Atheism and Fatherhood

“It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” 

– Pope John XXIII

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I posted the following on Facebook the other day:

OWS

Someone responded by suggesting that the lack of a godly father might leave certain individuals searching for a substitute – in the form of government.

This immediately brought to mind previous studies that I’ve read showing a link between fatherlessness and atheism. (Atheism and statism often overlap, but that’s a topic for another day. It’s interesting to note, however, that political liberals are far less likely than political conservatives [55% versus 82%] to accept the statement, “God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.”)

According to a large-scale Swiss study published in 2000, “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.” The statistics are pretty eye-opening. In families where both parents were regular churchgoers, 33% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers. In families where the mother was a regular churchgoer and the father was nonpracticing, only 2% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers. In families where the father was a regular churchgoer and the mother was nonpracticing, 44% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers.

In “Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism,” Dr. Paul Vitz (a professor of psychology at NYU, with a Ph.D. from Stanford) makes a case for the “defective father hypothesis”. He begins by looking at the biographical information of the world’s most influential atheists – past and present – essentially asking what they have in common. What he finds is that nearly all of them experienced broken relationships with their biological fathers (whether through death, conflict, abandonment, or abuse). Furthermore, “a survey of the leading intellectual defenders of Christianity over the same period confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers.”

faith of the fatherless

This observation isn’t limited to famous atheists, either. The following excerpt is taken from the chapter “Atheists: A Psychological Profile” in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (HT Triablogue and Wintery Knight):

“In representative surveys of the U.S. population in the 1970s and 1980s, the unaffiliated were found to be younger, mostly male, with higher levels of education and income, more liberal, but also more unhappy and more alienated in terms of the larger society (Hadaway and Roof 1988; Feigelman, Gorman, and Varacalli 1992)…

Findings regarding those who come from religious homes and then give up religion show that they have had more distant relations with their parents (Hunsberger 1980, 1983; Hunsberger and Brown 1984). Caplovitz and Sherrow (1977) found that the quality of relations with parents was a crucial variable…

Does losing a parent early in life lead one to atheism? Vetter and Green (1932–33) surveyed 350 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, 325 of whom were men. Among those who became atheists before age twenty, half lost one or both parents before that age. A large number in the group reported unhappy childhood and adolescence experiences.”

atheism

While these statistics are sobering and saddening, they shouldn’t be surprising.

Many of the basic claims of Christianity (the existence of God, original sin, etc.) can be deduced and defended using reason alone. However, as Thomas Aquinas argues in Summa contra Gentiles, there remain certain Christian teachings (the doctrine of the Trinity, for example) which must be accepted by placing faith in the authority of Scripture. On an even more basic level, accepting Christianity entails having faith (that is, confidence) in the authority of God the Father.

For obvious reasons, this sort of confidence might come less naturally to someone who grows up without a trustworthy father figure.

And this is exactly why Christians need to engage in – rather than withdraw from – shaping our culture. This is why we need to defend the institution of marriage by opposing no-fault divorce laws. Put bluntly, a country where only 64% of children live with married parents is going to be less receptive to evangelism than it otherwise could be.

Abortion and Circumcision: Hypocrisy on the Left

“Any restoration of persons to the divinely intended norm of being valued as image-bearers will threaten a social order that promotes marginalization of the vulnerable…to claim that the unborn deserve a right to life even though such does indeed impede the free choice of the mother is to challenge a social order that discounts the validity of humans. Such discounting of individuals usually occurs in order to maintain or to establish power and control by taking advantage of the socially weakest.” 

– James R. Thobaben

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A few weeks ago, I created a meme that generated quite a lot of controversy on Facebook (17,000 views and 169 comments on my page alone).

circumcision

It’s worth checking out the original image, if only for the comments. I was amazed at how flimsy the objections were to the meme. They boiled down to:

1. “Late term abortions aren’t done that late.”

My response: For one thing, the frequency of late term abortions is entirely beside the point. As of 2009, 23% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal “under any circumstances”. So this meme is primarily targeted toward those who 1) believe that abortion should be legal at any point during pregnancy, and 2) believe that circumcision should be illegal. Furthermore, we have to consider the earliest point at which infants can be born alive (22 weeks, give or take). While it’s true that these infants likely won’t be circumcised immediately, it’s worth pointing out that “two weeks earlier” they were at 20 weeks gestation. Which is exactly the stage at which Texas recently banned non-medically-related abortions. Remember how much that restriction enraged the left? If you “#StandWithWendy“, this meme might apply to you.

