How Wounded People Have Shaped Culture

fatherlessness and atheism

Have you ever wondered about the personal histories of people who have influenced the world in negative ways, philosophically or politically? I have. I’ve harbored a long-held suspicion that influential people who have shaped the world for the worse have generally done so from a position of personal woundedness.

The point of the question is not to establish a reason to judge people or to create division. But I think it’s an interesting and significant question. If anything, establishing such a connection may help foster understanding.

It may also shed light on issues that we may assume to be intellectual issues but which may in fact originate with psychological issues rooted in personal history.

In my opinion it also underscores the importance of marriage, loving family, and the meeting of the relational needs of our fellow human beings.

I’ve finally gotten around to doing a little research, and what I’ve learned is fascinating. We know the names and contributions of world-shapers, but what is less known is that, almost without exception, the stories of those who’ve made a negative impact are often deeply tragic.

Who is to Say What is “Negative”?
This is a fair question. Let me hasten to add a caveat here. I am unapologetically biased in my opinion about what constitutes a “negative influence” in the world. Justifying my opinion is probably a topic for a separate post. I recognize that some may consider what I see as a negative contribution to be a positive one. I also recognize that the contribution of many the folks mentioned below is mixed.

However, I don’t believe it matters. Regardless of what one think about a person’s contribution to the world, the facts of his or her personal history remain, and, I believe, shaped the course of that person’s life.

Following is a list of people who have shaped the world in the modern era; especially in the world of academia. There is overlap in these categories as most of these people are/were atheists.

Atheist thinkers
In a recent movie review I mentioned the connection between well known atheists and the “father wound.” Psychologist Paul Vitz has written a book on this connection entitled, “Faith of the Fatherless,” which I recommend. Here are arguably the most notable atheist names in history:

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Popularly known for his pronouncement, “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s father, to whom he was very attached, died just before his fifth birthday. After his father’s death he lived in a religious household consisting of his mother, sister, paternal grandmother, and two paternal aunts, until he went away to school at age 14.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Prominent British atheist philosopher and author, notably published a collection of essays entitled, Why I Am Not a Christian. From an aristocratic family, Russell’s mother died when he was two years old. His father died two years later. Russell was then raised by his paternal grandparents, Lord John Russell and Lady Russell. However, his grandfather died when he was six years old, leaving him to be raised by his puritanical grandmother and a succession of nannies.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Influential 20th century French atheist philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Sartre’s father died when he was 15 months old. He grew up very close and emotionally invested with his mother. When his mother remarried in Sartre’s 12th year, she moved into an apartment with her new husband, and Sartre stayed with his grandparents with whom he was not close.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French atheist philosopher, author, and journalist. His father died in battle during World War 1 when Camus was 1 year old. Camus was raised by his mother, who was illiterate and cleaned houses for a living, and subsequently grew up in an economically depressed environment. In 1937 Camus was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the French Communist Party, at which time he joined the French anarchist movement.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995)
Perhaps America’s best-known atheist before her death, she led the lawsuit to successfully ban prayer in public schools during the 1960s. According to her son, Madalyn hated her father and unsuccessfully attempted to kill him on at least one occasion. The reason for this intense hatred is not known

Richard Dawkins (1941- )
British “New Atheist,” evolutionary biologist, and author. A critic of all religion and especially Christianity, Dawkins is on record stating that the teaching of Christian doctrine to children is child abuse. He attended a religious boarding school at age 9 and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his Latin master while separated from his parents.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
British “New Atheist,” journalist, and author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens grew up in an intact family and also went off the boarding school at age 8. His father was a naval officer and Hitchens claims to have “few clear memories of him,” referring to him as “the Commander.” He was close with his mother, who eventually had an affair with a former Anglican priest. The two lovers subsequently ended their lives together in a suicide pact.

Daniel Dennett (1942- )
American “New Atheist” philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist. Dennett’s father worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the US government. The family moved to Lebanon during World War 2. His father died in an unexplained plane crash while away on a Middle East mission when Dennett was 5 years old.

