Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Amazing Pointed Counterpoint

Let me state the bottom line of this at the very beginning. When you frame an argument as if it were a counterargument against a popular idea and, in fact, construct your own rendition of it in a manner parallel to the popular form, except slightly nudge it to show that the same reasoning can be applied to reach alternate conclusions, it is then dishonest to turn around and discuss this counterargument as an argument in of itself.  It is not a positive case, since it was only concocted to show fault in the original argument and its conclusions, and it should not be presented as if it were an actual argument for the point it reached, rather than an attempt to undermine the credibility of a similarly structured case which reached an opposing conclusion.  But, this does not stop people, sadly.  Whether due to an acute case of memory loss, or profound dishonesty, there are people out there who will first poke fun at an argument that they disagree with by showing how easily it could also be used to either argue an opposing point, and then run with this counterargument by completely ignoring that its purpose was to undermine or outright negate a previous argument, which they will also subsequently sweep under the rug.  The previous argument will never come up again, since that context needs to vanish in order for the illusion of a good point to be made (in contrast to the actual "good refutation/parody/usurpation of a bad point" which is what was actually presented).

With that stated, it may be easier for me to point out the key problem with the following essay by Paul Vitz (author of "Faith of the Fatherless").  Allow to make one more point before we move on:  Paul Vitz is either a psychodynamicist (modern day iteration of psychoanalysis) or a more standard psychologist who simply puts an awful lot of a weight on Freudian psychology (you know: defense mechanisms, id-ego-superego, subconscious desires, stages of psychosexual development [oral, anal, phallic, etc.]).  Here's the thing about that:  Freudian psychology has more or less been stripped down to a few shreds that are currently relevant to modern day psychology as we know it.  Freud helped very much in its formation and helped establish "theories" in the sense of elaborate hypotheses based mostly on his own observations, but which were the only things that psychology had that even approached some sort of methodology and consistency at the time.  But, since that time, we've been able to change things a bit.  Freud's theories are still somewhat relevant to therapy but they are nowhere near as authoritative as they once were.  Psychology has since become somewhat more scientific, while Freud's theories were more philosophical (even if his philosophy was supposed to be applied and was grounded in some semi-concrete observation).  Freud, though still rightfully acknowledged for serving as a forefather in the field, is not as relevant to modern psychology as one would think given knowledge of his incredible influence on pop psychology and literary interpretation to this day.  But the most significant thing that is actually still relevant is the precise shared terminology that he established for many things pertinent to his theories.  Aside from that, historical relevance, and relevance to the one school of psychology specifically devoted to using the psychotherapy techniques he developed, he is not as much of an authority on present day knowledge as one would expect a person of such historic fame and influence to be.

