Village Atheists with Vengeance
by C. Wayne Mayhall
A few published and prolific atheists apparently have commandeered the soapbox at the proverbial free speech alley, vowing not to surrender it until the extraordinary and popular delusion of God is completely dispelled. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in less than twelve months atheism’s newest champions have sold close to a million books. Some 500,000 hardcover copies of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006); and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007) are in print.
“The character of the ‘village atheist’ reappears from time to time in history, usually after the latest scientific announcement or the latest natural disaster. His title is akin to that of ‘village idiot’ which was popularized by George Bernard Shaw in 1907,” says Christian apologist Joel McDurmon, author of The Return of the Village Atheist.1 “The idea is that every village had its ‘idiot’ who was full of opinions and advice on every topic, would never shut up, and made little sense. No one took the guy seriously” (p. xiii).
When the title “village idiot” becomes that of “village atheist,” it speaks of the person who thinks that science has all the answers and that the idea of God is an illusion. “Like the village idiot, he knows everything, argues till he is blue in the face, never shuts up, and yet never learns,” says McDurmon, “and like the village idiot, no one really takes him seriously, either” (xii).
Despite what McDurmon notes is a tendency of atheists to wax dogmatic, however—consider Dawkins’s claim that “if [his] book works as [intended], religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down”—some argue that there are reasons enough to take them seriously. One of the main reasons is that much passionate debate raises questions for many people, such as, Is faith intellectual nonsense? Are science and religion locked in a battle to the death? and, Is Christianity simply a force for evil?
Then there is the matter of the cult of personality. Stephen Ross, research assistant to the President of Christian Research Institute, believes Christians should take the likes of Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris seriously because “these guys are so confident and their rhetorical force so convincing, there are people who may believe the message even if they don’t understand the arguments. These [Christians] should not be reading these books without qualification,” he told the Journal, “On the other hand, the critical thinker, able to see through the smokescreen of rhetoric and to endure their caustic delivery, would be led to ask the question, ‘Is this is the best you’ve got? Maybe my worldview has a lot going for it after all.’”
Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, realizes that the rise of the “new” atheism confirms the ancient biblical wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He is quick to note several stunning new developments, however…
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