In this updated, expanded edition, starting with Freud's "projection theory" of religion - that belief in God is merely a product of man's desire for security - Professor Vitz argues that psychoanalysis actually provides a more satisfying explanation for atheism. Disappointment in one's earthly father, whether through death, absence, or mistreatment, frequently leads to a rejection of God.
A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries shows that this "defective father hypothesis" provides a consistent explanation of the "intense atheism" of these thinkers. A survey of the leading defenders of Christianity over the same period confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers. Vitz concludes with an intriguing comparison of male and female atheists and a consideration of other psychological factors that can contribute to atheism.
Professor Vitz does not argue that atheism is psychologically determined. Each man, whatever his experiences, ultimately chooses to accept God or reject him. Yet the cavalier attribution of religious faith to irrational, psychological needs is so prevalent that an exposition of the psychological factors predisposing one to atheism is necessary.
"Vitz offers a radical new thesis about the psychological origins of atheism. By studying the lives of numerous famous atheists, from the old atheists Nietzsche, Sartre, and Freud to the new atheists Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennet, Vitz discovers a startling common pattern: atheism arises in people with dead, absent, or abusive fathers. By contrast, prominent defenders of religious belief-including Blaise Pascal, John Henry Newman, and G.K. Chesterton-were blessed with attentive, loving and caring fathers. Vitz's provocative book raises important questions about psychology, religious belief, and the importance of fathers."
- Christopher Kaczor, Author, The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church
- Benjamin Wiker, Author, Architects of the Culture of Death
"In deploying Freudian theory against atheism itself, Paul Vitz has proven beyond a doubt what's missing from secular accounts of secularization: namely, actual human beings. His thesis is intellectual jujutsu of the first order, as anyone reading this timely revisiting will appreciate in full."
- Mary Eberstadt, Author, The Loser Letters and Adam and Eve after the Pill
- Paul de Vries, PhD, President, NY Divinity School
"The reasons for belief in God and unbelief are complex and varied and hotly disputed. Paul Vitz makes a striking contribution to the current debate with an elegant and thoroughly plausible explanation for much atheism that turns the traditional Freudian critique of religion on its head. Relying on the biographies of well-known modern atheists, he finds significant evidence that negative childhood experiences with regard to one's father can severely compromise one's capacity to believe in God. Whatever one's beliefs, there is much to ponder in this well-written and well-researched book."
- Eric L. Johnson, PhD, Director, Society for Christian Psychology