Okay, that was my preface.  On to Vitz's essay.
At the very least such a project puts many psychologists on the defensive and gives them some taste of their own medicine. Psychologists are always observing and interpreting others and it is high time that some of them learn from their own personal experience what it is like to be put under the microscope of psychological theory and experiment.
Regardless, I hope to show that the psychological concepts used quite effectively to interpret religion are two- edged swords that can also be used to interpret atheism. Sauce for the believer is equally sauce for the unbeliever.
Now, here is where he establishes that the main point of this essay, if I interpret those paragraphs correctly, is to show that some psychologists arguments against religion are going to be shown to be a "pot calling the kettle black" kind of argument.  He's going to hoist them by their petards.  That the argument cuts both ways.  Insert other assorted metaphors that suggest that he is focused on showing that concepts in question can be used to reflect on any party poorly in the same manner.
First, I assume that the major barriers to belief in God are not rational but-in a general sense- can be called psychological. I do not wish to offend the many distinguished philosophers-both believers and nonbelievers-in this audience, but I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument there are many, many more affected by nonrational psychological factors.
Assuming the decisions to be non-rational from the outset?  Why would you care about an argument about your particular beliefs that starts out with that assumption rather than actually establishing it to be a fact?  Directed at either believers or non-believers, that is a bit of a joke, honestly.
The human heart-no one can truly fathom it or know all its deceits, but at least it is the proper task of the psychologist to try. Thus, to begin, I propose that neurotic psychological barriers to belief in God are of great importance. What some of these might be I will mention shortly. For believers, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that psychological motives and pressures that one is often unaware of, often lie behind unbelief.
In the first sentence, I believe he had a typo and typed "psychologist" instead of "cardiologist".  Unless I simply am making the mistake of taking him too literally, considering that the sentence would have made just as much since if he had used the word "mind" instead of going into dead metaphor territory.  As for the rest:  the suspense is killing me.
Further, as a corollary it is reasonable to propose that people vary greatly in the extent to which these factors are present in their lives. Some of us have been blessed with an upbringing, a temperament, social environment, and other gifts that have made belief in God a much easier thing than many who have suffered more or have been raised in a spiritually impoverished environment or had other difficulties with which to cope. Scripture makes it clear that many children-even into the third or fourth generation-suffer from the sins of their fathers, including the sins of fathers who may have been believers. In short, my first point is that some people have much more serious psychological barriers to belief than others, a point consistent with the scriptures' clear statement that we are not to judge others, however much we are called to correct evil.  
My second point as qualification is that in spite of serious difficulties to belief, all of us still have a free choice to accept God or reject Him. This qualification is not in contradiction to the first. Perhaps a little elaboration will make this clearer. One person, as a consequence of his particular past, present environment, etc., may find it much harder than most people to believe in God. But presumably, at any moment, certainly at many times, he can choose to move toward God or to move away. One man may start with so many barriers that even after years of slowly choosing to move toward God he may still not be there. Some may die before they reach belief. We assume they will be judged-like all of us- on how far they traveled toward God and how well they loved others-on how well they did with what they had. Likewise, another man without psychological difficulties at all is still free to reject God, and no doubt many do. Thus, although the ultimate issue is one of the will and our sinful nature, it is still possible to investigate those psychological factors that predispose one to unbelief, that make the road to belief in God especially long and hard.
This is interesting. First paragraph is the suggestion that those who are experiencing hardship have barriers against believing in God and those who are well off do not.  This makes sense if people perceive things in the view that they are (semi-)rationally assessing their situation and how it pertains to several perspectives on the nature of God. It depends on whether people are using their own experiences to endlessly debate themselves over the problem of evil.Though that may happen occassionally, I doubt it has too much relevance. Attribute it to a greater plan that He has in store and move on as best you can.  When they do so successfully, it will strengthen their faith all the more.

Second paragraph declares that it matters not as much whether one believes in God as much as simply making steps to try to "move towards Him".  Which is both adorable and makes me wonder if he is implying imperfect conversions getting the effect of full conversion on occasion, or if he is claiming that good works can get you salvation as well.  Depends on what the vague phrase "move towards God" actually means.  Need I mention that either idea is probably heretical to wide swathes of Christendom?
I am not going into this to bore you with parts of my life story, but to note that through reflection on my own experience it is now clear to me that my reasons for becoming and for remaining an atheist-skeptic from about age 18 to 38 were superficial, irrational, and largely without intellectual or moral integrity. Furthermore, I am convinced that my motives were, and still are, commonplace today among intellectuals, especially social scientists.
Anecdotes.  He is giving us the full Freud experience here.  I am convinced that, though I am not an intellectual, my personal motives for being an atheist are not superficial, not (wholly) irrational, not without intellectual or moral integrity.  However, considering that this is simply a subjective self-assessment though (much like your's is the same), this proves not a thing.

Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.
I am sorry.  My only response is to giggle at the idea of a "glamorous, secular world."  Mostly because I am imagining him becoming a runway model.  Well, I guess begrudgingly also mention that people could easily become embarrassed about any part of their background in the right circumstances.  For instance, if you feel embarrassed for growing up in a poor family or in a city, should anyone be held at fault?  Or does it take little to no provocation for people to want to reinvent themselves when in a new social context?

Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology.....

In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to "think" like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.
I know that psychology has a lot of atheists involved in it, but if they are teaching one to adopt explicitly atheistic ideas, you should complain and address those things directly.  It is outrageous.  But, the arguments I believe you address in this essay originate from Freud, whose stance on religious matters is taught with an even more cautious "that's just what he thought" than his actual theories, if it is even touched on

Without going into details it is not hard to imagine the sexual pleasures that would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer. And then I also knew it would cost me time and some money. There would be church services, church groups, time for prayer and scripture reading, time spent helping others. I was already too busy. Obviously, becoming religious would be a real inconvenience.
Ah yes, the classic "atheist for hedonism's sake".   Granted, I do think that not having to go to church is an added benefit to being an atheist, but I could still believe in a God and do that.  And of course, God knows that you don't have to swear off teh sexual pleasures if you become Christian.  Some might debate how good of a Christian you are depending on what you do.  But even being a bad Christian is better than being an atheist, save in whatever pocket dimension of our country you were residing in.

