America is starting to reawaken from one of its periodic religious revivals. They happen with tiresome regularity, every three or four decades, but it’s a damped oscillation. Each time the amplitude of the wave is lower and the DC signal between blips more secular. Freethinker books are appearing on the bestseller lists, occupying more prominent space in bookstores (even if some of that space is bought by publishers, it is a reflection of the market, just as the pile of Christian books has been). In the last couple of weeks atheism has appeared in prime slots of cable TV. Joe Scarborough, the quirkily conservative altar-boy of MSNBC’s Scarborough Country (follows the quirkily progressive Keith Olberman of Countdown) had a colloquy of sorts with Politically Incorrect’s Bill Maher, regarding Maher’s freethinker views and condemnation of religion. The disagreement was pointed but civil and Maher’s views treated with respect and given some prime air time on two different nights.
Some atheists have become effective proselytizers, probably non more so than Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins. He is packing them in in ways reminiscent of the great nineteenth century freethinker, Robert Green Ingersoll. On a speaking tour, he is not confining himself to “safe” venues on the coasts, either. Here is a report of a recent appearance in Little Rock, Arkansas, “buckle of the Bible Belt,” where he broke the attendance record for the Clinton School of Public Service lecture series (previous record held by Madeleine Albright):
Everyone seemed friendly, ranging from those giving extended applause to those asking only the most polite of challenging questions.
Someone had called [the organizer, Skip Rutherford] to explain that the state Constitution prohibits atheists from holding office, which, while true, is long superseded by federal rights. But Dawkins was not seeking office, Rutherford replied. But you’re advancing atheism, the caller countered. “No, I’m advancing ideas,” Rutherford concluded. (John Brummett, The Morning News)
Advancing ideas. A good thing. But not everyone thinks that’s what it’s all about: