lördag 17 oktober 2009

The post-atheist dilemma (Religion vs Psychology)

Dear Judy

At the end of the day, all of William James' arguments for religion and against atheism can be used exactly the opposite way too. What is important is the PRIORITY he gives to psychology in the choice between religion and atheism. But we must at the end of the day disregard the effects of these choices (which James never did) and look out for what is honestly TRUE. Personally, I call myself a post-atheist. What I'm dealing with is how we should deal with the atheist revolution since atheism does not provide a substance in itself (it is only a NEGATION of religion, it does not provide any answers to how we should deal woth our lives etc which was always the point with religion). The conversion to Zoroastrianism as the religion whoch holds the current world as sacred and facts as higher than beliefs was an obvious first step. Now we are into Step 2: After the conversion, how do WE affect Zoroastrianism from within?
Oh, and another thing: be careful with the argument that atehism is a winning formula for living! We had two prominent atheists in Europe in the 19th century who we do not particularly like afterwards, they were called Hitler and Stalin...
Atheism is good because it is true, not because it makes people happy. But what if atheism is not enough? That is where Mazdayasna comes in! The answer to the post-atheist dilemma!


2009/10/17 Judy Weismonger

Well...thank you and Alexander you are correct in that such associations between psychology and religion were well known in times past especially in James time...but by a very small group of people in the field of psychology and psychiatry who became intimidated to the point they could not examine religion for what it was.

(William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher trained as a medical doctor. ...)...

The problem is that since the era of William James and his impact on the field of American psychology ...the study and dissection of religion has been a Sacrosanct subject in which one did not dare...in any scientific field...examine or confront religion on any level. Part of the problem was that James was a proponent of religion....

I've read biographies regarding James...and he often stated that Atheism would cause the disintegration of the family and the destruction of civilization. However, James was very wrong and his scientific research in the field was lacking.....

Why? Because today's research indicates that Atheists have lower divorce rates, have the lowest rates of criminality (95% of all felons in prison are Christians). Atheists have less child abuse rates, higher educational levels, less mental illness, over all satisfaction with their lives, higher IQs...give more money as individuals (Bill Gates and Buffet are both Atheists)...and there are lists and lists of some of the most creative, intelligent, scientific minds in all of history who are and were Atheists. Seventy five percent and some say higher of scientists polled...are either Atheists, Deists, Agnostics, or don't give a damn about religion. Well, there goes the neighborhood.

Below is a summary of what James said with a commentary by Vitz...in which James' best guesses regarding what the world would be like without religion were in the context of his era. Sadly, he was wrong because James framed almost of his psychological studies within the framework of psychoanalysis and not the biology of psychology or human behavior...and his own cultural biases.

James et al, knew very little or nothing about DNA, genetics, or quantum physics....since he could not look inside the brain, or examine cellular function. He also was idiosyncratic and xenophobic to the point that anyone who did not believe in his Christian "god" was considered a "nasty little pagan." Well, that would also include us Zoroastrians if he had been aware of Zarathustra.........Hugs, Judy

Summary of William James' interesting points below.

1. The history of psychology's study of and antipathy towards religion

He begins by covering Sigmund Freud who studied belief as the result of natural causes (psychological). He discusses how this foundation set psychology off in an antagonistic, skeptical stance towards faith, esp. the Christian faith, which Freud despised.

He discusses how using psychology to examine UNbelief, which characterizes the majority of secular psychologists, alarms them. Vitz argues that psychoanalatic tools can be used to study belief and unbelief alike.

2. His underlying assumptions

a. The major barriers to belief in God are not rational, but psychological.

I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument, there are countless others more affected by non-rational psychological factors....Intense, often unconscious psychological barriers to belief in God are of great importance....Psychological factors can be impediments to belief, and these may often be unconscious factors (i.e. rejection of a surrogate father figure).

The extent that these factors are present in the lives of people, as well as the their individual temperament, upbringing, and social environment, may make belief in God much harder than for those who have not suffered these same factors.

b. In spite of serious difficulties to belief, all of us have a free choice to accept or reject God.