In summary, because of my social needs to assimilate, because of my professional needs to be accepted as part of academic psychology, and because of my personal needs for a convenient lifestyle-for all these needs atheism was simply the best policy. Looking back on these motives, I can honestly say that a return to atheism has all the appeal of a return to adolescence.
Yes, atheism has the appeal of adolescence because your atheism was adolescent.  Somehow I doubt that in a country consisting of 80% Christians that there are many other cases of someone being subtly coerced into atheism due to peer pressure.  Not that it couldn't happen, but that it is reflective of a level of social influence that simply isn't possessed by atheists save in the remote microcosm that you allege to have found yourself in X number of years ago.

As is generally known, the central Freudian criticism of belief in God is that such a belief is untrustworthy because of its psychological origin. That is, God is a projection of our own intense, unconscious desires; He is a wish fulfillment derived from childish needs for protection and security. Since these wishes are largely unconscious, any denial of such an interpretation is to be given little credence. It should be noted that in developing this kind of critique, Freud has raised the ad hominem argument to one of wide influence.
It's not as much an ad hominem argument as an insulting attempt to see why a group of people thinks the way they do based almost exclusively on speculation (and, since it involves "unconscious desires," unfalsifiable speculation at that) and suggests that what they think is wrong because of said possible explanation.  In short: it's a bullshit argument if taken as anything more than a possible explanation.

In the second paragraph Freud makes another strange claim, namely that the oldest and most urgent wishes of mankind are for the loving protecting guidance of a powerful loving Father, for divine Providence. However, if these wishes were as strong and ancient as he claims, one would expect pre-Christian religion to have strongly emphasized God as a benevolent father. In general, this was far from the case for the pagan religion of the Mediterranean world-and, for example, is still not the case for such popular religions as Buddhism and for much of Hinduism. Indeed, Judaism and most especially Christianity are in many respects distinctive in the emphasis on God as a loving Father.
Interesting though that many pagan religions supposedly put some degree of emphasis on a protective and life-giving Mother entity.  As for Buddhism and Hinduism: it depends on whether you view avatars and buddhas as protective father-figures or not, making this come down to how liberally you are willing to apply the "protective and loving father" archetype.  As a result, I agree that it is a strange claim if not stretched nearly to the limit of figurative language.

There is one other somewhat different interpretation of belief in God which Freud also developed, but although this has a very modest psychoanalytic character, it is really an adaptation of Feuerbachian projection theory. This is Freud's relatively neglected interpretation of the ego ideal. The super-ego, including the ego ideal is the "heir of the Oedipus complex," representing a projection of an idealized father-and presumably of God the Father (see Freud, 1923, 1962, pp. 26-28; p. 38).
The difficulty here is that the ego ideal did not really receive great attention or development within Freud's writings. Furthermore, it is easily interpreted as an adoption of Feuerbach's projection theory. Thus, we can conclude that psychoanalysis does not in actuality provide significant theoretical concepts for characterizing belief in God as neurotic
No, I am not sure what he is talking about here and if you know, please share.  But the last sentence is interesting.  Why?  Because of the idea of using "neurotic" as a classification, a distinctly Freudian term which, to reflect upon what I said about Freud earlier, is no longer used in modern day psychology.  "Psychotic," neurotic's evil twin in Freudian psychology, is used a bit more often however but also no longer in a dichotomous method of classifying disorders.  It is because the terms "psychotic" and "psychosis" have been taken on to describe disorders or episodes that involve hallucinations or delusions whereas neurosis...who the hell knows what it is that neurosis is supposed to actually describe.

In the case of male personality development, the essential features of this complex are the following: Roughly in the age period of three to six the boy develops a strong sexual desire for the mother. At the same time the boy develops an intense hatred and fear of the father, and a desire to supplant him, a "craving for power." This hatred is based on the boy's knowledge that the father, with his greater size and strength, stands in the way of his desire. The child's fear of the father may explicitly be a fear of castration by the father, but more typically, it has a less specific character. The son does not really kill the father, of course, but patricide is assumed to be a common preoccupation of his fantasies and dreams. The "resolution" of the complex is supposed to occur through the boy's recognition that he cannot replace the father, and through fear of castration, which eventually leads the boy to identify with the father, to identify with the aggressor, and to repress the original frightening components of the complex.
And here's the feature presentation:  the Oedipus complex.  So beautiful.  It is a complex series of speculated emotions and attitudes that can be unconscious when you are supposed to be in the period where you are actually experiencing them, will not remember them in the future, and may not even have any form of actual behavior that could possibly serve as actual evidence for having the complex in the first place.  It is conveniently undisprovable almost every step of the way.

