I’ve written before about Paul Vitz and his ridiculous argument that we become atheists because we have bad relationships with our fathers. It’s the kind of thing that should cause nothing but laughter for his freshman-psych level of armchair analysis. Kimberly Winston has an article in the Washington Post about it.
“Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism” by Catholic psychologist Paul C.Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers. This, he argues, damaged their ability to form a relationship with a heavenly father.
Voltaire, of course, was not an atheist, “intense” or otherwise.
“The rise of militant, evangelical, fundamentalist atheism in our time adds to the pertinence of this book,” said Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, the Catholic publishing house that has reissued the book.
“Some atheists try to equate atheism with rationality. Vitz’s book shows that atheism, like many belief systems, has significant irrational elements.”
*yawn* Yes, our beliefs are contingent at least in part on our emotional and psychological context. Just like everyone else. They act as if this is some great revelation or that it has anything at all to do with the truth of any particular belief.
But atheists are less enthusiastic. “I have a spectacular relationship with my father and consider him to be the most admirable man I’ve ever known,” wrote JT Eberhard, an atheist blogger for Patheos. Many of the comments on his review are unprintable.Vitz, a Catholic who identified as an atheist in his youth, acknowledges there are exceptions to his theory. He identifies a big one in his book — Sam Harris, a New Atheist who hit the best-seller list with “The End of Faith,” has an apparently healthy relationship with his father, too.
“The best answer I have to explain that is I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t studied them (the exceptions) enough.”
I doubt he has studied any of this enough. Did he actually do a study with a significant number of atheists or did he just cherry pick a few examples of famous atheists? Was there a control group? What other factors were considered and controlled for? This is bullshit armchair psychology. The fact that this man teaches psychology is pretty sad. Imagine the quality of his students’ work if this is what he considers serious scholarship.
I’m with JT, I have a great relationship with my father. My father is largely the reason I’m an atheist, but certainly not because we have a bad relationship. I’m an atheist because he taught me to think for myself, to ask questions and not just accept unsupported answers. He taught me to use my capacity for reason. And even in my teen years when I became a very serious Christian, he never disputed me or tried to talk me out of it. He said he just figured he had raised me to think critically and that I would figure it out for myself. And I did.