Thursday, September 03, 2015

Big Stick - The Mark Dantonio Era

This video is the sine qua non of inspiration.

Church-involved Parents Influence Their Children


If you are a Christian parent but don't have time to gather with other Jesus-followers (which means: "church") then you should not expect your children to be Jesus-followers since you're not one yourself. Your children will grow up to be like you. 

"Non-churchgoing follower of Jesus" is a self-contradiction. This is because Jesus came to establish "church" and work through this community of his followers. The person who says "I'm a follower of Jesus but don't go to church" is fundamentally misguided. Every real Jesus-follower is the church. "Church," therefore, is not something you either go to or not.

If you are a Christian parent and follow Jesus (which means you know you are "church" and gather with Jesus' church) then the odds are your children will do the same. This is the conclusion of Notre Dame University's Christian Smith. "Parents are the #1 influence helping teens remain religiously active as adults.

From the above-cited article:

"The holy grail for helping youth remain religiously active as young adults has been at home all along: Parents.
Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s, according to new findings from a landmark study of youth and religion.
Just 1 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.
In contrast, 82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults, according to data from the latest wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion.
The connection is “nearly deterministic,” said University of Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith, lead researcher for the study.
Other factors such as youth ministry or clergy or service projects or religious schools pale in comparison.
“No other conceivable causal influence … comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth,” Smith said in a recent talk sharing the findings at Yale Divinity School. “Parents just dominate.”"

Smith adds: "One of the strongest factors associated with older teens keeping their faith as young adults was having parents who talked about religion and spirituality at home."

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Best Preaching Decision I Ever Made

Monroe County Courthouse
The best preaching decision I ever made was to preach through the biblical texts rather than preach thematically. For example, I preached (along with some associates) through the 4 Gospels chronologically over a period of 7 years. Currently I am in the midst of preaching through the Book of Revelation, which will take 14 months - verse-by-verse, holding tight to the context and the big picture.

I don't preach thematically, since every theme one could ever want eventually gets addressed in the vast, comprehensive biblical text.

One result is that we have a church growing in biblical literacy. And our people love it.

One of the church's great distinctives is the Bible. The Bible is our text. Therefore I will preach it. 

Emphasize distinctives rather than try to be relevant. 

See also:

How I Prepare for a Sermon

Normal Christian Experience Includes a Conversational Relationship with God

Warren Dunes State Park, Lake Michigan

The story of Philip the evangelist provides a good example of how evangelism happened through the early church (Acts 21:8; ch. 6; ch. 8; Philip was one of "the 7," to be distinguished from Philip of "the 12" [Acts 1:13].) It happened the "Jesus way." Which was:

  1. Hear from God.
  2. Obey.
That's how Jesus did it. Peter did it that way, too. So did Philip the evangelist. By logical extension, so should we. Which means: no "evangelism program" is needed. No method or technique needed either. Just stay "in the Vine." Stay in relationship. Get your directions from God.

In one of our Sunday morning worship times I asked people to share an example of hearing directionally from God without knowing what the outcome would be. A number of testimonies were shared that went like this:
  1. God told me to go ___________.
  2. I went ___________. (Call this "obedience.")
  3. God showed up. And it was a good, God-thing.
I hear from God regularly. Many of our people regularly hear from God. And, all of us can hear from God.

To acknowledge this seems almost like bragging on one hand, or like mental illness on the other hand. But I don't think it's either of those. It is, and ought to be, the normal Christian life. Hearing from God is, experientially, "Emmanuel - God with us." It is relationship with God; friendship with God.

While in Western culture this idea is strange, remember that concepts like "strange" and "normal" are functions of one's prethematic, mostly-non-reflected-on worldview. "Normal" Christian experience includes having a conversational relationship with God. This is called "prayer."

If you're looking for more on this I strongly recommend U. of Southern Caifornia Prof. of Philosophy Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

I have already heard from God this morning. 