In short, all human neuroses derive from this complex. Obviously, in most cases, this potential is not expressed in any seriously neurotic manner. Instead it shows up in attitudes toward authority, in dreams, slips of the tongue, transient irrationalities, etc.
I almost forgot that part of Freudian psychology: using things like free association, dream analysis, and "slips of the tongue" to determine what you're really thinking about.  Mostly by using Freud's preconceptions of what people were usually really thinking about and using confirmation bias to zone your interpretations of each individual data point in on your pet theory about the person's pathology.

Now, in postulating a universal Oedipus complex as the origin of all our neuroses, Freud inadvertently developed a straightforward rationale for understanding the wish-fulfilling origin of rejecting God. After all, the Oedipus complex is unconscious, it is established in childhood and, above all, its dominant motive is hatred of the father and the desire for him not to exist, especially as represented by the desire to overthrow or kill the father. Freud regularly described God as a psychological equivalent to the father, and so a natural expression of Oedipal motivation would be powerful, unconscious desires for the nonexistence of God. Therefore, in the Freudian framework, atheism is an illusion caused by the Oedipal desire to kill the father and replace him with oneself. To act as if God does not exist is an obvious, not so subtle disguise for a wish to kill Him, much the same way as in a dream, the image of a parent going away or disappearing can represent such a wish: "God is dead" is simply an undisguised Oedipal wish-fulfillment.
Yes.  We get it.  Nice.  Hoisted by his own petard.  Double-edge sworded.  Sauced like the goose.  Bitch got served.  So we're done here, right?

It is certainly not hard to understand the Oedipal character of so much contemporary atheism and skepticism. Hugh Heffner, even James Bond, with their rejection of God plus their countless girls, are so obviously living out Freud's Oedipal and primal rebellion (e.g., Totem and Taboo). So are countless other skeptics who live out variations of the same scenario of exploitative sexual permissiveness combined with narcissistic self-worship.
James Bond (the fictional character...) and Hugh Heffner are atheists?  Look, they may not be pious, and they may like themselves some ladies, but that hardly means they are rejecting God.  Also, what the fuck is self-worship?  How do you even do that?  Also: suggesting that skeptics are more "narcissistic" and "sexually permissive" are testable predictions.  And I'm not so sure that the results will paint the image of "godless hedonists" that you expect based on your own experience/biased extrapolations.

Now man, not God, is the consciously specified ultimate source of goodness and power in the universe. Humanistic philosophies glorify him and his "potential" much the same way religion glorifies the Creator. We have devolved from one God to many gods to everyone a god. In essence, man-through his narcissism and Oedipal wishes-has tried to succeed where Satan failed, by seating himself on the throne of God. Thanks to Freud it is now easier to understand the deeply neurotic, thoroughly untrustworthy psychology of this unbelief.
This kind of stuff pisses me off.  Saying that anyone thinks that humans are the "ultimate source of goodness and power" is a strawman.  Or at very least ripe for equivocation, when the proper word would have been "only" instead of "ultimate".  Also, we have never "devolved from one God to many gods" on a global scale.  If you are speaking about religious pluralism when saying that, I am disgusted by your xenophobia.  If you are speaking about the history of religion, you should know that polytheism is older than monotheism and never had a "latency" period that I am aware of.  And either way, suggesting "devolve" from one God to many gods is biased, whereas your suggestion that people view humans collectively as gods is not only biased extrapolation, but it is not even wrong.  Why?  Because you are viewing an atheist's perspective of human beings with the same power structure that theist's view the entire universe with.  They see gods at the top, and humans next in line, and thus conclude that if you remove the gods, the humans are now at the top and are therefore the new gods.  But, in reality, we are not viewing ourselves as akin to gods in power due to the absence of gods to be more powerful than us.  We are viewing ourselves as...well...human beings.  Still small on a cosmic scale, still physically frail, still error prone.  To suggest that any significant number of people claim to believe to have a level of power akin to gods solely because gods do not exist is to suggest that we have an inordinately large number of crazy people.

