book jacket freethings a history of american secularism

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

book jacket with title and authorThe Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, (2008 Large Type has a different cover image). Cover also says it was a New York Times Bestseller.

Well written and argued. Many people I know are mystified at the seriously problem of willful ignorance that has developed in this country. I thought W. had personified ignorance with his sanctimonious smirk and refusal to read newspapers because he didn’t want to be influenced by thinkers other than his staff who absolutely would not tell him anything he did not want to hear. And I had forgotten the case of decorum by the real president, Dick Cheney, who shouted at Senator Patrick Leahy to  “Go fuck yourself!” on the Senate floor.  (p. 40, 44) This provides the great contrast between the Founding Fathers, and especially the insults penned by Shakespeare. She cites an example of a better insult from the 1890s,

. . . Speaker of the House Thomas Reed took care of one opponent by observing that with ‘with a few more brains he could be  a halfwit.’ Of another politician Reed remarked, ‘He never opens his mouth without subtracting from the sum of human intelligence.’ Americans once heard (or rather read) such genuinely witty remarks and tried to emulate that wit. Today we parrot the witless and halfwitted [sic] language used by politicians and radio shock jocks alike.” (p. 41)

Alas we have slumped even further into the abyss with Trump, Cruz, Walker, et al on the Republican side. And the anointed corporate puppet pick, Hillary, of the Bankruptcy Act treason of the people, and the Iraq war of the military industrial complex. She who cannot claim any bill or legislation passed that helped women or people of color.

One of my pet peeves has been causing me to cringe and grit my teeth every time I hear President Obama say “folks” — a “folksy” man of the people usage made ever present in the 3rd grade level speaking habits of George W. Bush. He may have graduated from Harvard, but I suspect he was lucky to be gifted with a C in English.

Thus is was with great amusement that the the title of the first chapter in this book is: The Way We Live Now: Just Us Folks.

The word is everywhere, a plague spread by the President of the United States, television anchors, radio talk show hosts, preachers in megachurches, self-help gurus, and anyone attempting to demonstrate his or her identification with ordinary, presumably wholesome American values. Only a few decades ago, Americans were addressed as people or, in the more distant past, ladies and gentlemen. Now we are all folks.

. . . While the word “folks” was once a colloquialism with no political meaning, there is no escaping the political meaning of the term when it is reverently invoked by public officials in twenty-first-century America. After the terrorist bombings in London on July 7th, 2005, President Bush assured Americans, “I’ve been in contact with our Homeland Security FOLKS and I instructed them to be in touch with local and state officials about the facts of what took place here and in London and to be extra vigilant as our FOLKS start heading to work.” . . . Bush went on to [say folks again] . . . “innocent FOLKS.” Those evil terrorists. Our innocent folks. . . . All of the 2008 presidential contenders pepper their speeches with appeals to FOLKS. . . Every time Hillary Rodham Clinton, brought up in a conservative Republican household in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago, utter the word “folks,” she sounds like a hovering parent trying to ingratiate herself with her children’s friends by using teenage slang.

The specific political use of folks as an exclusionary and inclusionary signal, designed to make the speaker sound like on of the boys or girls, is symptomatic of a DEBASEMENT of public speech inseparable from a more GENERAL EROSION of American cultural standards. Casual, collogquial loanguage also conveys an implicit denial of the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated: talking about folks going off to war. . . Look up any important presidential speech in the history of the United States before 1980, and you will not find one patronizing appeal to FOLKS. (pp. 31-33)

This loss of eloquence, of expression, and indeed LITERATE politicians is a deep deep problem, possibly unique to America because of our obsessive mythology enshrining the self-made man, the cowboy, the Western sheriff of High Noon, and the infamously [false] boot-straps belief cursing the poor to remain so and declaring it to be their own personal fault — with no obligation by other citizens to ensure their fellow citizens do not suffer and die at the hands of the powerful.

Substitute FOLKS for people, farmer, old men, and widows, and the relationship between the abandonment of dignified public speech and the degradation of the political process becomes clear.

Never more so, I must interject, than the Republican presidential debates when allusions to penis-sizes was brought up as a significant attribute of a president. The author continues:

To call for resolution and a spirit of patriotism and sacrifice is to call upon PEOPLE to rise above their everyday selves and to behave as true citizens. To keep telling Americans that they are just FOLKS is to expect nothing special — a ratification and exaltation of the quotidian that is one of the distinguishing marks of ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM in any era. (p. 36)

It has been said before, and I’ll say it again: I want a smart president and not someone I could sit down and have a beer with as a criterion for my candidate. If I could ask them if they have read a list of the books I think (or others think) are crucial to any presidential nominees, any candidate that has read at least one would be the winner because I doubt I would find any politician today (hopefully not Bernie Sanders) who has read all, say 25 of them. In fact, maybe it was in this book that I read a stat I have heard before, that at least 50% of Americans do not read ANY book in a year. And I was appalled that a large majority of people declared that they had read the Bible in any given year. This is boggling not just for the intellectual desert such an attitude betrays, but the fact that so many bible thumpers GET IT WRONG. So I think they really just say they read it because it seems the right thing to say (and isn’t that sad). And we wonder why there are at least 27% of the population who don’t believe in evolution, because it is a “theory” and therefore equal to the literal truth of the Bible. Many of the same think the Bible is the ACTUAL word of God when anyone who actually read it or had a clue or the least bit of basic traditional Sunday School would know that the Bible was written by men. Not as secretaries to God or Jesus, but their own storytelling.