God has much that he wants to say to you today. 

Let the conversation begin.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Longing for Transcendence (The Presence-Driven Church)

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI

Looks like Linda and I will be traveling to Trinidad and Tobago in October. I'll lead a conference for African Methodist Episcopal pastors. I'll be sharing my materials on spiritual formation, abiding in Christ, and "Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm doing some prepping for the event and reviewing some material, including James MacDonald's excellent book Vertical Church, and Alvin Plantinga's sumptuous spiritual and intellectual feast Knowledge and Christian Belief. 

I'm with MacDonald on much of what he says here. I am part of a Presence-Driven church. Not all churches are this way. MacDonald writes:

“Church leaders raised on rationalism lead ministries where the supernatural, the Vertical, is suppressed and where God Himself is at best an observer and certainly seldom, if ever, an obvious participant in church.” (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be., Kindle Locations 533-535)

A pastor who suppresses God? Been there, done that, myself. It is the worst place to be, pastorally. Remember that Jesus shut down the Temple because the religious temple leaders "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13)

This whole thing called "church" is really about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Not just theoretically, but experientially. What people need is Emmanuel, God with us, existentially. 

The movement of God's Spirit is a felt, discernible thing. Pastors must nurture and cultivate God's presence. We must be very, very open to it. 

The Horizontal Church is the godless church; Vertical Church is the Presence-Driven Church. It's all about "entering in." The word is Christ in you, not as some epistemically distant object.

John Calvin, who is often inaccurately portrayed as being spiritually cold and aloof (don't mistake Calvinists for Calvin himself), had as his emblem a flaming heart with an outstretched hand. On it was the motto: Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine ("I give my flaming heart to you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.") Calvin had these words carved over the pulpit in Geneva where he preached. Alvin Plantinga writes:

Of the Holy Spirit, [Calvin] says that “persistently boiling away and burning up our vicious and inordinate desires, he enflames our hearts with the love of God and with zealous devotion.” The Institutes are throughout aimed at the practice of the Christian life (which essentially involves the affections), not at theological theory; the latter enters only in the service of the former. (Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief, p. 72)

Jonathan Edwards wrote:

"There is a distinction to be made between a mere notional understanding, wherein the mind only beholds things in the exercise of a speculative faculty; and the sense of the heart, wherein the mind doesn’t only speculate and behold, but relishes and feels. That sort of knowledge, by which a man has a sensible perception of amiableness and loathsomeness, or of sweetness and nauseousness, is not just the same sort of knowledge with that, by which he knows what a triangle is, and what a square is. The one is mere speculative knowledge; the other sensible knowledge, in which more than the mere intellect is concerned; the heart is the proper subject of it, or the soul as a being that not only beholds, but has inclination, and is pleased or displeased." (Quoted in Ib., p. 73.)

There is a great longing in the human heart for something more. For something beyond us, that will complete us. We see this in the Psalms.

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 84:1

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; 
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you. 
Psalm 63: 1 

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; 
that I . . . behold the beauty of the Lord. 
Psalm 27: 4

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
Ps. 42: 1-2

I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. 
Ps. 119: 131

Plantinga writes:

"This love for God isn’t like, say, an inclination to spend the afternoon organizing your stamp collection. It is longing, filled with desire and yearning; and it is physical as well as spiritual: “my body longs for you, my soul pants for you.” Although eros is broader than sexual love, it is analogous to the latter. There is a powerful desire for union with God, the oneness Christ refers to in John 17." (Ib., 75)

In The Weight of Glory C.S. Lewis wrote:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 8)

Presence-Driven leaders understand this and cultivate this, in themselves and in their people. Presence-Driven leaders have met Emmanuel, and introduce others to him. 

Knowing about God is not enough; knowing God is.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Praying and Miracles

Monroe County

A friend from Brazil asked me - "Do you remember the first miracle you saw and what was it like?" I do. It was like this.