Throughout his life, Voltaire (like Freud) toyed with the idea that he was not his father's son. He apparently felt the desire to be from a higher, more aristocratic family than his actual middle-class background. (A major expression of this concern with having a more worthy father is the play Candide.) In short, Voltaire's hostility to his own father, his religious rejection of God the Father, and his political rejection of the king-an acknowledged father figure-are all reflections of the same basic needs. Psychologically speaking, Voltaire's rebellion against his father and against God are easily interpretable as Oedipal wish fulfillment, as comforting illusions, and therefore, following Freud, as beliefs and attitudes unworthy of a mature mind.
It is around here that he is beating a dead horse and should have quit long ago if the original quoted paragraph was his actual intent.  Also: any form of rebellion against a male authority of any type is Oedipal wish fulfillment?  For fuck's sake...the only way that you could avoid accusations of the Oedipus Complex being at work in that situation is to either be utterly complacent (and therefore not noteworthy) or to hope beyond all hope that you happen to be a country with a matriarchal government.  In addition, I frankly do not see being dissatisfied with one's own social standing to be a form of disliking one's father specifically.  You might as well say that it reflects upon his hatred of his mother, wishing that he had born to another, wealthier womb,  thus suggesting that he didn't have an Oedipus complex and was most likely gay.  It makes as much sense, even if it doesn't make the point you are after.

I am well aware of the fact that there is good reason to give only limited acceptance to Freud's Oedipal theory. In any case, it is my view that although the Oedipus complex is valid for some, the theory is far from being a universal representation of unconscious motivation. Since there is need for deeper understanding of atheism and since I don't know of any theoretical framework-except the Oedipal one-I am forced to sketch out a model of my own, or really to develop an undeveloped thesis of Freud. 
Okay, this all makes sense until one mind-shattering statement:  "I don't know of any theoretical framework-except the Oedipal one".  I really hope he mistyped,  I really hope I misunderstood him, or I really hope that Professor Paul Vitz does not teach psychology.

Instead he makes the simple easily understandable claim that once a child or youth is disappointed in and loses his or her respect for their earthly father, then belief in their heavenly Father becomes impossible. There are, of course, many ways that a father can lose his authority and seriously disappoint a child. Some of these ways-for which clinical evidence is given below-are:

  1. He can be present but obviously weak, cowardly, and unworthy of respect- even if otherwise pleasant or "nice."

  2. He can be present but physically, sexually, or psychologically abusive.

  3. He can be absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family.

Taken all together these proposed determinants of atheism will be called the "defective father" hypothesis. To support the validity of this approach, I will conclude by providing case history material from the lives of prominent atheists, for it was in reading the biographies of atheists that this hypothesis first struck me.
First of all, this very idea doesn't make sense.  Wouldn't a "defective father" mean that one is more likely to seek out and believe in a better, alternate father figure, in the form of a god or otherwise?  Also, interesting that "defective father" can be anything from a mean father who is present, a not-mean-enough father who is present, or a father who is absent for any reason at all.  In other words, having anything but a perfect father can lead to atheism.  I wonder if one would find that those with fathers who are best qualified for any of the three categories (exceptionally weak, exceptionally abusive, exceptionally not there) were atheists at a higher percentage than those whose fathers were borderline (sorta wimpy, sorta mean, sorta dead).
Also:  yay, case history material/anecdotal evidence!

Specifically, his father was a weak man unable to financially provide for his family. Instead money for support seems to have been provided by his wife's family and others. Furthermore, Freud's father was passive in response to anti-Semitism. Freud recounts an episode told to him by his father in which Jacob allowed an anti-Semite to call him a dirty Jew and to knock his hat off. Young Sigmund, on hearing the story, was mortified at his father's failure to respond, at his weakness.
Vitz later recounts Freud's own strength of personality in comparison to his father which leads to the question: is this a matter of a father's seeming "weakness" objectively leading one to doubt them and therefore doubt skydaddies as well, or is the difference between their respective attitudes and personalities the key?

