Faith of the Fatherless

Wonder why atheists hate God? Check out their relationship with Dad

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French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre also fits the defective father theory: His father died when Jean-Paul was a baby. "Jean-Paul was obsessed with fatherhood all his life," Vitz says. "His father's absence was such a painful reality that Jean-Paul spent a lifetime trying to deny the loss and build a philosophy in which the absence of a father and of God is the very starting place for the 'good' or 'authentic' life."

Sigmund Freud despised his father, a weak man who was unable to support his family. Freud connected his father to God--and also to cowardice and sexual perversion. It's not unreasonable to assume, Vitz writes, that Freud's Oedipus Complex, which places hatred of the father at the center of his psychology, expresses "his strong unconscious hostility to and rejection of his own father."

Of course, not all atheists become philosophers or psychiatrists; some of them go into politics. Among the most infamous are Hitler and Stalin, who share not only a reputation for efficient butchery but also demonic fathers. Hitler's father was a violent man who unmercifully beat Adolf and his mother; he died when Adolf was 14. Stalin's father also administered brutal beatings to his son. "It is not difficult to understand, Vitz writes, "why communism, with its explicit rejection of God and all other higher authorities...had great appeal for him." Once in power, Stalin had thousands of priests murdered.Interestingly, both Stalin and Hitler had deeply religious mothers; their influence on their sons' spiritual development appears to have been negligible.


Vitz didn't leave out America's favorite atheist,

Madalyn Murray O'Hair

. It turns out she loathed her father. Her son William relates that O'Hair once attacked her father with a butcher knife.

Voltaire, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Kate Millett--these intellectuals, too, were children of dead, weak, abusive, or absent fathers. It's convincing evidence that bad dads create kids who reject God. But is it possible that what modern Americans view as bad fathering simply reflected the social conditions of the day?

In order to test his defective father hypothesis, Vitz studied the childhoods of many prominent Christian and Jewish theists from the same historical periods. Remarkably, every single one enjoyed a strong, loving relationship with his father, or with a father substitute.

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Anne Morse
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