Thursday, June 02, 2011

Psychoanalyzing Strident Religious Unbelievers

A redated post.

This is the wikipedia entry on reaction formation.

If one really thought psychoanalyzing one's opponents had much validity, there would be a lot of ways to do it. I would like to invite crusading atheists to examine themselves, to see to what extent their strident atheism could be reaction formation.

Of course, believers can be caught up in reaction formation as well. I think it important, though, to be acting intellectually, and not just reacting.

I take it seriously when an atheist says "Examine your thinking and see if it isn't just wishful thinking," for example. If they say "You only believe because you want to,' knowing only that I am a Christian, that crosses the line. But I think I can say "examine yourself" without committing the ad hominem fallacy.

44 comments:

Ilíon said...

"Bulverism" does cut both ways, after all.

Evangelical Atheists typically "explain" Christians by appeal to such. Nothing prevents us playing the same game.

Though, of course, the work of explicating truth remains undone so long as we are playing psychoanalysis.

Ilíon said...

[oops. let's try that again]

VR: "I take it seriously when an atheist says "Examine your thinking and see if it isn't just wishful thinking," for example. If they say "You only believe because you want to,' knowing only that I am a Christian, that crosses the line. But I think I can say "examine yourself" without committing the ad hominem fallacy."

Of course, an ad homenim argument or statement isn't *necessarily* fallacious, they just *usually* are; it much depends upon the particular context.

At the same time, if one (whether you or me or some 'atheist') says/demands of another "Examine your thinking and see if it isn't just wishful thinking" *without* giving a valid rationalle for the demand, is that not just a "polite" means of charging the "You only believe because you want to" accusation?

Tom Gilson said...

Paul Vitz speaks about the psychology of atheism here. Highly recommended

Clayton said...

Victor,

I'm just curious, but do you think there's much plausibility to the idea that there are atheists who are atheists because of wishful thinking? I don't know what I'd be wishing for that I could get only from a godless universe.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

That is a tough line to tread. Even if the psychoanalysis is valid, it's almost always pointless to present pretty much for the very reasons you would be articulating in the first place. Just about the same time it seems "necessary" to add it into the argument-scape, is about the same time one needs to learn to call it quits and dismiss themselves politely.

Ben

Ilíon said...

Of course there are 'atheists' whose espousal of God-denial is based on, or even nothing but, wishful thinking and/or gets no deeper than that ... most of you, in fact. Some even admit it (I'm thinking specifically of Richard Lewontin's famous book-review/essay "Billions and Billions of Demons").

And while *understanding* where a particular 'atheist' is really coming from is doubtless helpful to the Christian trying to reach him, such an accusation, even when applicable to the specific 'atheist,' and even if the atheism of that particular 'atheist' goes no deeper than wishful thinking, is not an argument. It's just an accusation.

Clayton said...

Illion,

Since you know us atheists better than we do, would you care to tell us what it is we wish for that causes us to irrationally believe that there's no God? Is it the hope for utter annihilation at death? Is it that there will be no one to right the wrongs of this world? Is it that there will be no one to help us in the trenches or when we're in a plane that's going down?

[Apologies for the intellectual dishonesty of asking the question, it's caused by my atheism which is probably caused by those secret wishes we atheists are unaware of but you seem to understand. Thanks in advance for your expert psychoanalysis.]

Ilíon said...

It's not *that* difficult to better understand than they understand themselves those who will not be honest with themselves.

philip m said...

My main desire to be an atheist stems from my desire for autonomy. I would like to be the primary and only decision-maker in my life. If you've seen About a Boy you know what I mean - the Will character is the epitome of this sort of life.

Victor Reppert said...

Clayton: There are some things about each world-view that are psychologically appealing. There's annihilation in the atheist world-view, but at least there's no hell. What is more, there is no being who can sit in final judgment of my actions. No one has the supreme and unmitigated right to tell me what to do.

Anonymous said...

This is going to sound harsh, but oh well. We all know why some unbelievers are strident. It's because they see that right-wing politics is tied to conservative Christianity (for cynical and opportunistic reasons), and because right-wing politics is bad for everyone. Empirical demonstration: the last eight years, but more generally, conservative politics since Nixon. I can kiss my retirement good-bye because of these poor dopes, and it pains me to think what sort of future my children will have because of the horrible political decisions Christians have been duped into making.