2. “Circumcision violates the rights of the newborn, regardless of one’s stance on abortion”

My response: That’s sidestepping the point…but there’s solid medical evidence that circumcision has significant health benefits (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/science/benefits-of-circumcision-outweigh-risks-pediatric-group-says.html?_r=2&). At the very least, that’s enough to establish that there’s a reasonable trade-off involved, and that there should be room for parental discretion (assuming that we still live in a country where parents, not the State, decide what’s best for their children). More importantly, though, this raises all kinds of concerns about our religious liberties. Has society really decayed to the point that it’s now unacceptable for parents to remove a piece of their newborn’s skin for deeply held religious reasons, but entirely acceptable for parents to pierce their children’s earlobes for mere vanity?

Has vanity, in essence, become our society’s religion?

On Raising Children Without God

I read something on CNN today that I found really unfortunate (crazy, right?). It was written by a blogger, TXBlue08, who is the mother of two teenagers. The essay is entitled, “Why I Raise My Children Without God”, and you can read it HERE.

The author begins,

“When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask. For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven…One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.”

The parental tactic of “making up stories” is probably pretty common – even among parents who DO believe in heaven, but who take artistic liberties with the details. So I support the author’s (eventual) realization that it isn’t wise to lie about spiritual matters to our children. (Quick aside: the mention of Santa Claus raises another interesting question for Christian parents.)

Once we get past the issue of being honest with our children, the author begins listing reasons for why she now raises her children without God.

“God is a bad parent and role model. If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.”

The problem of evil is one of the oldest and most common objections to the existence of God. I wrote a brief post on the issue over a year ago, but there are plenty of other great resources out there.

The author correctly provides the most common Christian response. Christians believe the existence of evil is compatible with an all-powerful, all-loving God…IF God has sufficient reason to create creatures with free will (and thus, the ability to rebel against Him by committing evil acts).

The author’s response to the “free will defense” is perplexing, however. It’s true that our children have free will, and it’s true that we still step in and guide them. But that isn’t the same as depriving them of free will! As C.S. Lewis points out, “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.”

“God is not logical…”

“…If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?”

Not really, no. Check out what Jesus says in Mattew 24:6-9 (NIV): “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”

Christ tells us – rather bluntly – that life will involve suffering.

He tells us to persevere despite these trials and tribulations. He promises that good will ultimately prevail over evil. But He doesn’t say anything about intervening, in the meantime, to actively prevent all evil by overriding man’s free will.

Continuing on:

“God is not fair…If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.”

The author again appeals to the problem of evil – this time citing a couple examples of natural evil (i.e. birth defects). For a quick overview of how Christians handle the question of natural evil, I recommend THIS POST from Clay Jones.

The author’s view of “fairness” completely fails to account for the existence of sin. Evil (including natural evil) exists as a product of man’s rebellion against God. If it seems “unfair” that we suffer the consequences of our sin, perhaps the problem might be that we’re failing to confront the seriousness of our own, personal rebellion against God.

“God is not present. He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.”

This paragraph only makes sense if one begins with the assumption that God doesn’t exist. If He does exist, then using His physical absence as a reason for not telling our children about Him is simply preposterous. Consider the young children of soldiers serving overseas (or detained as prisoners of war). Should these children not be taught to love the missing parent, merely because they cannot “see, smell, touch or hear” him?

“God does not teach children to be good. A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents.”

Here the author reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian’s motivation for doing good. The idea that Christians act morally simply to avoid God’s wrath is woefully incomplete. If it’s true that Christ – the second person of the Trinity – actually entered into the world to destroy sin by sacrificing Himself on our behalf, then we have a multitude of reasons (aside from eternal punishment) to live morally.

