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Atheism Caused by Weak Fathers!

Are you an atheist? It’s probably because you had a “tumultuous relationship” with your father, which is the “determining factor in the widespread rise of atheism.” That idiotic thesis is offered by by Dr. Paul Vitz, who actually is a credentialed and allegedly serious retired psychology professor from NYU. And here’s the press release for his new book.

Sigmund Freud claimed that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible. A child’s tumultuous relationship with their father is the determining factor in the widespread rise of atheism, claims Dr. Paul Vitz in his controversial new book, FAITH OF THE FATHERLESS: The Psychology of Atheism.

As a former atheist, Vitz exposes atheism to the same psychological analysis that atheist apologists have used to debunk religious belief. FAITH OF THE FATHERLESS shows how psychoanalysis is actually a better explanation for the denial of God. Being disappointed in one’s earthly father, whether through death, absence or mistreatment, often leads to a rejection of God. The crisis of fatherhood in our culture has us in the midst of a 500-year period of adolescence that glorifies aggression and sexual exploitation, according to Vitz.

A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries — Freud, Friedrich Nietzche, Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, among many others — shows that this “defective father hypothesis” provides a consistent explanation of the “intense atheism” of these thinkers. A survey of the leading defenders of Christianity over the same period — G.K. Chesterton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edmund Burke, among others — confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers.

Wow, really? A cherry-picked handful of famous Christians and atheists, some of which aren’t even atheists (neither Voltaire nor Hitler were atheists), proves this sweeping thesis? This is a serious argument? I have a fantastic relationship with my father. I consider him the best man I know and the most important person in my life. And I’m an atheist. No, an anecdote is not evidence of anything, but that is precisely the point. Are there actual studies that show this? I find that highly doubtful.

Comments

  1. Doug Little says

    Shit and here I was thinking that I was an atheist because the church failed to make sense once I got to an age that I could understand basic scientific principles and kowtowing to an authority that had little chance of existing had lost it’s shine. Silly me.

  2. says

    Hm.

    My father was a good man, a good husband to my mother, a good father to his nine kids. He worked hard, he was honest, he was fair. He was a nominal Christian (my mother was the more devout of the two). I had a good relationship with him, and felt confident in his love and my mother’s. I was brought up as a Christian, something I rejected at age 13, which had absolutely nothing to do with my fine father. I simply started to think for myself.

    My spouse is a good man, a good husband, a good and present father with our 20-yo daughter. He works hard, he is honest, he is fair. He is (always has been) an atheist. Our daughter is an atheist, which she came to on our own, as we brought her up with no religious education, and no “atheist” education, either.

    There are two anecdotes which prove absolutely nothing.

    Ironically, of my siblings, the ones who had the most “tumultuous” relationships with my father are the most conservative and religious of the bunch (except one).

    Of this sample of nine kids, born between 1922 and 1962:

    Extremely religious: 2
    Moderately religious: 4
    Atheist: 3

    Tea Party-ers: 2
    Conservative Republicans: 3
    Progressive Democrats: 2
    Independent: 1
    Don’t care/doesn’t vote: 1

  3. says

    Me @ 4: Darn, I meant to make clear at the end of my first para that I am an atheist, and there was no “tumultuous” relationship with my father to make me so!

  4. raven says

    This is good news!!!

    Given that fundie xians have higher rates of divorce and social problems than normal people, we can expect their kids to all end up atheists.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Religion thrives on poverty and brainwashing.

  5. bcreason says

    Didn’t Peter and Christopher Hitchens have the same father? What happened there? One son is a spokesperson for religion the other against.

  6. dogmeat says

    Above and beyond his argument being based on nothing but cherry-picked fluff, there are some problems with those he selected.

    While Stalin and Hitler both had abusive fathers, and Nietzsche’s father died when he was young, I wasn’t aware of any major problems between Dawkins & Hitchens and their fathers? Regarding Freud, I’ve seen some speculation that there were “issues,” but I don’t know of anything beyond conjecture. Anyone shed some light on these?

