YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 25, 2012

Moral atheists?

Blake's Ancient of Days, 1794

[This blog is dedicated to my daughter Jenny, who called my attention to the missing father in the Whitney Houston death coverage. See http://clarespark.com/2012/02/13/whitneys-spectacular-demise/.] Fox News Channel is usually vigilant in exposing atheists and watching out for threatened family values and “the folks,” who may be waylaid by “secularists”; i.e., nihilists and cultural relativists. It is often imagined that feminists, like communists before them, are adherents to such destructive beliefs, beliefs that send its adherents to hell in this world and/or the next.

I noticed yesterday that one Republican operative who posts on Facebook had asked the question, “does not atheism lead to the breakdown of society”—or words to that effect. I engaged the question and realized I had the germ of an idea for a new blog.

On a recent blog (http://clarespark.com/2011/10/19/sex-without-freud/), I have noted that the “Jew” Freud was more controversial than the “Jew” Marx as I researched literary criticism and the reconstruction of the humanities curriculum between the wars. It was probably Freud’s The Future of An Illusion (1927) that was most offensive to the progressives I was studying, for Marx’s anticapitalism was not far from their own. Though many of these academics were not overtly religious and may have been agnostic or atheistic or primitivist followers of “the Greek Way,” they were strongly defending the notion of “the good father” (e.g., FDR) as “the focus of veneration.” Hence, Melville’s straying father as depicted in his “crazy” novel Pierre, or, the Ambiguities (1852) had to be defended against excessive [female, Hebraic] puritanism, while Melville himself, a covert sympathizer with Captain Ahab, had to be denounced as murderer and/or abuser of his wife and sons. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

[It is well known that antisemites and anti-imperialists have pictured the Hebrew God (whose name may be spoken or written only as Yahweh) as brutal, warlike, and domineering, in contrast to themselves, who walk in the steps of the gentle, peacemaking, even maternal, Christ, (or perhaps they reject all religion along with their families of origin, turning themselves into Nietzschean man-gods and goddesses). Only a selective, ahistoric, and misguided reading of the Christian Bible could support such a sharp antithesis between Jew and Christian. See http://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/, especially the note on Harvard historian Crane Brinton, who associated Jacobins with "Hebraic fury" and Calvinism.]

To return to my chat with the Republican operative: I argued that it was not belief in God that was decisive to a moral, law-abiding, politically engaged, creative adulthood, but rather family structure. I referred to such issues as the presence or absence of a strong, loving, protective, emotionally present father, and such relatively unstudied questions as sibling rivalry and birth order (mental health workers will know what I mean. Some economists and sociologists will strongly disagree, arguing that it is the amount of money in the family that most affects life chances for the children. I don’t know how this could be proven one way or another.).

A weak, mostly absent father, averse to domesticity and to close contact with children in their most crucial period of brain development (starting at birth but continuing through their 20s!) is more likely than not to incite cult-like behavior and nihilism in his children. Without that introjected paternal superego, we are adrift in a sea of competing ideologies, and well may seek an anchor in a repressive dictatorial father-substitute, or, as in the case of the French Revolution, we may seek direction in a vindictive mob.

As I studied misogyny in 19th century and 20th century authors, including poets, I saw frequent terror of the modern woman, a figure most notable for her switching from indulgent, constant comforter to horrifying, death-dealing witch. (http://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/).  Single mothers today are expected to be both disciplinarian and bearer of unconditional love. I wonder if this double role is not too much to expect from single mothers, indeed the double role may be the precursor to misogyny, yet some counter-culture figures, including some feminists, are not daunted by the possibility that the male-free home is not the mark of progress they imagine. Is it not likely that “the kids are not all right?”

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8 Comments »

  1. Without a belief in G-d, there is no reason for any kind of morality. There would be no reason not to steal…or murder….or have relations with one’s sibling, etc.

