What's a prime minister to do?
As it turned out, as soon as Baby Leo was born, Britain's Tony Blair changed his mind. Although he'd insisted for weeks that he planned no paternity leave, Blair abruptly canceled everything except his meetings with the queen to spend some time with his family. He even changed Leo's nappies and got up with him at night.
A wise move, Tony--not just because helping wife Cherie out will help you hang on to the women's vote, and not as a way to avoid having to sleep on the sofa. Spending quality time with your kids is good for their spiritual health.
The author of a new book about faith says the relationship kids have with their dads profoundly affects how they view God. Fathers who go AWOL on their kids tend to end up with children who reject God. But involved, affectionate dads provide earthly role models for a loving heavenly Father. The result: Their kids' faith catches fire.
Psychologist Paul Vitz of New York University recently explored the childhoods of more than a dozen of the world's most influential atheists. He discovered they all have one thing in common: defective father relationships. By defective, Vitz means the fathers were weak, abusive, abandoned their children, or died when the children were young.
Vitz points to Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher whose writings influenced everyone from Adolf Hitler to the Columbine killers. Nietzsche was extremely close to his dad, a Lutheran pastor who died of a brain disease when his son was 5. "Nietzsche often spoke positively of his father and of his death as a great loss which he never forgot," Vitz says in his new book, "Faith of the Fatherless." "But "he also saw him as weak and sickly." It is not hard, Vitz observes, "to view Nietzsche's rejection of God and Christianity as a rejection of the weakness of his father."
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."
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.