Sorry to be blunt, but there's an elephant in the room, and everyone's acting like they don't see it. That's why some non-Christians are strident, and we all know it.

Crude said...

I'd certainly suggest that there are political and emotional motivating factors at work with some atheists. Victor also offers some possibilities, but I think they could be expanded on greatly. (And frankly, more than a few conservative christians did not like Bush's policies.)

Not having to worry about quite a lot of intellectual issues that come along with God, and that under naturalism can be taken less seriously - morality and ethics, search for objective truths for those things (and perhaps rationality and reason as well), etc. There's also that Dawkins warcry against even liberal believers - by defending theism, even with their "good politics" theism, they are intellectually aiding all those mean ol' "bad theist" believers who have undesirable political beliefs.

The list goes on.

Anonymous said...

This is off topic.
I have been doing some research into the death penalty, and have seen some reference to C.S. Lewis, and his support for the death penalty. I was wondering if you could give me a brief synopsis of his position, or provide a link to another page if you have already covered it here.
It would be most appreciated.

Clayton said...

"There's annihilation in the atheist world-view, but at least there's no hell. What is more, there is no being who can sit in final judgment of my actions. No one has the supreme and unmitigated right to tell me what to do."

I realize that you don't think that there's any good psychoanalytic explanation of atheism as such, but that seems to have somewhat limited explanatory value since many atheists wouldn't think that there's any necessary connection between God's existence and the existence of hell or God's existence and the existence of a being that has the unmitigated right to tell us what to do. I don't think theists are compelled to believe in hell. On good days, the idea that there is a hell has struck me as a pretty silly. Since I think that God would be supremely good if God existed, I wouldn't think God would command us to do things in objectionable ways.

Steven Carr said...

Many atheists do react against the idea of a God who commands people to love Him, or else He will burn them in Hell.

Ilíon said...

Philip M: "My main desire to be an atheist stems from my desire for autonomy. I would like to be the primary and only decision-maker in my life. If you've seen About a Boy you know what I mean - the Will character is the epitome of this sort of life."

That doesn't tell me whether a person does or does not claim to be an atheist -- *I* (who reject atheism as both false and as absurdity) might say the same thing. Atheism is attractive to me precisely because were it the truth about reality then there is no one 'above' me.

Ilíon said...

Steven Carr: "Many atheists do react against the idea of a God who commands people to love Him, or else He will burn them in Hell."

Translation: Many 'atheists' are fond of the strawmen they themselves build.

Victor Reppert said...

Ilion" I think Philip is a theist, so he is speaking as a theist about what makes atheism attractive to him.

Ilíon said...

You'll notice, perhaps, that my response to him does not dispute that.

The Family said...

I like Kurt Vonnegut's answer to psychoanalytic ad hominen in _Player Piano_ (p. 137):


"The most beautiful peonies I ever saw," said Paul, "were grown in almost pure cat excrement. I--"

Robert said...

Clayton wrote:

“I'm just curious, but do you think there's much plausibility to the idea that there are atheists who are atheists because of wishful thinking? I don't know what I'd be wishing for that I could get only from a godless universe.”

This is a surprising comment, as it seems as if he is walking into a straight left just as Haddon did on Saturday night when Pacquiao just destroyed him with a left that Haddon says “he never saw coming.”

Atheists who hate the God of the bible or who do not want to be accountable to **Him**, of course would **wish** that this were a **godless universe**. If this were the godless universe of their wishes, then they don’t have to worry at all about being accountable to that God of the Bible that they WISH DID NOT EXIST!

Robert

Steven Carr said...

What is meant by 'accountable'?

Is this alleged God going to be sensible and recognise that I am a good person, as all my friends do?

Or is he going to burn me in Hell for disobeying his commandments, the greatest of which is to love Him?

If there is a god, then he passes by on the other side while children burn to death in blazing houses, while screaming to Him to help them.

Who would not want such a being to exist?

Who would not want to believe that there is a being who could have rescued that child, but allowed it to burn to death?

Robert said...

Steven Carr asked:

“What is meant by 'accountable'?”

