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.
Even nuclear families are at risk, spiritually speaking: Studies show that busy boomer parents spend far less time with their kids than parents did a generation ago.
Vitz warns that all this faulty fathering will lead not only to skepticism toward God but also to increased social pathologies--especially among boys."Boys very much look to their fathers as a model, not only for God, but for what they would like to be," Vitz told Beliefnet. "Nietschze was really saying, 'Dad is dead, therefore God is dead. Dad isn't here, so therefore God doesn't exist.'"
But the hunger for a father never goes away, Vitz cautions. A boy without a father "will move into gangs, or hero worship of some sports star," or worse--a charismatic political or cult leader. Badly fathered girls will reject God, as well--and spend their lives seeking a relationship to replace him.
"Faith of the Fatherless" serves as a wake-up call to people of faith: Unless they want to see America slide further into atheism, they must reach out to all those fatherless kids with strong, tender father figures.
Vitz's book is a warning to dads as well: If you want your kids to share your faith, you must share your time and love with them. If you don't, Vitz says, "they will reject everything you stand for--your politics, your worldview, and your faith, if you have one. And you will deserve it."
Tony Blair, take note.