Friday, February 09, 2007
When I first came to Princeton I worked at a coffee shop, where the village atheist (of which there are a few), explained to me over the whir of the milk frother, that my faith was something that could be fixed. With the proper counseling, he repeated week after week, I could be made to see that it was all a psychologically motivated illusion. But couldn't, I wondered, the same be said of him? With the proper counseling, couldn't he be made to see that his atheism was a mere illusion that could be psychologically explained?The shrink is named Paul Vitz:Professor Emeritus of Psychology NYU
It was just a thought though. Never would I have expected that an NYU-tenured experimental psychologist would venture to verify the theory, as Paul Vitz does in this talk, expanded upon in the above book. Socialization-theory may claim to explain away religion, Vitz admits, but it can also ably explain its abandonment by upwardly mobile individuals seeking to get ahead in a secularized society. Freud's Oedipus complex, Vitz relates, does a much better job of explaining why someone would be an atheist (projected patricide) than a believer. Then come the atheist case-studies:
1. David Hume's father died when he was two.
2. Arthur Schopenhauer's father committed suicide when Arthur was sixteen.
3. Ludwig Feuerbach's father left the family to live with another woman when Ludwig was just thirteen.
4. Sigmund Freud's father was a coward and sexual pervert who was a painful embarassment to the family.
5. Friedrich Nietzsche's father died when he was four.
6. Jean Paul Sartre's dad died before Jean Paul was two.
7. Albert Camus' dad died just before Albert was born.
8. Russell Baker's father died when Russell was five.
9. Madalyn Murray O'Hair tried to kill her father with a kitchen knife.
10. Albert Ellis' father abandoned the family early on.
And those are just the famous cases. Vitz complements such accounts with other powerful examples culled from his experience as a prominent psychologist. He understands that ad hominem arguments are not arguments, but also that the above pattern is difficult to ignore. He refuses to generalize, his tone is professional, and most importantly in such sensitive cases, compassionate.
Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (Paperback)
Vitz (psychology, New York U.), an atheist himself until his 30s, exposes atheism to the same psychological analysis atheistic apologists have used to debunk religious belief. Beginning with Freud's notion that belief in God is a product of humanity's desire for security, he argues that psychoanalysis is actually a better explanation for denial of God, concluding that the absence of a good father is at the core of militant atheism. Surveys of the leading intellectual defenders of atheism and Christianity, show that the atheists had "defective fathers" while the believers did not. Vitz does not intend to suggest that atheism is psychologically determined, but rather hopes to counteract the idea that irrational psychological factors lead one to believe in God. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com) -- Booknews --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The problem is he has no real data. What Vitz is doing is showing the groundless and arbitrary nature of Freud's take on religion. That's obvious because all he does is just redirect what Freud says and shows how it can be reversed and put back on the atheist. If we look at it in just that light then the books makes sense even without data because Freud had no data either. Where it is a disappointment is in that it has no data so it's not really like making head way with insight.
I think my theory about atheits needing to mock and ridicule to feel good about themselves makes more sense. Although according to Vitz atheists have low self esteem. Vitz most controversial claim is the one about atheists being fatherless. One might connect that to having low self esteem. Now I'm sure people are going to be sending in comments saying "I'm an atheist and i have a father and we have a good time." Like I say, I wish he had some data.