The connection of Jacob to God and religion was also present for his son. Jacob was involved in a kind of reform Judaism when Freud was a child, the two of them spent hours reading the Bible together, and later Jacob became increasingly involved in reading the Talmud and in discussing Jewish scripture. In short, this weak, rather passive "nice guy," this schlemiel, was clearly connected to Judaism and God, and also to a serious lack of courage and quite possibly to sexual perversion and other weaknesses very painful to young Sigmund.
Which means that he is not rejecting the idea of a divine father based on the incompetence of his own father, but associating his religious father's incompetence with his incompetent father's religion.  Still irrational, still a form of rebellion, but it doesn't have to do with the idea of a divine father but simply to the religion's association to the actual father he didn't care for.

Karl Marx made it clear that he didn't respect his father. An important part in this was that his father converted to Christianity-not out of any religious conviction-but out of a desire to make life easier. He assimilated for convenience. In doing this Marx's father broke an old family tradition.
Again, you seem to be suggesting a rebellion against the actual father who happens to have religion associated with them and therefore not adopting that religion, rather than showing any support for the idea that disrespect for the father will lead to, in the absence of such social milieu as religious affiliations, doubt in a divine father.  Show me an atheist who had a father he hated that was also not religious and that would be awesome.  Showing me that a smaller proportion of Christians have fathers that meet the criteria that you mention than atheists would also be just peachy.  But extrapolating based on the bios of a handful of famous atheists seems more like an exercise in inanity than anything else.

Baron d'Holbach (born Paul Henri Thiry), the French rationalist and probably the first public atheist, is apparently an orphan by the age of 13 and living with his uncle. (From whom he took the new name Holbach.) Bertrand Russell's father died when young Bertrand was 4-years-old; Nietzsche was the same age as Russell when he lost his father; Sartre's father died before Sartre was born and Camus was a year old when he lost his father. (The above biographical information was taken from standard reference sources.) Obviously, much more evidence needs to be obtained on the "defective father" hypothesis. But the information already available is substantial; it is unlikely to be an accident.
But, I will grant, that that is very interesting.  I do wonder what the explanation is.  Suffering enough to make the problem of evil relevant/gaining too much pessimism to accept religious ideas?  Ostracism leading to aversion to the religion of those ostracizing them or preventing conversion via osmosis?  Your defective/non-existent father hypothesis?  I don't know.  I am not even sure if the data you obtained wasn't cherry picked and thus am also not sure if an explanation is even necessary.

The psychology of how a dead or nonexistent father could lay an emotional base for atheism might not seem clear at first glance. But, after all, if one's own father is absent or so weak as to die, or so untrustworthy as to desert, then it is not hard to place the same attribute on your heavenly Father.
Finally, there is also the early personal experience of suffering, of death, of evil, sometimes combined with anger at God for allowing it to happen. Any early anger at God for the loss of a father and the subsequent suffering is still another and different psychology of unbelief, but one closely related to that of the defective father.
Notice how he is still going on?  Notice how he is still talking about this, presenting his own hypothesis, throwing up some scant but vividly detailed evidence, and has now gotten so far in that you have forgotten that the stated purpose of the paper was to show how shallow and vapid the psychologically based argument against religion was?  Brilliant, no?  He can have his cake and bash the opposing cake to bits too!

Let me conclude by noting that however prevalent the superficial motives for being an atheist, there still remain in many instances the deep and disturbing psychological sources as well. However easy it may be to state the hypothesis of the "defective father," we must not forget the difficulty, the pain, and complexity that lie behind each individual case. And for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who rejected, who denied, who hated, who manipulated, or who physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding and compassion. Certainly for a child to be forced to hate his own father-or even to despair because of his father's weaknesses is a great tragedy. After all, the child only wants to love his father. For any unbeliever whose atheism is grounded in such experience, the believer, blessed by God's love, should pray most especially that ultimately they will both meet in heaven. Meet and embrace and experience great joy. If so, perhaps the former atheist will experience even more joy than the believer. For, in addition to the happiness of the believer, the atheist will have that extra increment that comes from his surprise at finding himself surrounded by joy in, of all places, his Father's house.
And there you have it.  He may toss up a few disclaimers here and there, but he proceeds to ignore them himself and decide that, yes indeed, he has made a positive case for why atheism is brought about by petty desires and daddy issues with not a mention of the fact that he was originally trying to do so to refute the case for why religious belief is brought about by petty desires and daddy issues.  He makes sure to sprinkle it with a dash of condescending concern for the atheists, and finally some smultz to really drive the message home.  The message?  "All the atheists need is love!  Then they'll believe!".  Considering that he mentioned "specific socialization" (i.e. peer pressure) as one of the irrational reasons for why he was turned atheist, I wonder if it occurs to him that he is basically suggesting that people try to convert those poor atheists by intentionally using a similar process.  Ehh, whatever.

