The Psychology of Atheism: The Theory of Defective Father
Since there is need for deeper understanding of atheism and since I don’t know of any theoretical framework-except the Oedipal one – I am forced to sketch out a model of my own, or really to develop an undeveloped thesis of Freud. In his essay on Leonardo da Vinci, Freud made the following remark:
Psychoanalysis, which has taught us the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God, has shown us that the personal God is logically nothing but an exalted father, and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of the father breaks down. (Leonardo da Vinci, 1910, 1947 p. 98)
This statement makes no assumptions about unconscious sexual desires for the mother, or even about presumed universal competitive hatred focused on the father. Instead he makes the simple easily understandable claim that once a child or youth is disappointed in and loses his or her respect for their earthly father, then belief in their heavenly Father becomes impossible. There are, of course, many ways that a father can lose his authority and seriously disappoint a child.Some of these ways-for which clinical evidence is given below – are:
1. He can be present but obviously weak, cowardly, and unworthy of respect – even if otherwise pleasant or “nice.”
2. He can be present but physically, sexually, or psychologically abusive.
3. He can be absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family.
Taken all together these proposed determinants of atheism will be called the “defective father” hypothesis. To support the validity of this approach, I will conclude by providing case history material from the lives of prominent atheists, for it was in reading the biographies of atheists that this hypothesis first struck me.We begin with Sigmund Freud’s relationship to his father. That Freud’s father, Jacob, was a deep disappointment – or worse – is generally agreed to by his biographers. (For the supporting biographical material on Freud see, for example, Krull, 1979, and Vitz, 1983, 1986.) Specifically, his father was a weak man unable to financially provide for his family. Instead money for support seems to have been provided by his wife’s family and others. Furthermore, Freud’s father was passive in response to anti-Semitism.
. . . Jacob’s actions as a defective father, however, probably go still deeper. Specifically, in two of his letters as an adult, Freud writes that his father was a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s own children suffered from this. There are also other possible moral disasters that I have not bothered to note.
. . . Very briefly, other famous atheists seem to have had a similar relationship to their fathers. Karl Marx made it clear that he didn’t respect his father. An important part in this was that his father converted to Christianity – not out of any religious conviction-but out of a desire to make life easier. He assimilated for convenience. In doing this Marx’s father broke an old family tradition. He was the first in his family who did not become a rabbi; indeed, Karl Marx came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family.
Ludwig Feuerbach’s father did something that very easily could have deeply hurt his son. When Feuerbach was about 13, his father left his family and openly took up living with another woman in a different town. This was in Germany in the early 1800s and such a public rejection would have been a scandal and deeply rejecting to young Ludwig – and, of course, to his mother and the other children.
Let us jump 100 years or so and look at the life of one of America’s best known atheists-Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Here I will quote from her son’s recent book on what life was like in his family when he was a child. (Murray, 1982) The book opens when he is 8-years-old: “We rarely did anything together as a family. Hatred between my grandfather and mother barred such wholesome scenes.” (p. 7) He writes that he really didn’t know why his mother hated her father so much – but hate him she did, for the opening chapter records a very ugly fight in which she attempts to kill her father with a 10-inch butcher knife. Madalyn failed but screamed, “I’ll see you dead. I’ll get you yet. I’ll walk on your grave!” (p. 8)
. . . Besides abuse, rejection, or cowardice, one way in which a father can be seriously defective is simply by not being there. Many children, of course, interpret death of their father as a kind of betrayal or an act of desertion. In this respect it is remarkable that the pattern of a dead father is so common in the lives of many prominent atheists.
Baron d’Holbach (born Paul Henri Thiry), the French rationalist and probably the first public atheist, is apparently an orphan by the age of 13 and living with his uncle. (From whom he took the new name Holbach.) Bertrand Russell’s father died when young Bertrand was 4-years-old; Nietzsche was the same age as Russell when he lost his father; Sartre’s father died before Sartre was born and Camus was a year old when he lost his father. (The above biographical information was taken from standard reference sources.) Obviously, much more evidence needs to be obtained on the “defective father” hypothesis. But the information already available is substantial; it is unlikely to be an accident.
