Psychologist Paul Vitz is a senior scholar at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences and professor emeritus of psychology at New York University. An atheist until his late 30s, he has written extensively on the psychology of religion, and Faith of the Fatherless: the psychology of atheism is his latest work. Given my interest in theology and psychology I knew I’d be interested in what he has to say but found the book even more illuminating than I had expected.
I won’t spoil the pleasure of reading the book itself by giving too much away, but here is what I found interesting:
Vitz begins by looking at the projection theory of belief in God as well as Sigmund Freud’s ideas about religion. Vitz argues that the same approach (of critical psychological evaluation) can and should be taken to the atheist ideas. If theist’s belief in God is “simply” a projection of his desire for there to be God (according to Freud), atheist’s denial of God can also be “simply” a projection of desire for a Godless universe. Next Vitz asks what predisposes people to being atheists or theists, and discovers some very interesting facts, namely that atheists tend, in general, to have absent or “defective” fathers or father figures – and he presents a historical survey of famous atheists from different times to illustrate his theory. Of course the above is a gross oversimplification of his work, so if you want to find out the details and psychology behind this all read the book!