An Exalted Father

“A personal God is, psychologically, nothing other than an exalted father.”
(Freud, Leonardo da Vinci: A Memory of His Childhood, 80)

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 

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  1. Chuck February 27, 2013

    My (former) religious belief was a direct relief from child-hood damage done to me by a Dad who struggled with drinking, which led him to practice physical and emotional abuse towards me. I found in an idealized man, via Jesus and God the Father, a loving father figure. This was reinforced by the sober and successful men I found in Church. The upside was an environment of love. The downside was I remained an emotional and intellectual child (the Crack House Church effect).

    Freud would tell Jesus that he is operating under a delusion. Jesus would reply with a cryptic parable foreshadowing an impending apocalypse that, in reality, never will come.

    • Jim February 27, 2013

      I’d love to hear that conversation between Freud and Jesus. I’m pretty sure both remarks would blow my mind.

  2. Thule Kinnison February 27, 2013

    I think Freud would say this is crap, and I think Jesus would agree and say “tell me your story.”

    I don’t agree that the only way to “know the Father” is through Jesus. I think the issue with that specific verse is that the western world misinturprets and misuses it, and that makes me sad and mad! This is one scripture that drove me WAY away from Christianity….. i’m glad i’m back with a different understanding.

    • Mark February 27, 2013

      How is it misinterpreted by western Christianity and what is your fresh understanding of it that has allowed you to come back to Christianity?

  3. Rich February 27, 2013

    1. I think in me it has created a father who is absent. No, not exactly absent, but cryptic and hard to understand. He plays his cards close to the chest. It is like I am at school and all the kids are telling me all the bits and pieces of knowledge that they glean and I only have that point of reference. My parents can set it strait, but you kind of always believe your peers more than your parents until you are older.

    2. Freud would probably say you are projecting your ideals onto an illusion. Jesus would probably say something in Aramaic that I couldn’t understand.

    • Abigail February 27, 2013

      Well, Freud spoke German, so you probably couldn’t understand him either (unless you know German?) 😉

  4. DeVonne Buckingham February 27, 2013

    Having had a crappy, addicted, absent father creating an idea of a heavenly father appealed to my brokenness. It allowed me to create a story of belonging and wholeness. It allowed for some semblance of normalcy and unconditional love.Perhaps most damaging it allowed a disconnect from reality. I didn’t have to face the rejection of my father because I had a heavenly father that made everything ok.

    Freud would tell Jesus that he had major “daddy issues” and that he was shaping theses issues into the form of a heavenly father. Jesus would reply “Sure, let’s talk”.

  5. Abigail February 27, 2013

    I see Jesus as rather a mystic who also was able to reach out to people in a practical way. Mystically speaking, the image of a father isn’t meant to be some sort of replacement for anything in the physical world, but it’s a symbol of “source.” The ancient world saw life as originating in the male, who plants his “seed” in the female, who, like the earth, causes the seed to grow. So “Father” in the ancient world is a symbol to explain our origins.

    Back to Freud, though, I’m not sure what problem, exactly, he has with a personal god becoming, psychologically, a father-figure? I understand the harm others mentioned, if they use “God is my father” as an escape or excuse not to deal with their brokenness. However, stereotypically- (or archetypically-, if you will) speaking, it is the mother who protects, shelters, and pulls IN, and the father who challenges, goads, and pushes the child OUT to expand their reality. So if you are using this father archetype correctly, you would not be running from your problems. You’d be facing them. If you need a psychological device to help you do that, why is that “nothing”?

  6. Will February 27, 2013

    1) It is a relationship based on the idea of a greater guiding wisdom from a figure that one wishes to gain a greater intimacy. We seek the approval of our father and so just that much more from the perceived highest authority.

    2) I wouldn’t begin to consider the conversation between Freud and Jesus but I would love to be a fly on the wall to take it all in.

  7. Abigail February 27, 2013

    Freud would ask Jesus about his dreams, and interpret ALL of them with “you have an oedipal complex.”

  8. Tim C. February 27, 2013

    I can say this when I think of my Christian friends from highschool onward, it does seem a large number of us had missing, mean or worse fathers. Maybe that is just a part of being GenX, but it did seem higher than you expect just at random.

  9. […] An Exalted Father […]

  10. kendall February 28, 2013

    I came into this “relationship” with God, initially, because I’d heard he was a Father that would never leave me. Jesus was a means to an end. So on one sense, Freud is correct – a personal relationship with god is nothing more than an exalted father. But if I am the maker of at exalted father then it would logically make sense that I create that father in my own image, if not a nicer version of my experience of father.
    Over the years, though, God has been anything but my versions of him. If anything, he has pissed me off more than once by being more himself than I’d like and has floored me by being the kind of father I could never imagine. As I have said in response to the question, “What is your religious view?” It is however God views me, anything else is fabrication.