    Interesting point:

    Stalin: Studied theology
    Nietzsche: Studied theology
    Freud: Father was known for his study of the Torah
    Dawkins: Went to a school with a “distinct Anglican flavor”

    I would argue the leading cause of atheism is studying religion. ;o)

  7. raven says

    AFAICT, what created the New Atheists was the Old Dark Agers, the fundie xians.

    When they started attacking our society any way they can, a lot of xians didn’t want to be one any more. Worked for me. I was a xian for decades until I collided with the forced birthers and creationists.

    If they really want to know what produces atheists, all they have to do is look in the mirror. Xians, producing atheists since CE 33.

  8. rabbitscribe says

    By no objective metric can Hitchens’ father be termed “defective,” at least as far as Hitchens’ memoirs reveal.

  9. says

    I got along just fine with my father. Arguably, one of the big things that got me started down the road to atheism was the religious nuts who went out of their way to depict god as a weak father. Sure, they said he could throw lightning bolts, but they made absolutely sure to describe him as having the emotional fortitude of a tantrum-throwing toddler. In short, an abusive father who couldn’t measure up to my real one.

    Wingnuts try to emulate that divine weakness. They think of children as the parents’ property and expect loyalty to be given, not earned.

    Granted, in hindsight, my father asked critical thinking questions and was probably a then-closeted atheist, but he in no way forced atheism on me. He simply did something wingnuts are terrified of: He let me grow up to be my own person and make up my own mind. He provided challenges so I could learn to deal with other ideas. In other words, he did his duty as a parent.

  10. davidct says

    “Sigmund Freud claimed ,,,,,,”

    In Dr. Vitz’s day Freud walked on water. Today not so much. More likely the Bible causes atheists – just read the bloody thing.

  11. abb3w says

    The “new book” by Paul Vitz appears to merely be an updated edition of his 1999 book by the same title; there’s no indication he’s incorporated the results from any of the last decade of empirical sociological research on the unaffiliated and atheists… or for that matter, any sample-based work more recent than the 1931 Vetter and Green study.

  12. lordshipmayhem says

    My father and I had a very tumultuous relationship… with the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom we would scream at whenever they were losing.

    I don’t think that’s quite the idea that Dr. Vitz has in mind.

  13. cswella says

    Under Vitz’s theories, wouldn’t it make more sense if it were the other way around?

    If I had a weak father and wanted a better one, I’d substitute my real father for a fake all-powerful one.

    If I had a strong father, I wouldn’t need to make one up.

  14. says

    Maybe. After my parents got a divorce, my father married a fundigelical woman, an honest-to-God speaking-in-tongues, frothing-at-the-mouth Assembler of God, and he went right along with her. If anything turned me into an atheist, it was three hours of fire-and-brimstone every Sunday and TWO Bible studies during the week. I lived with them for two months before step-mum decided I was a bad influence and sent me packing; turns out they rather do not like smart asses with a Greek interlinear Bible and a translation dictionary pointing out all the many places where the King James Version is wrong.

  15. Synfandel says

    I’m an atheist because no one ever subjected me to religious brain washing, including my agnostic father with whom I have, and have always had, an excellent relationship. Analyse that, Dr. Vitz.

  16. says

    Sigmund Freud claimed that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible.

    One could claim, with equal plausibility (that is, none) that once a child loses respect for his (or her?) earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes obligatory. After all, don’t those same yahoos claim that every child has an inherent right to both a father and mother? Absent earthly father, in steps Heavenly Dad.

  17. colnago80 says

    While Stalin and Hitler both had abusive fathers

    It is my information that Alois was a rather weak individual who was dominated by his wife.

  18. cafeeineaddicted says

    “Controversial new book”

    Since when are reprints of 15 year old forgotten books either “new” or “controversial?

  19. says

    Maybe, if by “weak” he means “not an authoritarian brain-washer.” Then, yeah, I could see that as being more amenable to becoming an atheist. Not really a bad thing, imo.

