Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day, Atheists

Last night at my parish church, I had the pleasure of presenting the first of a series of 12 classes on apologetics - the defense of the Catholic Faith using Sacred Scripture, reason and historical fact. We had a good turnout (about 40 folks) and there was plenty of enthusiasm to go around. For a variety of reasons, attendance typically goes down after the first couple of nights on these courses, but I'm looking forward to a good series which I pray will result in fruitful blessings for those involved.

Anyway, the main topic for the class last night was "The Existence of God." We covered a wide range of proofs and arguments, but one of the questions that came up was how atheists become atheists. I recalled a book I read not long ago called "Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism." Here is the link and their product description:

Starting with Freud's "projection theory" of religion-that belief in God is merely a product of man's desire for security-Professor Vitz argues that psychoanalysis actually provides a more satisfying explanation for atheism. Disappointment in one's earthly father, whether through death, absence, or mistreatment, frequently leads to a rejection of God. A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries shows that this "defective father hypothesis" provides a consistent explanation of the "intense atheism" of these thinkers. A survey of the leading intellectual defenders of Christianity over the same period confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers. Professor Vitz concludes with an intriguing comparison of male and female atheists and a consideration of other psychological factors that can contribute to atheism.

Professor Vitz does not argue that atheism is psychologically determined. Each man, whatever his experiences, ultimately chooses to accept God or reject him. Yet the cavalier attribution of religious faith to irrational, psychological needs is so prevalent that an exposition of the psychological factors predisposing one to atheism is necessary.

There is also a free downloadable mp3 talk by Professor Vitz on this topic found here:

Professor Vitz examines the lives of several notorious atheists --Voltaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, Betrand Russell, etc -- as well as what he calls "political atheists" ---like Hitler, Marx, and Stalin --and points to the common denominator of a dysfunctional or deficient image of fatherhood in particular and manhood in general in their formative years. Especially interesting was the account of atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair (the one who successfully sued to take prayer out of public schools) who once publicly tried to kill her own father with a butcher knife and screamed at him "I'll live to dance on your grave!"

As a corrollary to this, I think there is good evidence that, even among believers, one's image of God as a fatherly image is greatly affected by how one percieves (or perceived) their earthly father. If one had an abusive or distant father, it is hard to relate to God as caring and loving. If one's father was there but not involved, it makes it that much harder to grow closer to God, our Father in heaven. This can be overcome, of course, by prayer and by growing in knowledge and trust of God over time, but it is still something a lot of folks have to overcome.

Bottom line: If you are a father or serve as a fatherly role model in some capacity, do not under-value or under-estimate your presence and example in your child's or other young person's developing image of God. Happy Father's Day!

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