    • Chuck February 28, 2013

      How do you know how god views you?

      I don’t see anything in your comment to undercut the premise that god isn’t an invention of one’s imagination. You might have an inherent sadomasochistic need, unacknowledged by your conscious self, which then becomes a god concept that frustrates your being.

      • kendall February 28, 2013

        To answer your first point, if God is God then it is up to him to make it known how he knows me, is it not?
        And at the end of the day, how do you know you are loved? How do you know what it is to be loved?

        I wasn’t attempting to undercut the prospect that God isn’t an invention of yours or my imagination. I don’t deny that possibility, and it doesn’t stop me from considering the alternative(s).
        As for an inherent need – be it sadomasochistic or other – how do you conclude that it is inherent?

        Oddly enough my god concept doesn’t frustrate my being but seems to do the exact opposite – giving peace, congruency and a more solid sense of being, even if it she is a bit unnerving sometimes;) But there is little evidence in life that being frustrated or unsettled is an abnormality that must be the exception to be cured.

        • Abigail February 28, 2013

          Kendall, how does God let you know how he knows you? Curious what your experience is. A voice in your head? Intuition? An email? Not trying to be demeaning, and I do value each person’s right to their own deep spiritual experience. However, statements like these sound awfully open to interpretation.
          I just say that, because I grew up in Charismatic churches, which taught that any “Spirit-filled” person could hear the voice of God. Most times this was pretty harmless, and sometimes it was edifying. But I did see more than one church tear itself apart because one person decided God was telling him/her something the church should do, and another person felt God telling him/her something else, and a big war began.. I’ve seen a lot of, what were termed in my circles, “God cards” played against other people in my life. Enough submersion in this kind of watery-free-flowy atmosphere is enough to make one crave the air of objectivity or the earth of practicality!

          • kendall March 1, 2013

            Abigail, the notion of conversational dialogue with god has always somehow made sense to me on all practicalities. So it’s never had that religious or denominational attachment. Bummer you had to see such division in the name of god, especially in a movement that has such potential for good and teaching the more heady, academic communities about intuition, “listening” and the like.
            For lack of better metaphors, e knowing seems to come like hearing a piece of music you recognize but in all reality you’ve never heard it before for it is new, but familiar. Or it comes in the audible way like one whom, you have spent extensive time with in plenty of silences and en they whisper their though.- you hear it unlike you hear anyone else.

            A tricky way to answer an even more difficult question b/c it is so subjective. But it’s not a black and white reality, contrary to our desire for it to be.

            Does that get at your inquiry?

          • Chuck March 1, 2013

            Sorry Kendall but your confidence in your conversational god sounds like, at best, confirmation bias and at worse extreme narcissism. Psychology offers extensive explanations in natural terms for the experiences you so confidently assert as god.

            But, for the sake of argument, how do you know for certain that this dialogue is with god and not with a very clever demon?

          • kendall March 1, 2013


            It may be confirmation bias or simple neurological delusion.

            While I appreciate your observations and assertions I notice you tend to ask questions but rarely respond to them unless it is of your own initiation.

            You have yet to answer the questions I asked earlier. Are playing the part of a web troll? If so, you are doing a good job and perpetuating the contrarian narcissist quite well.

          • Chuck March 1, 2013

            No Kendall I am being honest as an atheist on a site dedicated to Atheism for Lent.

            Your post-modern god assertions on this site seem anathema to its design and, by that fact, seem to fit the definition of “trolling”.

            It is a shame that your certainty of god’s reality in your life becomes petty defensiveness when challenged by a “contrarian” interlocutor.

            I doubt the objective knowledge that guides my judgement of subjective perspective (e.g. my respect for psychology where you seem enthralled with an unintended solipsism) could be defined as “narcissism”. I am not gazing into my self, as you seem to be, and finding the hidden knowledge of god.

            Now, I answered your question, how about you answer mine. How are you certain that the god you dialogue with is not, in fact, a very clever demon?

          • Abigail March 1, 2013

            Chuck and Kendall, I have suffered pretty badly due to someone who (I later learned) had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Thus, I find these accusations of narcissism pretty harsh. It’s not my place to judge strangers from behind my laptop, but from what I’ve read, I don’t think either of you qualify as narcissistic (though it’s normal for most people to slip into mild narcissism occasionally.) Chuck has proven himself both generous and open-minded on this forum, in addition to being unflinching and well-reasoned in his atheistic outlook. This space asks us all to examine our beliefs, and part of that process is opening oneself up to the observations of others in the space; Chuck tends to have quite insightful observations so far.
            And just because Kendall feels that he has inner experiences that he defines as experiences of God, doesn’t mean he is entirely self-absorbed. I’d be concerned if he said he was the only one who could have such experiences and we all need to listen to what God is saying through him… He hasn’t indicated anything like this so far though. If anything, the desire to externalize the source of (what I assume tend to be) awe-inspiring feelings and thoughts, shows some humility, whether or not we’d all agree this assessment is rational. Plus, he HAS acknowledged that he may, actually, be misinterpreting his experiences.

