Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trees are budding and blossoming, weeds are growing (as evidenced in my grassless lawn), and hope springs eternal. The high temperature forecast for today is 85 and we are still in February. I guess those global warming guys must be right. I wish I had the money to buy some carbon credits, but I've lost my purchasing power through investing in the future. Yet, its spring and I'm sure that if I have the audacity to hope, all will be well. I hope, hope, hope infinitum.

Well, this morning's blog will be the last dealing with the arguments of the atheists. I may, although I haven't decided for sure, present a few blogs on "reasons to believe in God". So much of this type of discussion takes us out of our comfort zone. A few years ago, historian Mark Noll wrote a work entitled THE SCANDAL OF THE EVANGELICAL MIND. His argument was that conservative christians ( some of whom are evangelical ) have produced precious little work that appeals to the mind, and addresses problems that secular academia have presented us. Our children go to institutions of higher learning and are presented with problems they can't answer because parents and churches have provided precious little help in preparing them for the education experience. Should we just give up the mind to the unbelieving world, or should we equiip ourselves to confront unbelief with facts and arguments that provide more than "well, I just believe".

Atheists usually explain "belief in God" as some form of projection or wish for a father, who will protect us and provide for us, as we navigate through a very dangerous world that threatens our very existence. Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis and it is he who has formulated the view that still prevails among atheists. "Religious ideas have arisen from the same needs as have all the other achievements of civilization: from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushing superior force of nature." Freud adds that religous beliefs are mere "illusions , fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind...As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection---for protection through love---which was provided by the father...Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the danger of life."

If Freud is right, then could one say that atheism results from a wish for "no father". Atheists would be quite resistent to such an idea, but Freud may have inadvertently opened the door to such a view. The previous quotes were taken from THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION, but of course Freud published many books. One of his earlier works was TOTEM AND TABOO, and in that work he writes the following: "Psychoanalysis of individual human beings...teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on the relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father". Might it not, therefore, be appropriate to examine Freud's relationship with his dad to help explain why he might reject God?

Sigmund seems to have viewed his father, Jacob, as a great disappointment. The family survived on money derived from the mother rather than the father. His dad was viewed by his son as weak and cowardly. Jacob allowed a notorious anti-semite to call him a "dirty Jew" and to knock his hat off without lifting a hand to defend himself. According to Dr. Paul Vitz, a psychologist who has served as professor of New York University, Freud declared his father to be a sexual pervert in a letter that he wrote. Jacob was a Jew and enjoyed reading the Old Testament and Talmud to his son. According to Vitz in his work FAITH OF THE FATHERLESS Sigmund saw his father as a "weak, rather passive 'nice guy' connected to Judaism and God, and also to a serious lack of courage and to sexual perversion, and other weaknesses very painful to young Sigmund". "Psychoanalysis" says Freud, "daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of the father breaks down".

If Freud were the only well known atheist to have a less than desirable relationship with his father, we might dismiss his situation as an aberration, but in fact his experience seems to be the norm among atheists. Vitz documents similiar problems among a number of well known atheists of history. Some of the atheists had no living father during their childhood and that in itself produced lasting problems for their psyche. Among these were such notables as Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Arthur Schopenhauer. Still others had abusive and weak fathers and this list includesVoltaire, Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud and H.G. Wells. Madalyn Murray O'Hair's son wrote that "We rarely did anything together as a family. The hatred between my grandfather and mother barred such wholesome scenes." Albert Ellis, the founder of "Rational Emotive Therapy " was neglected by his parents according to biographer Daniel Wiener. Vitz writes that young Albert

was "abandoned by his father and has had to support himself and his mother" through life.

Historical data such as the above would seem to suggest that it is atheism that may be the product of projection. " If God is a father, then I wish not to have one " seems to be the echo heard from well known atheists through the centuries. Before closing, I want to share one more brief account of one of the most influential philosophers of the past 300 years.