And thus we end up with zealots mandating creationism, or as they rejiggered it, “intelligent design,” is EQUAL to evolutionary theory, betraying a fundamental ignorance of what “theory” means colloquially rather than scientifically. Similarly, EQUALITY is definitely been too long misused in place of EQUITABLY and this has lead us to the current approach of the Republican war on women, voting to pass a bill that will require women as well as men to military service. First of all, I thought we managed to change the entire process by eliminating the draft in the sixties, but I guess like women’s rights gains, it was all illusory. Secondly, I support mandating citizen service  by all able-bodied youth, perhaps in exchange for free tuition, so they get a chance to have some further education that will make them be more valuable in their service to the country — and not limited to military service roles. All having a draft does is encourage the military industrial complex and their Congressional and Presidential puppets to have even more non-war wars for their profit.

They think this will stop feminists from advocating for equal rights, or bodily autonomy, but the thing is, feminists REALLY BELIEVE in equality so have surprised some of them I think when they say, that if men are drafted, so should be women. However, this image that requires MILITARY service to be the ONLY way to serve our country, especially in combat, COMPLETELY MISSES THE POINT that this is in fact equal in the colloquial sense, meaning equal chance to get picked a lottery winner for everyone who bought only one ticket. Even that definition is more precise than the lottery ads would say.

Women and men are NOT BIOLOGICALLY EQUAL. That is a fact. Sure some women can manage combat, and some men cannot. Such men are shamed beyond measure. Most women are weaker than any single man, that is why we are victims of rape and domestic violence more than men. Women have to menstruate, which is awkward, raises sanitary issues (not the least is the cheap low bidder tampons provided, at least I hope they don’t have to pay for them) of how to change while bogged down under fire and leave no trace of your movements. Women have to urinate more frequently then men, and it is an awkward process too (though maybe the military supplies funnels to enable peeing standing up, ha ha). Really hard to stop and find a bush on field duty, unload your gear, pull down your pants, and manage not to pee all over your boots. [This plumbing issue kills any belief I might have had in intelligent design, as well as the fact that women cannot naturally control when they are ready to become pregnant.]

Women get raped in the military, risk pregnancy, and are denied abortion – one of the constitutional rights they are supposed to be fighting for. Men are raped too, but without pregnancy as a consequence but as badly damaged; they don’t dare complain, and the military DOES NOTHING to change this culture. So the military is inherently putting our citizens at risk by our own citizens while expecting them to kill innocent civilians in other countries. NO WONDER THEY HATE US. We are not the lily white innocent and benign force for good the blind patriots would have you believe. If someone read a book or two, they might know better. Or if there were fewer fake “reality” shows and a few more investigative reports on the news (and a lot less of Trump and the religious and ammosexuals), and a lot more work by Ken Burns, Jon Oliver, Samantha Bee, and many of the topics that are crucial to understanding our society discussed in books, we’d all be better off. And as those three have proven, history and politics can be fun and informative.

Equity as a meme I saw means everybody can look over a fence to see a game, though some may have to stand on boxes. Equality is everyone trying to see over the fence, but only tall people can do so without assistance. Women are almost always shorter than men in the metaphorical sense and literal sense.

The debasement of the nation’s speech is evident in virtually everything broadcast and podcast on radio, television, and the Internet.

There seems to be no objective truth, no fact that can’t be denied or ignored, and certainly a depressingly smaller grasp of the richness of the English language. Oh how I long for a new Enlightenment, one that doesn’t excuse slavery or deems married women chattel. One that values science over religious superstition. One that doesn’t burn women at the stake for being witches or stone them to death for having men rape them.

The opposition of fundamental religion and intellectual life create a serious divide in America today. Fundamentalism is religious tyranny. And worse, they seek to force their beliefs on everyone else. Therefore, schools must be controlled and classwork and textbooks heavily monitored so that no actual independent thought or critical analysis reading “taint” the dear little children’s minds.

Thus John Birchers police textbooks with a fervor hard to believe. Laws are passed to mandate teaching of creationism, err, intelligent design, with EQUAL weight to evolution, though they are not equitable, one being belief without evidence [faith] and the other being FACT, belief with extensive factual evidence. BELIEFS ARE NOT EQUAL TO FACTS. And thus began the homeschooling movement by ignorant parents who are determined to stay that way and will doing everything in their power to make sure their kids are not exposed to any belief or facts that counter their faith. Plus I am certain not a one of them could teach actual grammar, mathematics, or God forbid, science. Thus we have the dumbing down of America because stupid people’s votes count the same as well-informed people. Makes one long for a civics test for voting doesn’t it? Starting with the politicians who want to run for office. Basic geography would be good too, for the Trumps among us. Homeschooling can be child abuse. But I guess Restoration of Freedom of Religion means that abuse is okay if you are a true believer, you know, the kind that thinks their child can be saved through prayer alone when they have medically treatable conditions.

Some teachers don’t even try to say the word evolution in classrooms anymore because of the pushback from fundamentalist parents. This ruins other kids education too and becomes the case that your religious rights end at my nose, as the saying goes, to illustrate that religious rights DO NOT SUPERSEDE rights of non-believers. Especially for education because that is what is required to debunk the fundamentalist mythology. Seriously, there are people in America who still believe and openly boast that they believe the Sun goes around the Earth or that the earth is flat (see Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s mic drop on Larry Wilmore).

