There seems to be a connection between atheism and defective fathers. If you were to make a list of the most famous atheists of all time, what would they have in common? Such a list would include Freud, Nietzsche, Hume, Russell, Sartre, Camus, Schopenhauer, Hobbes, Meissner, Voltaire, Butler, Wells, Feuerbach, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Stalin, Hitler, Diderot, and Marx. They all had in common that they had either no relationship to their fathers or a defective one.
A book that explores this is Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism by Paul Vitz. Vitz quotes Freud as saying: “Psychoanalysis, which has taught us the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God, has shown us that the personal God is logically nothing but an exalted father, and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of their father breaks down.”
It is essential to understand that just because you had a bad father doesn’t automatically mean you will be an atheist. But I have personally seen people who were mistreated or abandoned by their biological fathers and had a difficult time accepting the concept of a heavenly Father. It’s easy to see how there could be a connection between atheism and defective fathers. If all you know of “father” is someone who abused you, then any notion of a loving heavenly Father may be hard to accept fully.
In this day of single parents, fatherless children, and dysfunctional father figures, we can expect further growth in faith problems. The New Testament writers were aware of this and frequently addressed the need for fathers to have the strength to be the men God called them to be. “You fathers, don’t rouse your children to resentment, but raise them by letting the Lord train and correct them” (Ephesians 6:4). “Fathers do not fret and harass your children, lest they become discouraged and quit trying” (Colossians 3:21).
The biblical concept of a father is not that of an abusive tyrant, but a loving provider. Children can understand the spiritual father is one of love and care and compassion even if they have not had the best of experiences with their biological father. Thank God for Christian fathers.
— John N. Clayton © 2020
NOTE: Biblical quotes are from The New Testament from 26 Translations by Zondervan Publishing.