Friday, February 7, 2014

The Growth of Atheism: 1. Roots

Review:  Faith of the Fatherless &
Worshipping the State

It is no secret that the fastest growing religion in the United States is atheism.  For Christians in our country, it is the elephant in the room, that everyone sees, but few talk about.  It’s all around us, promoted on our televisions, praised in our government, and taught in our schools.  It seems to proudly speak out:  “Look at what I’m preaching here.  I ask you, isn’t this a good thing?”  And like Adam in the Garden of Eden, we look at the tree as if we’d never seen it before and then consider the tempting question and wonder: “Well, perhaps this IS a good thing --- for me.”  And the seed of atheism, the prioritizing of ME, lands on our soil, and the religion of our not needing God begins to take root in us.

How did we go from proudly calling ourselves a Christian nation to one where it’s illegal to act in public like a Christian?  Why can hundreds of thousands of Christians march on Washington on a January day and it not be considered news, but a single gay person who is beaten, or a sole atheist’s lawsuit against a single cross on public land, or a flight attendant daring to wear a cross on her uniform are reported on as “big news” for months?  Like smokers, why do our children have to go outside the school building to pray --- alone? 

I have had many thoughts about my life, and how I’m living in this culture.  I think I’ve gained some insights --- perhaps even been blessed with a dash of wisdom now and again (I pray for it so often), and I have shared those thoughts with you here.  I’ve shared things that make me anxious, and how I’ve dealt with them.  I’ve shared how I try to make a difference in this world, and how I try to love, as Jesus loved.  But in trying to focus on others, not myself, it is easy to ignore the fact that others are focusing on me --- and not for my good.  While I evangelize by my actions, others are trying to evangelize me.  While I’d like to say that I can raise the old shield of faith to defend myself, times have changed.  The enemy isn’t approaching me with a sword anymore, he now has a gun.  I need better protection.  And he isn’t coming straight at me so I can defend myself, he is coming from the side and the back.  He fights dirty; he lies.  If I am to survive, I need to study his tactics. 

And if I (and you) are to stop atheism’s growth, I cannot just deflect it from myself, I must find its roots and rip them out. 

Paul Vitz’s book, Faith of the Fatherless --- The Psychology of Atheism, presents historical facts and then proposes what they mean.  “I propose that atheism of the strong or intense type is, to a substantial degree, generated by the peculiar psychological needs of its advocates.”  He further asserts: “By starting with the psychological, we will be able to see how the personal atheism became political.”  He goes on to note “that psychological factors can be impediments to belief (in God) and that these factors are often unconscious.”  What Vitz is proposing, as Freud did, is that young children’s relational views --- how they view others --- are set early in life. 

Vitz explains Freud’s Oedipus Complex theory, that at about age three a boy develops a strong sexual desire for his mother, which is resolved by about age 5 when he realizes that he cannot replace his father, and so instead he learns to identify with his father --- usually.  “Those whose lives are characterized by promiscuity and atheism, in Freud’s analysis, are living out the Oedipal rebellion.”  Vitz points out that most psychologists today disagree with Freud that “Oedipal rebellion” accounts for the psychology of most cases of atheism.  Rather he places emphasis on another of Freud’s observations, that: “youthful persons lose their religious beliefs as soon as the authority of the father breaks down.”  That is: “An atheist’s disappointment in and/or resentment of his own father unconsciously justifies his rejection of God.”  Vitz calls this the defective father hypothesis, and he sets out to prove it.  He quotes a number of studies which support his defective father hypothesis.  I especially like the one which showed that if an atheist did himself grow up to act as a good father, his children likely would leave the atheism they were taught to believe.   Their personal relationship with their father, especially in the early years, had a strong influence on their ability to accept religion, and especially Christianity.

Vitz presented his hypothesis and supporting facts in the first 35 pages of his book.  Then for the next 50 pages he presented detailed accounts of the lives of many influential atheists, from the 1500’s to those of today, including Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, all of whom wrote of negative issues with the father or father-figure in their lives.  Vitz then presented 40 pages of accounts of the lives of well-known Deists, all of whom spoke proudly of their fatherly relationships.  I don’t believe in a “gay gene” nor do I believe some people are somehow forced by their psyche to reject God, however, Vitz does present lots of evidence to support his hypothesis that defective fathers (including absent fathers) are at the root of atheistic psychological factors, factors which cloud their judgment of relationships and family.  Vitz has other interesting facts and thoughts in his book; it definitely is worth a read if you want to explore this topic more deeply.