Many teachers — products of the same inadequate public schools — do not understand evolution themselves. A 1998 survey by researchers from the University of Texas found that one out of four public school biology teachers believes that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth simultaneously. (p. 75)

Considering that religious fundamentalist have built and called displays featuring mankind and dinos together and called them MUSEUMS only goes to prove that money can’t buy brains. Too many Flintstones as a child as I have said before. Or that Raquel Welch movie.

A majority of adults, in what is supposedly the most religious nation in the developed world, cannot name the four Gospels or identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible. (p. 75, footnote 19)

But I bet many would respond to a question about Genesis and refer to the device used in a Star Trek movie. But probably won’t know where the name came from.

In true Orwellian fashion, the conservatives, the theocrats, the authoritarians, and the rest of the anti-intellectual ilk co-opt phrasing and re-purposing words and history to support their cause.

Intelligent design does not insist on the seven days of creation [like Dominionists] but it does rest on the nonscientific hypothesis that the COMPLEXITY of life proves the existence of a designer.  “If you want to call the designer God, that’s entirely up to you” is the intelligent design pitch — along with “teach the controversy.”   . . [W] has followed the anti-evolution script by vigorously advocating the teaching of both evolution and intelligent design.

When Bush endorsed the teaching of intelligent design, he was predictably cheered by the religious right [sheeple] and denounced by the secular and religious left [Godless Heathens]. , but NO ONE POINTED OUT how truly extraordinary it was that ANY American president would place himself in direct opposition to contemporary scientific thinking. (pp. 79-81)

And don’t get me started on climate change. I have seen the videos and they are not good. I no longer believe that I will outlive the end of the world as we know it. In my water theme read, the deadline date for water wars was 2025, less than ten years. Given the drought in California, the lying corporate bastards who hid scientific facts about the long known disaster fossil fuels was bringing, and the even more UNHINGED Republicans — like snowball producing (disgrace to his position R-OK) Senator Jim Inhofe denying it. “I am not a scientist but. . . ” syndrome. The deniers are similar to the afflicted, “I am not a gynecologist, but. . . ” breed we have making laws about women’s reproductive lives. (I could not find which politician said it, but man, there are a lot of T-Shirts and memes and offensive takes on the quote, it must have originated from someone.)

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who are younger and/or blessed with the reformation of textbooks to fundamentalist views, you might be interested in the infamous 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial featuring the seriously famous William Jennings Bryan prosecuting Mr. Scopes for teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law against do so, and Clarence Darrow, a leading member of the ACLU. Darrow believed that everyone deserved a fair trial to the extent that he argued on behalf of the infamous thrill killers, Leopold and Lobe. I do not recall the timeline here, but pretty sure Darrow did it pro bono because of his ideals; I think this was before the famous case of Gideon vs. Wainright. An excellent movie, Gideon’s Trumpet, is a  movie portrayal of the man who enabled ALL DEFENDANTS in criminal cases to be afforded an attorney by the State if they cannot afford one. And for which I think we need a new Gideon for civil cases because big corporations rape and plunder at will without recourse by the people because they are too big to sue with deep pockets and well-practiced law firms with endless resources. The movie was based on a 1965 book (movie 1980).

An equally puzzling question is why us [Americans]. People throughout the world must cope with social, economic, and technological changes that call traditional verities into question, and the empire of mind-numbering infotainment knows no national boundaries. Yet the United States has proved much more susceptible than other economically advanced nations to the TOXIC COMBINATION of forces that are the enemies of intellect, learning, and reason, from RETROGRADE FUNDAMENTALIST FAITH to dumbed-down media. What accounts for the powerful American attraction to values that seem so at odds not only with intellectual modernism and science but also with the old Enlightenment rationalism that made such a vital contribution to the founding of our nation? (p. 85)

And for the sake of all of us, how do we get back a compassionate, social justice ideal of the New Deal for the people. One thing I know for sure, Donald Trump as president is NOT the way to go. Neither is Hillary. That is why I am a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter. And am doing my very best to make President Bernie Sanders and election of other progressives to become a reality.

There were so many notable people back at our founding. Most the prominent ones were highly educated (“polymaths“) and so they greatly valued education. Benjamin Franklin was self-taught but a genius, an actual genius.

Under early education, there were people who attended Harvard mostly, since it was the first college established before the States were ever United. Mainly the purpose was to churn out clergy, but that evolved.

I recognized the title of a book, Two Years Before the Mast, published 1840, but hadn’t remembered the author: Richard Henry Dana. This was a famous book and required reading in my high school as I recall: “a classic of American literary muckraking.” (p. 88) Anyway, Dana took off a couple of years between starting and finishing Harvard to be an ordinary seaman and this book is an “expose of the virtual serfdom that was the lot of American sailors at the time.” Which reminds me, there should be a major in muckraking! Other educated names of note include Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Horace Mann (really notable for impact on public education in America). So in a speech attended by some if not all of these men, Emerson gave a speech long-remembered by the men present [no women of course grrr] including some cited above. The speech challenged the men to let go of foreign, British in particular, intellectuals and begin an “American intellectual journey.”

Jacoby cites the well-known autobiography of Henry Adams about his famous family and reflecting on the new country. One concern was described by him as:

Could it transmute its social power into the higher forms of thought? Could it provide for the moral and intellectual needs of mankind? . . . Could it give new life to religion and art? Could it create and maintain in the mass of mankind those habits of mind which had hitherto belonged to men of science alone? Could it produce or was it compatible with, the differentiation of a higher variety of the human race? Nothing less than this was necessary for its complete success.” (p. 93-94)

The Enlightenment served the founding fathers well in creating the vision of America.