The psychology of how a dead or nonexistent father could lay an emotional base for atheism might not seem clear at first glance. But, after all, if one’s own father is absent or so weak as to die, or so untrustworthy as to desert, then it is not hard to place the same attribute on your heavenly Father.
Finally, there is also the early personal experience of suffering, of death, of evil, sometimes combined with anger at God for allowing it to happen. Any early anger at God for the loss of a father and the subsequent suffering is still another and different psychology of unbelief, but one closely related to that of the defective father.
. . . Let me conclude by noting that however prevalent the superficial motives for being an atheist, there still remain in many instances the deep and disturbing psychological sources as well. However easy it may be to state the hypothesis of the “defective father,” we must not forget the difficulty, the pain, and complexity that lie behind each individual case. And for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who rejected, who denied, who hated, who manipulated, or who physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding and compassion. Certainly for a child to be forced to hate his own father-or even to despair because of his father’s weaknesses is a great tragedy. After all, the child only wants to love his father.
There may indeed be a causal relationship here if, statistically, atheists have a much higher rate of these family problems than theists do. The scientific, inquiring attitude would find this interesting and probe further to see why it is (as Vitz did).
Atheists claim that we Christians project and anthropomorphize God all the time (as, e.g., the pagan Greeks and Romans did with their various mythological gods). Well, perhaps atheists are doing the same thing, yet in the other direction. As fathers were undesirable, so God — the ultimate “father” — could conceivably take on the same characteristics.
Thus Vitz’s research could possibly shed light on why people become atheists (as opposed to the intellectual basis of atheism itself), which is a different proposition. The reasons why one might start to believe that the moon is made of green cheese are quite different from the question: “Is the moon made of green cheese?”
It’s a known fact that people’s relationships with their fathers in particular can have a significant effect on their view of God. This is true in Christian circles (if “father” has negative connotations, it would not be particularly pleasant — on a purely psychological plane — to seek after an even more powerful heavenly father), and it may be true in atheist circles as well, if Vitz is correct in his findings (biographies are quite verifiable, so I don’t see how his facts can be overcome).
It is objected that Vitz’s sample is small and non-random and too subjective. But his research is still interesting, whether or not his sample is statistically sound. The atheists he picked in the article above are certainly very famous and prominent atheists. Surely, the correlation is — by pure chance — disproportionate, just as if we found that all these men (to be Freudian and humorous for a second) had traumatic experiences in potty-training. :-)
If one’s father died when they were very young, the world might seem like a place where fathers were “optional” or “unimportant” in the overall scheme of things, since one had to fend for themselves without a father. The possible parallels with God/atheism are obvious. The cases cited were clearly traumatic and serious. It will do no good for atheists to utterly dismiss all this experiential data. They could, however, produce biographical data on other famous atheists who had wonderful fathers. That would be something interesting to see.
One atheist wrote (on the above-mentioned Internet list):
To put it bluntly and generously, this theory seems to me to be an exercise in bovine scatology. When I was in high school in my spare time I developed a theory and wrote a paper that there were flying saucers in the Bible. Vitz’s theory strikes me as about as plausible as that. Simply, the dynamics of society, culture, genetic predisposition, human physiology and conditioning are complex enough that there are probably, I’d guess, 3-6 different classes of reasons why any given atheist is an atheist . . .
I maintain that causes for belief for atheists and theists alike are various and exceedingly complex. I’ve stated as much many times. I don’t go for simple and single explanations for why people believe things, or supposed “absolute disproofs”. I’m not trying to pry into anyone’s personal life. I’m simply making observations about possible consistency or inconsistency with the proposed theory. I have always been a big proponent of multiple and complex causality, in matters concerning people and what they do and believe. I don’t deny that there are a number of factors which could affect cause and statistics.
Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, Paul
C. Vitz, Ph.D., Spence Publishing Co, Dallas, 1999, pps.
“Lack of bonding . . . affects the development of spirituality. . . . Very often children create their image of a god or the universe based on their relationship with their parents. Cruel parents, cruel gods.”
— Charlotte D. Kasl, Ph.D., Women, Sex and Addiction
Innumerable articles have been written on the mind-set of believers — all explained by their psychological needs. Dr. Vitz has turned the tables on the atheists by using the same methodology to explain why others have become atheists . . .
A search for the truth of whether God exists does not explain why a particular person is a theist or an atheist. For this reason, the author believes that it is possible to study the origins of the mind-set of individuals who are unbelievers the very same way that atheists have always used to study the psychological reasons why some believe in God.
. . . Freud, in The Future of An Illusion, gave his opinion of the origins of belief in God — the need for security against the unpredictable forces of nature. Freud believed that a person develops a belief in a personal God because of his need for an exulted father. He wrote that when the power of the father breaks down and the child matures, belief in God automatically diminishes.
. . . To buttress his “defective father” hypothesis, NYU professor Vitz uses the biographies of famous, well known individuals, who are mostly from the fields of philosophy and the ministry. He begins with interesting short life histories of well-known atheists from the past three hundred years including, Nietzsche, Hume, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Camus and Schopenhauer.
Under the heading of “abusive and weak fathers” he includes, Thomas Hobbes, Meilier, Voltaire, d’Alembert, d’Holbach, Feuerbach, Samuel Butler, Freud, H. G. Wells, Carlyle, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Albert Ellis. These were all shown to have negative father/child relationships during their youth.
As a control group the author examines the lives of individuals known for both their piety and their writings defending Christianity or Judaism. Those include, Pascal, George Berkeley, Joseph Butler, Thomas Reid, Edmund Burke, Moses Mendelssohn, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Chateaubriand, Schleiermacher, Cardinal Newman, de Tocqueville, Samuel Wilberforce, Kierkegaard, von Hugel, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Buber, Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer and Abraham Heschel.
These individuals were shown to have had positive father/son relationships as there were no early deaths of the father, no abandonment and recorded reciprocal love.
. . . The lives of Stalin, Hitler and Mao are studied in the “political atheists” section. The three were all known for their condemnation of religion and all had histories of having greatly abusive tyrants as fathers.
. . . The author writes that there are exceptions to his general theory of bad fathers and gives us short biographies of Denis Diderot and Karl Marx to illustrate that point. He feels that other exceptions can be readily found.
Can atheism be taught by a loving father? The author believes:
. . . it is possible that a good father who taught his child atheism would nevertheless inadvertently be a model for a benevolent Father/God. Thus, we might expect the children of good atheist fathers often to find themselves learning toward or even converting to theism.
Atheism is a recent phenomenon, but bad fathers have existed since the beginning of humanity so why is atheism a relatively recent belief? Vitz writes that it takes more than a bad father to produce an unbeliever. The culture into which one is born is an important factor. From history we know that prior to a few hundred years ago, it was physically and economically dangerous for one to proclaim his disbelief in God. Even believing heretics were, at times, severely punished.
Nothing has been more typical of modern public life than the presumption of atheism. In general, historians agree that atheism is a recent and distinctively Western phenomenon and that no other culture has manifested such a widespread public rejection of the divine. James Turner, an historian who has studied the origins of atheism in Western society and in America in particular, has pointed out that “the known unbelievers of Europe and America before the French Revolution numbered fewer than a dozen or two. For disbelief in God remained scarcely more plausible than disbelief in gravity.” America remained more or less an atheist-free nation for many decades into the nineteenth century.Even in intellectual and academic circles, atheism did not become respectable until about 1870, little more than a century ago, and it continued to be restricted to small numbers of intellectuals into the twentieth century. Not until the past half-century has it become a predominant public assumption . . .
Now some might say that the reason for the dominance of atheism is that it is true: there is no God. Whether it is possible to prove the existence of God, it is clearly impossible to prove the nonexistence of God — since to prove the nonexistence of anything is intrinsically impossible. In other words, atheism is an assumption made by certain people about the nature of the world, and these people have been, in the last century, extraordinarily successful at controlling the acceptable view on the matter.