I was five years old. My mother came in my bedroom and told me that our pet canary had died. The birdcage was in another room. I went, followed by my mother, and saw the canary. It was on its back lying on the floor of the cage. It was not moving. I was crying.

I went to my bedroom and was sobbing and praying "God, please make my canary live!" I can't remember how long I was doing this. My mother came into my room and said, "John, come with me and look!" I followed her to the room where our dead canary lay. I was afraid to go and have to see it again. We went into the room and there was the canary, sitting on its swing, like nothing had happened.

I went back to my room, happy, and after a few minutes it was like this sad incident never happened.

Here's what I know.

1. My mother and I saw the canary on the cage floor, on its back, legs pointed skyward, not moving. We were eyewitnesses of this.
2. I prayed, asking God to bring my canary back.
3. Minutes later we saw the canary alive and sitting on its swing. (More eyewitness testimony.)

Was the canary really dead? I can't prove this. We didn't check its heartbeat. Did it die and come back to life? That's what mother and I thought. Again, I cannot prove this. But what I do know is that 1-3 above are true.  

I also know one more thing. I came out of that day believing God can raise the dead, and that where my praying focuses God's power falls. 


Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of New Testament Accounts

Eric Metaxas, Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Love, Power, Knowledge, and Post-Christianity: How to Turn Things Around

Redeemer sanctuary before Darren Wilson premiered "Holy Ghost Reborn" tonight.

Any who do not have their head in the sand can see that secularism is growing and more U.S. Christians are not showing up on Sunday mornings. See, e.g., "Secularism Grows as More U.S. Christians Turn "Churchless."" Greg Kinnaman of the Barna Group says that "nones," the unchurched, and skeptics number 38% of the population. By Kinnaman's count, "roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”"

Kinnaman says:
“We are far from becoming an atheist nation. There are tens of millions of active believers in America today. But the wall between the churched and the churchless is growing higher and more impenetrable as more people have no muscle memory of what it means to be a regular attender at a house of worship.”

That feels correct to me. I've seen this trend in my past 15 years of teaching hundreds of college students in my philosophy classes. How can it be turned around? I suggest by revisiting and returning to the Christian corporate distinctives of love, power, and knowledge.


Followers of Jesus must get radical and return to: 1) loving God, and 2) loving one another. I've met too many "ex-Christians" who left the church because of what they experienced in the church. We must get back to the root of our faith, which is God's love, expressed within the community of God's people (AKA "church"), and then love towards those who don't know Jesus. 

Begin with community re-studying and re-meditating on the book of 1 John, which essentially is about abiding in Christ and having hearts of love within the community. Note that the word "love" (agape) is used 27 times in 1 John 4 alone. 

It's time to rediscover and reclaim our true identity as deeply loved children of God. I John resolves our individual and corporate identity crises. This happens as we return to the John-thing of abiding in Christ (John chapters 14-15-16) and a life of praying, out of which relevant and authentic doing emerges.

We must not lose sight of the cultural fact that skepticism and atheism provides a weak life-narrative. Most of what I see in the skeptical community is a thin bond of what we are against (a-theism), not what we are for. I see the lack of community in secularism as being intrinsic to secularism. Community (koinonia) is our thing, and we must cultivate it.

Remember that this crazy big thing called "love" comes from us, from Christianity, and not the other world religions and definitely not from secular culture. Sheer atheistic materialism has no metaphysical place for "love"; the atheist's love-impulse is religious, whether they know it or not. As Jesus's followers we must own this and wear this and abide in this and understand that "love" is the DNA seed that God that has planted in our hearts (1 John 3:9).


When the apostle Paul talked about wanting to "know" the power of Christ's resurrection, he was using "know" in the Hebrew sense of an experienced reality. The early church knew, and therefore believed, that there was a power from God that was not only available for the emerging church but was foundational to its growth.