Enlightenment thinkers meant the tiny minority who had been exposed to learning; to create the habits of mind that had previously belonged only to an elite minority, it would obviously be necessary to extend learning to ordinary [male] citizens on a scale undreamed of in societies based on the principle of aristocracy of birth rather than aristocracy of intellect. This vision was anything but anti-intellectual; in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the best educated Americans — those steeped in Enlightenment concepts — were most likely to FAVOR THE SUPPORT OF SCHOOLS by general TAXATION as well as the creation of a NATIONAL, PUBLICLY SUPPORTED UNIVERSITY FOR OUTSTANDING SCHOLARS from every state. Yet there was immense disagreement about what the role of government ought to be in promoting the education of both common and uncommon men; and the victory of those in the revolutionary generation who wished the federal government to do nothing would cast a LONG SHADOW OVER AMERICAN INTELLECTUAL LIFE, and contribute to the regional disparities in education that still exert a formidable anti-intellectual influence on American culture. (pp. 94-94)

[George] Washington, whose education ws sketchier than that of many of the other framers of the Constitution, held higher learning in such esteem that he left a bequest of several thousand dollars’ worth of securities in his will in an effort to persuade Congress to appropriate money for a NATIONAL UNIVERSITY. His legacy went unclaimed in a political dispute that set the tone for many FUTURE controversies over the federal government’s involvement in education. Congress, FEARFUL that the use of Washington’s bequest to found a national university would be seen AS AN ASSAULT on colleges founded by RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS, wanted nothing to do with the project. (footnote 9, p. 97)

My heart broke when I read this evidence of (a) the power of religion even amongst people who had just defined the SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE, (b) the loss of a national university that could have become the first of many funded by tax dollars, (c) the general stupidity and meanness of politicians even then. This reluctance became a great divide between religion and intellectualism, with good reason because it is really hard to believe in outlandish myths if you are educated in the many types and practices of religion around the world. Maybe they would not have felt their particular God was the only one and been more open-minded to actually allow freedom FROM religion as well as right to PRIVATE worship (that is, not sponsored by the government in ANY FORM, including tax breaks because at the end of the day, churches are a business proven by the “seed” and “prosperity” ministries that are pure hucksterism).

This also led to an undemocratic divide between learning for it’s own sake rather than practical training. An argument that lives on today! There seems to have been a fundamental fear of education and a belief that “too much learning might set one citizen above another and violate the very democratic ideals that education was supposed to foster.” (p. 99) The irony of that means that already in its infancy, there was clearly a hatred of the more intelligent people (the new aristocracy if you will) that would best be suited to and benefit from a broad education. They wanted all men to be equal — equally stupid and uneducated. AND SO DO MANY AMERICANS STILL. How many times have you heard the phrase: reading, writing, and arithmetic? or, what good is a degree in American literature? How will that get you A JOB? There seems to be no value to most Americans to be educated beyond rudimentary skills, certainly not to read history or science. I even read that continuing to teach algebra was useless and was being considered to be eliminated from high school curricula.

And so our cashiers today have pictographs to ring up items or scanners, and machines to calculate change. I would bet that 80% of Americans use their phone’s calculator to figure out tips. Nerd revenge has come at last with technology, but maybe a whole lot of better things could have happened as well with a system of national universities.

Of all the anti-intellectual forces manifesting themselves in the early 1800s, the most important was the rise of FUNDAMENTALIST RELIGION during the period known as the Second Great Awakening. (p. 100)

I remember learning about the SGA in college American history. It was actually hysterically funny to me because the list of crackpot cults that had sprung up were so clearly scams, or misguided individuals. As I recall some had people living in a closed community and abjured sex. This made it difficult for them to gain new converts so dissipated without much of a loss to the country. Pretty sure there was the opposite, a “free love” group, but invariably interpersonal relations were going to have an epic fail when one man decided he didn’t want one woman to have free love with another man anymore.

And then there were THE MORMONS. Yes, the cult of Mitt Romney, whose grandfather moved to Mexico rather than give up his multiple wives. I have always believed that polygamy was a concept that Joseph Smith came up with to be able to have multiple women to screw while others were pregnant. If they’d had birth control, maybe it wouldn’t have come to that; on the other hand, his goal was to make more good little OBEDIENT Mormon children so they could rule the world (I assume, like the Catholics in that way). Pretty sure the polygamy in the Mormon faith only applies to men having more than one wife, and not the other way around. Men are so sensitive about being studs in bed, they don’t want women to have any other experience lest they fall flat (ha ha). Thus the ideal of virginity in women, apart from presumed guarantee of paternity of any consequences.

Whatever the denomination or religion, fundamentalism has always been defined by its refusal to adapt to ANY SECULAR KNOWLEDGE that conflicts with its version of REVEALED RELIGIOUS TRUTH; that refusal, in science and humanities, has been the MOST ENDURING and powerful strand in American anti-intellectualism. (p. 100, I would have put “truth” in quotes to signify the reality of it not being actual truth, that is, factual.)

