Saturday, June 18, 2016

Theory of the Defective Father (Vitz's Psychology of Atheism)

Bangkok, on the Chao Phraya river.
Paul Vitz, Prof. Emeritus of Psychology at NYU, presents his "defective father" thesis re. atheism in a brief essay "The Psychology of Atheism." Vitz's book on this is Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.  

Vitz is a former atheist who became a Jesus-follower. Vitz became an atheist at age 18, and his atheism lasted until he was 38. Vitz's "Theory of the Defective Father" is outlined as:

1. Father is present but weak

2. Father is present but abusive

3. Father is absent

Vitz analyzes the lives of staunch atheists and finds, generally, that one of these three conditions obtains. Personally, many of the militant atheists I have met fit this pattern. 

Vitz's work is not meant to attack atheists, but rather, to show that:

• Just as psychology has often trained itself on the psychology of belief, it can also be used to explore the psychology behind unbelief, including showing correlation with formative emotional events.

• Just as the propensity for belief might be explained by emotional needs and experiences, so can the propensity for unbelief.

• Just because someone has a psychological need for belief or unbelief does not mean that such beliefs are wrong OR right, so we should stop attacking ideological opponents by accusing them of mental illness - not that such accusations are untrue, but that they can be leveled from both sides, so it's a draw.

• There is a very strong correlation between unbelief and the breakdown of the family authority structure, the safety of the family, and esp. the experience of a failed father. He proposes that this is also a causative factor as well.