  20. says

    Can I just point out the gross sexism inherent in this accusation? The assumption is that the object of legitimate worship is a Man, and if the man who sired you was “weak” (can you say effeminate boys and girls?), you naturally feel unable to scrounge up the proper submissive reverence for the Big Man and thereby succumb to atheism.

    If God is transcendent of gender (which a lot of liberal theists believe) or even !gasp! feminine*, why would my relationship with my father–good, bad, or indifferent–have any effect on my religion or lack thereof?

    *which, incidentally mine was, when I was religious

  21. mars says

    He may have a point in a sideways sort of way. Lots of the Christian Patriarchy crowd promotes the notion of paternal discipline as way to teach children fear. If they don’t fear their father, they won’t fear god. Likewise religion is constantly trying to hijack parental authority to support their own (think of priests using the term “father”). If a kid doesn’t fear or utterly revere their father, there’s less of a framework for religion to use. This doesn’t mean that the father is bad or absent, it could mean he’s kind and loving, but the strong parallels between patriarchal language and religious language is worth noting.

  22. raven says

    Needless to say, this book and Vitz are just routine, standard fundie xian lies and hate.

    Their anti-gay hate campaign is winding down. So they need to pick new targets. It’s mandatory.
    No hate = No fundie xianity.

    They never completely abandon old hate targets but just keep adding new ones. The betting is Moslems and atheists will be the new gays.

    I wouldn’t have it any other way. That atheists are moving up in the rankings means they are getting worried. As their numbers decline, the atheists are rising.

    Expect more of this. Atheists are cold blooded, virus and drug ridden, satan worshipping, baby barbecueing, subhuman, Darwinists, cheap unleaded gasoline haters, peace mongers, social justice promoting, Democrats, Pagans, reality based community, science lovers, etc. etc.. No lie will be too silly for them. In fact, the sillier the better.

  23. Abdul Alhazred says

    It looks like the last redoubt of Freud is bigots trying to sound scientific.

    Someone one tell him Freud was an atheist family man. :)

  24. John Hinkle says

    This “new book” will no doubt be used by (male) fundies to say, “See? Families need STRONG father figures. Gotta keep the wife and children in line with God’s intended ways – which I happen to agree with, where my family obeys and ‘serves’ me in various ways.”

    Of course, they’ll probably word it a little less offensively.

    I hear this kind of nonsense on Moody Bible radio in Chicago. It’s usually a group discussing some family issue, but almost always centers on how the man reports to God, and the wife and children report to the man, and the man is just doing what God intended in the magic book.

  25. raven says

    Well one good slur deserves another.

    Fundies are too stupid to keep themselves alive. At least this one has data behind it.

    Women’s Lifespan Declining For Some In US, Says Study
    www .huffingtonpost. com/2013/…/women-lifespan-us-declining…‎

    by Emma Gray – in 196 Google+ circlesMar 4, 2013 – NEW YORK — A new study offers more compelling evidence that life expectancy for some U.S. women is actually falling, … November 9, 2013 …. of healthier women out of rural areas, leaving behind others who are too poor …

    White women in the rural south and west (a fundie demographic) are showing declining average lifespans. This is the first time we’ve seen this in a century, since the 1918 influenza pandemic.

    No one is sure why but people are looking. The best proximal guess is lack of access to health care. As to why they lack access who knows. One theory is that healthier and more intelligent women migrate out leaving behind the poor, unhealthy, and not very bright.

  26. raven says

    It’s usually a group discussing some family issue, but almost always centers on how the man reports to God, and the wife and children report to the man, and the man is just doing what God intended in the magic book.

    A recipe for dysfunctional families, child abuse, and intrafamily child sexual abuse.

    The second most common circumstance for child sexual abuse is “membership in a “conservative” religious cult.” (The first is substance abuse in the father.).

  27. escuerd says

    raven @28:

    The betting is Moslems and atheists will be the new gays.