Sidney Mead, one of the most distinguished historians of American Protestantism, argued in 1963 that an “ever-widening chasm between ‘religion’ and ‘intelligence’ ” has been apparent since the rise of evangelical fundamentalism at the end of the revolutionary era. In Mead’s view, the course of U.S. religious history since 1800 has confronted Americans with a ‘hard choice between being intelligent according to the standards prevailing in their intellectual centers, and being religious according to the standards prevailing in their denominations.’ ” (p. 100)

But followers of countless semiliterate fundamentalist evangelists, competing for souls [dollars!] throughout the young nation, would indeed have been shaken by the news that rocks and fossils predated the biblical timeline. (p. 101)

So today they simply refuse to acknowledge reality! And Jacoby establishes that the fundamentalists were not the “devout, churchgoing America that the religious right loves to paint today. . . .” There was chaos:

‘Free-think and free-drinking were alike in vogue. Great looseness of manners and morals had replaced the ancient Puritanic strictness. . . .’ By most estimates, only 10 percent of Americans in 1790 were recognized denominations.

American freethought, though never a majority movement, enjoyed substantial public influence in the last quarters of both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the first surge of freethought directly influenced the writing of the Constitution. Often incorrectly defined as a total absence of belief in God, freethought can better be understood as an outlook broad enough to encompass the truly anti-religious as well as those who adhered to a personal, unconventional faith revering some form of God or Providence — the term preferred by eighteenth-century freethinkers — but at ODDS WITH RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY. . . .

Translated into politics, freethought demanded a government based on the RIGHTS OF MAN and HUMAN REASON rather than divine authority — in other words, a secular government. (pp. 103-105)

I have been wondering what and when it happened that churches became exempt from taxes and wondered if it was the First Amendment’s “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” but I don’t think so somehow. Will have to try more research to learn how that happened and what it is preventing the imposition of taxes now that there are so many crackpots sucking money out of the nation and seducing bigots to hate, very nonreligious behavior.

The religious controversies of the early republican period established a permanent American fault line over faith. The fissure, often masked by a civic ideology of religious tolerance, nevertheless opens up periodically — as it has most recently in the culture wars dating from the mid-1970s – to reveal RAW AND IRRECONCILABLE RELIGIOUS PASSIONS. Eighteenth-century American freethought appealed most strongly to the BEST EDUCATED members of society, including not only a minuscule number of college graduates but much larger numbers of the self-educated, while emotional evangelical revivalism had a much stronger appeal to the UNEDUCATED and the poor. (p. 106-107)

You know, as I was thinking about why so many (70 percent) of the 1650 Harvard grads “entered the ministry” and my thoughts immediately went to the current crop of megachurches and shills for money to buy the way to heaven by paying $65  million for a preachers jet — “because God wants me to have one” and it seems to me that getting a Harvard credential was a license to scam illiterates for money. I think back in the day people “bought” their family pew by giving money to the church; you didn’t just come and sit somewhere randomly. Jacoby says that by 1790 “two-thirds of Harvard graduates followed secular vocations such as law, medicine, teaching, or business.” The new ways to print money so to speak. Except teaching. Not sure how that got in there unless it was one of those deals of “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Or just not enough Americans valued a humanities education since it didn’t earn them money or get them a job.

I did not know that Emerson was a preacher, quitting the job after fighting with parishioners over whether the Eucharist should be a permanent sacrament or not! (he said not) When I, as an atheist hear this kind of stuff — fight over imaginary events and things like the Holy Trinity meaning there was one god or three [a big deal way way back], I just find it hard to grasp that an educated person could believe such quackery enough to quit a cushy job over it. I don’t know, maybe he was independently wealthy.After this, he”severed his last ties to organized religion” because he believed that “a man could find salvation only through his individual soul’s search for truth and not through the teachings of any church.” Huzzah! This is considered Emerson’s “Transcendentalism” and is actually very similar to Enlightenment rationalism.”

Paine, the preeminent and once beloved revolutionary propagandist, was already being reviled by the mid-1790s for his attack on orthodox religion in The Age of Reason (1794), which RIDICULED biblical literalism and set forth the astounding premise that all religions were creations of man rather than God. Most twentieth-century historians have underestimated the influence of The Age of Reason, claiming that it was denounced more frequently by angry ministers than it was read by ordinary people.

It was a huge bestseller.

Both evangelicals and the traditionalist Protestants hate everything Paine stood for. The few ministers who regarded Paine with any approval were intellectuals and Unitarians.  (p. 110)

Unfortunately for us all, especially in 2016, “rational Christians” did not win the day even when joining more liberal churches — “in the American religious marketplace.” I love that concept, that religion is just selling another kind of product. Superstition and intellectual enslavement as sheeple.

As American Protestants split into an unprecedented number of denominations in the early nineteenth century, the proliferation of paths to God produced a fork in the young nation’s intellectual road. The rational Christian path [oxymoron to be sure], in whatever portions it chose to mix rationalism with Christianity, encompassed and embraced intellect and higher learning. THE FUNDAMENTALIST PATH turned away from ANY FORM OF LEARNING that CONTRADICTED THE BIBLE and therefore might serve as an obstacle to PERSONAL SALVATION. That SO MANY AMERICANS set out on the emotional and anti-rational path at such an early stage in the nation’s history ensured that a significant portion of believing American Christians would harbor a DEEP suspicion of ANY LEARNING, and institutions of learning, not subject to CHURCH SUPERVISION. (pp. 111-112)

It is extremely difficult for me to understand why, when presented the opportunity of a lifetime that had been denied peasants and ordinary people for hundreds and thousands of years, anyone would walk away from the chance for an education. Really seriously deeply held fears of an angry god must have become part of the collective unconscious that still permeates and retards at least 13 million Americans today (I saw that as an estimate of Trump supporters, but given that he is a fake Christian, Ted Cruz and some of the other “God wants me to run” gang supporters would be even more). And sadly, W was what we got when God wanted him to run, and look what we have reaped from the un-Christian things he did.