In particular, there seems to be a widespread assumption, throughout much of our intellectual community, that belief in God is based on all kinds of irrational, immature needs and wishes, whereas atheism or skepticism flows from a rational, grown-up, no-nonsense view of things as they really are. To challenge the psychology of this viewpoint is my primary concern.
Atheism has, of course, not simply been the expression of the personal psychology of important atheists: it has received much support from social, economic, and cultural forces. Nevertheless, atheism began in the personal lives of particular people, many of them the leading intellectuals of the modern period, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, and Jean- Paul Sartre. I propose that atheism of the strong or intense type is to a substantial degree generated by the peculiar psychological needs of its advocates.
But why should one study the psychology of atheists at all? Is there any reason to believe that there are consistent psychological patterns in their lives? Indeed, there is a coherent psychological origin to intense atheism. To begin, it should be noted that self-avowed atheists tend, to a remarkable degree, to be found in a narrow range of social and economic strata: in the university and intellectual world and in certain professions.
Today, as a rule, they make up a significant part of the governing class. (Believers, on the other hand, are found throughout the social spectrum.) Given the relatively small number of unbelievers and the limited number of social settings in which they are found, there is certainly an a priori reason for expecting regularity in their psychology.
Nevertheless, the reader might ask if this is not unfair — even uncalled for. Why submit atheism to psychological analysis at all? Is this relevant to the issue of unbelief? Here we must remember that it is atheists themselves who began the psychological approach to the question of belief. Many atheists are famous for arguing that believers suffer from illusions, from unconscious and infantile needs, and from other psychological deficits.
A significant part of the atheist position has been an aggressive interpretation of religious belief as arising from psychological factors, not the nature of reality. Furthermore, this interpretation has been widely influential. In short, the theory that God is a projection of our own needs is a familiar modern position and is, for example, presented in countless university courses. But the psychological concepts used so effectively to interpret religion by those who reject God are double-edged swords that can also, indeed easily, be used to explain their unbelief.
Since both believers and nonbelievers in God have psychological reasons for their positions, one important conclusion is that in any debate as to the truth of the existence of God, psychology should be irrelevant. A genuine search for evidence supporting, or opposing, the existence of God should be based on the evidence and arguments found in philosophy, theology, science, history, and other relevant disciplines.
“The Psychology of Atheism”; lecture by Dr. Paul Vitz, September 24, 1997. Notes of the lecture taken by an audience member:He makes two assumptions about atheism:
1. major barriers to belief are non-rational, that is, psychological
2. all of us have a free choice to reject or accept God
The point is to identify factors that predispose one to atheism. First, Dr. Vitz elaborated on the simpler, more shallow reasons for atheism.
He reviewed his own personal story as an example. He was raised with a somewhat Christian upbringing in Ohio, but became an atheist in college at age 18, and remained so until the age of 38, when he converted, or re-converted to Christianity. Reflection on his own life showed him that his reasons for being an atheist were superficial.
Superficial reasons for atheism:
1. General Socialization– social unease.
E.g. Vitz is from the Mid-west, which is boring and he wanted to be comfortable in the glamorous secular world. Voltaire was embarrassed of his provincial origin cf. flight from Jewish ghetto or fundamentalist Southern background.
2. Desire to be accepted by powerful and influential professors.
He noted that his professors at Stanford animadverted on every psychological topic, but were united in two things: professional
ambition and disbelief in God.
3. Personal convenience.
Belief in God means having to give up pleasures and free time. Mortimer Adler, in his How to Think About God, leaves the impression the the main obstacle to belief for him lies in his own will.
Next, Dr. Vitz moved on to the deeper psychological reasons some people do not believe in God. He reviewed Freud’s critique of belief, his projection theory: human beings are weak and need protection so they project their need by concocting an all-powerful father figure, God. The problem with ad hominem arguments is that they also work on any other belief people might hold, such as belief in scientific theories, and can also be used to reject psychoanalysis as well. Furthermore, the projection theory is refuted by the fact that pre-Christian religions didn’t emphasize God as benevolent father.
