A CONTROVERSIAL BOOK that links extreme atheism with shoddy fathering is attracting a resurgence of interest with a new printing.
“Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism” by Catholic psychologist Paul C.Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers. This, he argues, damaged their ability to form a relationship with God.
Vitz also holds that many notable believers — Renaissance man Blaise Pascal, anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce and Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among others — had great relationships with their dads, and were therefore more able to build relationships with God.
“We need to understand atheism has a lot to do with our emotional attitudes towards life, other people and a lot of other things,” Vitz said “I think that is an important thing for atheists and believers alike to take into consideration.”
The book has polarized critics.
Skeptic magazine panned it as “insulting to those of us who came to a point of non-belief as the result of careful study and consideration.”
Vitz makes an important point — the book does not try to prove or disprove the existence of God. Rather, its goal is to examine some of the “irrational” underlying reasons some people become atheists.
“I am certainly not predicting that every atheist is the result of one hypothesis, much less mine,” he said. “I am just saying there is a tendency for more things to go together than you’d expect normally,” like atheism and a poor relationship with one’s father.
Vitz, a Catholic who identified as an atheist in his youth, acknowledges there are exceptions to his theory. He identifies a big one in his book — Sam Harris, a New Atheist who hit the best-seller list with “The End of Faith,” has an apparently healthy relationship with his father, too.
“The best answer I have to explain that is I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t studied them (the exceptions) enough.”