Faith of the Fatherless

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

BY: Anne Morse


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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.

For example, Christian apologist and mystery writer G.K. Chesterton was extremely close to his father, a kind man who spent a great deal of time with his young son. Chesterton writes, "My father is the very best man I ever knew of that generation."

Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian and author of the book

I and Thou

was raised by a strong and loving grandfather who ignited Buber's interest in the intellectual life.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer, who was executed by Hitler, was the much-loved son of a psychiatrist. Bonhoffer's father was an agnostic, which suggests that strong, loving fathers inadvertently provide what Vitz calls "a model for a benevolent Father-God." (Ironically, this means a good atheist dad may find his kids embracing theism.)

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat and author of "Democracy in America," adored his father. Tocqueville argued that religion is a vital component in the life of a nation. This view was, Vitz notes, "quite unusual" in the 1830s, when atheistic views of culture and society "were becoming standard in Europe."

The father of Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician and philosopher, homeschooled his son; the relationship between the two was close and affectionate. Pascal is remembered in part for writing "a powerful and imaginative defense of Christianity," Vitz notes.

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