    Comment by Chaiya Eitan — June 17, 2012 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

    • Many persons reading this blog will agree with you, Chaiya. But I do not. As I wrote, the important thing is the development of a superego (the conscience). That could come from the parenting of a strong, loving, moral father or mother, though I prefer a two-parent family. Some persons are atheists because they are selfish and anti-social. Others are oriented to science and to the benefits of a universal system of morality. I am one of the latter. You are not. Yet we may agree that an orientation toward life, toward happiness and fulfillment in this world, are desirable qualities. Indeed, it is the worldly orientation of Jews that has aroused much hatred among non-Jews whose happiness and enlightenment can be fulfilled only in Paradise.

      Comment by clarespark — June 17, 2012 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  2. In my personal experience, and in my observation of other families, the best guarantor of the production of mentally healthy, happy and productive children is a strong father, the ultimate loving disciplinarian, who relieves a cooperative mother of the unnatural task of being unpleasant to her children and allows her to play her preferred role of loving comforter who nonetheless does not undermine the father’s authority. In dealing with people who are not members of the nuclear family, the strong husband serves as the person whom the wife can blame for not participating in activities to which she is averse, thus deflecting uncomfortable hard feelings from herself to her husband, who usually could care less.

    Comment by jidcat — April 8, 2012 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  3. It is my belief that there are many good people out in this world that would not harm a fly….But i think we get a direction only from the OT and NT, that we cannot get anywhere….Our G0d is Love…No other religion that i know of teaches us that G0d is love….Until it is taken into their hearts by someone carrying the WORD to them, these good people can never know What the true WORD of G0d of the Bible is all about…Frankly this is the result we are seeing now of such a massive movement in nations where the Word of Christ has been forbidden…And I truly believe this will enlarge and grow, until Christ returns as King of kings, and Lord of lords…..

    Comment by jimi belton — March 13, 2012 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

    • Obviously, I do not agree with this world-view or I would not have written the blog. However, the comment will be widely shared among Christians. I also disagree with the suggestion that the Jewish God is not a god of love.

      Comment by clarespark — March 13, 2012 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  4. “I noticed yesterday that one Republican operative who posts on Facebook had asked the question, ‘does not atheism lead to the breakdown of society?'”

    This has been my own post-atheist assessment. Your idea of the weak or missing father is probably correct, but the underlying issue is the lack of a prevailing morality that expects men to take stronger leadership roles in the family and the raising of children. The question of God’s existence aside, the “morality” that has filled the space of the traditional Judeo/Christian morality has been an abysmal failure, both for individuals and social structure of the family. Objectivism attempts valiantly to construct a pro-individualist morality, but suffers many of the same failings as anti-individualist codes of behavior. Somewhere the psychological needs of children to have stable role models needs to be factored in. Children need parents, men and women who behave in ways that are true to their biological natures.

    Comment by stereorealist - Scott Lloyd — February 26, 2012 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  5. “It is well known that antisemites and anti-imperialists have pictured the Hebrew God (whose name may be spoken or written only as Yahweh) as brutal, warlike, and domineering, in contrast to themselves, who walk in the steps of the gentle, peacemaking, even maternal, Christ, (or perhaps they reject all religion along with their families of origin”
    Oh, Clare, don’t get me started.
    Not only modern antisemites. Christianity itself has had a huge problem from the beginning. In the early centuries, some theologians tried to create a totally new and fresh religion around Jesus (a logical step). However, they had serious problems with this approach – they couldn’t attract people by telling them that this baby was their new God. People wanted some proofs. So, theologians had to go back to the Hebrew Bible and give it basically a cafeteria style treatment – using Isaah (look what a prophet said in this sacred text – he foretold Christ!), discarding the rest (forget about the sacredness of the sacred text). Many things followed, such as a doctrine of supersession (they had to downgrade the “Old Testament”), but you are right – the traditional Christianity didn’t “downgrade” God – they couldn’t – what would be the value of Trinity?
    As far as the babbling of New Ageists, humanists, internationalists and the like crowd is concerned … these people function on such low level (basically on the level of sloganeering) that any sensible discussion isn’t possible. BTW, the present day crowd rejects all religion, except for …. you guess it … Islam which of course is a “religion of peace.” When you hear this from an atheist of Protestant background (my ex-friend) you can’t believe in power of human mind.

    Comment by anna — February 26, 2012 @ 4:16 pm | Reply


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