Political leaders
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect of the Soviet state. Third of six children in a happy family, when Lenin was 16 his father died of a brain hemorrhage. He renounced his belief in God soon thereafter. 5 months later his elder brother was hanged for his part in conspiring against the Tsar.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Soviet dictator, orchestrator of the Great Purge against political rivals, and perpetrator of the worst man-made famine in human history. The precise number is unknown, but by some estimates Stalin presided over the deaths of 20 million people. Originally trained for the priesthood, in his 30s Stalin rejected his family name (Djugashvili) and changed it to the Russian word for “man of steel.” Stalin had a very harsh upbringing. His father was an alcoholic and often severely beat him and his mother.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Communist leader and father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao presided over the Great Leap Forward of 1958 (the ensuing famine of which caused the deaths of some 30 million peasants,) and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 (which resulted in some million and a half deaths and destroyed much of China’s cultural heritage.) Mao reportedly hated his father, who was a tyrant and regularly and severely beat him and his three siblings.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945)
Leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor and fuehrer of Germany, and initiator of World War 2. Hitler presided over the Nazi Holocaust during which 6 million Jews were executed – nearly two thirds of Continental Europe’s Jewish citizenry. Additional victims included communists, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political opponents. As a boy, Hitler’s father severely and regularly beat him; “every day” according to his sister. He was one of 6 children, 3 of whom died in infancy. As an 11 year old boy Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother, Edmund. Hitler’s antagonistic relationship with his father ended 3 years later when his father died unexpectedly. There was no father figure in his life after this.

Opinion shapers
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. While his father was not abusive, apparently Freud considered him to be a weak man and a disappointment; lacking in courage and unable to provide for his family. Furthermore, according to Paul Vitz, in two letters as an adult Freud writes that his father, Jacob, was “a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s own children suffered as a result.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
British naturalist and author of the vastly influential On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The pure naturalism of microbes-to-man evolutionary theory made materialism (atheism) an intellectually respectable option. Darwin’s mother died when he was 8. He was raised by his sisters until he went off to school at age 9. His relationship with his imposing father was ambivalent. He once wrote, “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’.”

Feminist leaders
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
American birth control activist, sex educator, author, nurse, and racist eugenics proponent. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US and founded the American Birth Control League, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger grew up in an impoverished home headed by an alcoholic father. She was the 6th of 11 children. Her mother went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, (including 7 miscarriages,) before dying at the age of 40.

Gloria Steinem (1934- )
American feminist, political activist, and journalist. Steinem was a leading figurehead for the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s and co-founder of Ms. Magazine. Perhaps her best known quote is, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” When Steinem was 10 years old her parents divorced and her father left, leaving her to care for her mentally ill mother.

Bella Abzug (1920-1998)
American feminist, lawyer, congressional representative, and social activist. Abzug was also a leading activist during the 60s and 70s. In her later life she became an influential leader at the United nations working to support womens’ equality around the world. Abzug’s father died when she was 13. She went to the synagogue every morning for a year to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer. This was in defiance of the orthodox synagogue’s tradition that only sons recite the prayer.

Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012)
American feminist thinker and author. Firestone is less well known than the others listed here but she was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism. Her book, The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970, has continued to be influential in feminist thought, and is also considered to be an early “post-genderist” work. In the book she argues that it is the biological role of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing that keeps women oppressed. She envisioned the abolition of the nuclear family with its oppressive parent-child relationship, and doing away with the maternal instinct. She envisioned artificial wombs, and collective child-rearing. Not surprisingly, Firestone’s relationship with her controlling, orthodox Jewish father was wildly antagonistic.

Summary
One would be justified in asking if fatherlessness was typical in past centuries, or if the family dynamic was dysfunctional for most people. Author Paul Vitz answers this question by providing a contrasting list of theistic thinkers and influencers. In virtually every case these theists were raised in nurturing, loving environments. When a parent was lost at an early age, relatives or friends stepped up as affirming father figures. Examples Vitz gives include Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It would be wrong to assume that all atheists today grew up with a dysfunctional parent relationship. Atheism has now become mainstream and academically respectable. However, I remain convinced that children have a God-ordained right to be nurtured by their married biological parents whenever possible. If you are a parent I hope these stories will strengthen your resolve to stay a loving course in your marriage and parenting.