Essentially, he summarized, the projection theory is really an autonomous argument and is not dependent on psychology. Bolstering
this assertion is the fact that Feuerbach had previously formulated the same argument in a book that Freud had read. So psychoanalysis is neutral to the projection argument.
. . . Dr. Vitz outlines his “Theory of the Defective Father,” which attempts to explain atheism:
1. father present but weak.
2. father present but abusive.
3. father absent.
Freud’s father, Yakov was weak and had trouble supporting his family and was a sexual pervert. Also he was a liberal Jew, so Freud linked his weakness to his religion.
Hobbes– his father was an Anglican clergyman who abandoned his family.
Feuerbach– his father was a famous legal theorist. At 13, his father abandoned the family to live with another woman, though he later returned when that woman died.
Schopenhauer– couldn’t stand his mother and intially (ages 8-12) was relatively close to his father. At age 16, his father committed suicide.
. . . Albert Ellis is a psychologist hostile to religion. Dr. Vitz was on a panel with him and outlined his theory of the defective father to him. Ellis said the theory didn’t fit him because he got along with his father. In casual conversation, a friend told Vitz that the theory “fits Ellis perfectly.” According to a biography of Ellis, his father abandoned the family and his weak mother was unable to support, so
Ellis and his brother ended up providing everything for themselves. In his twenties, Ellis was polite to his father, though.
Anthony Flew is a philosopher who’s an atheist and the son of a well-known English divine. At a party Flew beat on the floor
exclaiming “I hate my father!”
. . . To conclude, Dr. Vitz read a selection from Russel Baker, the New York Times columnist, describing his sadness and anger at age five when his father died, and how he then became a skeptic.
. . . The point of the profiling of atheists is to remove psychological motives from explaining religious belief. The ad hominem attack on theism posits an immature need for support, but there are psychological causes for atheism as well as theism. So when the atheist attacks a theists beliefs for being childish, the theist can counter, “and so’s your old man!”
So, this argument more or less levels the playing field as far as psychological explanations of belief/disbelief are concerned. However, no one disputes that having a loving father is better than having an unloving father. A loving atheist father will likely set up
his children for theism, just as an S.O.B. theist father will set up his children for atheism.
This is how I look at it, bottom line:
Certainly, no one can deny that atheists have often resorted to psychology to run down Christians and Christianity, as if Christians have no basis other than infantile wishes or projections, to account for their beliefs. I could easily find a few hundred quotes along these lines on the Secular Web and related sites, but why bother? Everyone knows this.
Now, one can either deny the validity of such analyses or claim that they have validity. If the former, then one can move onto serious, substantive philosophical discussions, which (though not exclusively) can give rational basis for religious belief or atheism. If the latter (i.e., if they will not refrain from such speculation), then it is not only fair, but necessary (as a sort of confident, self-respecting counter-apologetics) to apply the same sort of analysis to the atheist, as a sort of rhetorical tactic or method. I don’t see how this is arguable.
So until all atheists refrain from this warmed-over Freudian nonsense, then I will be happy to “turn the tables” and make similar arguments against atheism. I do that with the Problem of Evil and other atheological arguments as well. But the psychological thing is not a serious argument in the first place, whereas the Problem of Evil is a quite respectable and substantive one. The Christian apologist must deal with silly objections as well as solid ones, because there are people who will believe all of these.
My position has always been that such psychological arguments are essentially silly and not worth bothering about. But I agree with Dr. Vitz’s point that this is a counter-response to continued atheist psychoanalysis and insulting insinuations about the lack of brain power and sophistication of Christians. I have always maintained that there are those in either camp who are operating primarily on a psychological plane. Welcome to the reality of humanness. It’s another wash. I’m much more interested in the rational reasons people give, and in multiple causality for religious or atheist belief.