You know exactly what it means, it means to be answerable to this God that you attack with your writings on the so-called “problem of evil.” It means that you will stand before him someday and be answerable to Him and give an account to Him. Perhaps you should read the book of Job to get an idea of what you may be in for: Job was intellectualizing about the so-called problem of evil as well and having intellectual discussions with his friends about it. Then he got to have a direct encounter with God who asked him seventy straight questions and completely silenced him. And by the way, God never did give him an answer on the problem of evil. Nor is God obligated to give any of us an answer as to why particular evils are allowed to occur.

“Is this alleged God going to be sensible and recognise that I am a good person, as all my friends do?”

A “good person” according to whose standards, your own? Or God’s revealed standards that you are now rebelling against?

“Or is he going to burn me in Hell for disobeying his commandments, the greatest of which is to love Him?”

If this is your attack against God, it is very weak, it is more of an emotional rant than anything else.

“If there is a god, then he passes by on the other side while children burn to death in blazing houses, while screaming to Him to help them.”

And there is a God, who allowed Jesus who was God in the flesh to die an excruciating death on a cross though he had committed no sin in order that those who had committed sins, people like us, could have a personal relationship with Him. And there is a God whom everyone will stand before and give an account. Everything hidden will be revealed and God will personally judge every human person that has ever lived. But I think that you already know that. You just wish that it were not true.

“Who would not want such a being to exist?”

It’s interesting that this thread directly relates to atheists wishing that God did not exist. Your question here is not a good one, it is merely accusatory and attacking God again for not doing things in a way that satisfies you. The question is really not about who wants “such a being to exist”, but much, much more importantly, does such a being exist? What we wish or don’t wish is purely subjective, what is much more significant is objectively speaking, does God exist? And it is persons such as yourself that strongly **wish** that God does not exist.

Robert

Victor Reppert said...

Ilion: There is a significant difference between asking someone to consider that they might be influenced by a certain kind of non-rational motive and saying that they are. The difference isn't primarily one of politeness. It's a matter of not making claims that one is not in a position to defend without being a mindreader.

Ilíon said...

VR: "There is a significant difference between asking someone to consider that they might be influenced by a certain kind of non-rational motive and saying that they are."

There isn't a *real* difference ... one is a direct accusation, the other an implied accusation.


VR: "The difference isn't primarily one of politeness."

Perhaps you didn't notice the scare-quotes I used on the word "polite?" What I *mean* is that the "polite" implied accusation is generally but the passive-aggressive method of making the pointless direct accusation. My *point* is that the "polite" indirect accusation is generally as pointless -- and far less actually polite and civil or intellectually honest -- than the direct accusation.

In case it's still a mystery, I loathe passive-aggressive tactics.


Ilíon: "At the same time, if one (whether you or me or some 'atheist') says/demands of another "Examine your thinking and see if it isn't just wishful thinking" *without* giving a valid rationa[le] for the demand, is that not just a "polite" means of charging the "You only believe because you want to" accusation?"

VR: "It's a matter of not making claims that one is not in a position to defend without being a mindreader."

Did I not cover that? Look, I'm generally both careful and thorough: if one pays attention to what I write, one will generally find that I have already addressed his current objection in the very text to which he is objecting.

Clayton said...

Robert, the qualification in your comment is key:

"Atheists who hate the God of the bible or who do not want to be accountable to **Him**, of course would **wish** that this were a **godless universe**. If this were the godless universe of their wishes, then they don’t have to worry at all about being accountable to that God of the Bible that they WISH DID NOT EXIST!"

If the atheist is an atheist, they will deny not just the god of the Bible but will deny that there is a god. It would be weird to think that the wishful thinking that might lead them to deny the god of the Bible is responsible for their atheism just as the wishful thinking that might lead them to dismiss Zeus would lead all the way to atheism.

Relax with the caps, you're going to hurt your keyboard.

Steven Carr said...

Any god who is not the monster of Christianity will not judge a human being for being the fallible human being that this god created.

Nor will any god who is not the Satan that Christians worship burn people in Hell because they wondered why the Satan of Christianity allows children to burn to death in houses, while screaming to their god to help them.

At least while the flames burned off their skin, these children knew they had a personal relationship with the being who watched them die.

Ilíon said...

Any manufacturer who is not the eeeevil Henry Ford will not judge and reject an automobile (or individual component thereof) for being sub-standard when this manufacturer himself manufactured the auto or part.

Ilíon said...

