Irritating Fella

But I already knew I disliked Alan Wolfe’s work – I just didn’t know quite how much. That’s how I found the comment about postmodernists, as a matter of fact: I was googling him to try to pin down exactly who he is and why he says such irritating things. Now I know he founded a Center for Religion, it all makes sense. I did a Note and Comment on an article of his a couple of months ago, one of the ones that disappeared when we had the server mishap, but I don’t think I’ll bother typing it back in, because the article in question is from the New Republic and it’s gone subscription. It was an irritating piece that kept telling us what ‘all Americans’ think, as if we all think exactly the same thing – but that, I am finding, seems to be Wolfe’s tactic of choice: to try to coerce all of us pesky dissenters and nonconformers into line by telling us that Everyone Thinks whatever it is so why the hell don’t we? For instance he does it in this article in Salon about the US ‘pledge of allegiance’, in which he complains about the atheists trampling on the wishes of the great, huge, vast, overwhelming majority.

Yet if society goes to the other extreme and bans from the public square any form of religious language, it violates the beliefs of all those who insist that religion is more than a matter of personal conviction, that faith is essential to how we Americans define ourselves collectively. In so doing, it may extend rights to nonbelievers or to those who believe in doctrines not widely accepted, but it does so at the cost of imposing a view of what America is about that others, in this case the majority of believers, do not share.

Well there you are then. ‘We’ Americans do this and ‘we’ Americans do that and if you don’t agree well then you must not be an American. You must instead be one of those horrible people ‘who believe in doctrines not widely accepted’. The nerve! How dare you have a view that the majority of believers do not share?!

Talk about coercive. Has the man never heard of de Tocqueville or Mill? Well of course he has, he’s not an ignoramus, but he doesn’t seem to have paid much attention. The tyranny of the majority holds no terrors for him. No doubt that’s because he believes the same things the majority of believers do, and bully for him, but truth isn’t decided by majority vote, and you’d think he’d know that. But never mind, he has a real clincher of an argument for us pesky atheists.

The only people excluded by the term are atheists. But since atheists define themselves against the religious beliefs of others, they should work to see the Pledge preserved, for without it, their very reason for taking public stands on these issues would be taken away from them.

Eh? I beg your pardon? I don’t ‘define myself against the religious beliefs of others,’ you ridiculous man. Why should I? I simply don’t share their beliefs. That doesn’t mean I need them in order to know what I think, and it certainly doesn’t mean I would feel a sense of loss if everyone were an atheist. He might as well say abolitionists should have worked to see slavery preserved, because without it, their very reason for taking public stands on these issues would be taken away from them. And what makes him think all atheists take public stands anyway? Oh never mind, he’s a believer, they’re impossible to argue with. And I haven’t even said why I was googling him, I haven’t commented on the irritating thing he said in his Afterword to C. Wright Mills’ The Power Elite, which is what set me off. I’ll get to that later.

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