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The fathers of atheism?

Does a broken relationship with your father, affect your relationship with God?

Does a broken relationship with your father, affect your relationship with God?

In 1999, Catholic psychologist Paul Vitz caused a stir when he published his book — Faith of the Fathers: The Psychology of Atheism.

In it, Vitz attributed a person’s atheistic views to poor and/or absent fathers.  Vitz — a professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences based in Arlington, Virginia, a Catholic graduate school — recently released an updated edition of his book

In an interview with Religion News, Vitz said, “We need to understand atheism has a lot to do with our emotional attitudes towards life, other people and a lot of other things. I think that is an important thing for atheists and believers alike to take into consideration.”

Vitz studied the childhood of a number of radical atheists such as Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Voltaire and Nietzsche and noticed each came from homes with abusive fathers. Vitz says this affected their ability to develop a relationship with God, their Heavenly Father.

When his book was first published there was a swift reaction from the atheistic community. Many were incensed their beliefs had anything to do with the relationship with their father, and not a rational view of the facts.

Since Vitz published his first edition, there has been a significant rise in atheism in America. According to Pew research, the number of people claiming to be atheists grew from 3.7% in 2007 to 5.7% in 2012. Also the new atheists are becoming much more radical and vocal about their beliefs, and seem bent on attacking Christianity at every turn.

In his latest edition, Vitz looks at the lives of these new atheists including Richard Dawkins who according to Vitz was abused by a clergyman.

Vitz does not suggest that every atheist’s views is due to an abusive or absentee father, but does say that so many atheists do have issues, the connection is more than coincidental.

Parents as idols?

There is an interesting passage in the Old Testament that suggests a connection between the relationship with our parents and our Heavenly Father.

In Genesis 1: 26, God says, “Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness.” The two prominent words in this passage are ‘image’ and ‘likeness.’

The Hebrew word translated ‘likeness’ — demuwth — means to model or shape. Though God fashioned man in flesh, we were also created with a spirit that mirrored God’s spiritual nature.  This similarity separated us from the “beasts of the field” and gave humans the ability to have a relationship with their Heavenly Father.

But the second word —‘image’ (selem) — means to be a representation or representative figure. The writers and prophets of the Old Testament used the same Hebrew word to describe idols or as the King James version quaintly called them ‘graven images’ (cf. Isaiah 40:9; 45:20).

Ironically, God intended men and women to be the idols that represented Him, not chunks of rock or carved wooden figures.

Selem is a curious word because it begs the question — who were men and women supposed to represent God to? If we were all created in the image of God, it would be fruitless to model this image to each other.

I believe God intended husbands and wives to be a representative — or an idol — of what God was like to their children. As children watched and interacted with their parents, they gained an understanding of who God was. This perception would be a natural bridge leading children into a personal relationship with their true spiritual Father.

But then came man’s catastrophic fall into sin. In a fleeting moment, these idols — intended to represent God in His purest form — were horribly scarred and disfigured. It left all children to follow with a flawed impression of what God was really like.

In extreme cases of abuse, it is easy to see how a person’s perception of God would be so flawed, he or she would simply reject God’s existence altogether.

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