Paradoxically, the study was funded by the Christian-based John Templeton Foundation, which intended to demonstrate that religion reinforces “pro-social behaviour.” Known for its conservative and libertarian stances, the Foundation is regularly accused of only funding research that serves it purposes. Clearly here the researchers did not feel obliged to pander to the interests of their sponsors! The fact that the study’s director, Jean Decety, was French, will perhaps come as no surprise. Indeed, though France remains the eldest child of the (Catholic) Church, even Pope Francis admits that it may not be the most faithful… in any case, in France one can rise to the highest of offices without having to give assurances of morality by making declarations of religious belief.

As for Jacques Lacan, he had the greatest of doubts in the very possibility of atheism. In 1975, during his Conferences and Conversations at North American Universities, he affirmed that “the whole world is religious, even the atheists,” asking himself whether psychoanalysis alone could produce a “viable atheist, which is to say someone that doesn’t contradict themselves at every turn”3. As he pointed out some years earlier: “[that] God is dead, does not seem to me to be of a kind to liberate us, far from it. […] A long time ago I observed that for the sentence of old father Karamazov, ‘if God is dead, then everything is permitted,’ the conclusion that forces itself upon us in the text of our experience is that the response to ‘God is dead’ is ‘Nothing is permitted anymore.’4

From this perspective, the death of God does not lead to an unbridled jouissance; on the contrary, it establishes the forbidden and initiates the very process of belief as an address to this henceforth empty, but impossible-to-fill place. Thus, “the true formula of atheism is not God is Dead […], the true formula of atheism is God is unconscious5.

This reminds me of a session with a small boy. I asked him how his Christmas was, and he answered me solemnly: “This year, Father Christmas doesn’t exist anymore.”

1 Published November 5th 2015 in Current Biology, under the direction of Jean Decety of the University of Chicago department of Psychology. Cf.
2 South Africa, Canada, China, USA, Jordan and Turkey. According to Jean Decety and his colleagues, 5.8 billion people (84% of the world population) would currently identify themselves as believers.

3 Jacques Lacan, Conferences and Conversations at North American Universities, (1976), Scilicet n° 67, 1976, p. 32.
4 Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, livre XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-1970), New York, Norton, 2007, p. 119-120.
5 Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), New York, Norton, 1978, p. 59.