Happy Father’s day to all the dads reading this! May you be a blessing to your children!

Raising Kids Who Have Strong Values but Aren’t Bossy

parenting bossiness strong values

Does this ring a bell? This was a frequent issue for Mollie and me. We are both artists and, I would say, intentionally on the non-legalistic end of the spectrum of conservative evangelical culture. But somehow we produced a couple of children with an overdeveloped sense of how everyone else should behave.

One child in particular seemed to feel he should be the Jiminy Cricket of the whole family. (And, perhaps the neighborhood, church, and world.) The issue came up with the other four as well, just not on a daily basis.

Of course, I was pleased to see that this child had a strong sense of right and wrong. He was also very bright, articulate, and overconfident. To compound his situation further, he was the second oldest, and his older brother had a disability. You can imagine how sorely tempted he was to constantly “help” those around him. Especially given that he had a younger brother who was apparently born without a conscience, (but that’s probably a story for another time.)

I’m guessing you’ve seen this in your own kids, or in other “church kids” as well. They’re good kids, but they’re kids, so of course they’re still finding balance. This tension is understandable because we’ve been teaching them that there is such a thing as right and wrong. We don’t want them to believe that “everything is relative.” We don’t buy into the idea that “you have your truth and I have mine.” We want our kids to grasp the idea of an objective Creator who has created a world where objective right and wrong, and truth exist.

So how do we raise them to not come off as judgmental little twerps, yet without undermining their developing worldview?

Here are four ideas that we consciously employed. We don’t have all the answers, so please feel free to contribute your helpful thoughts in the combox below.

1) Unsolicited help and advice is usually unwelcome
If a person doesn’t want your help, your help will not be accepted as help.”
We had to emphasize this about a million times with our kids. A couple of them seemed genuinely amazed that their interventions were not always welcome. After all, if one person is right and another person is wrong, the wrong person will surely want to know about it. Right?! This turned out to be at the root of a large percentage of sibling squabbles in our home.

This also happens to be one of those principles that continues to serve us all well in adulthood.

2) Authority roles
I think it’s worth explaining things to kids that we as adults have come to take for granted. Authority roles is a big one. The Bible teaches that God has instituted 3 spheres of life with clear authority roles: the state, the church, and the family. Gently but clearly, I would often explicitly spell out to a child, usually in the presence of the others, something like this:
“(Child’s name,) did you notice that your mom and I are sitting right here, and we did not correct your sister/brother? I don’t want you to correct her/him either. You are not the dad/mom. You have no authority over your sister/brother.”

Sometimes we had to remind them that they were not police officers either.

3) Family identity
Your family has an identity and a collective “self-image” that each family member shares. When our children are small, they accept this identity to the extent that they understand it. We sometimes felt it necessary to differentiate our family from many of those around us. Not for the sake of creating division or ill will, but because there was a lot of bad stuff going on around us, and we parents weren’t necessarily doing anything about it.

I should explain that we lived in an inner city neighborhood where there was a lot to criticize, even from a child’s perspective: lots of family dysfunction, lying, stealing, swearing, smoking, meanness, fighting, substance abuse, cruelty, vandalism, litter, and so on.

Our stated explanation of our identity would go something like this:
“Our family loves and follows Jesus. Many other families don’t. This is sad for them, but we can’t make them follow Jesus. The best way for us to help them is to be kind to them, and let them see how great Jesus is, not to always be telling them what they are doing wrong.”

Within the church it can be a bit trickier, since we are all professing Jesus:
“Their family is also trying to follow Jesus, but they understand that a little differently than we do. We’re all trying to follow Jesus, so we trust each other. We trust that we’re all trying our best. As a kid, God wants you to obey your mom and dad. That’s your job right now. When you have your own family someday you can do things differently.”

