Re­vival time with the vil­lage athe­ist

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

The jobs don’t pay a lot, and you take most of your pay in self-es­teem, but some­body is al­ways try­ing out for vil­lage id­iot or vil­lage athe­ist. Of­ten they’re one and the same.

Lately we’ve seen fresh pur­suit of th­ese po­si­tions, fu­eled by a rash of books about athe­ism, or more ac­cu­rately, ir­ra­tional screeds mock­ing those who have the faith the au­thors clearly envy. Athe­ists are or­ga­niz­ing. They have their reg­is­tered lob­by­ist now on Capi­tol Hill, and they’re plan­ning a re­vival meet­ing in Ar­ling­ton in Septem­ber.

No tents, no hymns, and there won’t be saw­dust on the trail, but big names in the god­less fir­ma­ment are nev­er­the­less promised, in­clud­ing Prof. Richard Dawkins, the rec­og­nized Elmer Gantry of the move­ment; Christo­pher Hitchens, the au­thor of witty books about his latest vi­sions, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fa­mously abused by Is­lamist thugs. Made­lyn Murray O’Hair, the lodestar of the move­ment, how­ever, is still dead. But there will be a screen­ing of “The Life of Brian,” the Monty Python tale that has be­come “The Pas­sion of the Christ” for hip hea­then; car­i­ca­ture artists “cap­tur[ing] con­ven­tion mo­ments of your choice” (at $15 per mo­ment), work­shops on “sec­u­lar par­ent­ing,” and ses­sions on “how to or­ga­nize, de­velop and main­tain an Athe­ist Meetup,” which is pre­sum­ably where skep­ti­cal sin­gles meet, greet and gaze dream­ily into each other’s not-so-heav­enly eyes.

Merely driv­ing by a church to shake a fist at the steeple on a Sun­day morn­ing is no longer enough to make an athe­ist tin­gle. They’re tak­ing tips from the tel­e­van­ge­lists they af­fect to de­spise. Prof. Dawkins, the Ox­ford don turned shill for the thrill of be­liev­ing in noth­ing, has an In­ter­net site that Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker would have en­vied, with a but­ton to click to con­trib­ute money to sup­port pros­e­ly­tiz­ing for the cult of un­be­lief. The pro­fes­sor, who sits in some­thing called the Charles Si­monyi Chair for the Pub­lic Un­der­stand­ing of Science at Ox­ford when he is not jet­ting hither and yon to search for op­por­tu­ni­ties at Athe­ist Mee­tups, is try­ing to get his co-re­li­gion­ists to call them­selves “Brights,” as op­posed to what one of his ad­mir­ers call the “knuckle-drag­ging mo­rons” whose lives have been touched by divine fire.

One of the most fer­vent evan­ge­lists is Christo­pher Hitchens, whose book “god is Not Great: How Re­li­gion Poi­sons Ev­ery­thing” is cur­rently for athe­ists what Chair­man Mao’s Lit­tle Red Book was for the Chi­nese mil­lions only yes­ter­day. (Note that God gets only a small-g in the ti­tle; Hitch is an over­flow­ing font of clev­er­ness.) Hitch par­tic­u­larly de­spises the legacy of Mother Teresa, whom he calls “the ghoul of Cal­cutta,” and when the Vat­i­can opened pro­ceed­ings to make her a saint he was in­vited to tes­tify as a devil’s ad­vo­cate. Since such wit­nesses for the pros­e­cu­tion are no longer called “devil’s ad­vo­cates,” Hitch vol­un­teered to “rep­re­sent the devil pro-bono.”

The death the other day of the Rev. Jerry Fal­well put an­other log on the fire of athe­ist or­tho­doxy. Not for the athe­ists the Ro­man ad­mo­ni­tion — “nil nisi bonum” — to speak only good of the dead. Hitch has said some of the mean­est things about the founder of the Moral Ma­jor­ity, but not all. An ed­i­to­ri­al­ist in Arkansas, of all un­likely places, couldn’t wait to throw a few rocks. Paul Green­berg, who dis­plays his piety and unc­tion daily in the Arkansas DemocratGazette, went on the at­tack be­fore Mr. Fal­well was even in the cold, cold ground of south­west Vir­ginia. Declar­ing him­self “a sur­vivor of 2,000 years of Chris­tian char­ity,” the sage of Lit­tle Rock’s Fourche Bayou bot­toms likened the rev­erend to Susan Son­tag and Noam Chom­sky, and not­ing that Mr. Fal­well “once par­tic­i­pated in a civil dia­log with spokes­men for ho­mo­sex­ual Amer­i­cans,” sneered: “I can’t re­call him ever fall­ing into de­cency again.”

The athe­ists reckon they don’t have much time. Prof. Dawkins warns that Amer­ica, with its law, lit­er­a­ture and cus­toms rooted in Judeo-Chris­tian re­li­gion, is slip­ping into noth­ing less than a new Dark Age, with only wor­thies like him­self — or maybe only him­self — stand­ing be­tween civ­i­liza­tion and the abyss. The pro­fes­sor en­joys the rep­u­ta­tion of a man who doesn’t suf­fer fools gladly, suf­fer­ing him­self be­ing a full-time job, but the wares of an apos­tle of de­spair are not easy to sell. When a de­bate op­po­nent greeted him not long ago with hand ex­tended for a friendly shake, the pro­fes­sor kept his hands at his side. “You, sir,” he said, “are an ig­no­rant bigot.” It was a sally wor­thy of the fresh­man at the sopho­more smoker.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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