How Parishes Can Stop Turning Boys Into Atheists

Originally at:

by Jason Craig

Fatherlessness and Atheism

In the book Faith of the Fatherless, psychologist Paul Vitz definitively links fatherlessness to atheism. He profiles dozens of prominent atheists, from Nietzsche to Dawkins, and finds an amazing but unsurprising pattern: “In no case [with the atheists] do we find a strong, beloved father with a close relationship with his son or daughter.” What’s also made clear in the book is that fatherlessness has a greater influence on predisposing boys to outright atheism than it does girls.

Mentorship Make the Difference Too

A boy becomes an adult male by biology, but he can only walk into secure manhood with the direction and affirmation of secure men. Though beginning with fathers, it is also necessary that the larger community of men ushers boys into manhood, confirming the truths the father has taught or correcting his weaknesses. In Faith of the Fatherless Vitz also points out, while profiling prominent Christians, that not only did they have strong fathers, but they had mentors along their steps to manhood: “[The] theists appear to have had many more loving and supportive relationships throughout their adult lives.” We don’t just need good fathers for our boys; we need good men in general.

And right there is a lesson on making men from boys: masculinity is a thing bestowed, man to boy – it’s given to a boy by a man in words and deeds, in real presence, in flesh and blood, in brotherhood and friendship and danger. The Proverbs are a beautiful example of a man realizing the great gift of manhood received and a desire to pass it on: “A precious heirloom it is, the tradition I teach, not to be lightly bartered away. Time was when I had a father of my own; and when I was but a boy… in such words as these he would teach me” (Prov. 4:3).

Fight the Lies

Boys are surrounded by false masculinities; we must surround them with truth. Scripture speaks often of fathers and sons, but rarely in isolation – the faith is passed on from generation to generation, not just father to son. This is why the brotherhood that grows in men’s groups must translate into means of mentoring. Authentic male formation does not get men in a room to supervise or coordinate boys and deliver a packaged curriculum, like some sort of daycare, but it is the brotherhood of men inviting boys into that brotherhood, into manhood, with real conversation and fraternal challenge. Don’t patronize boys with silly meetings without any depth.

But it’s not just atheism that fatherless and mentorless boys can slip in to. Boys from such situations can still appreciate the need to worship, the longing for the divine, but they reject Christianity because it is rooted in a Son Who came to reveal the Heart of the Father.

Take Robespierre, a famous character of the French Revolution, who was bent on destroying the father figure of the King and the father figures of the clergy. He was conceived out of wedlock and subsequently abandoned by his father. You can sympathize with the man as he yearns to honor God but utterly rejects God’s fatherhood. In his opening speech for a day of festivities and “worship” (the revolutionaries sought to replace Catholicism with an “enlightened” religion because they knew better than to pretend man does not need to worship), Robespierre says the French people were offering a day “consecrated to the Supreme Being.” This is a clear acceptance of the divine but a rejection of the paternal. His speech refers to God dozens of times, but only as “the Divine” and so on, with never a mention of “Father.” It was a rejection and repudiation of Christianity and its paternal-centrism.

Today rejecting the Father but accepting divinity comes in the form of eastern and new age religions. I have a pagan friend who often talks of “the Universe” giving him things. “Who?” I always answer. But he hates that and says that I am making the divine “anthropocentric” – projecting humanity onto God– when I refer to God as the Father. He explains that he is very sensitive to “patriarchy,” which he means as a symbol for tyranny and male dominated economics (seeMarxism Has Infiltrated Your Family), which is how most famous atheists describe God, like Christopher Hitchen’s book God is Not Great and Dawkins in The God Delusion.

In both fatherless religion and outright atheism the heart of a son has been convinced that fathers are life-taking tyrants, not life-giving authorities. I’ve only heard Nietzsche admit that his atheism was a guttural rejection, not, as most atheists claim, an enlightened, reasoned-to position: “I have absolutely no knowledge of atheism as an outcome of reasoning, still less as an event; with me it is obvious by instinct.”

Call the Men Home!

So how are parishes causing all of this? By ignoring the needs of boys, and not addressing the urgent pastoral challenge of fatherlessness and the Catholic man-crisis in general. We don’t hear often enough the admission that there’s a crisis, or even that fathers exhibit that much influence. It’s time to admit it! Even Sigmund Freud, an atheist with a weak father profiled in Vitz’s book, said that work in psychoanalysis “daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious belief as soon as the authority of the father breaks down.” As Matthew James Christoff says frequently, “There will not be a New Evangelization without the evangelization of men.”

In a survey of thousands of Catholic men, Christoff found that only 4% of Catholic men are reporting that they think their priests are doing a good job of bringing boys and men together. So, 96% think otherwise. The facts are confirming the anecdotal evidence we all see. And we can’t just look for simple and quick fixes like videos in a box, but we have to bring a paradigm shift to an entire generation of men.

If we want our boys to be Christians, we have to equip men and mentors in our parishes. In times past these things happened naturally (apprenticeships, community, etc.), but they don’t anymore. We have to make up for that. We have to teach and strengthen fathers and provide opportunities for mentoring, and this requires intentionality and frameworks to make sure it happens. By neglecting this reality we are literally predisposing our sons to be atheists, apostates, and heretics. The focus should not be on the boys themselves, but on the men who are constantly pulled out into the secular world, somewhat innocently, by their careers and so on.

We need to call them back and remind them of who they are as fathers, of the power they have as men. The great thing about men is that if you place a challenge like that before them, if you can remind them that this is a battle they have to fight, and if you equip them with the tools they need, they’ll be up for the challenge to “reconcile the heart of father to son, heart of son to father; else the whole of earth should forfeit to my [God’s] vengeance” (Malachi 4:5, Knox).  Men in our parishes should be focused on fathering; else they become worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). And immediately after that they should care for the fatherless; else they may be living something other than the truth of our religion: “If he is to offer service pure and unblemished in the sight of God, who is our Father, he must take care of orphans and widows in their need” (James 1:27, Knox). Could the need be greater?

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