I am putting my cards on the table:  I am an atheist, I am not around other atheists to pressure me into being one, I am not aware of any local groups that would make one ashamed of religious roots let alone current beliefs, I am not an atheist for the sex life (if I were, I would actually have one...), and my father has always been there, always "strong", and never anything close to abusive.  I have nothing but respect for him, and the very idea that fathers have anything to do with religion or deities at all is thoroughly biased by a Christian-centric view of what religion is and gods are.  Aside from in the Jewish/Christian religion, which you admitted yourself was pretty much the only religion where the god/father comparison was made explicit, the only thing that gods have in common with fathers is that both are deemed to be figures of authority.  Outside of the bizarre construct of the Oedipus complex and the far-reaching conclusions one decides to draw from it, that similarity is more or less irrelevant.  Without evidence for such speculation, save in the form of glorified anecdotes which I myself can supply counterpoints to, I am afraid that your case, even without considering that Freud counters your case as much you counter his, is pathetic.  But don't worry, we'll let you come back to atheism and we'll invite you with open arms and a firm handshake.  Maybe, perhaps, at the surprise of finding love and warmth in your No-Father's House, you will finally be able to see the light.


Pliny-the-in-Between said...

These kinds of things scare the crap out of me - much more so than the simple 'atheists suck and are immoral' approach. Why? Because it's the same pseudoscience approach that has been used as an apologetic for prejudice and hatred throughout hx - those poor 'Negros, developmentally challenged, homosexuals, etc. just can't be blamed for the scientifically validated inferiority. Our shunning of them is just a natural response to inferior beings, and of course in time we will come to the conclusion that we owe it to them to make them better through treatment, separate them form the normals or put them out of their misery. After all as the superior race we are tasked with caring for them. A hateful wolf in scientific sheep's clothing.

One wonders if he has read any articles like this one:

The neural substrates of religious experience.

J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 1997 Summer;9(3):498-510

Saver JL, Rabin J.
UCLA-Reed Neurologic Research Center 90095, USA.

Religious experience is brain-based, like all human experience. Clues to the neural substrates of religious-numinous experience may be gleaned from temporolimbic epilepsy, near-death experiences, and hallucinogen ingestion. These brain disorders and conditions may produce depersonalization, derealization, ecstasy, a sense of timelessness and spacelessness, and other experiences that foster religious-numinous interpretation. Religious delusions are an important subtype of delusional experience in schizophrenia, and mood-congruent religious delusions are a feature of mania and depression. The authors suggest a limbic marker hypothesis for religious-mystical experience. The temporolimbic system tags certain encounters with external or internal stimuli as depersonalized, derealized, crucially important, harmonious, and/or joyous, prompting comprehension of these experiences within a religious framework.

mac said...

"Finally, there is also the early personal experience of suffering, of death, of evil, sometimes combined with anger at God for allowing it to happen. Any early anger at God for the loss of a father and the subsequent suffering is still another and different psychology of unbelief, but one closely related to that of the defective father."
It seems the author posits that atheists all hate their Father?

And somehow, there is an anger towards a god the atheist does not believe exists??

I do not hate my Father - nor my step-Father, for that matter.

What started as a questioning of god as to why, what and where, may seem like anger. But if questioning is anger, Even the supposed son of god(Jesus) was an angry atheist. Didn't he question his dad while on the cross ("Father, why hast thou forsaken me?")?

Come to think of it ole JC had an absintee Dad I think not ;-)

Asylum Seeker said...

Hmmm, good point Pliny. I was too focused on other smaller things to actually even notice the possibility of this being used to demonize. That paper you found is very interesting though because, speaking of schizophrenia, I seem to recall that one of the symptoms of someone being in the prodromal phase at the onset of full-blown schizophrenia is if they are exhibiting a major increase in religiosity. Why? I would honestly like that to be explored. I think it is possible that such people can actually camouflage themselves because if their delusions and hallucinations manifest in a way consistent with the religious beliefs they align themselves with, it will be taken as evidence of the veracity of their faith for all parties involved, making it so that they actually gain status for their symptoms and also not even be seen as ill in any way, which would be hard to avoid in a non-religious context. If religion is an institution that emphasizes faith over reason, who better to gain cover by joining than someone whose reason is defunct and would otherwise have faith in things that people could see as plainly wrong? But, you see, this is just speculation on my part. I will at least admit this.