But while not all intellectuals are rationalists, nearly all anti-intellectuals are anti-rationalists. Supernaturalists fundamentalism  is by definition anti-rational, because it cannot be challenged by any countervailing EVIDENCE in the natural world. To those who rejected attempts to inject rationality into religion, the very IRRATIONALITY of their FAITH is seen as PROOF of emotional and spiritual SUPERIORITY: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believed. Moreover, rational Christianity was seen not only as emotionally unsatisfying but also as a THREAT TO traditional MORALITY. (p. 111-112)

That’s right, TRADITIONAL RELIGION was not pious enough for fundamentalists. Guess they don’t care to follow the Judge not lest thee be judged line in the Bible.

Because the American separation of church and state left every denomination free to compete for the souls of American citizens, there was a church and a preacher to fulfill every emotional and social need; if some needs remained unmet, entirely new religions sprang up to satisfy consumers. Mormonism, founded in 1830 on the conviction that its adherents were “latter-day saints,” [ego much?] is one early example, and however much it differed doctrinally from earlier American creeds, it fell squarely on the PROSELYTIZING FUNDAMENTALIST side of the fork staked out during the Second Great Awakening. Historians have argued endlessly about the reason why emotional evangelicalism religion appealed more strongly to American than either the more conservative Protestant denominations such as the Episcopalians or Congregationalists or the secularized Protestantism of the Unitarians. (pp. 113-114)

It was mentioned in my American history class that it is believed that Mormonism did not die out like the other oddball religions that popped up in the SGA because they were driven out of town for their beyond the pale beliefs. By going way out west, ultimately to Utah, where pretty much no one had settled yet, and by displacing Native Americans, they were able to breed and grow the cult until it became a sustainable religion, despite being ludicrous on so many levels. And I still cannot believe that no big deal was made of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, and the fact that his dad also attempted to run for president (against Richard Nixon) and also did not get any grief about the religion. But OMG the ruckus that was raised over JFK’s Catholicism, really was virulent. And now today we saw W going to the Pope for advice, and even Bernie still respected the [in my opinion] disgraceful Pope enough to visit the Vatican. The Pope is a man who has allowed hundreds of thousands of children to be sexually abused by priests, covering it up, and paying out settlements outside the legal system. The Pope is the man who forbids the use of any birth control rather than let Christians in Africa use condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Pope is the man who requires the inhuman and unreasonable and unnecessary and harmful requirement of celibacy of the priests and nuns in thrall to the Catholic corporation. Worth billions and billions, and yet, somehow keep requiring “offerings” from the parishioners who can ill afford it. And of course, the insistence that the sole purpose of women is to breed more Catholics and die trying rather than allow them to make their own decisions about what and when they can afford to care for a child ($25,000 for daycare for a year I read recently), and literally God forbid an abortion — even for seriously deformed fetuses that have no chance to survive.

And let’s not forget the Inquisition. That is what happens when non-secular power is used in all righteousness to torture and kill — and confiscate the worldly goods of the people they kill. Martin Luther was a true hero for what he achieved, however authoritarian religion of any denomination is damaging to the life, health, and happiness of all people.

With the resistance to education, this has come to the fore today by willful ignorance on the part of evangelicals in particular but no religion is exempt. Religion is child abuse. Telling some kid that he will burn in hell for eternity because he refused to go to Sunday School is wrong. Telling girls their value is solely in protecting their virginity and being obedient to their fathers and then their husbands is abuse. Cutting the religious a break by having them pay no property taxes, income taxes, corporate taxes, or preacher taxes, is ridiculous. Especially now that they have infiltrated the highest court of the land as well as many others, plus the Congress and obviously the presidency under W in particular. THIS IS NOT WHAT SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE should look like. When 5 Catholic men twist the Constitution to appeal to religious fundamentalists and Constitutional rights are denied because of the pretense of “freedom of religion” we have a very very serious problem in this country.

They can say “we are a Christian nation” over and over again but that will NEVER MAKE IT TRUE, at least not in my lifetime I hope. When presidential candidates opening state that his God’s law supersedes Constitutional law, we have a serious problem. Even more so because their are too many ignorant True Believers out there that think they know “God’s will” — which happens to coincide with what they believe and therefore they are entitled to force their delusions on the rest of us. No, never, not ever. That would be wrong on so many levels but the miserable zealots won’t stop proselytizing. And with the politicians eager for their support, they play into that and become representatives of this minority in making laws EVEN UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAWS. I am still baffled how state legislatures or the Supreme Court can get away with passing and enforcing such laws. It is wrong that we do not have a civil procedure that will take on this function of “correcting” bad judicial declarations based on personal religious beliefs. It is too expensive to fight the hundreds and hundreds of crap laws that have been passed in the last few decades.


The large print edition of this book is 650 pages long.  It is worth reading it all. She covers all kinds of history and people and intersections between fundamentalism and intellectualism and how, essentially, dumbed down we have become, especially education — like college classes in pop culture; I took one at the University of California Berkeley on Science Fiction Films. Of course, I already had my Master’s degree, so was just taking this as a community class of some sort, but Jacoby cites a Virginia Tech class at the time of the infamous shooting there studying Stephen King and a forensic scientist corpses and gore in detail and the kids were told to keep a “fear journal” as part of the process. I don’t recall if the shooter took that class or if that class was one that was subjected to the shooting. But when I compare, for example, my father being able to recite very long poems many decades after learning them as a young child, and I contrast that to my education that required little poetry (alas too much the modern kind anyway, though I did like e.e. cumings). She talks about the low brow, middle brow, and high brow treatment of entertainment and culture and books. The middle brow like the high brow stuff, but are looked down upon by the actual high brows — which is really a class issue: middle brow people have reproductions on their walls, not original paintings and they get their books from the Book of the Month club, not based on a New York Times book review by a literary critic. The low brow laugh at The Three Stooges and fart jokes, and do not bother to read a book ever, and unlikely to even care about reading a daily local paper.

