It’s as bad as you might guess. It’s all about selective psychoanalyzing. We’re atheists because we have daddy issues.
There may be lots of reasons for atheism’s recent prevalence, but it is clear that the rise in atheism has taken place alongside the fall of the family. Is there a connection between the two? In his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz answers in the affirmative.
Specifically, Vitz argues that a father often exerts a powerful influence on his child’s concept of God. (Since his original book was published in 1999, other studies have provided support for this point.) Dr. Vitz takes a biographical tour of modern atheists and discovers a relatively consistent thread: “Looking back at our thirteen major historical rejecters of a personal God, we find a weak, dead, or abusive father in every case.” Of course, it is not true, nor is Vitz making the case, that every atheist had a bad father—or that the mere absence of a father must propel one to atheism. It would also be a fallacy to claim that each atheist’s fundamental reason for embracing atheism is his paternal relationship. But to Vitz’s point (and consistent with the findings of other studies), it is legitimate to argue that some persons may be predisposed to atheism because of their family circumstances.
So a guy who’s writing a book that has the thesis that fatherlessness is the basis of atheist psychology found seventeen atheists who had a
weak, dead, or abusive father — in
every case. All seventeen cases.
This analysis is just incompetent. I want to know what proportion of atheists had a problematic relationship with their father — I know for a fact that it is not all — and I also want to know what proportion of Catholics, and the general population, have poor paternal relationships. Citing a couple of cherry-picked anecdotal individuals is not data.
The backing off of the claim at the end of that paragraph is just weaseling. It’s probably true that
some persons may be predisposed to atheism because of their family circumstances, but it’s a statement so vague and lacking in numbers that it is meaningless. I could just as well say that some Catholics may be predisposed to leave the faith because their priests are rapists — without data beyond some personal testimonies, however, it gaves us no insight into why people become atheists. Some because they were diddled by Father, but some is not a useful measure.
But he has another authority: the pope!
In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI makes an interesting point along the same lines, alluding to the connection between fatherhood and faith. Pointing out that the “Our Father” is a great prayer of consolation, insofar as it recognizes and professes God as our Father with Whom we have a personal relationship, Pope Benedict XVI notes that consolation is not experienced by everyone:
It is true, of course, that contemporary men and women have difficulty experiencing the great consolation of the word father immediately, since the experience of the father is in many cases either completely absent or is obscured by inadequate examples of fatherhood.”
As Pope Benedict suggests, the idea of God as a father can be a painful reminder that their own father did not, could not, or would not love them. Thus, the idea of spending fifteen minutes, much less eternity, with a “father” is remarkably unpleasant.
First, who cares what the Pope says? He has no particular qualifications or special insight into family psychology and sociology. Invoking an unmarried, childless celibate on family life has zero relevance.
Second, it is true that some people have crappy relationships with their fathers. It’s a problem in every religious denomination as well as among the godless. Again, we have a recitation of a non-statistical statistic.
Third, it is all kind of fucked-up to suggest that the invocation of an invisible intangible being in church is in any way similar to a real relationship with a real caring father. It suggests that real fathers are an incomprehensible enigma to these Catholics.
Fourthly, a counter-example (since all they have is vague unsourced anecdotes, that’s fair): me. I had a great relationship with my father. I trusted him, he was reliable, he was dedicated to his family, we respected and loved him. His death was a painful loss, and I think of him about every day.
I cared enough for him that I’ll make the Catholics a deal. If you could give me those 15 more minutes with my dead father (my real father, not your imaginary psychopath), I’ll convert to Catholicism in a flash. It would be worth it.
But one thing I’m certain about: you can’t do that. All you can do is lie and make false promises.