And mac, I believe I once heard it said that "God is an atheist". I think we both know that Vitz would agree.

Stacy S. said...

Who IS this guy?! What a fucking moron!
I would have stopped reading after this:

"... the major barriers to belief in God are not rational ..."

Why do you put yourself through it Seeker?

I do like the fact that he thinks that atheists are more sexually permissive though. :-) Tee hee hee...

Asylum Seeker said...

It's because I sort of like trying to tackle these kinds of things. Also: Vitz happens to be taken sort of seriously due to having a degree in the subject he writes about(even if there is only a small number of people that have even heard of him). Got a degree in psychology, using it to talk about religion, and since I am very much interested in both, and just felt I needed offer my two cents (you know...more than usual).

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Seeker - I recall a paper but haven't found the citation yet from a few years ago that looked at dopamine receptor activity and is reported to have found that skeptics had low activity in certain brain centers, religious people had a higher level and schizophrenics the highest levels.

I can't find it yet so don't put too much stock until I can find the reference and ewe can check the methods.

Asylum Seeker said...

Here's a link to a book that seems to have a brief mention of research that seems to support what you just mentioned (even if it isn't the original article itself).

Hopefully the link works

Asylum Seeker said...

You may need to move up the page by about a paragraph, since I think point one is related to what you were mentioning.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Thanks Seeker - the link does work and this looks like what I was recalling. I need to find the article and look at it in more detail since a lot of these kinds of articles get misrepresented in the press.

mac said...

OH shit, I just realized my Dad died in '93.

Of course, I was 28 years old at the time .....

pboyfloyd said...

I think it's clear that this guy wants to cast atheists as damaged goods and paint himself and his fellow Christians as stable and just plain right.

There is no question in his mind that there IS a God, or so he wants us to believe.

I liked the part where we were all moving towards or away from God, very 'hypnotic suggestion'.

GearHedEd said...


"...I liked the part where we were all moving towards or away from God, very 'hypnotic suggestion'."

Standard Xian schtick: "Atheists don't REALLY disbelieve; they deny the extant god for personal reasons, or because they don't want to be chained to an 'objective morality'"

More rubbish, just a tad more eloquent than most.

Richelle said...

"Now, in postulating a universal Oedipus complex as the origin of all our neuroses, Freud inadvertently developed a straightforward rationale for understanding the wish-fulfilling origin of rejecting God. After all, the Oedipus complex is unconscious, it is established in childhood and, above all, its dominant motive is hatred of the father and the desire for him not to exist, especially as represented by the desire to overthrow or kill the father. Freud regularly described God as a psychological equivalent to the father, and so a natural expression of Oedipal motivation would be powerful, unconscious desires for the nonexistence of God."

OMIGAWD!! it's all so clear now! the fuckin' oedipus complex. dammit.... why didn't i think of that?

oh yeah... because it's silly bullshit. apparently the boner he got over his ground-breaking theory distracted him from explaining how the electra complex, or the "feminine oedipus complex" according to freud, fits into this crap-tastic clusterfuck he calls an explanation.

if he wants to use freud to explain atheism, okay, it's idiotic, but whatever, let's just entertain it for a moment. the oedipus complex might explain atheism in men (kind of), but what about in women?

girls are first attached to the mother until they realize they don't have a penis and, believing mommy chopped it off, become hostile towards her and wish to become impregnated by daddy.

so... why then am i, a female, an atheist? shouldn't i, along with all women, be infatuated with "god"?

and if we do give any merit to this theory, it may explain why there are more god-believing women
than athiest women, but why then is that also reflected in men?

if the oedipus complex effects a man's relationship with "god" wouldn't we see a much higher number of male atheists compared to men who believe in god? why are they still the minority?

it seems to me that mr. vitz is forgetting that in science, especially psychology, it is important to remain objective. his entire theory is fucked from the very beginning because it is based on the assumption that god does, in fact, exists, despite there being no proof.

GearHedEd said...

Bravo, Richelle!

One other thing he forgot to consider.

Most psychologists don't give much credence to Freud anymore.

And I never read Oedipus Rex.

Go figure...