Posted on April 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm by Dr. Jim
This is one of the old posts that got inextricably moved to the drafts folder when I changed webhosts. I’m resurrecting some of them and updating them a little. Like this one.
In view of the big inter-atheist arguments of Joseph Hoffmann vs. Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers and Co, I’d like to share repost this because of its additional thoughts on the NEW/Gnu/Neo/Naughty-Atheists. Of course, it’s just for fun.
THEY DON’T DISBELIEVE LIKE THEY USED TO!
That’s the conclusion of my friend and colleague in Religious Studies at the U. of Lethbridge, Tom Robinson, who has been studying the history of the girl evangelist movement in the 1920s and ’30s, and in so doing uncovered a lot of information about the atheist movement at the time. He published a brief overview of it in the Lethbridge Herald‘s weekly column “Public Professor”.
Tom’s article “Advertising atheism sparks backlash” (alas, no longer online) begins by commenting on the recent bus ad business (alas, the Lethbridge campaign has not got exact fare, so it is stalled). Anyway, this is mild compared to the ’20s.
In 1925 the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (the 4As, as it was called) was formed. It declared itself the “Militant Foe of the Church and Clergy.” The association tried to shut down campaigns of revivalist preachers, they established a Junior Atheist League for school children, they set up the American Anti-Bible Society, they successfully argued against having the Ten Commandments read in public schools in New York, they called the Bible “a cesspool of Asiatic superstition,” they established a seminary, and they may have encouraged their members to steal Gideon bibles from hotel rooms. They even sent out missionaries to foreign lands — to British Columbia and then to Sweden, apparently two areas of the world most in need of the message.
In a fit of brilliance that may have inspired Monty Python, one group developed their own atheist hymnal with this classic:
Blame God from whom all cyclones blow,
Blame him when rivers overflow,
Blame him who swirls down house and steeple,
Who sinks the ships and drowns the people.
There was no youtube of itunes back then, apparently, so I don’t have a recording, but here is Monty Python:
And then there is Queen Silver who Tom says began her anti-Church crusade at age 4.
Take that, Sam Harris! She’ll show you how its done!
Tom briefly mentions the “Godless Girl”, Cecil B. De Mille’s last silent film. Basically it is lust story of two kids who end up in reform school and try to escape , but the thing that sets the story up is a huge brawl that breaks out between the High School bible thumpers and the bible bashers. It is the thumpers who are more militant and try to break up an atheists meeting which ends up in one dead, and 2 in prison.
One of the best scenes comes early when the atheist group is initiating new members. The “converts” to the godless cause have to swear their allegiance by putting their hand on the head of a monkey.
The monkey survived the fight. The fellow here actually backed down from the oath after he was told he would have to give up Christmas. OOOOO They were hard liners back then!
Tom also recommends tracking down this old tome, if you are interested in the 1920’s religious landscape: Charles W. Ferguson, The New Books of Revelations: The Inside Story of America’s Astounding Religious Cults (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929).
Tom has published another Public Professor column in mid-February on the evolution controversy in early evengelicalism. Surprisingly, not all early evangelicals were opposed to it!
In The question of origins and the reading of ancient texts Tom writes:
Even some early so-called fundamentalists in the 1900s saw the Genesis story as more symbolic than literal. In the most deﬁnitive expression of fundamentalism at the time, the multi-volume collection of articles called The Fundamentals, James Orr, a Scottish churchman and professor, wrote an article titled “Science and the Christian Faith.” He argued that the Bible should not be treated as a textbook on science, since it “does not profess to anticipate the scientiﬁc discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” Orr reminded his readers that the world the Bible describes “is the world men know and live in, and it is described as it appears, not as, in its recondite researches, science reveals its inner constitution to us.” Orr even spoke of “a growing appreciation of the strength of the evidence for the fact of some form of evolutionary origenetic connection of higher with lower forms.”
The Fundamentals was a multivolume set finished in 1917 as R.A. Torrey, A.C. Dixon (eds) The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., Baker Books, 1917.
Tom also talks about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in which a Tennessee teacher was fined for teaching evolution in class.
Tennesee, 1925, A monkey scopes out the flapper babes.
From that time, Christian fundamentalism came to be characterized by its opposition to the theory of evolution and by its defence of a fairly literal reading of the Bible. In part, the fundamentalist reaction can be explained by an increasingly nasty struggle between fundamentalism and more liberalizing fellow Christians (the modernists). Modernist views, arising out of new perspectives of the Enlightenment, questioned the concept of miracle and dismissed the ancient and pre-scientiﬁc worldview of the Bible as quaint. In the struggle between modernism and fundamentalism, the theory of evolution came to be seen by some as a choice between the truth of the Bible and the skepticism and rationalism of the modernists. Fundamentalists worried that a non-literal reading of the creation story might lead to non-literal readings of other parts of the Bible central to Christian teachings. Some thought that this might threaten traditional Christian belief at its core. Thus the theory of evolution became one of the prominent markers separating the two sides — the line in the sand, so to speak — and it still serves as one of the key battle lines for many today.
What this says to me is how religious discourses, like everything else, have histories. It would be hard to get many fundamentalists to see beyond the modern polarizations, and some atheists I know would also have trouble doing the same!
Anway, the only post I have ever made on this site that gets any respectable number of hits is the one with a nice picture of a total babe actress, so in a bit of total gratuitous pretty face mongering, here is another one:
Lina Basquette, the Godless Girl.