Weekly Link Roundup

Weekly Link Roundup September 17, 2009

There are couple of news items this week that I thought merited a brief mention.

First, in the New Yorker, James Wood provides another piece of evidence for my theory that the only kind of atheists considered “respectable” are the ones who wish they were religious:

What is needed is neither the overweening rationalism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.

And while we’re on the topic of concern trolling, here’s a superb example from the masters of the tactic, the Discovery Institute:

Coyne is an evolutionary biologist of the first rank, but that is where his competence ends. His arguments against the existence of God are embarrassing, and, like the arguments of Richard Dawkins and other New Atheists, are eliciting a backlash among intellectuals who have at least a modicum of philosophical and theological education.

…The damage that Coyne and other New Atheists are doing to their own atheist cause is incalculable.

One would think that if we New Atheists are hurting our own cause so much, creationist kooks like this one would stay quiet and let us self-destruct, rather than issuing us dire warnings about how we’re ruining the cause of atheism by being all outspoken and passionate and articulate and such. It’s a fairly safe bet that whatever ID advocates urge us not to do, that’s the thing we should be doing more of.

Lastly, this made my day – an article from the New Republic about Ayn Rand and her cultish right-wing political philosophy. I recommend reading the whole thing if you have the time, but here are some highlights to give you a taste:

The young, especially young men, thrill to Rand’s black-and-white ethics and her veneration of the alienated outsider, shunned by a world that does not understand his gifts.

She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that “he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people”; and she meant this as praise.

Her political worldview began to crystallize during the New Deal, which she immediately interpreted as a straight imitation of Bolshevism. Rand threw herself into advocacy for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, and after Wilkie’s defeat she bitterly predicted “a Totalitarian America, a world of slavery, of starvation, of concentration camps and of firing squads.” [Editor’s Note: Does this remind you of anything in the news lately?]

Rand’s inner circle turned quickly and viciously on their former superior. Alan Greenspan, a cherished Rand confidant, signed a letter eschewing any future contact with Branden or his wife. Objectivist students were forced to sign loyalty oaths, which included the promise never to contact Branden, or to buy his forthcoming book or any future books that he might write. Rand’s loyalists expelled those who refused these orders, and also expelled anyone who complained about the tactics used against dissidents.

Rand held up her own meteoric rise from penniless immigrant to wealthy author as a case study of the individualist ethos. “No one helped me,” she wrote, “nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me.”

But this was false. Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.)

and a pitch-perfect summation of the whole movement:

Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence.

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