Demonstrated power, done in love and not showmanship, marks the true "seeker church." The sick person needs more than coffee and donuts and a band on a stage. Recently at one of our Sunday morning worship events a young man who was visiting told me, "I've been trying other churches. Another pastor told me to try your church. I am here this morning because I am hoping to find God. If I don't find God soon I am going to be in deep trouble." 

I suggest that this is far from an isolated instance. People need the inner healing which secularism cannot provide. Where can today's growing number of young heroin addicts turn but to God, since our medical resources, as commendable as they are, lack an answer to the beast-addiction of heroin? The church must reacquaint itself with God's available resurrection power, administered in love. This is our arena, our distinctive. We must not let secular metaphysical naturalism overwhelm us in this area.  

On Sunday mornings and throughout the week our people are praying with other people expecting to see God's transforming and healing power operative. God's power, exercised in love, is its own apologetic. 


My experience with young people who rarely gather with the church but self-identity as Christians is that they are Jesus-illiterate. We must teach our young people and children about Jesus. We must teach them that they are the church. Be creative in teaching - yes! But forget trying to water it down or make Jesus culturally palatable. To reduce the biblical Jesus to a "safer Jesus" only fuels post-Christianity. 

In my college logic classes I teach "critical thinking." The text I use states that knowledge is empowering. Thinking for yourself is good. Being able to formulate and evaluate your beliefs and the beliefs of others strengthens you. Secular institutions of learning focus on this. But note: there's a lot of literature out there pointing out the failure of high schools and universities to empower students with critical thinking skills. This syncs with my teaching experience. Most students do not because they cannot think for themselves. (See, e.g., Robert Arum, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.)

This means that a lot of the current skepticism and atheism and irreligion and the "nones" exists, not as a result of being examined and thought-out, but because it is trendy. Most of the "atheists" in my classes are sheep without a shepherd. It's not that they are cognitively incapable. They just have not been taught to think otherwise for themselves.

I predict that there will be an eventual cognitive backlash to post-religiosity. The religious and metaphysical impulse is never going to go away. We must remember that, as wonderful as science is, it cannot say anything about value (good, bad, right, wrong, beauty, truth, etc.). This is our turf. The church must teach it, go for it, and build disciples who know why they believe what they believe.

A final note: we must discover the church's distinctives and nurture them. Forget, to a large degree, trying to be relevant to culture. This will not entail isolationism, with the church hiding behind its walls, trying to protect itself from culture. Instead, it will be the church as it was always intended to be; viz., a culture-influencing movement of people call out to follow Jesus.

As Yale University's Miroslav Volf writes:

"Reconstructions of the Christian faith guided by the strategy of accommodation carry in themselves the seeds of possible Christian self-destruction. After they have accommodated, for the most part what remains for Christian communities to do is to appear after a non-Christian show and repeat the performance in their own way for an audience with Christian scruples. The voice of the Christian communities has become a mere echo of a voice that is not their own... (Ib., 85)

... Alas, in leaning over to speak to the modern world, we had fallen in. We had lost the theological resources to resist, lost the resources even to see that there was something worth resisting...  

... Christian communities will be able to survive and thrive in contemporary societies only if they attend to their “difference” from surrounding cultures and subcultures. The following principle stands: whoever wants the Christian communities to exist must want their difference from the surrounding culture, not their blending into it. As a consequence, Christian communities must “manage” their identity by actively engaging in “boundary maintenance.” Without boundaries, communities dissolve." (Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith, pp. 85, 81)

Friday, August 28, 2015

This Weekend and Beyond at Redeemer

Here's what's happening at Redeemer.

Saturday evening, August 29 - Darren Wilson will be with us and premiere his new movie "Holy Ghost Reborn." 7 PM. Tickets are $5, available either online or at the door.
Holy Ghost Reborn

Sunday morning, August 30, 10:30. 
I'll preach out of Revelation 11:1-14. 
Plus Hannah Ford will be with us. 