    It’s worth noting that the “X is caused by weak fathers,” trope has long been used as an explanation for the existence of gay people by those who would “cure” us.

    Supposedly weak or absent fathers cause children (at least, or especially boys) to come down with the gay because of blah blah gender appropriate role models yadda yadda healthy male attachments mumble mumble sublimation of sexual feelings. The exact explanation varies, and is generally ad hoc. But all that really matters is that they can identify the cause of this horrible, horrible affliction and can help you to recover (for a totally reasonable fee, of course).

  28. Childermass says

    There is nothing wrong with my father though he is a religious believer. I am an atheist and my brother is a conservative Christian.

    I knew an atheist who ran off from an abusive father the moment she was old enough. She never allowed him back into her life. Though she had a strong relationship with a step-father that she was taken away from at a young age and was prevented from communicating with him. (Basically mother remarried then died and then natural father took her and her sister.) The natural father is a believer. I have no idea about the good one who was actually listed as the father in her obit though technically he was a step-father. Bonus: She read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, was extraordinarily intelligent, and was one of the nicest persons that I have ever known: good with people, moral, and beloved by our common acquaintances. I recall her making fun of the notion of a God that needed “validation.” I will remember her for as long as I live.

    I know another female victim of severe abuse from both a natural and step-father. She believes in a unique version of spiritualism of her own invention mixed with aspects of Christianity with a small tad of universalism. She literally “sees” angels and dead people. She is extremely superstitious and way too afraid of other people. She is bright, but as most here know bright people are often too good at rationalizing what should be disproof of what they believe.

  29. raven says

    Sigmund Freud claimed that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible.

    I don’t know why anyone is claiming Sigmund Freud as an authority.

    AFAIK, no one takes him too seriously these days.

    Some things he came up with seem to be OK, i.e. the existence of the subconscious. A lot of our mental processes are running outside of our conscious awareness.

    Most of his other ideas haven’t held up too well though.

  30. freehand says

    Vitz exposes atheism to the same psychological analysis that atheist apologists have used to debunk religious belief.

    I don’t know any atheists who have debunked religious beliefs using psychoanalysis. What in Sam Hill would that establish about the existential status of a deity? Moral arguments are also unsatisfactory. The Christian myths paint Yahweh as a monster (by our standards, or a typical king of 3000 years ago), but that says nothing about his existence. (Despite frequent claims that the Creator of the Universe “couldn’t be” a ravenous beast. Why not?)

    There is, luckily, no reason to think this sociopath with magic is real. Vitz has apparently found a way to distract himself from the question of whether or not Yahweh actually exists outside of the human mind. And typically of fundies, he feels smug while doing so.

  31. John Hinkle says

    raven:

    Atheists are cold blooded, virus and drug ridden, satan worshipping, baby barbecueing, subhuman, Darwinists, cheap unleaded gasoline haters, peace mongers, social justice promoting, Democrats, Pagans, reality based community, science lovers, etc. etc..

    Wait. Who’s “virus” ridden”?

  32. Pierce R. Butler says

    Vitz proclaims his support of psychoanalysis, quotes Sigmund Freud, and then turns around to denounce the idealized founder of his profession.

    He needs to spend some time on the couch of a mental therapist who can help him work all this out better – clearly those he has consulted so far have not dared to bring these tensions to light.

    Sounds like (from his own theory) Dr V will soon switch sides, and maybe even apply to blog on FtB.

  33. cry4turtles says

    I strongly postulate that the opposites is true. My father is kind, gentle, loving, forgiving (no sacrifices required), etc., all the qualities Yahweh notably lacks. When I compare, earthly dad wins hands down! I can accept no less from a daddy.
    @raven #28, may I take a guess at decreased life span? My guess (concurrant with lack of health care access), is poor diet in the area of consuming processes foods chock full of sugar, salt, and chemicals leading to Obesity , diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Just a guess that I try to address in my lifestyle. I’ll let you if it works in about 40 years!

