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Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism Paperback – December 23, 2004
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Is America really one nation under God? Not according to Pulitzer Prizefinalist Jacoby (Wild Justice, etc.), who argues that it is America's secularist "freethinkers" who formed the bedrock upon which our nation was built. Jacoby contends that it's one of "the great unresolved paradoxes" that religion occupies such an important place in a nation founded on separation of church and state. She traces the role of "freethinkers," a term first coined in the 17th century, in the formation of America from the writing of the Constitution to some of our greatest social revolutions, including abolition, feminism, labor, civil rights and the dawning of Darwin's theory of evolution. Jacoby has clearly spent much time in the library, and the result is an impressive literary achievement filled with an array of both major and minor figures from American history, like revolutionary propagandist Thomas Paine, presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Robert Green Ingersoll. Her historical work is further flanked by current examplesthe Bush White House in an introduction and the views of conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in a final chapterthat crystallize her concern over secularism's waning influence. Unfortunately, Jacoby's immense research is also the book's Achilles heel. Her core mission to impress upon readers the historical struggle of freethinkers against the religious establishment is at times overwhelmed by the sheer volume of characters and vignettes she offers, many of which, frankly, are not very compelling. Still, Jacoby has done yeoman's work in crafting her message that the values of America's freethinkers belong "at the center, not in the margins" of American life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Jacoby reclaims a key facet of American culture, secularism, or freethinking, the belief that public good is "based on human reason and human rights rather than divine authority," a concept codified in the Constitution's separation of church and state. Veteran author Jacoby feels that now is the perfect time for a thorough reexamination of America's secular tradition because, as she documents, it is being severely eroded by the politics of the Christian Right. Her cogent and engaging narrative presents myriad neglected yet significant historical episodes and compelling profiles of such clarion freethinkers as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Walt Whitman, and John F. Kennedy. Jacoby reveals how the abolitionist and women's rights movements, archetypal freethinking efforts, challenged orthodox religious institutions as obstacles to social reform, and she dissects the church's role in organized censorship and negative impact on public education, especially its opposition to the teaching of evolution. As Jacoby critiques the rise of religious correctness and tracks President Bush's assault on the line between church and state, she reminds readers that humanist values are the bedrock of democracy. Enlightening, invigorating, and responsibly yet passionately argued, Jacoby's unparalleled history of American secularism offers a much needed perspective on today's most urgent social issues. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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A good read. I read it because I wanted to follow the sequence of her books, and am now reading her "The Age of Unreason." That's America. Unreasonable. Fox-isized into blissful idiocy.
Susan Jacoby illuminates the history of the American and secular freethought movement from Tom Paine and our deistic forefathers who created a `godless' constitution against the wishes of many to the modern day culture wars over abortion, stem-cell research and the like. Along the way she highlights the history of ideas proposed by feminist secularists like Stanton and Sanger, abolitionists and civil rights leaders like Garrison, Schwerner and a president Lincoln who never attended church as president as well as larger than life proponents of freethinking like the great agnostic Robert Ingersoll. Much of these folks have been scrubbed from the history books but they played essential roles in the separation of church and state, the easy access to birth control, defeating censorship as well as allowing women and African americans the right to vote and full equality. In fact, along every step of the way for these monumentous public policy achievements and freedoms we enjoy, conservative religious beliefs stood in the way. Did you know that the catholic church successfully organized a boycott which forced movie-makers to not even portray a married couple in the same bed? Did you know that many people got arrested for mailing information about birth control or giving public lectures on the same? Did you know that people used to get put in jail simply for their ideas? Some of the leaders in the secular and freethought movement took brave stands and were arrested under these asinine charges and were instrumental in fighting a battle of ideas which reduced the encroachment of personal religious fantasies on the rest of us. A fascinating book that left me feeling proud but angry and motivated.
I have always been "out of step" with those who would use me to achieve their own purposes and delighted to know of those brave people who fought the battles against bigoted, ignorant cultures, clerics, governments, and businesses over the centuries. Thanks Ms. Jacoby for confirming that there are, and have been for many years, sane people who inhabit this beautiful blue planet.
The author provides a link from our founders, including Thomas Paine, through Robert Ingersoll--one of the greatest spokesperson on living a life unfettered from dogma--to the modern era. There is much to commend in this book: she shows how Freethinkers were significant contributors to the anti-slavery and women's movements. Her sections on Ingersoll, the 20th century struggle for secular public schools, and the 60's civil rights movement are also excellent. Although Jacoby is, like this reader, a "godless infidel", I appreciated her determination to avoid polemics and to provide balance to her subjects. She also provides some criticisms of the tactics used by modern secularists who rely upon court decisions but tend to ignore the court of public opinion.
The contributors to our secular and democratic state, and the powerful history of Humanists, atheists and agnostics in our country, cannot be condensed into one book, and I hope Jacoby's efforts inspire others to take up her narrative. We need to learn more about the "forty-eighters" who came to America after the failed European 19th century revolutions, and who contributed to the Union army and to our society. And selfishly perhaps, I would have appreciated if Susan Jacoby's book had more about Felix Adler and the Ethical Culture Movement, a movement that blossomed in the era of Freethought and expanded to Austria and Germany. While Ethical Societies thrive to this day in the United States, they could not survive Nazi oppression in Europe. She also does not discuss the Humanist Manifesto or Freethought contribution to the Arts.
I recommend this book to all those interested in our history, and in the history of religion in the United States. I also hope many will be inspired to write more on our missing history, so that all may learn of these nearly forgotten heroes.
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in the Bible belt, for obvious reasons.Read more