Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Psychology of Atheism

Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism

I just ordered a copy of New York University psychologist Paul Vitz's Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. This is a revised, updated version of his earlier book.

Vitz is a former atheist who converted to Christian theism.

I was motivated to see if this new version had come out yet while reading Victor Brombert's chapter on Camus in Musings on Morality. Brombert writes:

"The overture and the closing of both [Camus's] The Stranger and The Plague stand under the shadow of death. So does Camus’s own life. His father, whom he never got to know, died from shrapnel head wounds received at the Battle of the Marne in the early weeks of World War I, when Albert was not yet a year old. Camus’s posthumously published autobiographical novel, The First Man, describes a hopeless father search that brings the son to an encounter with the vanished father when he visits his tomb in a desolate cemetery in Brittany. The search for the father, it is well-known, implies a search for identity. But no help comes from the absent father, who literally remains a “dead stranger” in his Breton tomb, far from his native Algeria."
Brombert, Victor (2013-10-15). Musings on Mortality: From Tolstoy to Primo Levi (Kindle Locations 1331-1336). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. 



“Paul C. Vitz has republished one of the most profound books in the emperical psychology of religion, Faith of the Fatherless, now with additional data. Here he skillfully demonstrates objective analogies between the family experiences of articulate atheists and their pronouncements concerning the family of God. Of course, since there is "nothing" more personal than God-and our beliefs and relationships to God-our capacities for personal relationship matter tremendously in the formation of our divine beliefs. Everything is interconnected, we know. However, Prof. Vitz's engaging style makes his demonstration of these objective analogies especially memorable and useful for understanding unbelief and ourselves.” --Paul de Vries, PhD, President, NY Divinity School

“The reasons for belief in God and unbelief are complex and varied and hotly disputed. Paul Vitz makes a striking contribution to the current debate with an elegant and thoroughly plausible explanation for much atheism that turns the traditional Freudian critique of religion on its head. Relying on the biographies of well-known modern atheists, he finds significant evidence that negative childhood experiences with regard to one's father can severely compromise one's capacity to believe in God. Whatever one's beliefs, there is much to ponder in this well-written and well-researched book.” --Eric L. Johnson, PhD, Director, Society for Christian Psychology

“Vitz (psychology, New York U.), an atheist himself until his 30s, exposes atheism to the same psychological analysis atheistic apologists have used to debunk religious belief. Beginning with Freud's notion that belief in God is a product of humanity's desire for security, he argues that psychoanalysis is actually a better explanation for denial of God, concluding that the absence of a good father is at the core of militant atheism. Surveys of the leading intellectual defenders of atheism and Christianity, show that the atheists had "defective fathers" while the believers did not. Vitz does not intend to suggest that atheism is psychologically determined, but rather hopes to counteract the idea that irrational psychological factors lead one to believe in God.” Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com) --Booknews