1. Christ, being sinless, stands as our model of moral perfection. We’re specifically called to “live as Jesus did”. (I John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21)

2. Aside from just making us “feel good”, following God’s moral commands becomes an act of love and gratitude. (John 14:15)

3. Also…yes. Acting morally comes with perks. (Psalm 55:22; Proverbs 11:8)

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to question how one can derive a meaningful system of morality in the first place if one rejects the existence of God. In the absence of an ultimate Moral Lawgiver, doesn’t “right” and “wrong” simply become a matter of social convention and/or personal preference? While attempts have been made by the likes of Sam Harris and Michael Shermer to ground moral values in “science”, they’ve failed pretty badly.

The author continues:

“God teaches narcissism…”

skeptical baby

“…Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control.”

That’s…no. Not what the Bible teaches.

The author closes by arguing that belief in God is illogical, and that religion should be “kept at home or in church where it belongs.” Obviously I disagree with her sharply regarding religion’s place in the public square…but that issue probably deserves its own post. Instead, I’ll close with an insightful quote from a friend of mine:

“A mind capable of forming an argument against God is itself compelling evidence of Him.”

Seven Studies with Politically Incorrect Findings

I thought this would be an interesting list to put together. Feel free to critique or comment on any of these…and let me know if there are others you think should have been included!

1. Couples that Share Housework Equally have a Higher Divorce Rate
A large-scale survey of married couples in Norway recently found that “the divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.” You can read a brief overview HERE…or a longer summary HERE…or the entire 228 page report (in Norwegian) HERE. I should also emphasize the distinction here between correlation and causation. The take home message isn’t that men doing housework contributes to divorce, but rather that younger couples with more “modern” attitudes toward gender roles are also less likely to take their marriage vows seriously. (Sorry fellas. The “I can’t vacuum honey, because science!” excuse won’t pass muster.)

2. Children with Gay or Lesbian Parents have Significantly Poorer Social, Emotional, and Relational Outcomes than Children from Intact Biological Families
Mark Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study raised a tremendous amount of controversy when it was published earlier this year. For those who remember, I wrote a post back in June addressing some of these reactions. There was actually something of a witch-hunt after the study’s publication, with a number of activists accusing Dr. Regnerus of scientific misconduct (his university has since cleared him of these allegations).

3. Over a Ten-Year Period in Spain, Increased Access to Contraception Corresponded with a Dramatic Rise in Abortion Rates
This study provides an excellent counterexample to the pro-choice dogma that increased availability of contraception is the key to reducing abortion rates. From the abstract: “During the study period, 1997 to 2007, the overall use of contraceptive methods increased from 49.1% to 79.9%…The elective abortion rate increased from 5.52 to 11.49 per 1000 women.” Marc (over at BadCatholic) recently did a nice write-up on this issue as well.

4. People Who Regularly Attend Church are Happier than Those Who Don’t
According to a 2006 Pew Research report, “People who attend religious services weekly or more are happier (43% very happy) than those who attend monthly or less (31%); or seldom or never (26%). This correlation between happiness and frequency of church attendance has been a consistent finding in the General Social Surveys taken over the years.”

5. Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals May Not Recognize
This is according to a 2007 paper by Jonathan Haidt, who is well-known for his Moral Foundations Theory. The basic idea is that there are five (later six) “foundations” that we use to evaluate morality: harm, fairness, liberty (the recent add-on), loyalty, authority, and purity. According to Haidt – formerly a liberal, but now a self-described centrist – conservatives emphasize all six categories equally, whereas liberals only recognize harm, fairness, and liberty. You can watch Haidt’s TED Talk here.

6. Abstaining from Pre-Marital Sex Leads to Fewer Divorces and More Stable Marriages
There are a number of large studies supporting this claim. According to Laumann et al, “For both genders, we find that virgins have dramatically more stable first marriages…Those who marry as non-virgins are also more likely – all other things being equal – to be unfaithful over the remainder of their life compared with those spouses who do marry as virgins.” According to Heaton, “Dissolution rates are substantially higher among those who initiate sexual activity before marriage.”

7. When it Comes to Church Attendance, Children Are More Likely to Imitate Their Fathers than Their Mothers
According to a large-scale Swiss study published in 2000, “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.” The statistics are pretty eye-opening. In families where both parents were regular churchgoers, 33% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers. In families where the mother was a regular churchgoer and the father was nonpracticing, only 2% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers. In families where the father was a regular churchgoer and the mother was nonpracticing, 44% of children grew up to become regular churchgoers.