Sunday, June 26, 2011
The Psychology of Atheism: Part V
See my four previous posts on this here, here, here, and here.
"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.)