Sunday night, August 30 - Hannah Ford in concert at Trinity Lutheran Church in Monroe, 323 Scott Street, 6:30 PM.

Hannah Ford Flyer PROOF2

Full Life in Christ 
Begins Monday night, Sept. 14. 
This is our church's basic, foundational disciple-making program. 
Call our office for more details - 734-242-5277.

    Class begins Sept. 17 and meets Thursday evenings, 7-9 PM. Last class Thursday, Nov. 19.
    Taught by Holly Benner
    Class begins Sept. 20 and meets Sunday mornings, 9:00 - 10:15 AM.  Last class Sunday, Nov. 22.
    Taught by Jim Collins 
    Class begins Sept. 20 and meets Sunday evenings, 6:00 - 7:30 PM.  Last class Sunday evening, Nov. 22.
    Taught by John Piippo

Redeemer Youth Ministries
Meets Thursdays, 7-8:30 PM.

Our Youth Leader is Trevor Robinson.

Meets Wednesday nights, 7 pm.

Led by Jerry Seibert and his team.

PLUS...  We are in process of building a 5500-square foot addition for our Children's Ministries!


Our 2016 HSRM Annual Summer Conference will have...

Bob Hazlett

Robby Dawkins

And you!

Paul Vitz & the Psychology of Atheism

The Fall semester at Monroe County Community College has begun. I'm kicking in to philosophy mode once again. Last night I taught the first two of my three classes - a Philosophy of Religion class, and Intro to Logic (I'm teaching two Intro to Logic classes this semester).

I really liked, on first impression, the students in my classes last night. There was a lot of very lively discussion as I introduced the Ontological Argument for God's Existence, and gave an introduction and overview of Logic (to include refuting the subjectivist fallacy). 

A lot of students seem interested and want to talk. So, the discussion has begun! Which is why I'm posting this. When a student asks me a question I often re-post something I've already written about this.

Here I've put together 5 things I've written on the psychology of atheism, taken from NYU's Prof. of Psychology Paul Vitz.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part I

I just read "The Psychology of Atheism," by Paul Vitz, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at New York University. (In Dallas Willard, ed.; A Place for Truth) Vitz talks about the psychological reasons for unbelief. "Most psychologists view with some alarm an attempt to propose a psychology of atheism. At the very least, such a project puts many psychologists on the defensive and gives them at least a small taste of their own medicine. Psychologists are always observing and interpreting others, and it is time that some of them learn from their own experience what it is like to be put under the microscope of psychology theory and evidence." (136)

Vitz begins by giving two points that bear on his basic assumptions. First, Vitz assumes "that the major barriers to God are not rational but in a general sense can be called psychological... I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument, there are countless others more affected by nonrational, psychological factors. The human heart: no one can truly fathom it or know all of its deceits, but at least it is the proper task of the psychologist to try." (Ib.) Psychological barriers to belief in God are both many and "of great importance." (Ib.) Further, "people vary greatly in the extent to which these factors have been present in their lives." (137)

Secondly, "in spite of serious psychological barriers to belief, all of us have a free choice to accept or reject God." (Ib.)

Vitz believes there is "a widespread assumption throughout much of the intellectual community that belief in God is based on all kids of irrational, immature needs and wishes, but that somehow or other skepticism or atheism is derived from a rational, non-nonsense appraisal of the way things really are." (137-138) He then gives his own story of how he became an atheist as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the 1950s. One of the major factors for this was "general socialization," though Vitz was unaware of it at the time. He was embarrassed about his upbringing in Cincinnati and "wanted to take part and be comfortable in the new, exciting, glamorous, secular world into which I was moving at that time at the University of Michgian as an undergraduate." (139) Such "socialization pressure" has pushed many people away from God-belief "and all that this belief is associated with for them." (Ib.)

Another kind of socialization matter for Vitz's atheistic turn was that he desired to "be accepted by powerful and influential psychologists in my field. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by the powerful and influential psychologists in my field." (139)

A final, superficial-but-very-strong-irrational-pressure to become an atheist, was "personal convenience." (139) Simply put, it is inconvenient "to be a serious believer in today's powerful neo-pagan world." Which meant, for Vitz, the world of academia. "It's not hard to imagine the pleasuresthat would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer." (140) And the time it would require.

For Vitz, his "decision" to become an atheist was more a matter of his will than his intellect. Because of his "personal needs for a convenient lifestyle," and his "professional needs to be accepted as part of academic psychology," "atheism was simply the best policy." (141) But there are deeper psychological reasons for atheism, to which Vitz then turns.

Vitz has sympathy with atheists who have deeper psychological reasons for being an atheist. They are often the most passionate of atheists, and not just casual, internet atheists. Vitz begins by talking about Sigmund Freud's psychology of religious belief, because Vitz is going to use Freud in forming a psychology of atheism.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part II

Our front porch - a great place
for theological thinking.
Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth) And why not? Lots of psychological work has been done on religious belief and behavior, and lots of internet ad hominem "analysis" goes on by the village atheists among us. So why not a psychology of atheism, subjecting it to analysis? Atheists are no more immune or psychological "neutral" than are theists. Indeed, for most of the confessing atheists I have met I have concluded that their nonbelief is far more related to, e.g., emotional and psychological issues than being a result of "objective, rational thought." This is not a criticism of atheism as such. Theists suffer this, too. It is, however, a criticism of the myth of epistemic neutrality and objectivity. And this also cuts both ways, affecting theists who claim a neutral, fully objective and "rational" view of things.

Perhaps the most famous, and infamous, psychology of religion is Freud's The Future of an Illusion. It is to Freud that Vitz now turns.

"Freud was the first prominent psychologist to propose that people's belief in God could not be trusted because of its origins. In other words, what Freud did was take the ad hominem argument and make it a very popular and influential one." (141) Uh-oh. Ad hominem arguments, in logic, are a no-no, an epistemic non-event.

Freud argued that we can't trust the source of religious beliefs. Religion is neither true nor false, but "is a psychological illusion that arose from our primitive needs for protection. Our basic, infantile, unconscious needs for a father who would look after us, and therefore an illusion." (142) Because of this we cannot accept the truth value of theism.

But this is not convincing. Freud thought that all the contributions of civilization, including science and literature and even psychoanalysis, could be understood as due to infantile, unconscious needs. "So," Vitz says, "if the origins of a belief make us no longer accept its truth value, then according to Fried, we shouldn't accept the truth value of all the other accomplishments of civilization that he said arose from the same kind of motivation." (142)

Further, Freud claimed that among the oldest psychological needs of the human race is the need for a loving, all-powerful father. But that is unconvincing, because if it were true than most or all religions would project the idea of "God" as a loving, protecting, all-powerful "father." But this is not the case. "Many religions don't have that understanding of God at all, particularly many of the pre-Christian or pre-Jewish religions in the Mediterranean area. Some major religions either have no God or their understanding of God is quite different."

Vitz thinks Freud's assumption of a universal, human need of this type is unconvincing. Because were it true, then we'd find "the same kind of religion everywhere we looked." (142)

Next: Vitz looks at the Feuerbachian roots of Freud's atheism.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part III

NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth)

See my two previous posts on this here and here.

Vitz looks at the atheism of the psychologist Freud. Freud's atheism comes from what has been called the "projection theory" of German philosopher-theologian Ludwig Feuerbach. Vitz writes: "When Freud was writing his Future of an Illusion in the 1920s, he was updating Feuerbach." (142)

Freud's atheism is not itself part of his psychoanalysis. Vitz writes: "The thing to keep in mind is this: Freud had very little experience, maybe none at all, with the psychological study of people who believed in God. (143) Freud published no case histories of people who believed in God at the time of their psychoanalysis. "So Freud was really not an expert on the unconscious psychology of people who believed in God." (Ib.) Freud, therefore, did not give us a good theory of religious belief since his idas are not psychoanalytically rooted and are not at all based on much personal experience with God-believers. Freud merely warmed up Feuerbach's projection theory. This is not good scholarship.

