The “Foreword” to Joel McDurmon, The Return of the Village Atheist:
The village atheist has a long tradition in American folklore. Beginning sometime after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man in 1871, he—almost never she—begins to appear. The village atheist was marked by the following traits:
- A readiness to challenge the idea of God on most occasions;
- Constant calls for theists to debate him in public;
- A refusal to join any church;
- Self-conscious non-participation in religious celebrations;
- A sense of intellectual superiority;
- Self-identification with a tiny minority group: skeptics;
- Confidence that all truly rational people accept atheism;
- Confidence that science proves atheism;
- Dismissal of scientific evidence that throws doubt on atheism;
- Faith in the eventual triumph of atheism in modern society;
- Faith that morality can be defined apart from God;
- Insistence that atheism produces high moral values;
- Insistence that consistent atheists are moral in practice;
- Insistence that religion-based ethics produce great
The village atheist was usually regarded as a well-behaved fellow. He was not a thief, a wife-beater, or a visible menace to society. He accepted the bulk of the prevailing social order’s ethical standards, which were historically the product of a Christian worldview, especially the New Testament’s doctrine of the final judgment and the threat of hell. He was seen as a harmless eccentric. Every village was supposed to have its resident atheist, if only for the tourists.
As American rural life faded after 1900, and higher education was increasingly staffed by men holding the Ph.D., which was a self-consciously non-theistic certificate of educational attainment, the image of the village atheist steadily disappeared. This image was replaced by the atheistic college professor. There were never many atheists on college faculties, but they tended to be highly vocal. They were self-conscious in their desire to separate their students from their parents’ faith in God. As the twentieth century’s decades wore on, atheism became associated in the minds of the general public with liberal arts education.
Yet an odd thing happened—or failed to happen. Most college students paid little or no attention to their few atheist professors’ atheism. Despite the officially religiously neutral philosophy of American higher education, most college graduates retained their faith in God. This has bothered the professorial atheists for over a century. It has bothered the Darwinists most of all. A generation ago, it bothered them.1 It bothers them even more today.
As America’s villages disappeared, the social setting for village atheists also disappeared. They no longer felt the inhibiting effects of the face-to-face Christian culture around them, in which just about every adult had access to the local grapevine, where personal moral indiscretions were well-known. Without a local grapevine to restrain them, urban atheists lost their ethical moorings. They began openly to challenge “middle-class morality,” which was Christian morality. They began to act more consistently with their presuppositions regarding a universe devoid of God, especially a New Testament God, who brings final judgment (Matthew 25; Luke 16).
In 1917, their fellow-believers gained control over Russia. The Bolsheviks’ reign of terror began. Karl Marx had sent a letter to his partner and long-term financial supporter, Frederick Engels, in 1861 extolling Darwin’s discovery of evolution through natural selection. The Communists retained their two founders’ faith in atheism and the process of evolution. So did Mao in China. So did Pol Pot in Cambodia.
At the end of the Darwinian atheists’ first great experiment in civil government, 1917–1991, at least 85 million residents of Communism’s officially atheistic social laboratories had been either executed or starved to death by their rulers. The more likely figure is a hundred million, according to The Black Book of Communism. The total may have been higher. Mao’s strategy of systematic extermination may have resulted in tens of millions of executions not recorded or else not yet made available to researchers. What went on in Castro’s Cuba has been recorded in horrifying detail.2 What has gone on in North Korea has not been equally well recorded. The death toll from starvation is in the millions. This is the survival of the fittest, Darwinist-style.
So, as the twentieth century rolled on, the image of quaint, eccentric, harmless village atheists steadily faded away. In its place were atheists with guns: the guns of Marxist social revolutionaries, followed by the guns of Communist governments—and gun control for everyone else.
Nevertheless, there are still thousands of academic would-be village atheists out there. They have adopted a strategy which relies on the old image of the eccentric defender of village atheism. They are still hoping to cover their activities with the cloak of harmlessness. They do not yet have the votes to impose all of their educational policies on the children of theists—at theistic taxpayers’ expense, as usual. But they want these powers. They demand such powers.
By now, it is clear to everyone else that they are not going to get the votes or the powers. They had their opportunity, 1917 to 1991, and they bungled it. They have not competed successfully in the marketplace of ideas, even with their monopoly over tax-funded and government-screened education. This, above all, is what upsets them. They demand control over the curriculum of every tax-funded and government-regulated educational institution, which in their view ought to include every educational institution. Like children throwing a tantrum, they roll on the floor, screaming, threatening to hold their breath until they turn blue. “I want it! I want it! I want it! Give it to me!”
Theists smile and think, “Silly children.” This makes the tantrum-throwers even angrier. “You’ve got to listen to us. We’re going to make you listen to us!”
Atheists believe in nothing beyond the grave. The universe itself is headed for the grave, they teach: the heat death of the universe. So, in their view, the last man standing beside the grave wins everything that can be won in this world, which ultimately is nothing, but in the meantime is thought worth having. Atheists are therefore determined to compel theists to dig their own graves. Sometimes this grave-digging is literal, as in the case of mass graveside executions by the Communists. Sometimes it is only figurative, as in the case of teachers who are funded by money extracted from their religious enemies in the form of taxes, and also in the form of children extracted from their opponents’ families by compulsory education laws. Since everything in the atheist’s world ends in the grave, they do whatever they can to see to it that their opponents are buried first.
This is a letter from someone who does not believe that everything ends at the grave. It is written to those who believe that it does.