As for emotionalism in general, certainly this could play a legitimate role in one’s overall faith, and is not contradictory to more rational or philosophical reasons for belief. Emotions are part of any rounded human being, so I would expect them to play a part in any worldview which is true. I would also expect questions which are some of the deepest and most profound in life to have some element of emotionalism connected with them. If indeed Christianity is true, it certainly is comforting, and meant to be. Again, this only poses a problem if it is the entire reason a Christian believes what he or she does.
It has been said that Christians use the famous argument of Pascal’s Wager, because it is emotionally comforting, or some sort of rhetorical trick. But it must be understood that Pascal’s Wager was never intended to be an argument for God’s existence or Christianity per se. Christian philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft explains Pascal’s intention:
. . . it is only for some people: for those who are (1) interested, not indifferent, and (2) doubtful, not certain, either by faith or by reason, concerning the existence of the God of the Bible . . . .The Wager is not an attempt to prove that God exists . . . Rather, it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to ‘bet’ on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level . . .
It is also addressed to a different audience than are Aquinas’ arguments, for instance. Aquinas’ famous ‘five ways’ of demonstrating that God exists are . . . addressed to believers, to show them that purely logical reasoning confirms the faith they already have in divine revelation. Pascal’s Wager, on the other hand, is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation . . .
If theoretical, objective, logical, scientific reason could decide this question, we would not need to ‘wager’. If we had proof, we would not need to take a chance. The Wager is addressed only to those who are not convinced that reason can prove theism (God exists) or atheism (God does not exist) . . .
Suppose you were offered a lottery ticket for free. Suppose you knew there was a 50 percent chance it was worth a million dollars, and a 50 percent chance it was worth nothing. Would it be reasonable to take the trouble to accept the gift, to hope at least in it, to trust the giver enough to accept the gift? It would be obvious insanity not to.
To the objection that such ‘belief’ is not yet true faith, the reply is: Of course not, but it is a step on the road to it . . . True faith is not a wager but a relationship. But it can begin with a wager, just as a marriage can begin with a blind date . . .
. . . it is not an argument for the existence of God but an argument for faith. Its conclusion is not ‘Therefore God exists’ but ‘Therefore you should believe’ . . . (Christianity for Modern Pagans, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993, 291, 298, 301, 303 — an extended commentary on Pascal’s Pensees)
Sheer emotionalism or fideism are not biblically based ways of sharing one’s faith. Both Jesus and Paul extensively used intellectual — even theoretical — arguments of all sorts. Paul is often described in the Book of Acts “reasoning” or “arguing” with Jews and Greeks. So Christians who approach their faith on exclusively emotional terms are neither in accord with the Bible nor the mainstream history of orthodox Christianity (Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, more recent apologists like C. S. Lewis, Chesterton, etc.). But people are people, so we should expect the corruption of any good thing.
I say that far too many Christians engage in emotionalism and irrationalism because they have been falsely taught (mostly by surrounding culture and the secular history of ideas, but often within Christianity as well) that faith and reason are diametrically opposed. But I thought atheists were supposed to be so much more educated, intellectual, and sophisticated? Why, then, do they so often utilize “arguments” that are invalid and insubstantial? Is this simply emotionalism as well? In other words: perhaps atheists are so fed up with what they consider nonsense and moral and intellectual hypocrisy or shallowness from Christians, that they say stupid things in response, out of sheer frustration or something?
Atheists have been called plenty of names by Christians, and their resentment and knee-jerk reactions are understandable. On the other hand, being called backward, ignorant, retrogressive, reactionary, irrational, anti-scientific, gullible, given to infantile psychological crutches, goodie-two-shoes, puritanistic, homophobes, women-haters, holier-than-thou, hypocrites, and a host of other things builds resentment amongst Christians too. That’s why both parties need to simply communicate more. The name-calling on both sides accomplishes nothing but resentment and ill will.