            Kendall, when I was in the Charismatic church, I remember wrestling with a question similar to Chuck’s–how do I know that the impulses I’m getting that feel God-like to me are actually God, and not just my own deep desires, or actually a sinister spirit? It’s a tough question, and it may be enriching to explore. Checking one’s experience against the Bible (as I was taught to do) only takes one so far. Even the Bible talks about deceitful demons that disguise themselves as the voice of God.
            Once one opens oneself up to the possibility of hearing from invisible, inaudible beings, one has to be prepared to defend how one discerns which beings are communicating. (Either that, or just don’t tell other people about one’s experiences! … because I think questions similar to Chuck’s will probably be pretty common in the face of such a profound proposition as “I’ve heard/felt/experienced God!”)

          • Chuck March 2, 2013

            Abigail, point taken. Thanks for your willingness to be honest with me. I appreciate it.

            Kendall, my apologies for all insults I may have sent your way.

            My challenges to your method for interpreting the veracity of the god you experience still stand however.

  11. Abigail February 28, 2013

    In all fairness, it’s pretty impossible to have a relationship with anyone that is 100% free of illusion. We understand others according to our own interpretations and impressions, not as they really are, since we are by nature subjective. (This is why when we see people in our dreams, we are seldom actually dreaming of them, but our inner relationship with the impressions we have formed of them. One person’s dream about John Doe could be about fear, if tht person sees John Doe as a fearful person. Another person’s dream about John Doe could be about caring about one’s family, if that person sees John Doe as a family man. And so on.)
    It goes the same for abstract concepts such as love, justice, or god. We each have our own internal schema of what these concepts are, based on our experiences and impressions.
    So I’m a little torn. I understand the absurdity of clinging to an invisible friend as real, when he is only imaginary. But I think it may be equally absurd to say other abstract concepts that we generally all agree on, such as love or justice, don’t exist. And they don’t, scientifically speaking… Love is “just” a release of norepinephrine and oxytocin … But they are useful as concepts, and as ethical guides. Without an abstract concept of some sort of morality/ethics, wouldn’t there be a lot more violence in the world than there already is?

    • Chuck February 28, 2013


      I get a hint of equivocation in your post.

      How are abstract concepts that inform behavior equivalent to an imaginary person one admits has will and wants?

      How do we adjudicate which abstract concepts the imaginary person deems best in the pursuit of reduced violence?

      Abstract concepts become mental short-cuts after the fact reason has argued for the greatest well-being. They argue against future well-being when they become unfalsifiable through sacred devotion to tradition.

      • Abigail February 28, 2013

        Equivocation, I’ll admit it! Story of my life! :) Not trying to mislead, just expressing that I can see various sides of the issue, and haven’t fully landed on any one side.

        “How are abstract concepts that inform behavior equivalent to an imaginary person one admits has will and wants?”
        I understood the argument in this post to be “because god is an illusive concept we create in our minds, therefore, believing in god is childlike and must be grown out of.”
        And my response to that was, there are a lot of illusive concepts we create in our minds. It’s virtually impossible not to create them, even with people that we do know actually exist. While perhaps maturity means recognizing when we are doing so, it is still impossible to escape our own subjectivity.
        So if we are going to disparage belief in god on that argument alone, I find it… not quite convincing.
        But perhaps I am understanding the argument incorrectly.
        And perhaps I understand “belief in god” differently than most people. I don’t see creating god into a “person,” with a will and such, as necessary to having a concept of some kind of mysterious transcendence. Though, that’s the typical Christian concept of God.

        I would disagree that our abstract concepts such as freedom, justice, etc., which we have lived and longed for for millenia, are initiated by (shall we say “fathered by?” ha ha) reason. Biology seems to indicate the opposite. The faculty of reason is the newcomer on the scene, evolution-wise. If anything, reason becomes the externally-imposed justification for things we instinctively feel we ought to do anyway (love our children, find a sense of equality and fairness, ensure the survival of our species, etc.)

        I realize I’m a bit cloudy in my logic in places, here. I’ll need to think about this a bit more.