No one has had more influence in the past 50 years or so upon art, music , politics and literature than Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). He pioneered the "God is dead" movement that came to prominence decades later. Nietzsche is often viewed as a prophetic voice of the future of the west. He had a deep hatred for Judaism and Christianity in particular. The Jews were viewed by him as bringing the most despicable religion of all time onto the stage of world history. The mild and gentle Jesus was seen as compensation for weak and cowardly people. These weak and cowardly people couldn't compete with the strong so they introduced a religion that awards "turning the cheek" and other passive, cowardly behavior. Nietzsche introduced the "superman" or heroic strong, self willed leader as the noble and religion as a compensation for the weak.

Nietzsche's father, Ludwig Nietzsche, was a minister in the Lutheran Church. He died just a few months before Friedrich's 5th birthday. Doctors diagnosed the cause of his death as a "softening of the brain". One biographer described him as "passionately attached to his father, and the shock of losing him was profound". Following his dad's death Friedrich wept for days. According to Neitzsche his father's death robbed him of the "superior guidance of a male intellect". Following his father's death he was raised by his mother and female relatives.

His autobiography ECCE HOMO includes the following observation: "The treatment I have received from my mother and my sister, up to the present moment, fills me with inexpressable horror...". His view of women is well illustrated in the following quote: "You are going to see a woman? Do not forget your whip."

Friedrich missed his father, but also viewed him as a failure. His dad had been sickly and according to Friedrich was lacking in "life force". Just months before his total mental collapse and admission to a hospital for the insane, Friedrich wrote that he was suffering from "nervous exhaustion (which is in part hereditary--from my father, who also died from the consequences of a pervasive lack of life force". "My father died at the age of thirty-six; he was delicate, lovable and morbid, like a being destined to pay this world only a passing visit--a gracious reminder of life rather than life itself". Friedrich's criticism of Christianity was that it lacked "life force" like his Lutheran father.

What complicated life for Friedrich was that he shared many of the same qualities that he viewed as defiencies in his father. As a child he was often picked on because of his frequent illnesses and weakness in appearance. He described himself as by nature warlike, but he looked like anything but a warrior. He was quiet, sickly and did not present himself as an imposing figure. As Vitz points out with regard to Nietzsche, he had "a strong, intellectually macho reaction against a dead, very Christian father who was loved and admired but perceived as sickly and weak, a representative of what might be called a 'death force'--the very opposite of the Superman figure tht Nietzsche idealized. As one of his biographers put it, much of Nietzsche's life could be seen as a permanent 'quest for the father.' Indeed, the Superman may be interpreted as Nietzsche's idealized father figure."

Nietzsche's antisemitism influenced Hitler and his atheism influenced Marxism. The rise of nihilism and existentialism in art and music have been heavily influenced by an increased interest in Nietzsche.

Psychoanalzsing theists and atheists is a very speculative pursuit, but as the above shows, atheists cannot claim that theists are the only ones influenced by a need of a father. In my view the atheist argument to explain religion by projection or desire for a father is a mirror of their own father problem. Most atheists claim to depend upon reason for their conclusions, but claim that Christianity is rooted in psychological issues. They would be better served to avoid psycholanalysis and stay with arguments that appeal to reason. In such an arena I think Christianity can not only hold its own, but prevail.


vicki said...

Thank you for sharing this information. It really does illuminate the way philosophy can be shaped by circumstances. Students who admire these atheists rarely have been informed of these personal details about their "heroes" of the faith that is atheism. I hope the ones I know can be persuaded to give it a second look.

Linda said...

Surprisingly enough, we have been studying dangerous modern philosophies on Wednesday evening. We have done alot of talking about these postmodernists that attack hermeneutics of which Friedrich Nietzsche was one. How interesting it is to read your discussion of his life. That is so interesting and a one in a million chance that I would have ever heard of this guy. Thanks so much for the info. Keep up the good work. I look at this site every day so I don't miss anything. Love ya