna, Freud studied with the philosopher Franz Brentano, a Roman Catholic ex-priest and a theist, under whose sway Freud engaged in a passing flirtation with philosophical theology, but only to become a “godless medical man and an empiricist” (Gay 1987: 38). This espousal of atheism became a lifetime commitment for the father of psychoanalysis, who told us a year before he died, “Neither in my private life nor in my writings have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever” (Gay 1988: 526). And Peter Gay comments helpfully: “All his life he [Freud] thought that it was not atheism that needed explaining [i.e. justification] but religious belief” (ibid.: 526).
On the opening page of his 1925 “Autobiographical Study”, Freud spoke in a sociocultural but not a religious vein when he declared: “My parents were Jews, and I have remained a Jew myself” (SE 1925, 20.7), rather than having converted opportunistically to Christianity. And he elaborated: “What bound me to Jewry was (I am ashamed to admit) neither faith nor national pride, for I have always been an unbeliever and was brought up without any religion though not without respect for what are called the ‘ethical’ standards of human civilization” (SE 1926, 20.273).