Village Atheists

 Posted by on 13 October 2005 at 8:27 am  Uncategorized
Oct 132005

An alert reader sent me a link to this absurd attack on Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand’s faults are readily apparent. As a philosopher, she was an amateur, and her philosophical musings were, accordingly, often amateurish. She was a village atheist of the most shallow and boorish kind. She was, shall we say, not entirely sensitive to the moral duties the strong sometimes have to help their weaker fellow human beings. And her treatment of her hapless and cuckolded husband Frank O’Connor was reprehensible. Still, it is hard not to have a soft spot for a novelist and screenwriter who poured so much well-deserved vitriol on socialism in all its forms, and who evinced such a sincere immigrant’s love for the United States, warts and all, in an era in which pampered intellectuals and Hollywood types were bending over backwards to deny or excuse the crimes of the former and minimize the virtues of the latter. (Though come to think of it, this era hasn’t quite ended, has it?)

What a lovely example of argument from intimidation! If you admire Ayn Rand or her philosophy, you must be blind to her “readily apparent” faults as a person and philosopher. You must be a “shallow” thinker if you regard Objectivism as even interesting, let alone true. Perhaps you’re also a “boorish” person, busy using and abusing “hapless” loved ones like she did. Oh, and if you’re an egoist, then you must be “not entirely sensitive” to the self-evident moral duties of altruism, just like Ayn Rand.

In bashings such as these, it’s best to studiously avoid any straightforward explication, substantive argument, or particular examples. They might reveal your pathetic ignorance of that which you claim to be so thoroughly knowledgeable! It’s also good to mix in ad hominems a plenty — courtesy of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.

I must admit, I did wonder about the meaning of the charge of “village atheist,” as I’ve not heard it before. Google told me:

Have you ever met a “village atheist”? You’d know if you had — such a person is an atheist and a freethinker, but they can also be highly aggressive, intolerant, and even abusive when people disagree with them. Quite simply, they “don’t play well with others” and are difficult to deal with on a number of levels.

Vern Bullough and Bonnie Bullough write about the “Village Atheist Syndrome”:

Perhaps the most obvious symptom is an inability to compromise, to get along with others. This is first noticed in board meetings of humanist and free thought groups where the village atheist is attempting to get his/her way. … Apparently when the individuals with a proclivity for the syndrome find themselves among what they had believed to be like-minded free thinkers, they are both shocked and appalled to find that others disagree with them, often on major issues. This disagreement is marked by what can be only called anti-social behavior, a clear mark of the village atheist syndrome. In order to get their way they nit-pick everything to death, and if outvoted at one meeting will come back at the next and start over again.

Rejecting religion, however, was usually not an easy thing for the village atheist since it meant breaking with their family and loved ones. In many cases the trauma is so severe that the break with the family remains irreparable. Since they are so conscious of what their own commitment to free thought has cost them, they find it difficult to accept those who arrived at a free thought pattern more casually, or at least without the trauma they feel they suffered.

The article is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but serious as well. The “village atheist” exists, there is no doubt about it, but there are also good reasons why such intolerance and anger exist — the Bulloughs explain that as well, and we should make every effort to be sympathetic with such all-too-frequent situations. You have to feel sorry for people who are angry all the time, regardless of whether good reasons exist for that anger or not.

Wow. A few observations:

Atheism is a minor issue in philosophy. People can reject the existence God for any number of reasons, many of them utterly wrong. So great philosophic disagreement is to be expected in any gathering of atheists. Like with libertarians, tolerance must be upheld as a major virtue, if not the paramount virtue. Any serious commitment to your own philosophy is a threat to the cohesion of the motley group. If you regard the communist advocating torrents of blood as a brother-in-arms simply because he denies the existence of God, you cannot take your own ideas — or any ideas at all — seriously.

The “village atheist” designation is a smear intended to cow the serious atheist into tolerance for any and all atheistic philosophies by portraying the virtue of his intellectual seriousness as deep psychological pathology. It is a package deal designed to kill the idea of intellectually seriousness by treating it as essentially similar to socially unpleasantness.

Perhaps worse, the characterization of the quoted article as “a bit tongue-in-cheek, but serious as well” basically forestalls any serious objection to it, particularly to its psychologizing.


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