Why do you people *refuse* to stop publically making fools of yourselves?

Steven Carr said...

Atheists do not believe in God because they do not want to be held accountable for their parking fines.

Theists know that they will be held accountable for their actions, so do not park on double yellow lines.

People might claim that society holds people to account, but atheists are so dumb they do not realise this, and think that they are only accountable to God, so if they get rid of God, they are no longer accountable to anybody.

Works really well for me!

Since I stopped believing in God, nobody holds me to account for anything I do.

It is great. You should try it.

mattghg said...

Victor,

I think Thomas Nagel would support you in your right to ask that question:

"I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope I am right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time." (The Last Word (OUP 1997), 130-1).

Clearly here he's not just talking about the God of the Bible, but about his having a more general "cosmic authority problem".

Robert said...

Clayton said:

“If the atheist is an atheist, they will deny not just the god of the Bible but will deny that there is a god. It would be weird to think that the wishful thinking that might lead them to deny the god of the Bible is responsible for their atheism just as the wishful thinking that might lead them to dismiss Zeus would lead all the way to atheism.”

I am well aware that an atheist to be consistent would deny the existence of a God or Gods across the board. But that is really not my concern as the atheists I encounter are not consistent and they have a particular disdain for the God of the bible. The bible also presents clearly that everyone has some knowledge of the God of the bible, a knowledge which they intentionally repress (cf. Romans 1). Even when I was not a Christian I **knew** there was a God, I even knew He was the God of the bible. I just didn’t want anyone (including Him) to tell me what to do, think or say. I wanted that autonomy to do my own thing as I saw fit. I never professed atheism however, as that position is just so weak and has so little to commend for itself.

“Relax with the caps, you're going to hurt your keyboard.”

Why do you care about my keyboard, it’s just an inanimate object is it not? Perhaps you ought to be more concerned about the eternal destiny of your own soul rather than my unconscious keyboard.

Robert

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Robert,

Your tone is ironically horrible given the advice of this post. Clayton is obviously suggesting that you chill out and perhaps you should. One cannot be too concerned about their immortal soul if they do not yet believe eternity is real and at this rate, Clayton has more reasons to not take your position seriously than you'd like. Just because you happened to believe in the basic realities the Bible presents while you were a non-christian and just because the Bible claims that's how everyone is, doesn't mean that's actually how everyone is. How is it that even Christians can struggle with the existence of God if it's just so plain obvious? Doesn't make much sense. But hey...capslock away if you think that furthers Christ's agenda tactfully.

Ben

Karl Grant said...

Mr. Carr,

As far as I know nobody has said that nobody holds atheists unaccountable. Atheists, much like theists, tend to obey the laws of their country and adopt the morality of their culture. (Of course, there is no denying that police, judges and prisons do exist, which might help explain that somewhat)

However, one could make a case that you both hate and fear God. You consider Him a monster (Any god who is not the monster of Christianity...) and people hate and fear monsters. Believing that a monster doesn't exist and that you won't be his victim can be considered a type of wish-fulfillment.

Nor will any god who is not the Satan that Christians worship burn people in Hell because they wondered why the Satan of Christianity allows children to burn to death in houses, while screaming to their god to help them.

Uh, excuse me? There is an entire sub-branch of theology dedicated to examining this question and others like it. I doubt that field of study would have even been created in the first place, much less developed over the years, if questions like that were discouraged.

Papalinton said...

Yes Victor. For a guy who really does enjoy the philosophical interplay, you would love opportunities of exploring the philosophical questions brought up through the vast number of human research activity in the sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine; all those collective areas that are building a cogent and compelling narrative of the human condition. This would be a far cry from and in comparison to that offered by running along the trolley tracks of apologetical philosophy on a theological sidebranch line.

For an obviously intelligent thinker and a person who is clearly one driven by compassion, sincere and with a sense of fair play, you have much to contribute to the wider community.

You would be delighted and relieved in acknowledging and accepting the responsibility [as I know you rightly would] that comes with the freedom of agnosticism. There is so much of the world that is so exciting as we transit to a global community without the localised impediments of religion.

Victor Reppert said...

Again, thanks for the salvation tract.

Steve Lovell said...

Two quotes from Aldous Huxley's Essay "Beliefs" in his collection Ends and Means.

"I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption."

