[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
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Summary in 400 words or less:
Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud and others, including late Christopher Hitchens have suggested that Christianity is just wish-fulfillment.
Hitchens says: “Jesus is Santa Claus for adults.” (God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything)
Freud suggests that “Man invents God through his imagination to calm his fears,” or that man tries to invent God to replace a father-figure and thus is wishful thinking. For Freud, religious ideas are ‘illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind.’ (Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, in Complete Psychological Works 24 vols (London: Hogarth Press, 1953-), vol. 21, p. 30)
Allistair McGrath notes, “Freud explored the origins of this projection of an ideal father figure in The Future of an Illusion. Religion represents the perpetuation of a piece of infantile behaviour in adult life. Religion is simply an immature response to the awareness of helplessness, by going back to one’s childhood experiences of paternal care: `My father will protect me; he is in control.’ Belief in a personal God is thus little more than an infantile delusion. Religion is wishful thinking.”
How are we to respond? Several-fold.
1) The type of God that we would invent would rather be a Cosmic Santa Claus or Spiritual Grand-father, rather than a father-figure, who disciplines us (encouraging us towards holiness and righteousness).
2) The type of God that we would invent would be morally lax and sexually permissive, like the cultures around Judeo-Christianity.
3) We would not invent stumbling blocks such as a crucified Christ who also demands of us to carry up our cross to follow him.
4) The excellence of conduct required of followers of Christ is not simple; our righteousness must exceed that of the most religious and best followers of God of Jesus’ day to enter the kingdom of God.
5) In a recent book, “Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism” by Paul C. Vitz, Vitz notes that it isn’t people with a complete lack of father-figure (whether through death of the father or abandonment or absentee father) who tend to gravitate towards theism — in fact, quite the opposite — Vitz finds that men who have lacked a father-figure including Bertrand Russell and Aldous Huxley have become atheists.
Scripture for YouVersion:
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
References for further reading:
Vitz, Paul C. “Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism” Spence Publishing Company; 1st edition (April 1, 2000) — Vitz himself was an atheist until he was 30 and converted to Catholicism.
Collaborators: Chris Lee
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