I would go further into “psychological analysis” and contend that some atheists disavow God primarily for reasons of sexual freedom. Aldous Huxley actually admitted this, concerning his own life. In Ends and Means (1937), he frankly confessed that his reasons for arguing against Christianity were not unbiased and objective philosophical ones. He ‘had an agenda’:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do.
For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.
The flip side of this mentality is that Christianity (or the Bible, or Paul) is said to be “anti-sex”. I vehemently deny this. It is anti-sex-outside-of-marriage, which is not anti-sex, but rather, anti- what we would call (whether one agrees or not) improper or immoral or disordered sex. That is a completely different question. To say that x is to be enjoyed within proper parameters or bounds is not the same thing as saying that x is “bad” or “evil” through and through. But this is a very common misperception.
Apparently, our culture (however we wish to categorize it: I call it post-modern, post-Christian secular society) thinks it is “free” and “liberated” to commit adultery, break up homes, betray and/or kill children, write “music” which is completely degrading to women, equating them with their sexual organs and lowering them to mere objects for male lustful fulfillment (in a word, whores, or “hoes”), obtain AIDS and various venereal diseases (which were almost non-existent 40 years ago), to become addicted to pornography as another “liberation” and “casting off of ‘Puritan’ inhibition” (which has statistically been tied to pedophilia and sometimes spousal abuse), etc., etc. Wow; really “free” huh?
But are all these promiscuous folks really happier than the “straight-laced” Christians (or atheists) who remain faithful to one partner? Was Marilyn Monroe ever “happy”? Or Hugh Hefner (the “inside story” of one of his daughters, who became a Christian, is fascinating)? Wilt Chamberlain supposedly bedded 100,000 women, but later said it was much more meaningful and fulfilling to have sex with one woman 100,000 times, than with 100,000 women one time.
I’ve stated before and I will again: many, many studies have shown the sexual satisfaction of devoted Christian couples who are serious about their faith significantly higher than that of their “wild, liberated” counterparts (and they have much lower divorce rates, too). Why? Because sex with a person you really, deeply love and have a lifelong commitment to is infinitely more meaningful, and hence, exciting and enjoyable (sex being 90% psychological or non-physical), than with someone who may be gone the next week, and whom you know has done this with dozens of other partners.
You never know if they are fantasizing about some other, or thinking you are a lot worse of a sexual partner than some other. That is a recipe for disaster. We now know that co-habitation before marriage will significantly lower one’s chances for a happy, lengthy marriage as well. The sociological data is all there. One need not read the Bible to learn all of this (though it doesn’t hurt).
I’ve been told that atheists are much more “conservative” sexually than one might think. I hope so, in light of the overwhelming sociological confirmation that monogamy and abstinence before marriage works best for long-term happiness and sexual fulfillment.
Paul Vitz’s argument is a completely justifiable rhetorical, turning-the-tables tactic along the lines of “you wish to argue that Christians are psychologically warped and in need of infantile crutches?; very well then, I submit the same sort of speculations a, b, and c with regard to atheists.” Such an argument, it should be noted, does not necessarily mean that the one making it agrees with all (or even any) of the content.
But at least in Paul Vitz’s research, he showed a clear and not-easily-dismissed contrast between the early lives of several famous atheists and those of famous theists. He had a control group. Sure, it’s neither scientific nor a properly random sample, etc., but it was interesting, and offered something objective.
It’s always easier, it seems, to dish out a particular criticism (the psychological arguments as to why Christians hold their beliefs) than it is to see its possible relevance to one’s own view. I readily admit that some Christians do indeed need psychological crutches (but so what, I say; who cares about the poorest representatives of any view?). But I have seen precious little of atheists admitting similar types of shortcomings to any extent amongst atheists. I maintain that the percentage of psychological abnormality is likely to be the same in both groups.
No one on the list explained Vitz’s control group of Christians having good relationships with their fathers, and the atheists having the opposite. How can one see no statistically significant factors there whatever; not even anything remotely interesting or thought-provoking? One doesn’t even have to agree with something to regard it as curious or interesting.
(originally from 7-4-01. Revised 1-14-02)
Photo credit: famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]