Cover image for Faith of the fatherless : the psychology of Atheism
Faith of the fatherless : the psychology of Atheism
Vitz, Paul C., 1935-
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Publication Information:
Dallas : Spence Pub. Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 174 pages ; 23 cm
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BL2747.3 .V58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Despite its pretensions to cool-headed rationality, modern atheism originated in the irrational, psychological needs of a few prominent thinkers. Paul Vitz subjects the apostles of atheism to the same psychological analysis with which they attempted to debunk religious belief. The psychological source of their militant atheism, he shows, was the absence of a good father.

Professor Vitz argues that psychoanalysis actually provides a more satisfying explanation for atheism than for belief. A biographical survey of influential atheists reveals that disappointment in one's earthly father frequently leads to a rejection of God.

Atheism is not psychologically determined. Each man, whatever his experience, ultimately chooses to accept God or reject him. Yet the cavalier attribution of religious faith to irrational, psychological needs is so prevalent that an exposition of the psychological factors predisposing one to atheism is necessary.

Author Notes

Paul C. Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University, was an atheist until his late 30s. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. at Stanford

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Faith of the Fatherless is a psychological analysis of the most famous classical atheists. Its thesis is that the famous atheists of the 19th and 20th centuries all had dysfunctional or absent fathers. Like many current scholars in psychology, sociology, and men's studies, Vitz (psychology, New York Univ.) relies on recent studies demonstrating the radical power of a father in a child's development, especially a boy's development. Using figures ranging from Marx to Freud and Feuerbach to Voltaire, Vitz argues that all the classical atheists lost their father in some way. The argument falls short of its goal, since little account is taken of the diverse factors contributing to the scholarly corpus of each of these scholars. Though Vitz is a psychologist and not a theologian, the lack of nuance when addressing the issue of faith is disappointing. Vitz does recognize the narrow applicability of his thesis, but in spite of his disclaimers, his book remains unconvincing and overstated. It may be useful to some beginning students in psychology and religion. Advanced students and scholars will find that it lacks depth and has limited application. D. J. Livingston; Mercyhurst College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
1 Intense Atheismp. 3
The Projection Theory of Belief in Godp. 6
Freud's Unacknowledged Theory of Unbeliefp. 9
A New Theory of Atheism: The Defective Father Hypothesisp. 15
2 Atheists and Their Fathersp. 17
Dead Fathersp. 20
Friedrich Nietzschep. 20
David Humep. 25
Bertrand Russellp. 26
Jean-Paul Sartrep. 28
Albert Camusp. 31
Arthur Schopenhauerp. 32
Abusive and Weak Fathersp. 34
Thomas Hobbesp. 34
Jean Meslierp. 36
Voltairep. 38
Jean d'Alembertp. 40
Baron d'Holbachp. 42
Ludwig Feuerbachp. 43
Samuel Butlerp. 44
Sigmund Freudp. 47
H. G. Wellsp. 48
Minor Atheistsp. 51
John Tolandp. 51
Richard Carlilep. 53
Robert Taylorp. 54
Contemporary Atheistsp. 54
Madalyn Murray O'Hairp. 54
Albert Ellisp. 55
3 Theists and Their Fathersp. 58
Blaise Pascalp. 59
George Berkeleyp. 60
Joseph Butlerp. 62
Thomas Reidp. 62
Edmund Burkep. 64
Moses Mendelssohnp. 67
William Paleyp. 69
William Wilberforcep. 69
Francois Rene de Chateaubriandp. 71
Friedrich Schleiermacherp. 72
John Henry Newmanp. 73
Alexis de Tocquevillep. 75
Samuel Wilberforcep. 77
Soren Kierkegaardp. 78
Baron Friedrich von Hugelp. 81
G. K. Chestertonp. 82
Albert Schweitzerp. 85
Martin Buberp. 86
Karl Barthp. 88
Dietrich Bonhoefferp. 89
Abraham Heschelp. 91
4 Extensions and Qualificationsp. 94
Substitute Fathersp. 94
Don Boscop. 95
Hilaire Bellocp. 98
Walker Percyp. 100
Political Atheistsp. 104
Joseph Stalinp. 104
Adolf Hitlerp. 105
Mao Zedongp. 107
The Atheist Father as a Positive Influencep. 107
Men and Women: Some Differencesp. 109
Simone de Beauvoirp. 113
Ayn Randp. 116
Jill Johnstonp. 118
Kate Millettp. 120
Exceptionsp. 122
Denis Diderotp. 122
Karl Marxp. 124
Other Psychologies of Unbeliefp. 126
5 Superficial Atheism: A Personal Accountp. 130
General Socializationp. 134
Specific Socializationp. 135
Personal Independencep. 136
Personal Conveniencep. 136
Another Exemplary Casep. 137
6 Conclusionsp. 139
Intelligence, Ambition, and Willp. 140
The Complete Modelp. 143
Notesp. 149
Indexp. 166