Obviously, the low and middle brow people (“folks”) don’t appreciate being long down upon for not appreciating ballet and opera or being able to afford an actual Degas painting for their living room wall. So this sets up a contrarian notion that the “wisdom” of the common man is just as good as that of the intellectuals, the experts. This is not true of course, especially in contemporary society. But absent a free National university setting, as well as an equal respect for the trades and artisans, the vast majority of Americans in poverty are essentially trapped there under every subsequent generation. No myth about bootstraps and willpower will change the fundamental basic capitalism we live with that rewards capital over labor, seeking ever more profit and wealth for the least needy among us, because that, as the Republicans repeat endlessly, would make people lazy. Personally, I think the lazy people are the ones who have so much money they can gamble it away on the casino that is Wall Street and live in luxury with multi-million dollar homes with elevators in their garages to fit all their fancy cars, and simply live off the dividends of their investments, never having to worry about paying for day care, having to take sick leave with no sick pay, paying for college for their legacy kids who are guaranteed a spot at an Ivy League school, and whose kids have multi-millionaire dollar trust funds so they will never have to work a day in their life. Simultaneously showing nothing but contempt for people struggling without a living wage and rewarding CEOs from the Ivy League schools hundreds of times more in salary than the lowest paid employee; especially when said banksters et al cause the foreclosure on those people struggling and having their pensions gutted, their investments evaporate, and their medical conditions forcing them to declare bankruptcy under much stricter (you will pay forever, no clean slate for you — contrasted to the bailouts of ruined companies and all kinds of breaks for corporate bankruptcy) rules.

The height of this insanity is perfectly expressed in the tax code. If you fall on hard times as an individual and negotiate a deal to have some debt forgiven, or have to lose your house to foreclosure, the amount of money forgiven of your debt is CONSIDERED INCOME by the IRS and you will owe taxes on it as if it were INCOME even though you don’t have THE MONEY because you have just had a bankruptcy or foreclosure. These taxes, BTW, are not DISCHARGEABLE in bankruptcy (at least not for we little people). Neither are student loans which cannot even be renegotiated for a lower interest rate (unlike corporate loans) and are generally at a profit swilling usurious rate too boot.)

In a book I just finished and wrote a post about but haven’t edited yet, Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank (*****) the whole mess becomes even messier because he points out that, now that we are rid of W, we have a whole bunch of highly educated from Ivy League schools, much awarded and noted experts in the White House and these people (Clintons especially) have embraced the “neoliberal” position on economics and society and have turned their back on the blue collar workers, and the middle class. They have actively collaborated to keep people in poverty with no chance of getting out, and making their lives a misery at the same time. Their answer to everything is “education” which of course, has become unaffordable or requires indentured servitude for the rest of your life. Hell, they don’t even cut you a break like letting you graduate before you have to start making payments and get a job.

It’s too bad that the early Congress members did not use George Washington’s legacy and create a free national university system because what a difference it would have made on so many levels, including, one would hope, with NO MORE IRRATIONAL RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS WHO BELIEVE THE EARTH IS 6,000 YEARS OLD, and that people and dinosaurs co-existed, and that there was a talking snake and Eve eating a bite of an apple caused all women to suffer pain in bearing children for her sin. Which reminds me, if Jesus died to cleanse all our sins, why didn’t God sprinkle some fairy dust on all the women on the planet so they no longer had to suffer torment and risk death to bear children? And there was no flood, much less an ark, much less ALL the animals in the world, including kangaroos and penguins. The world of literal bible belief is too small, and it may be that only education will solve this and get the religious nuts out of government where they ABSOLUTELY do not belong. However, as Jacoby notes several times, NO FACTS will change their minds. They are immune to reality. They will hold onto their beliefs NO MATTER WHAT. And they are spreading like a virus that needs a cure. Not allowing homeschooling, no Intelligent Design in textbooks, actual slaves referred to as slaves, not “workers” in history books. Sex education not abstinence only education and absolutely not a requirement to teach children that ABORTION is wrong and against God’s will and therefore it is okay to murder doctors or threaten to imprison them, to not even allow the teaching of the procedure in medical schools — when it is a process necessary for the health of women who have miscarriages.

How can we be rid of this persistent hatred of smart people and suspicion of education? I am at a loss. Cognitive dissonance is the phrase I have heard that explains why some people refuse to accept facts and reality when it goes against what they have been indoctrinated to believe. Religion will ruin our democracy in the next few years if we don’t stand up and call them out. The theocratic authoritarians that nearly got to be Republican candidates for president were a near miss, but the Trump in their place is a wildcard that has absolutely no clue how to run the government and will surely be a disaster of untold magnitude.

There is a lot more fascinating discussion in this book on all of these issues and more, and unfortunately, does not produce a game plan to stop the madness of UNREASON.