"For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotical revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever."

Make of these what you will.

Steve

Eric said...

"you would love opportunities of exploring the philosophical questions brought up through the vast number of human research activity in the sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine; all those collective areas that are building a cogent and compelling narrative of the human condition."

OK, I have to say it: Who in their right mind would claim to have the competence required for a comprehensive enough understanding of disciplines as various as medicine, anthropology, "the sciences"(!?), psychology and sociology to say, with any confidence whatsoever, that "[these] collective areas are building a cogent and compelling narrative of the human condition"? Is Papalinton aware of the fact that most people actually working in these fields spend a lifetime mastering a key aspect of a subdiscipline of a specialty? Is he aware of the fact that there are enormous disputes, methodological and substantive, about the multifarious issues raised in each subdiscipline of each speciality in each of the sciences (and "the sciences"!) he mentioned? Has he worked out the details of these countless disputes, developed the competence to evaluate the debates, pieced together the key threads from each subdiscipline of each specialty of each science -- and of "the sciences"! -- and concluded that, "Hey, this is all building a cogent and compelling narrative of the human condition"? Do people who talk like this actually buy the BS they're spewing, or are have they honestly bought into a view of "the sciences" that's *that* puerile?

Ilíon said...

Karl Grant: "… Uh, excuse me? There is an entire sub-branch of theology dedicated to examining this question and others like it. I doubt that field of study would have even been created in the first place, much less developed over the years, if questions like that were discouraged."

The typical internet atheist (the old 'village atheist' upgraded with an ethernet cable) -- and Mr Carr is a model specimen of the type -- do tend to ignorantly spout off about “religion” (that is, about Judeo-Christianity, which is the only “religion” that any Westerner really cares about, one way or the other). That’s the charitable interpretation of what they do. The interpretation more likely to be fact about any specific one is that he *intentionally* constructs strawman versions of “religion” and *intentionally* refuses to be corrected about his “misunderstandings.”

====
Still, it’s vastly amusing, don’t you think, to witness a so-called atheist, of all people, passing moral judgment upon anyone, least of all upon God, who *is* morality itself. This is akin to trying to use logic to logically prove that logic (itself) is illogical.

Ilíon said...

Eric: "… Do people who talk like this actually buy the BS they're spewing, or are have they honestly bought into a view of "the sciences" that's *that* puerile?"

No, they don’t; and, probably not – most who spout off about “Science!” as that particular personage has done don’t give a damn about actual science and don’t understand – nor care – what science is and is not, nor can and cannot tell us. This is similar to how the type spouts off about reason or logic (and try to claim to own them), while being constantly illogical and unreasonable.

These folk see logic/reason and ‘science’ as cudgels with which to beat at Christianity (and beat on Christians), nothing more; and when confronted with actual logical reasoning, they always retread into irrationality; when confronted with actual science (to the limited extent that science can speak on these matters), they will always move to an anti-scientific stance.

And, they’ll continue to do this so long as most Christians continue to act as their enablers.

One Brow said...

Robert said...
But that is really not my concern as the atheists I encounter are not consistent and they have a particular disdain for the God of the bible.

Do you think that might be a result of where you encounter said atheists? Atheists from India seem to have a particular disdain for the Hindu gods, bt non for BibleGod, in my experience.

Papalinton said...

Victor
You are that close [I'm holding up my thumb and forefinger a millimetre apart] to considering a differing worldview, one that accords along so many more points of common contact that is currently available to you.
I wish you well in the new and exciting endeavor.

Cheers

Right of Left said...

This is from Papalinton at another website:

"You are that close [I hold up my left hand with thumb and forefinger about half a millimeter apart] to agnosticism. I would so encourage you to continue on your journey of questioning and follow it to its logical end. You will not for one moment regret that journey, although it surely will be painful, if you maintain absolute honesty, evidence and reason as your guiding principles and decision-making tools. Your self-worth and integrity will not be compromised one jot, indeed will be enhanced by the rigor you maintain throughout that adventure."

Doesn't that look familiar? Look above...

Apparently, he is in the process of creating an agnostic/atheist tract to give to believers and encourage them to join his particular sect of religious thought.

Papalinton said...

Because right of left it equally applied to that other person who is also questioning their deepest thoughts about where they are heading with this theism stuff.