About a week ago I had the incredible blessing of attending a conference put on by the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA) and co-hosted by the Institute of Psychological Studies (IPS). The road leading up to the conference was difficult, especially trying to pull the money together to go.
Most of us who went to the conference attribute the rough road leading up to the conference to the many wonderful experiences we had at the conference—the devil didn’t want us to be there and have them. One of the most beneficial experiences at the conference was a talk given by Dr. Paul Vitz. He is a professor at IPS and has authored many books, several of which we read in classes.
Vitz’s talk was based around the research he did for his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. In his talk he spoke about 3 factors that have a correlation to Atheism.
The first factor is the relationship one has with his father. Vitz performed a study in which he researched the lives of major atheists throughout history. Some of the atheists he researched are Freud, Voltaire, and Nietzsche. Vitz found that these famous atheists had something in common. They all had negative relationships with their fathers, and no other positive father figure in their lives. Freud said once that God is nothing but an exalted father figure. Vitz rebutted that saying that Atheism is an unresolved Oedipus complex.
Christianity believes one Person of God is the Father. If someone had a negative relationship with their earthly father, a person whom they can see and touch, it could be very difficult for that person to understand how a father that cannot be seen or touched could love them unconditionally.
Vitz also studied famous theists from the same time as the atheists. He found that some of the theists didn’t have good relationships with their fathers. As he dug further into their lives, he found that these theists had an uncle or other father figure in their lives with whom they had a good relationship. This relationship gave them the fatherly trust related to that of God the Father.
The second factor is a strange factor to me. This factor is autism. Those with Autism generally have difficulties with relationships. Christianity is very relational. There is the relationship in the Trinity, the relationship between Christ and the Church, the relationship between God and each individual, the relationship between an individual and the Church and the relationship between different individuals within the church. It is understandable that someone who has trouble understanding relationships would have trouble understanding Christianity!
The third factor is convenience. This factor relates to those who may believe in Christianity, but find it too difficult to live out. While Vitz was talking I was thinking about St. Augustine’s conversion. His conversion was two-fold. He first had a conversion of the intellect. He believed in God and what the Church taught, but it was so radically different from the way he had been living his life that it was too difficult to change his ways. Eventually, he had a conversion of the will and was able to live out the Christian life. His time between conversions is how I envision the third factor.
One of the most important things Vitz said about all of this is that we shouldn’t say these sorts of things straight to a client: they may not take that very well. Rather, these are things to keep in mind and explore with the client without saying outright, “I believe your trouble with Christianity is that you may be autistic or your trouble with your father.” We should meet the clients where they are and journey with them to Christ.
The truth of body-soul union is so important to me in counseling. I intern in a community counseling center. In this setting, I don’t have the privilege of discussing Christ in sessions, but that doesn’t stop me from praying for my clients in front of the Eucharist and before sessions. I pray not only for their disorders and their presenting symptoms but that they may see the love of the Father through me, whether they realize it or not. This is my approach to “regular” counseling. I recognize my clients as body and soul, and though there is not too much I can do for their soul in this setting, I do what I can to help their soul while I help their mind and body.