Okay a few more tidbits I can’t resist. On page 396 she mentions (and elsewhere) the ridiculous notion of the End Time and the Rapture where a select few righteous zealots will ascend to heaven while their less religious friends and relatives burn in hell forever. I have never been clear what they imagine heaven to be like; according to the Bible you get to sit at the foot of the Lord and sing his praises forever. Not my idea of what I want to do for eternity, especially if there is no ice cream and my friends are burning in hell. I am with Borges, heaven would be a library! Anyway, it is an unlikely dream that these religious fanatics will “settle down for a good long rest and stop interfering in secular matters.”

But this soothing analysis does not take into account the disjunction that exists today between fundamentalist faith and the sum of human knowledge: it is much easier to understand why an American would have sought the answer to life’s problems with God in 1800 than in 2000. Furthermore, the potential for LETHAL PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES increases as the gap between evidence-based science and faith widens. [Waco] It did relatively little HARM [other than misogyny, slavery, witch burning] in the early nineteenth century for preachers to proclaim that sickness and death must be accepted as God’ punishment for sin, because science and medicine had almost nothing to offer as an alternative to acceptance of the divine will. It does GREAT HARM TODAY, however for Protestant fundamentalists and right-wing Catholics to insist, against all scientific evidence, that condoms do nothing to halt the spread of AIDS and that ABSTINENCE — the only method sanctioned by God and the course least likely to be followed by humans — is the single morally legitimate way to fight life-threatening disease.

And it really bothers me that since God created us, and Christ died for us, why is sex such a predominant part of the various religions and social institutions? Why would God have give us brains that developed contraception if we were not meant to use it? Why would we have have the ability to think scientifically if God had wanted us to be unquestioning of religious authority? Why would anyone pray for the outcome of a football game when there are people homeless in the streets near the playing field?

Regardless of how fundamentalists fine-tune their beliefs, there is unquestionably a powerful correlation between religious fundamentalism and LACK OF EDUCATION. (p. 399)

Which is why, of course, there are parochial schools, far too much “home” schooling, lies and more lies in textbooks, and teachers cowed by the threat to their livelihood if they say the forbidden “e-word” — evolution. If you don’t think they really go nuts, read the autobiography of a Bircher daughter; she describes the insane micro review of all her textbooks and the torture of the poor school administrators she sought to “correct” the content of what was being taught.

Another critical difference between the fundamentalists on the side of one party and their belief that it is both A RIGHT AND A RELIGIOUS DUTY to institutionalize THEIR moral values. . . .[fundamentalists] were generally more concerned about being let alone by the government to practice their religion that about imposing their religious practices on others. Modern fundamentalists have forgotten, if they ever knew, that they OWE THEIR LIBERTY of conscience to the demonized Enlightenment rationalism that gave birth to the secular Constitution. (p. 402-403)

When Bush famously told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post that he had consulted a “Higher Father” instead of his earthly father, [former] President George H. W. Bush, about going to war in Iraq, he was offering a key to his thinking that should have been taken at face value by his opponents as well as his supporters. (p. 405)

People died for oil, for Halliburton profits, and for this deranged and delusional war criminal and his pals on a modern day crusade.

And on abortion, page 431:

Because the Christian right opposed all relaxation of strict anti-abortion rules, it set out to portray Roe as a radical break with contemporary standards [actually 64% favored more accessible]. While the Supreme Court decision may have been ahead of public opinion in its broad scope, it was nevertheless in line with a general trend favoring greater choice and compassion for women coping with unwanted pregnancies. At the heart of Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s majority opinion was the UNEQUIVOCAL ASSERTION that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does NOT include the UNBORN.” (P. 431, footnote 20) That single sentence kindled a religious conflagration that is still burning. Although Blackmun’s opinion vs delivered more than two decades before any member of the general public had ever heard the phrase “embryonic stem cell research.” the religious right’s position has been consistent since that day: not only is the fetus entitled to full Fourteenth Amendment rights, but so too is a six-day-old collection of embryonic cells. (p. 431)

The part that makes me crazy is why they do not see that women are absolutely alive and entitled to full protection that supersedes a biological event within their bodies. Women are people! Not walking uteri!

To speak of  finding “common ground” on the abortion issue, as secularists and religious moderates often do, is to speak about a RATIONAL, pragmatic compromise that can only be located in the natural world. But Americans who want to force women to go trhough with unwanted pregnancies are ADHERING to a SUPERNATURAL  imperative: abortion is murder forbidden by the law of God and must therefore be forbidden by the law of man. The fundamental [pun?] question is why these supposedly symbolic religious issues are so much more potent in the United State than in the rest of the world. (p. 433)

Despite the fact that the Bible does not expressly prohibit abortion per se, and the fact that abortion has existed and will not stop by re-criminalizing it. Criminalizing abortion “merely” kills women forced to seek it in the traditional back alleys or with coat hangers. So if they were truly concerned about “life” one would think that they would not scream and scream about  abortion being wrong and would instead picket gun stores and be anti-war. No, the difference is that women die, and as many a bat-shit crazy zealot has said, the women deserve to die because they wanted to “kill their baby” and yet NONE of these people are making a dent in the many children awaiting adoption in this country.

And finally, on p. 583:

Public ignorance and anti-intellectualism are not identical, of course, but they are certainly kissing cousins. Both foster the rise of candidates who regard a broad knowledge of history, science, and culture, and a decent command of their native language as political LIABILITIES rather than assets — and who frequently downplay these qualities, even if they possess them, in order to PANDER to a public that considers conspicuous displays of learning a form of snobbery.

Hence, FOLKS.

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