A village atheist is an atheist who is very convinced about his atheism but whose reasons for atheism are completely naive and superstitious, and who is completely unaware of the scholarly evidence for theism. Letitia wrote a post recently on her blog in which she expressed her concerns about the idea that the public may be trending towards village atheism, just because atheism is being presented as the most intelligent view in popular culture, and because Christians are not getting their scholarly arguments and evidences heard.
While reflecting on his debate with Sam Harris and the audience questions that came after, Dr. William Lane Craig wrote the following about the makeup of the audience that night:
I wonder is something culturally significant is going on here. Several years ago, I asked the Warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge why it is that British society is so secular when Britain has such a rich legacy of great Christian scholars. He replied, “Oh, Christianity is not underrepresented among the intelligentsia. It’s the working classes which are so secular.” He explained that these folks are never exposed to Christian scholarship because of their lack of education. As a result there is a sort of pervasive, uninformed, village atheism among them. I wonder if something like this could be happening in the States. I was surprised to see the number of blue collar folks from the community buying Harris’ book and thanking him for all he has done. They didn’t seem to have any inkling that his views had just been systematically exposed as logically incoherent. The intelligentsia have almost universally panned Harris’ recent book (read the reviews!). Yet it is lapped up in popular culture. Wouldn’t it be amazing if unbelief became the possession mainly of the uneducated?
This comment causes my heart to sink. Personally, I like to think that I am fairly observant of the religious cultural shifts here in the U.S. and their bearing on what Christians should do to respond to them. However, I have to admit that Dr. Craig’s note above catches me a little off guard, even alarming to a degree as I realize what his observation, if truly symptomatic of an eve of a significant change, means for Christian apologists in this day and age. An inculcation of “New Atheism” among the blue collar/working class here would be a dramatic reversal of the religious landscape of America. I cannot help but feel that such a situation might be more “dismaying” than “amazing.”
[...]I have no doubt that the inculcation is taking place. It is being impressed upon the public through books by New Atheists like Sam Harris that are aimed on the popular level, both to adults and youth (e.g. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials). In the public classroom, atheism is the default worldview in the disciplines of both the hard and social sciences. Atheism is marketed as the new neutral position in almost all of public literature, television, and many commercial media outlets. Atheists pronounce that atheism is the only viable alternative for fair-minded people once they have shed the evil “superstition” of theism and Christianity that has existed here since the Pilgrims brought their Bibles off the Mayflower. Pair the New Atheists’ media blitz of book tours and public appearances and the fruits of declining Christian influence over American culture, I suppose we should expect an eventual ‘atheism-of-the-masses’ to emerge.
She then finishes the post with three ideas on how to counter this trend: 1) Christian scholars should try to appear on television shows, 2) Christian scholars should try to submit opinion columns to newspapers, and 3) Christians who are prepared to discuss theology and apologetics should participate in public discussions. I’ll just point out that it is excellent for Christian women to be concerned about these things, and to come up with solutions to the problems they raise. We need more women like Letitia to be concerned about these things, and to come up with effective plans to do something about it. (You’ll recall that she has a conference coming up in Arizona where she will be speaking – so she has chips on the table).
She also posted her post on Facebook, and got a few interesting replies. I’ll just paste a few of them in anonymously.
Here’s one from P:
The culprit here is government-controlled education. Secular progressives control teacher certification, teacher and administrator education, curriculum construction, textbook writing and selection, and just about all curriculum selection. …Virtually everybody but the very wealthy are required to spend 12 years under this regime. The consequence is uniform inculcation of the young in America, from kindergarten to high school graduation, with the same ideas that we just heard come out of Sam Harris’ mouth.
That echoes my comments earlier about how Christians should support school choice and oppose a public school monopoly.
But there’s more from S:
[D]on’t you think we (the church) ought to be more supportive of our congregants who wish to pursue doctorate level work within their particular field of discipline? It seems that if we had a individuals …with full-on Christian worldviews who have risen to the highest levels of authority in places like the educational system, that they could make just as much impact as what is happening now.
And then I chimed in and recommended that the church bring more scholars to speak in the on issues of policy and apologetics, so that the congregants would have something to talk about with their neighbors, and so that the children would get ideas about what they could study in order to have an effective influence.
I would like to see churches turn to questions like 1) is Christianity true? 2) how do we know it’s true from science, philosophy and history? 3) which economic policies are the best for Christians to support? 4) how do you use evidence and arguments to convince other people to be pro-life and pro-traditional marriage? 5) why do Christians have so many rules about sex and relationships? 6) how do you respond to the arguments made by non-Christians? 7) what is the best way to prevent wars – disarmament or deterrence? 8) what should Christians think about secular fads like global warming and feminism? And so on.
When the church starts to become interesting again, by actually having lectures, debates and disagreements about what’s true, then people in the culture will take it seriously. Right now, I think we are too focused on not have debates, not pursuing truth, not making exclusive theological claims, not making moral judgments, and just putting on a show that will make people have happy feelings and a sense of community. Eventually, when people in church notice that there are no men in the church, and consequently no children in the church, then we may decide to try something else.