Benjamin Wiker, in his book Worshipping The State --- How Liberalism Became Our State Religion, did not focus on individual atheists as Vitz did, but on the spreading of major atheistic worldviews, and on the changing relationship of religion and government.  He begins with events in the pagan Roman Empire, then the Christian Roman Empire, its ultimate fall and the church-state distinctions which then evolved during the Middle Ages.  Against this backdrop of push-pull in Church-State relations, Wiker introduces the major atheists and their theories which would cut Church-state relations.  Beginning with Machiavelli, then Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, and Locke and their supporters, Wiker outlines the secular, atheistic, liberal state they proposed.  And, as Mr Wiker documents so well, the key focus of their atheistic political aims was the destruction of Christianity --- the church lead by heavenly and earthly father figures, or if not the Church’s destruction, then the proper use of it by the state to control the “vast uneducated masses.”

Wiker’s book is a scholarly work; I have underlined many sections in it.  He presents facts and summarizes them in political terms which one can understand very easily:

·         The primary concern of Christians in the Roman Empire was not religious liberty, but religious truth.

·         If the state were to become the only power, somehow the sting of (excommunication) must be removed from the king (the king can’t let fear of the loss of heaven cloud his judgments.)

·         That is Machiavelli’s revolutionary teaching – a prince sometimes has to do evil things (but must appear to be religious and moral).  Gone is the Christian principle that one must never use evil means, even to achieve a good work.

·         Hobbes proposed elimination of moral good and evil (sin):  “Whatsoever is the object of any man’s Appetite or Desire, he for his part calls good.”  Further, Hobbes asserted each individual had a right to anything and everything he desired.  That’s why we heirs of Hobbes emphasize our civil “rights”.

·         As a matter of strategy, a secular state does all it can to convince its citizens that they have these “natural rights,” because the more they claim them, the more they need the state’s power to settle their conflicts and keep peace.

Mr Wiker goes into extensive detail with examples of how and why the atheist agenda today is to control the courts and education, to limit the voice of Christianity in the public place, and/or to eliminate it.  Near the end of his book, he puts forth some proposals on how we might fight for “our constitutional rights” and counter liberal dominance in our culture, but unfortunately I found his proposals somewhat weak.

The strength of Worshipping The State is its clear story of how atheism took root in our society, and how it has definite plans to bring about the elimination or marginalization of Christian beliefs.  Wiker quotes a number of leading atheists who believe that the height of civilization and man’s freedom actually existed during the Roman Empire, before Christianity ruined it.  The great debates of today to eliminate marriage, to allow abortion, to kill those unfit to live, to have all the entertainment we desire, to take from the rich --- these were already resolved during the Roman Empire.  Then man could do what he desired, creating his own heaven on earth, with no one (except the state) ever telling him he was wrong.  It is the type of government power that liberalism would seek to establish again.

I strongly recommend this book.

These books tell the story of how we got into the mess our culture is in.  They describe the rooting of atheism in our culture and government.  Next time I’ll continue the story, writing more on how the roots spread, first below the surface as ideas, and then how they suddenly burst forth in revolutions --- and how Christianity helped fertilize atheism’s spread.


  1. Great article, but to bring up the old phrase, atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    1. I agree with you in general, but having read these 3 books (including How The West Really Lost God) I think I am more inclined to say that atheism is disorganized as the ants on the ground. There is no formal governing structure nor written creed, but it is a belief system nonetheless, even if its adherents aren't consciously aware of it.

      I had a great discussion with a close friend last night, a "good" Protestant, who was startled when I described the "defective father hypothesis." That's me and my father, she said. And I do have great difficulties with speaking to God the Father, and understanding Him. (She also said: "Great. I KNEW I have difficulties with the Church, now I find out that I'm INCLINED to have those difficulties.") :- )