      • Abigail February 28, 2013

        (Feel free to call me on the carpet for anything that doesn’t make sense or if I contradict myself. I’m always trying to learn and grow. I appreciate this exchange very much.)

        • Chuck February 28, 2013

          No need. You qualified your points of view up above. I don’t have a good argument against the assumed Platonic ideal of human virtue you make, but only a bias towards my reading of history, where well-argued cases for truth, justice and liberty have advanced morals, rather than a glimpse into a perfect sphere of the same.

          • Abigail March 1, 2013

            Oh, am I promoting Platonic ideals? I wasn’t trying to. Let me state my understanding of “virtues” in this conversation. I’ve become excited with Attachment Theory lately. (I have two young children.) It makes a lot of sense. The chemicals released in both mother and baby during the birth process are geared towards creating a strong emotional attachment between the two (similar attachment-producing chemicals are released in the father as well, if he is present at the birth, and/or has a lot of physical contact with the baby.) This ensures the baby’s survival. The very foundation of our development seems to be built on attachment. When children are insecurely attached, they develop anti-social behaviors, whereas securely-attached children tend to be more empathetic, polite, confident, etc. All kinds of things can hinder healthy attachment, and many of the structures that we’ve had to use to build civilizations through the millenia (many of which structures we’ve built to deal with resource scarcity) are at odds with healthy attachment, or at least make it more difficult.
            So when I say that we all deeply understand we ought to be loving, just, and so on, I see these as primal biological impulses. I wasn’t trying to disparage rationality, of course, though. Well-reasoned arguments for morals etc. are important. I just don’t think they are heeded much by people whose unconscious insecurities rule them, though. Haven’t you noticed that it’s rare for people to be courageous enough to admit they’re wrong on something, even when it’s glaringly obvious? Usually it takes a lot of doing things the wrong way and getting in pretty deep trouble before we finally adjust.

            When you’ve changed your mind on important moral issues, was it usually as simple as having someone explain why you were wrong and what the right “answer” was, or did you have to muck through some emotional and experiential baggage first? With me, it tends to be the latter. An experience triggers an emotion, and I come to realize that something doesn’t “feel” right, and I start to pull away from my previously-held belief. There’s a period of waffling, searching, and so on. When I get a sound rational explanation/justification, I then can be confident in changing my beliefs. The rational explanation “puts the bow on it.” It may have been there all along, but I wouldn’t give it the time of day unless I had some emotional trigger to compel me to do so.

          • Chuck March 2, 2013

            It seemed as you were advocating for a perfection of some form of the virtues you expressed. I agree that human emotion can be reduced to biology (without those emotions losing any of their wonder and delight by the way).

            Your argument here seems to be different than the one above.

            My point on how reason operates to evolve morals was better stated by the philosopher Timothy Egan in a New York Times editorial commenting on the recent passage of the Violence Against Women Act (despite hard-line opposition by Right Wing Republicans). He argues that a commitment to evidence-based thinking wears away ideological sentiment so that what were once virtues, that cover crimes against humanity (e.g. the institution of slavery as an enabler of the chivalric code), crumble in the face of reason.

            You can read the editorial here:

          • Abigail March 5, 2013

            Your article does not elaborate “how” or “why” the change has taken place in the ranks of the “neanderthal Republicans.” Only that more of them are becoming “reasonable.”

            Again, I just do not believe that Reason is the sole force that crumbles terrible institutions such as what was mentioned in the article.

            I think that unempathetic behavior is an aberration from our natural condition. Due to traumas, negative conditioning, etc., people become stuck at the development level of children, socially speaking. It’s all about “me” and “mine,” and not as much awareness of the needs of others. It’s a systemic problem that has existed for centuries, but I believe it’s because of how we have been conditioned (again, due to the problems inherent in building civilizations, which I mentioned above), to override the natural development of empathy. Perhaps I’m taking Attachment Theory too far.

            However we want to explain it though, I think it’s still fairly obvious, at least to me, that appeals to the intellect are powerful only to those trained to value the intellect above the baser functions. (Such a person is still a rare creature in our world, wouldn’t you say?) Appeals to the heart are much more effective. The ideal approach is a beautiful synergy of both.

            To show someone how s/he is connected to everyone and everything else, to nurture empathy for an Other’s suffering, to awaken someone to a world beyond his/her own personal bubble, that is to begin real change. At this point, the heart sufficiently opened, it is then appropriate to engage the intellect–to provide justification for why, and contingency plans for how, this change should take place.

            At least, that is how I see it happening in my experience.

  12. Paul March 5, 2013

    “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows not” -Pascal

    • Chuck March 5, 2013

      Are you going to post the wager too?

  13. Paul March 6, 2013

    only if we’re taking bets…

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