Christmas break is a good time to catch up on my reading, and I just skimmed an older book by Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (1999). Vitz’s book is a response to Feuerbach and Freud’s assertion that God is a projection of our human desires. Vitz observes that 1) they gave no proof for this claim and 2) their argument can be turned back upon themselves. Vitz notes that many renowned atheists, such as Nietzsche, Hume, Russell, Sartre, and Camus, grew up without fathers, and so they may well be projecting their fatherless experience upon God.
This quick read is a good reminder that we fathers have an irreplaceable responsibility to lead our children to Christ. How our children perceive us and our love towards them goes a long way toward how they understand the love of their heavenly Father. Ninety percent of being a good dad is just showing up, but the other ten percent matters, too.
I also appreciated Vitz’s anecdote on Mortimer Adler, one of the twentieth century’s premier philosophers. In his autobiography, Philosopher at Large (1976), Adler explained that even though he recognized the strong evidence for the existence of God, he realized that to become seriously religious “would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for.” And so he admitted that “the simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person.”
Eight years later Adler finally did relent and was baptized into the Episcopal Church, but his reluctance illustrates his view that disbelief in God “lies in the state of one’s will, not in the state of one’s mind.” His experience echoes Augustine’s comment that even when his intellectual questions were answered, he still would not follow Christ because his heart was bound by sexual lust (Confessions, 8.2-5).
This may be controversial to some, but I believe that everyone who rejects God does so for ethical rather than intellectual reasons. They want to be God, and so they suppress whatever they may know about the true God (Romans 1:18-32). Unbelief is primarily a product of the will, not the intellect. As Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).
Barth picked up on this and noted that intellectual questions are often smokescreens that sinners erect to avoid the truth that “our hour has struck, our time has run its course, and it is all up with us.” Sinners know that they are in trouble with God, and so they raise “technical difficulties” about God to avoid his claims upon their life (Church Dogmatics, IV/1, p. 290-95).
I’m not saying that we should dismiss people’s intellectual questions, but only that we must not permit their questions to conceal the fact that we both know that the real issue is ethical rather than intellectual. We all want to play God, and unless we lay down our weapons and submit to what we know is true, we cannot be saved.