The psychological profile of atheists

Triablogue has a fascinating quote posted from “The Cambridge Companion to Atheism“. (H/T J. Warner Wallace)

Take a look:

Findings regarding those who come from religious homes and then give up religion show that they have had more distant relations with their parents (Hunsberger 1980, 1983; Hunsberger and Brown 1984). Caplovitz and Sherrow (1977) found that the quality of relations with parents was a crucial variable, as well as a commitment to intellectualism. Hunsberger and Brown (1984) found that lesser emphasis placed on religion in home, especially by the mother, and self-reported intellectual orientation had a positive impact on rejecting the family’s religiosity as a young adult. Dudley (1987) found that alienation from religion in Seventh-Day Adventist adolescents was correlated (0.72) with the quality of their relationship with their parents and other authority figures. Alienation was tied to authoritarianism and harshness on the part of the parents. But parents may also have a more consonant effect on their children’s religiosity. Sherkat (1991), analyzing large-scale U.S. surveys in 1988, found that parents’ religious exogamy and lapses in practice led to their children’s apostasy. Thus, children may be following in their parents’ footsteps or acting out their parents’ unexpressed wishes.

Attachment theory (Kirkpatrick 2005) assumes that interpersonal styles in adults, the ways of dealing with attachment, separation, and loss in close personal relationships, stem directly from the mental models of oneself and others that were developed during infancy and childhood. Attachment styles can be characterized as secure, avoidant, or anxious/ambivalent. Secure adults find it relatively easy to get close to others. Avoidant adults are somewhat uncomfortable being close to others. Anxious/ambivalent adults find that others are reluctant to get as close as they would like. Kirkpatrick (2005) reports that in a study of 400adults in the United States, those having an avoidant attachment style were most likely to identify themselves as either atheist or agnostic.

Does losing a parent early in life lead one to atheism? Vetter and Green (1932–33) surveyed 350 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, 325 of whom were men. Among those who became atheists before age twenty, half lost one or both parents before that age. A large number in the group reported unhappy childhood and adolescence experiences. (The twenty-five women reported “traumatic experiences” with male ministers. We can only wonder about those today.) Vitz (1999) presents biographical information from the lives of more than fifty prominent atheists and theists as evidence for his theory that atheism is a reaction to losing one’s father.

This is why Christians need to do more than quote the Bible to people. We need to be concerned with politics. We need to support policies that promote and strengthen marriage and parenting. We need to oppose policies that undermine the stability of the marriage commitment. Not only should Christians be informed and outspoken about same-sex marriage, but we should also be informed and outspoken on other laws that weaken marriage, such as no-fault divorce laws. Not everything we need to know is in the Bible. The Bible does say that divorce is wrong, and homosexuality is wrong, but we need to look outside the Bible at research in order to influence the society as a whole. Most of the people who need influencing in public policy discussions will not accept Bible verses alone – they need arguments and evidence.

If we really care about bringing people to Christ, then we need to understand that public policy plays a role. Christians need to stop being pious about being apolitical.

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7 thoughts on “The psychological profile of atheists”

  1. WK – excellent post. I do agree that Christians need to take a stand for righteousness in the public / political arena. However, there is a slight problem.
    For current evangelical denominations to get involved in the political arena – they would loose their tax exemption.
    The question then becomes when / how will Christians evangelical denominations give up on their tax exemption status so they can become involved in politics?
    Taking a step further, evangelical denominations would have to start paying taxes or stop accepting them (this appears to unlikely situation). The difficulty is coming out of the American comfort way of life.
    However, once freed from that restraint of tax exemption they can now speek and act without fear much like John the Baptist who had the respect / fear of the people, religion, and politicians.
    Your thoughts ?

    1. I think that they are allowed to speak about specific issues, and teach on them, as long as they don’t explicitly endorse candidates. They can explain issues and take positions on issues in public. If every pastor were Wayne Grudem, we wouldn’t be having these problems. He is a full spectrum pastor, who talks about lots of political issues, without endorsing any candidates.

  2. From what I read it effectively and indirectly “neuters” involvement.
    Notice “indirectly” and “any policial campaign” or ” any candidate”.

    ” If a church participates or interferes, directly or indirectly, in any political campaign for or against any candidate for public office by publishing and distributing certain written material or making oral statements regarding the candidate, then a church can lose its tax-exempt status for violating the campaigning ban.”

    What efficacious avenues are left ? The only one I see, is a free standing non denominational “body” that is willing to pay or non organized group ?

    Your thoughts?


  3. MIchael……..from this statement….”From what I read it effectively and indirectly “neuters” involvement.
    Notice “indirectly” and “any policial campaign” or ” any candidate”.”, it seems that almost every sermon would qualify. This inclusion criteria is so vague and broad-based that it could easily be interpreted by a liberal, atheist progressive to apply to any Biblical message. I say, speak the truth, be specific, call evil what it is, and let the chips fall where they may. I would not want to be part of a church that was so fear-based and felt so muzzled. That’s just a recipe for becoming a PC multicultural works based mainline type church.

  4. I’m an atheist and while it’s good to see deists thinking sensibly about their issues, I would like to provide a bit of insight. Atheists often have poor relations with family and have avoidant personalities because we generally discover that maintaining worthwhile intimate relationships with people of faith is very difficult. While it’s perfectly possible for deists and atheists to be cordial and argue, in everyday life, we atheists are far more likely to be met with either disgust or hostility for our beliefs. So we tend to either be quiet and reserved or loud and confrontational. I’m not saying that this is a good way to go through life, but it’s the truth. I’m not asking you to reconsider your beliefs here. It’s difficult being an atheist in the more religious parts of the world, and personally, I don’t care how an individual arrives at atheism. We all have horror stories to tell.

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