Fats Domino, Dick Gregory, Chuck Berry, Mary Tyler Moore, Hugh Hefner, and other rich and famous people all passed away in 2017. When he finally crossed the river in December at the age of 78, theologian R.C. Sproul didn’t get much ink, and even in the religious press the obituaries passed over his most important work.
A common charge leveled against people with religious beliefs, Sproul observed, was that their convictions were motivated solely by psychological needs. He thought this charge was worthy of a reply and in 1974 wrote The Psychology of Atheism, which also showcased Sproul’s enormous erudition.
The author details what Freud, Feuerbach, Marx and Nietzsche thought about theism and its causes. Since there is no God, as atheists believe, why is there religion? For his part, Sproul wonders why atheists even bothered with a causal explanation for religion.
“If the atheist can live intellectually with massive causeless effect such as the material universe,” Sproul wrote, “why is he constrained to provide a cause for such a small thing as religion?”
Atheists like to dish it out and tend to regard themselves as off limits to analyses of their own beliefs. Sproul was not down with that.
“What is true,” he explained, “can never be determined by an analysis of what men desire or do not desire to be the truth.” And he found an irrational foundation for atheism in “the refusal to acknowledge as true what one knows with clarity to be true.”
As Sproul saw it, the actual psychology of atheism is a kind of trinity. Confrontation with God can shock, and therefore involves trauma. In a process of repression, the atheist buries the knowledge of God in the subconscious. The substitution that follows generally produces either a militant evangelical atheism or a bogus religion, but either way it involves “the exchange of truth for a lie.”
As Sproul had it, “any reasoning process that begins with a denial of the known and proceeds on the basis of prejudice can hardly produce light, no matter how lucid and cogent the argument.” The problem is not the capacity for thought, but “a thought process that begins and is maintained by prejudice to the facts.”
Militant atheism has been the official creed of totalitarian states such as the Soviet Union, where Bernie Sanders spent his honeymoon and briefly enjoyed the right to single-payer health care. All communist states have imposed fundamentalist atheism, and persecuted religious believers to some degree.
That has not dimmed the enthusiasm of apologists such as Anna Louise Strong, who wrote that Stalin was too important to be called a god, and the Rev. Hewlett Johnson, who saw communism as the kingdom of God on earth. Modern adherents of “liberation theology” carry on that tradition.
Like individual atheists, communist regimes resist analysis and evaluation on their actual record. They prefer to be judged on the social justice utopia that is always just around the corner.
Supporters of those regimes are fond of comparing the future utopia with the actual record of capitalist democracies such as the United States. As R.C. Sproul said, arguments that are prejudiced to facts can produce no light. On God or anything else, the truth can never be determined by what someone wants the truth to be. That is the subjunctive mood now prevailing on the left side of the nation.
R.C. Sproul, meanwhile, was “deeply impressed” by Nietzsche’s insights and would never argue that atheists cannot be clear-headed on matters some regard as the province of religion. The late Christopher Hitchens, for example, author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, believed that life begins at conception because there is no other place life can begin.
And of course, the right to life, liberty, free speech and other bourgeois trifles cannot emerge from the belief that nothing plus time plus chance equals order and complexity. R.C. Sproul was not going to let that nonsense go unchallenged, but he kept things in perspective.
Asked what he wanted on his tombstone, Sproul reportedly said “I told you I was sick.”
Lloyd Billingsley writes for Frontpage Magazine and his work has appeared in many publications including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and the Spectator (London). He is the author of the new crime book Lethal Injections: Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer, Canada’s Serial Killer Nurse, the recently updated Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation, and From Mainline to Sideline: the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches.