Up To Now: The Atheism Issue
Especially in view of our examination of ghughu, it is high time we looked at the fan attitude on religion. Many theistic fans joined ghughu without knowing what it was, and tho they subsequently repudiated it, their souls were said to still be dyed a deep purple.
When the November, 1937, Cosmic Tales carried, as what was to be the last of Wollheim's Phantaflexion columns, an article later reprinted in the first Science Fiction Advance as "Science Fiction and Religion", it seemed that another bombshell had been dropped into fandom from the hand of the genial W. Some months later appeared "Anent Atheism and Stf" in Imagination!, which debated the possibly question-begging proposition that scientifictionists were scientifictionists because they were atheists, rather than atheists because they were scientifictionists, as Wollheim argued. "Among Our Mems" in the same publication ("Madge"), frequently had the information, "Atheist." sandwiched into some obscure place. It became customary for new correspondents to inquire each others' religious stands, or to state them without inquiry, as a natural part of getting acquainted.
In the old days of the first and second periods of professional science fiction, the readers' columns had frequently blazed in debates on atheism, but not since fandom began had the question come up as being in any way connected with the hobby.
Curiously, it never became a red-hot issue. McPhail broke with Wollheim over the reprint of the article in Vance, where he read it for the first time, but the general sentiment seemed to be to avoid religious controversies before fandom as a whole, as being unpleasant and getting nowhere. Then, too, the issue was in part smothered by the greater Michelist controversy -- there is a limit, even for the rabid fan, to the number of things he can get steamed up about at any one time.
But perhaps the most important reason for the flat-falling of the atheism issue was lack of interest -- lack of opposition! Wollheim, an avowed agnostic, made a gesture toward obtaining religious support for Michelism, paralleling the simultaneous program of the Communists, but did not follow it up, other than to enjoin against purely destructive criticism of church beliefs. The only prominent fans known to acknowledge church beliefs were Catholic Baltadonis and Episcopalian McPhail, tho doubtless there were others. When the IPO got around to putting the question, agnosticism and kindred showed a definite, tho not overwhelming, majority, with many of those on the other side of the line doubtful, tongue-in-cheek, or indifferent.
The most vociferous anti-religionist was Frederick Shroyer of Los A, who authored "Anent Atheism & Stf". A "particularly effective piece of godbusting" was rejected by the LASFL board of censors as "too hot" but some copies were run off, and snatched up as collectors' items.
In defense of religion little showed up. Who all brot the pressure on Cosmic Tales to discontinue the Phantaflexion is a mystery. Chester Fein, just then appearing on the horizon, attacked Wollheim bitterly, and the W came back with a defense. Many fans were more or less on the fence. Other than this, there was practically nothing of the religious side till McPhail wrote the progressive platform.
There wasn't enough opposition to give any thrill from attacking the churchmen. So atheism was taken pretty much for granted, and fandom rocketed merrily on its way. But there is no guarantee that the controversy may not blaze forth again.
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