Feuerbach's theory is found in his The Essence of Christianity. Feuerbach wrote:
  • What man misses - whether this be an articulate and therefore conscious, or an unconscious, need - that is his God. 
  • Man projects his nature into the world outside himself before he finds it in himself.
  • To live in projected dream-images is the essence of religion. Religion sacrifices reality to the projected dream. . .
Elsewhere Vitz explains: "What Freud did with this argument was to revive it in a more eloquent form, and publish it at a later time when the audience desiring to hear such a theory was much larger. And, of course, somehow the findings and theory of psychoanalysis were implied as giving the theory strong support."

"Strangely enough, however, Freud has inadvertently given us a basic theory for understanding why people would not believe in God, why people would be atheists!" (In Willard, op. cit., 143) The projection theory cuts both ways. To understand this Vitz looks at the one idea Freud is famous for, and which is central to his theory: the "Oedipus Complex."

Next Psychology of Atheism post: Freud's Oedipus Complex & atheism as an example of Oedipal wish fulfillment.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part IV

NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth)

Atheists have a psyche. Let's look into it! (At least theists can affirm that atheists have psyches. On atheism-as-philosophical naturalism nobody has a "psyche." Hence there can be no "psychology" of anything. Neurobiological explanations may be used, which have their own philosophical problems.)

The "Oedipus complex" was central to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, even as he applied it to religious belief. Vitz writes: "The interesting thing about the Oedipus complx is that Freud said it's universal. There's no reason to believe this, but Freud argued that it is universal, that it is unconscious, and in the case of the male child, the unconscious desire is to reject or remove and kill his father and to have some kind of erotic possession of the mother." (143)

Say "whew"... and thank God that this is not common (says Vitz, who doesn't find this kind of thing in his own counseling work)!

But what does this have to do with God? Freud took his Oedipus theory and said people link their own fathers with God. God, said Freud, is a "father figure and our attitude toward God and our father are very similar." (144)

Freud thought this explained God-belief. Vitz says it is not universal, as Freud thought. But, ironically, if Freud's eccentric Oedipus theory explains anything, it explains atheism. Vitz says:

"Since Freud proposed that God is a father figure, this suggests that we should all have an unconscious desire to kill God, to be independent of God, to have the world the way we want it. In a sense, what he's saying is that an atheist has an unresolved Oedipus complex because normally the father is too big to kill and the child can't get away with it. And so, instead of killing his father, the child identifies with the aggressor, his father, and represses these aggressive and sexual desires, which then remain unconscious." (144)

Freud thinks all of us have a desire to kill God. Vitz thinks Freud is on to something here. Vitz: "I would propose that atheism is an example of Oedipal wish fulfillment. That is, it's an unresolved Oedipus complex in the person." OK. But Vitz does not think "Oedipal wish fulfillment" is anywhere near "universal." So Vitz thinks we need to go deeper. This brings us to the "theory of the defective father."

I'll explain this in my next post. For now I cannot begin to tell you how many atheists I have met who seem to me to especially be reacting to their fathers.

The Psychology of Atheism: Part V

NYU psychologist Paul Vitz, in his presentation "The Psychology of Atheism," looks at deeper psychological reasons for atheism. (In Willard, A Place for Truth)

See my four previous posts on this hereherehere, and here.

Freud said:

"Psychoanalysis, which has taught us the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God, has shown us that the personal God is logically nothing but an exalted father and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of their father has broken down." (144)

Vitz calls this "the theory of the defective father." The claim here is that "once a child is disappointed in
and loses his or her respect for the earthly father, then belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible." Fathers can and do lose their authority and disappoint their children. This is what happened to Freud himself.