  34. says

    “(think of priests using the term “father”).”

    I try not to. It does seem like a little bit a of a contradiction for to call someone, “father”, when they are deliberately celibate (well–so far as they’ll admit).

    RE: Studies about women’s longevity. Those two areas that Raven is talking about are also home to many recent immigrants (many of them undocumented). I hope that the study takes that into account. I don’t see that christian women are demonstrably unhealthy but the KKKrsitianist ones, well, there ya go.

  35. dogmeat says

    Expect more of this. Atheists are cold blooded,

    Literally, or figuratively? If literal, that would explain the “lizard man from Mars” argument regarding Obama. ;o)

    If this means cold and analytical, I have to admit, I am somewhat. Of course I was somewhat cold and analytical as a Christian, Deist, and Agnostic prior to becoming a Atheist, so…

    virus and drug ridden,

    Huh? I’m with John Hinkle @39, what “virus?” As for the rest, I never did recreational drugs and have (fortunately) never needed behavioral drugs. I haven’t consumed alcohol in nearly seven years, so…

    satan worshipping,

    I’d have to believe in “satan” to worship such an entity. To be fair, in the Old Testament, he doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. That Yaweh fellow was a prick though.

    baby barbecueing,

    C’mon now, that’s just good clean fun.

    subhuman

    I prefer the term untermenschen, thank you.

    Darwinists,

    More of a Dawkins man, really.

    cheap unleaded gasoline haters, peace mongers, social justice promoting, Democrats, Pagans, reality based community, science lovers, etc. etc.. No lie will be too silly for them. In fact, the sillier the better.

    How precisely is one a peace “monger?” PEACE OR DEATH!!!! ???

    I do love science, despise cheap gasoline and do promote social justice (as well as civil rights and civil liberties). One of the reasons I’m not a Democrat, they’re only marginally better than the Republicans. A Pagan Atheist is nearly as amusing as a Muslim Atheist… Reality based? As in I promote reason, empiricism, and rationality, or as in I like reality based television? The former? Yes. The latter? No.

  36. says

    My father is a gun toting, red meat eating, Republican, ex-military, pickup driving, rancher, who fathered three sons. But, I’m still an atheist.

  37. beezlebubby says

    My father was a loving, if stern, parent that I rarely had an issue with while growing up. He was also the MOST religiously ambivalent person I’ve ever met in my life. He had a sort of agnosticism that allowed him to get along very well with people of any religious stripe, including none at all. He pretty much avoided talking about gods or religion, period. I, on the other hand, got very involved with a northern baptist church and became born again at 10. By 18 I was done with it, though. I had a lot of questions that at first were dodged, then greeted with mild hostility.

  38. Ichthyic says

    Sigmund Freud claimed that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible.

    conclusion:

    belief in a deity is entirely dependent on the believer’s psychological profile, and has NOTHING AT ALL to do with any actual deities.

    the guy actually defeats his own fucking premise before he even started.

    in fact, what he has shown is the exact reverse of his hypothesis; he’s confirmed the null hypothesis:

    a belief in a deity IS nothing but psychological projection.

    thanks doc.

    *laughs*

  39. Ichthyic says

    Under Vitz’s theories, wouldn’t it make more sense if it were the other way around?

    exactly.

  40. Ichthyic says

    I don’t know any atheists who have debunked religious beliefs using psychoanalysis

    they easily could have.

    Jung himself went off on that tangent… though to be sure, he got kinda lost on the way. too many drugs would be my guess.

  41. Ichthyic says

    It’s worth noting that the “X is caused by weak fathers,” trope has long been used as an explanation for the existence of gay people by those who would “cure” us.

    what it boils down to is little more than projection from a lifetime living in a society that worships ancient patriarchal privilege.

    …which hopefully is finally starting to choke itself out with the ever increasing exposure of it in media just like this.

  42. dingojack says

    Sigmund Freud claimed that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible“.

    [Citation required]

    Dingo

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