4) Parental example
I believe this may be the most important for the long term. I think a contradictory parental example can undo a lot of good instruction. So Mollie and I tried not to “boss around” each other or our adult friends. Even with our kids, when it was appropriate we would ask them if they would like help when we could see that they needed help. If the answer was no, and the situation wasn’t life threatening to anyone, we would wait until they were ready to receive help. We didn’t want to leave them with the impression that being in authority means you get to boss people around. (Not that there isn’t a place for this in parenting, of course.)

As an older, wiser friend of mine used to say, “More is caught than is taught.”

Part of our privilege as parents is to help our kids navigate life more effectively than they would without our wisdom. May God give you grace as you help your kids reach a place of balance!

 

Guaranteeing Family-Time in the Midst of Busyness

Sabbath-keepingI admit that I might be a work-a-holic, just a wee bit.

Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.

At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.

What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.

Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.

Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, conservative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.

Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”

We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.

Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.

We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.

At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made made.

Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”

We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people.)

For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m not burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.

If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.

 

My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!

New Storybook Release: Bear Island

Kids' storybooks-Bear Island

I’m excited about this one!

Over the past few years, thanks to some great teaching by a couple of pastor friends, I’ve come to appreciate that one of God’s primary attributes is that He is relational in nature. As human beings created in His image, we are relational as well; created to live in loving relationship with Him, and with each other. Since our triune God exists in relationship within Himself, we can say that our need for loving relationship is not a shortcoming or flaw, but is rather an essential part of our Creator’s design for us.

The idea of a personal God who is loving and relational is not as inevitable as it might seem. This is unique to a biblical worldview. For example, the Allah of the Quran has always existed as a solitary being, and there is no indication that he desires relationship with man. Furthermore, Allah’s eternal aloneness suggests that love could have only existed in theory until man was created. In contrast, Jesus describes being in perfect loving relationship with the Father from before creation (Jn 17:22-24.) Thus the scriptures can truthfully say that God is love, and always has been.

Marriage is one picture of the relational unity-in-diversity that God designed us for. The creation story explicitly states that “oneness” is God’s intent for marriage. Family is another picture. The church is meant to be yet another manifestation of loving, relational unity. The greatest commandments of Jesus reflect all of this. Even on a worldly level, everyone on the planet seeks community and unity in some form. This is all from God, and Jesus claims that His salvation is what makes relational unity – first with God, and then with our neighbor – truly possible. In this way we can say that our deepest desires are met in Jesus.

Bear Island is a simple story that was designed to capture these truths at the simplest level. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family.

Bear Island tells the story of an island that should be a wonderful place for bears to live. Unfortunately, all of the bears are lonely because they mistakenly believe that the way to be happy is to be selfish. The strongest bears push the smaller bears around, and there’s generally lots of fighting and grumpiness. Bear Island is not a very nice place to live.

Stories about bears

One day an enormous, new bear visits the island, and the other bears are immediately afraid of him. However, rather than behaving selfishly, as they expect him to, he brings love and friendship to the island, eventually transforming the whole island.

Books for kids-Bear Island

Children's book illustration“…Every day Burly Brown Bear made a new friend by being kind to another bear. Soon there was a whole party of brown furry bears sharing their berries and sharing their days together. Bear Island was becoming a more heavenly place!…”

Biblical Worldview for kids

 

 

 

 

Bear hug

 

 

As a side note, the idea for this story came to me after my wife and I had completed a marriage class through my church that deeply affected us. This was also during the Ferguson riots, (near where I grew up.) At the time, I was struck with how seldom fatherlessness and the decline of marriage were a part of the ensuing discussions on race relations in America. I think the story of Bear Island came out a little differently because of all of this than it otherwise would have. I mentioned in a previous post that the characters in the story were designed so that children of any ethnic makeup would be able to identify with them. My hope is that this book can make inroads into the Black and Hispanic communities. Eventually I hope to offer a Spanish version as well.

So there you have it! Thanks again for your support – I hope you and your family are having a great summer!

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Storyboo-love & friendship