Freud's father, Jacob, was a great disappointment, even worse. His father was weak, unable to support his own family, and a wimp in his non-response to anti-Semitism. One time an anti-Semite called Jacob a "dirty Jew" and knocked his hat off. Jacob refused to respond, and young Sigmund was disgusted when he heard about this. Vitz catalogues other reasons for Freud's antipathy towards his father.

Vitz cites other famous atheists who had "defective fathers, to include Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Madeleine Murray O'Hare. O'Hare's own son has written, e.g., about the hatred her mother had for his grandmother. Once she tried to kill her dad with a ten-inch butcher knife!

Vitz writes quite a bit about the atheist psychologist Albert Ellis, who may have been in denial of his hatred towards his father. And then there's orphaned child Baron d'Holbach, Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche (whose "life fits the theory about as well as any"), Jean Paul Satre, and Albert Camus. And Gene Roddenberry ("Star Trek") and Russell Baker and...  on and on...

Vitz adds, "for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who rejected, denied, hated, manipulated or physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding." (151)

One more personal point. Whenever I see a father who is a religious "Christian fundamentalist" I am concerned for their children. I met, in my 11 years at Michigan State University, many kids of fundamentalist dads who had rejected "Christianity." They did not know that the so-called "Christianity" of their fathers was not the actual thing, and that the meaning of "fundamentalism" is: 1) no "fun," 2) too much "damn," and 3) not enough "mental." No wonder they rejected this!

(For Vitz's full work on the psychology of atheism see his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (Philosophy of Religion Students)

(For my Philosophy of Religion Students)

I begin the Philosophy of Religion class by introducing students to an a priori argument for God's existence, as formulated famously by Anselm.

I give 1-on-1 oral exams on my teachings. Here are my expectations for question 1 on the first exam - Anselm's Ontological Argument for God.

First: state the argument exactly as I have stated it in class, and written it on the board.

1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.
2. Therefore, God exists.

1. I have an idea of a greatest possible being.
2. Therefore, God exists.

Second: explain what it is like to have an "idea" of something (explain essential and contingent attributes).

Every time you have an idea of something, that idea has essential attributes and contingent attributes. Essential attributes are what makes that thing what it is, and without which it would not be what it is.

Use the example of a triangle. Essential attributes of "triangle" include: "having three sides," and "angles equaling 80 degrees."

A contingent attribute is a non-essential attribute. E.g., the triangle in my mind is "pink." "Pinkness" is not an essential attribute of triangularity; i.e., a triangle does not have to be pink in order to qualify as a triangle.

Third: Anselm claims to be able to conceive of "greatest possible being."

I can think, in my mind, of a greatest possible being. That is, I can have an idea of "greatest possible being." Because whenever I have an idea of anything, that idea has essential attributes (otherwise I could not have the idea), my idea of "greatest possible being" includes essential attributes of: "omniscience" (knows everything that can be known); "omnipotence" (is able to do everything that can be done); and "all-loving" (assuming it is greater to love than to hate). 

OK. But why must such a being actually exist? Because... 

Fourth: explain that, for Anselm, it is greater to exist in reality than in the mind alone.

"Existence," for Anselm, is a great-making attribute or property.

Therefore a greatest possible being (AKA "God") actually exists. Because if "actual existence" is not an essential attribute of "greatest possible being" then I am not thinking of "greatest possible being."

Fifth: explain why, for Anselm, if someone says "There is no God" then they are a "fool."

Because in order to say "There is no God" one must have a concept or idea of "God." Thus, that being the case, even the fool must acknowledge that God exists.

Finally: explain how, then, the argument works.

Anselm thinks his argument works because one cannot conceive or think of God as not existing, any more than one can think of a triangle that does not have three sides.