Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Psychology of Atheism

I've been thinking about the psychological and spiritual underpinning of atheism since 1996. And I, without much reservation, can say this article may be the most intriguing article on the topic I've seen since reading R.C. Sproul's book, If There's a God, Why Are There Atheists?

Paul Vitz, the author, is a psychologist and former-atheist. He begins his argument by listing the reasons he chose atheism from a psychological point of view. First, he and other classmates were ashamed of their backgrounds for whatever reason.
General socialization. An important influence on me in my youth was a significant social unease. I was somewhat embarrassed to be from the Midwest, for it seemed terribly dull, narrow, and provincial. There was certainly nothing romantic or impressive about being from Cincinnati, Ohio and from a vague mixed German-English-Swiss background. Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries.

Secondly, he wanted to fit in with and be accepted by atheist scientists.
Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford, however much they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united in only two things-their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion.

Thridly, atheism has a big bonus. You can live without some constraints.
Finally, in this list of superficial, but nevertheless, strong irrational pressures to become an atheist, I must list simple personal convenience. The fact is that it is quite inconvenient to be a serious believer in today's powerful secular and neo-pagan world. I would have had to give up many pleasures and a good deal of time.

Without going into details it is not hard to imagine the sexual pleasures that would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer. And then I also knew it would cost me time and some money. There would be church services, church groups, time for prayer and scripture reading, time spent helping others. I was already too busy. Obviously, becoming religious would be a real inconvenience.

He refrences the famous philosopher, Mortimer Adler, as admitting the motivation of personal convenience.

Psychology, especially since Freud, has viewed theism as a wish-fulfillment of an idealized father. Ironically enough, Vitz theorizes that atheism can be seen as Oedipal wish-fulfillment. In the Oedipus complex, you want to kill your father, supplant him, and get with your mother. But is atheism nothing less that killing your father and supplanting yourself as the utmost important being in your own life? James Bond and Hugh Heffner would be the prime example of this.

Vitz realizes that Freud's Oedipal theory has limited appeal. The most interesting thing to note was the theory of the Defective Father. A ton of famous atheists have had problems with their fathers. The problems fall into the following three categories:

Poor relations with one's father can lay the foundation for rejecting your Heavenly Father. Freud, Bertrand Russel, Marx, and Madalyn Murray O'Hair are mentioned in this article.

And 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.

It's not just that some lost their father, but that they are angry that God allowed soemthing negative. I would like, at this point, to mention that if God didn't exist there wouldn't be any ultimate right or wrong and there would be no reason to feel that way.

One omission from Vitz's argument is the primary argument of Sproul. Our natural human reaction to God's holiness is repulsion. That is why the Biblical God cannot be explained as some psychological projection. We would never want or desire a God who is holy, who hates our sin, and can't be bargained with. The Biblical God brings down the mighty and humbles the proud. He does what He wills.

Vitz did show another related flaw in the projection theory.
In the second paragraph Freud makes another strange claim, namely that the oldest and most urgent wishes of mankind are for the loving protecting guidance of a powerful loving Father, for divine Providence. However, if these wishes were as strong and ancient as he claims, one would expect pre-Christian religion to have strongly emphasized God as a benevolent father. In general, this was far from the case for the pagan religion of the Mediterranean world-and, for example, is still not the case for such popular religions as Buddhism and for much of Hinduism. Indeed, Judaism and most especially Christianity are in many respects distinctive in the emphasis on God as a loving Father.

Now, many theists hate the Biblical God and hate God's holiness as well. They make God into a toothless lion. A cosmic bellhop. Maybe atheists are just more internally consistent God-avoiders. They know that a God would be bad, bad news. Instead of making a impotent God, they tell themselves there is no God. That would be my conjecture. Or maybe the aforementioned reasons Vitz discusses is the reason they go with no God instead of a castrated, unbiblical God.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?