Brian Auten posts book review of “The Faith of the Fatherless”

The book review is here on Apologetics 315.


Vitz begins by laying out his hypothesis and the underlying principle behind it. He proposes that “atheism of the strong or intense type is to a substantial degree generated by the peculiar psychological needs of its advocates.”2  He notes that the theory that God is merely a projection of one’s needs is a popular position, 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.”3  He makes clear one of the underlying assumptions of his study: “First, I assume that the major barriers to belief in God are not rational but can be called, in a general sense, psychological.”4

The psychological angle that Vitz examines is the role and influence of one’s father in the formation of beliefs about God. The author notes that “Christianity is in many respects distinctive in its emphasis on God as loving Father.”5 Vitz points out that “Freud makes the simple and easily understandable claim that once a child or youth is disappointed in or loses respect for his earthly father, belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible.”6 It is with this thesis in mind – the lack of a father plays a strong role in one’s psychological disposition towards rejecting God – that Vitz engages his case study comparing the lives of famous atheists and theists: “I have selected for study those who are historically famous as atheists. These are great thinkers, typically philosophers, whose rejection of God was central to their intellectual life and public positions.”7

Brian also cites Vitz explaining his own journey into atheism:

Just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I learned to think like a proper psychologist by putting on the right – that is, atheistic – ideas and attitudes. I wanted as few impediments to my professional career as it was possible.14

[…]In my own case, I now see that it was because of my social need to assimilate, my professional need to be accepted as part of the world of academic psychology, and my personal need for independence and an agreeable way of life that I chose to be an atheist. Hence, the intellectual basis for my atheism, like that of countless others, appears in retrospect to be much more of a shallow rationalization than an objective rationale.

I just ordered the book last week on Brian’s recommendation. You might also be interested in a lecture that Paul Vitz delivered on the psychological causes of atheism. (That link contains the MP3 file)

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