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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Faith of the Fatherless

It's Father's Day again and a hearty Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. I think we can all agree that fathers have a very powerful effect on the upbringing of children. As my pastor noted this morning, imagine if you walked outside and you saw a giant man, 20 feet tall that can pick up up with one hand. You would be in awe of such a person. Dads are like giants in that way to their young children, so the sway that they have over them during their formative years is considerable.

In the book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, author, psychology professor and former atheist Paul Vitz researches the influence of the father figure upon the most influential atheists of the past several centuries. The results are quite interesting...

"When one looks at famous atheists and their families, a grim picture emerges. Vitz looks at what he calls the “dead father” syndrome. Friedrich “God is Dead” Nietzsche, for example, lost his father at a very young age. Sadly, so too did many evangelical atheists. David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre (above), Albert Camus and Arthur Schopenhaeur could be added to that list. The biographical evidence is frightening. Is this just a mere coincidence?

Obviously, there were prominent atheist thinkers who didn’t loose their fathers at an early age. Thomas Hobbs, Jean Meslier, Voltaire, Jean d’Alembert, Baron d’Holbach, Ludwig Feuerbach, Samuel Butler, Sigmund Freud and H.G. Wells all spring to the author’s mind. Still, when one takes a closer look at the biographical evidence, as Vitz does, we find more disturbing patterns. All of these renowned secularists came from homes with weak or abusive fathers. Again, is this just purely coincidental?

As the reader ploughs through the defective father hypothesis, one wonders how famous Jewish and Christian intellectuals were raised. Do they have any family secrets? Surprise, surprise: we find that 21 of the prominent theistic thinkers came from relatively healthy backgrounds! Blaise Pascal, for instance, was home-schooled by a dedicated father and flourished as an outstanding mathematician and erudite religious writer. Similarly, Moses Mendelssohn, the renowned Jewish scholar, spoke against materialism and fought successfully against punitive German legal traditions and customs. His father was instrumental in nurturing a strong sense of justice within him. Alexis de Tocqueville, Soren Kierkegarrd, G.K. Chesterton and Abraham Heschel are also recognised for their rich lives and contributions, which stemmed from their father-son relationships."

While checking out some of the reviews out there on the internet for this book, I came across this particular review that sheds light on some of the specifics that Vitz mentions when describing the biographical histories of the atheists that he profiles....

"Vitz warns about over-simplification, and recognises that there are a multitude of factors that explain or determine how we develop. However, the fact that so many atheists have similar background does make for an intriguing hypothesis. And the details Vitz provides are quite revealing. Consider but a few examples.

  • H.G.Wells was contemptuous of both his father and God. He wrote this in his autobiography: “My father was always at cricket, and I think [mum] realized more and more acutely as the years dragged on without material alleviation, that Our Father and Our Lord, on whom to begin with she had perhaps counted unduly, were also away: playing perhaps at their own sort of cricket in some remote quarter of the starry universe”.

  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s father died when he was just 15 months old. Throughout much of his adult life he mentions fathers, and denigrates fatherhood. His philosophy promotes the idea that man can become God, that we are self-made men. More than one biographer has noted his obsession about fathers and his atheism may well tie in to his own absent father.

  • According to her son (who later became a Christian), Madalyn Murray O’Hair intensely hated her father. In his memoirs, he records an ugly fight in which she tried to kill her father with a ten-inch butcher knife. She failed but screamed, “I’ll see you dead. I’ll get you yet. I’ll walk on your grave!” Her son says he does not understand why she so hated her father. "

Might some of the skeptics that peruse these pages please take the time this Father's Day to try to become closer to the Father?He is waiting to hear from you and your experience with him would be like another son who sought out his father after a long period of estrangement..."So he went at once to his father. While he was still at a distance, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son, put his arms around him, and kissed him. Then his son said to him, 'Father, I've sinned against heaven and you. I don't deserve to be called your son anymore.' "The father said to his servants, 'Hurry! Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let's celebrate with a feast. My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost but has been found.' Luke, Chapter 15


Froggie said...

Utter BS.

JD Curtis said...

How so Froggie? Is anything that the author put forward "false"?

ATVLC said...

This idea is too reductionist and based on too small a sample size to comment on seriously but I will try anyway.

Yet, at the end of the day (or one's life) Christians can afford to be wrong. If there isn't a God, then so what? Atheists, on the other hand, can't afford the luxury of making a mistake with potential eternal consequences.

Ah, Pascal's Wager. To quote Homer Simpson, "What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we're just making God madder and madder!"

"In fact, the psychological source of their (atheists) militancy stems from the absence of a loving father in the home."

In fact? Wait, this is fact now?

"Obviously, there were prominent atheist thinkers who didn't loose their fathers at an early age."

It's "lose" not "loose". And I guess it's no longer a fact then...

"Like all theories, however, there are exceptions to the rules."

A few antidotes do not a rule make.

Even if this idea was true and people only believed in gods because of their relationship with their father, it still has no bearing on whether or not these gods exist or not.

blah, blah, blah, Godwin...

Article aside, be good to your parents and your kids everyone!

photogr said...

I would have to think a child being brought up in a disfunctional family might well develop athiest views.I have nothing to base that on except from observations.

However if a child is brought up in a family setting with both parents equaly involved loving, nuturing, proper disciplining, and comunication, this child may have a more religious view and may not accept an athiest view. It all depends on what the parents teach the child in his formative years is what that child carries on into adulthood. Purely speculation on my part.

JD Curtis said...

I don't think that it was the author's intent to generalize that all atheists had dysfunctional or non-existant relationships with their fathers. In the book, 20 of the most influential atheist thinkers and writers are profiled and this is indeed the case for all of them.

It would appear that even Barack Obama is recognizing the importance of fathers upon development ..

"From the first moments of life, the bond forged between a father and a child is sacred." (Emphasis mine)

Tracy said...

I can't speak to if people with an unhealthy father figure are more likely to be atheists. But I can say that although my dad was a decent human being who did the best he knew how, due to his own background, he had some major deficiencies. For the most part he was an exceedingly not-present person. I've seen how that's affected my relationship with God in negative ways. But I've also seen how God, in His mercy and grace has provided ways for me to grow past that.

SmartLX said...

The idea that distant or absent fathers increase the tendency toward atheism is in stark contrast to the Freudian idea that belief in God is a collective neurotic longing for a father figure.

Put the two ideas together and you get something which is probably a good approximation of the truth: that when deprived of fathering, some people become more independent and some go looking for a replacement.

JD Curtis said...

Perhaps Freud isnt the best example to cite being that he is one of the atheists profiled with an absent/dysfunctional father-son relationship.

SmartLX said...

I'm not saying the correlation isn't there, and in fact I'd be very interested to see someone expand the study to include the general public. The question however is why there's any correlation. At the moment, either side can spin this to sound good.