Although the ultimate issue is one of the will...it is still possible to investigate those psychological factors that predispose one to unbelief, and that make the road to faith in God especially long and difficult.

3. The shallow reasons for being an atheist

In this section, he critiques the notion that "belief in God is based on all kinds of irrational and immature needs, but atheism or skepticism is based on a rational, no-nonsense appraisal of the way things really are."

His main points are that many people are atheists for the following reasons (including himself before he converted at age 38).

My reasons for becoming and remaining an atheist skeptic from ages 18 to 38 were superficial, irrational, and largely without serious intellectual or moral justification. I am further convinced that my shallow motives were and still are commonplace among skeptics.

These reasons he labels as

* General Socialization - the desire to fit in with peers in the secular culture, in which traditionalism and faith are considered backwards.
* Specific Socialization - the desire to be accepted by those who are powerful, sophisticated, and 'smart and skeptical' in one's professional circles, an attitude common in the University setting, where Vitz studied (Stanford). He remarks "as a graduate student, I was thoroughly socialized by the specific culture of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford were united in only two things - their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion....In this environment, just as I learned how to dress like a student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to think like a proper psychologist by putting on the right, that is, atheistic and skeptical, attitude."
* Simple Personal Convenience - "The fact is, it is quite inconvenient to be a serious believer in today's neo-pagan world. I would have had to give up many pleasures and a great deal of time....Now perhaps you think that such perspectives are restricted to callow young men like myself, but it is not." He goes on to quote from Mortimer Adler.

4. Deeper reasons for being an atheist - an unresolved Oedipus complex

He admits that, though the simple reasons may be the most common, there are deeper psychological reasons why one might be an atheist.

First, Freud characterized belief as illusions that are fulfillment of the deep wishes of mankind to be safe from the difficulties of life, and theorized that we all have a desire for a benevolent father.

However, after deconstructing this view as not central to Freudianism (as Freud himself admitted, it was not an extension of his analytic theories, but just his personal views), Vitz argues that Freud's ideas also provide a basis for evaluating unbelief.

I believe Freud is quite right that a belief can be an illusion that arises from powerful wishes, from unconscious childhood needs. The irony is that Freud himself provides a powerful new way to understand the neurotic basis for unbelief.

He goes on to discuss the Oedipus complex that forms the center of Freud's theory of male emotional development. Briefly, the boy is threatened by his father, and has an unconscious desire to kill him, but since he cannot, he eventually instead identifies with him and the fear and hate are sublimated and never removed, and they may surface later as neuroses and our innate hatred for authority.

If we take this as true, we can see the wish-fulfilling desire to reject God, who represents the ultimate powerful father, and so we have a deep rebellion against such authority, and a desire to replace Him with ourself.

He then mentions two well known historical skeptics that fit this pattern:

* Voltaire, though a type of deist, rejected his father to the point of changing his name, and displayed an overt hostility to the King and religion. His first play? Oedipus.
* Diderot - "If the little savage was left to himself, preserving all of his foolishness, and adding to the small sense of a child in the cradle the violent passions of a man of thirty, he would strangle his father and lie with his mother."

5. A broader psychological model for atheism - the defective father

Vitz goes on to say that no other theory of atheism has been deeply developed, but another idea of Freud's which he did not explore provides a more detailed model for the formation of atheism, and he uses this for his own theory, since Vitz believes that the Oedipal complex is really not the best or broadest model.
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 the father breaks down.
- Freud's Essay on Leonarod Davinci

Vitz then simply reformulates this into his hypothesis:
Once a child or youth is dissapointed in or loses respect for their earthly father, then belief in a heavenly Father becomes difficult or impossible.

The father can fail the child in many ways:

* He can be present, but weak, cowardly, and unworthy of respect
* He can be present, but abusive
* He can be absent through death or abandonment

6. Case histories of famous atheists and skeptics lend universal support to this model

Vitz mentions many, but here's a smattering:

* Freud - His own father was a weak man, unable to provide for his family, and passive in response to antisemitism against the family. Freud's own writings show his disappointment with his father. In two of this letters as an adult, Freud writes that his father was a sexual pervert, and that his own family suffered because of it. Additionally, his father spent hours reading the bible with Sigmund, which connected this weak figure with God in Sigmund's mind.
* Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach - When he was thirteen, his father left the family and openly took up living with another married woman in a different town. In the early 1800's in Germany, this would have been a deep and public scandal. When his mistress died, he returned to his original wife as if nothing happened. Additionally, the father, a well known Jurist, was described as "the Volcano" because of his explosive, angry temperament.
* Madalyn Murray O'Hair - She hated her father so much that she tried to kill him with a Butcher knife.
* Albert Ellis - Vitz tells a very funny story about how he actually read his thesis to this established atheist psychologist and theorist, who denied that it applied to him, but whose biography actually mentioned that Ellis' father abandoned the family when Ellis was 10, and was largely absent before that, due to an illness. The mother had a mental illness, so Ellis grew up on the street essentially without his parents.
* David Hume - father died when he was 2
* Bertrand Russel - father died at 4
* Nietzsche - father died at 4
* Sartre - father died at 1.5
* Camus - father died before he was born
* Schopenhauer - disliked his mother a great deal and liked his father, but his father committed suicide when Schopenhauer was 16.


He adds that in addition to these personal factors, the common experiences of death and suffering can generate anger, often directed at God, and this is frequently openly used as evidence against faith in God. He concludes that this common sense model not only fits the facts, it is a highly plausible mechanism for predisposing people against faith in God. He ends with a nice statement:
However prevalent the superficial motives are for being an unbeliever, there still remain, in many instances, the deep and disturbing psychological sources as well. However easy it may be to state the hypothesis of the defective father, we must not forget the difficulty, the pain and the complexity that lie behind each individual case.

And for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who died, who rejected, who denied, who hated, who manipulated, or who physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding and compassion. Certainly, for a child to be forced in this way to hate his father or even to despair because of his father's weakness is a great tradgedy. After all, the child only wants to love his father, and to have a father who loves him back.

For any unbeliever whose atheism is grounded in such experiences, the believer blessed by God's love should pray [for them]...perhaps the former atheist will expeirence even more joy than the beleiver, for the atheist will have that extra increment that comes from his surprise at finding himself surrounded by joy, in of all places, his Father's house.

Now that is a compassionate man.

--- On Fri, 10/16/09, Special Kain wrote:

From: Special Kain
Subject: AW: [Ushta] Religion and psychology: A religion BEYOND fear (was: The Reason for Intolerance)
To: Ushta@yahoogroups.com
Date: Friday, October 16, 2009, 4:57 PM

Dear Alexander,

I agree with you that Judy's posting is nothing but brilliant. However, I also have to disagree.
The religious experiences was already psychologically discussed by none other than William James ("The Will to Believe", "The Religious Experience"). On the other hand, the desire for religion was psychologically discussed by Baruch Spinoza, David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche, for example. I could drop far too many names, which would be far too tiring, but the link between psychology and religion hasn't been ignored or misunderstood. There's plenty to read about it, actually!
If you're interested in the psychologization of the religious experience, William James could be a good start.

Ushta, Dino

--- Alexander Bard schrieb am Fr, 16.10.2009:

Von: Alexander Bard
Betreff: [Ushta] Religion and psychology: A religion BEYOND fear (was: The Reason for Intolerance)
An: Ushta@yahoogroups. com
Datum: Freitag, 16. Oktober 2009, 18:14

Dear Judy

When you post postings like the one below, you are absolutely BRILLIANT!!!
Not only is every word you mention true, but you are also pointing to a link which has rarely been used or understood and always ignored: The link between psychology and religion!
We need to psychologize the religious experience! We need to understand how the religious experience is a part of and should be a part of our psychology. This way we can create a religion which is OPEN to diversity, pluralism and truly cheris such things as sacred, which is the exact opposite of traditional religion.
Zarathushtra was of course into this already 3,700 years ago, which explains why pluralism as dogma was introduced into human history by Iranian Zoroastrians. This is an amazing legacy we can build on when we create a religion BEYOND fear.


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