(photo from threfreethinker)
Freethought Day is October 12th, the annual observance by freethinkers and secularists of the anniversary of the effective end of the Salem Witch Trials.
The seminal event connected to Freethought Day is a letter written by then Massachusetts Governor William Phips in which he wrote to the Privy Council of the British monarchs, William and Mary, on this day in 1692. He outlined the quagmire into which the trials had degenerated, in part by a reliance on "evidence" of a non-objective nature and especially "spectral evidence" in which the accusers claimed to see devils and other phantasms consorting with the accused. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)
Every man- in the development of his own personality- has the right to
form his own beliefs and opinions. Hence, suppression of belief, opinion
and expression is an affront to the dignity of man, a negation of man’s
First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to
control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The
right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected
from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.
For the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and
government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left
free from the other within its respective sphere.
Freedom of expression must be considered sacred and thought can only be
corrected by counter thought.
Freedom of thought and the right of private judgment, in matters of
conscience, driven from every other corner of the earth, direct their
course to this happy country as their last asylum.
Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That
would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the
right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
-Chief Justice Robert Jackson
Heresy is only another word for freedom of thought.
I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of
the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than
by violent and sudden usurpations; but, on a candid examination of
history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by
the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced
factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than
any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of
ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have
generally resulted from those causes.
If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we
don't believe in it at all.
It is true that many Americans find the (Ten) Commandments in accord
with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing
the First Amendment.
-Sandra Day O'Connor
No people in history have ever survived who thought they could protect
their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies.
The freedom of thought is a sacred right of every individual man, and
diversity will continue to increase with the progress, refinement, and
differentiation of the human intellect.
The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always
stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking,
speaking, and writing.
They (the Pilgrim Fathers) believed in freedom of thought for themselves
and for all other people who believed exactly as they did.
Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies
disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity
implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty- so, obviously, thinking
must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and
reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.
-Adlai E. Stevenson II
We are so proud of our guarantees of freedom in thought and speech and
worship, that, unconsciously, we are guilty of one of the greatest
errors that ignorance can make- we assume our standard of values is
shared by all other humans in the world.
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
When people talk of the freedom of writing, speaking or thinking I
cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now
exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after
you and I shall write and speak no more.
You simply disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course.
Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or
how to behave, we don't. We disobey the social protocol that stifles and
stigmatizes personal freedom.
A man who is convinced of the truth of his religion is indeed never
Because we have sought to cover up past evil, though it still persists,
we have been powerless to check the new evil of today. Evil unchecked
grows, Evil tolerated poisons the whole system.
Clever men will recognize and tolerate nothing but cleverness; every
authority rouses their ridicule, every superstition amuses them, every
convention moves them to contradiction.
-Henri Frédéric Amiel
Endurance is not toleration.
History balances the frustration of 'how far we have to go' with the
satisfaction of 'how far we have come.' It teaches us tolerance for the
human shortcomings and imperfections which are not uniquely of our
generation, but of all time.
-Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
I believe that the fundamental alternative for man is the choice between
'life' and 'death;' between creativity and destructive violence; between
reality and illusions; between objectivity and intolerance; between
brotherhood-independence and dominance- submission.
I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the
intolerant, and kindness from the unkind, yet strangely, I am ungrateful
to those teachers.
I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance.
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I have zero tolerance for self-inflicted drama.
-Tina Roth Eisenberg
I respect those who resist me; but I cannot tolerate them.
-Charles de Gaulle
If it was necessary to tolerate in other people everything one permits
in oneself, life would be unbearable.
Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality.
-Theodor W. Adorno
It is our utopias that make the world tolerable to us: the cities and
mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live.
It's a stupid word... tolerance.
Lying is an indispensable part of making life tolerable.
Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more
uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is
right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been
the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men
who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized
man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others.
His culture is based on 'I am not too sure.'
New Year's Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does
not encourage them to take up more of my time.
No man has a right in America to treat any other man 'tolerantly,' for
tolerance is the assumption of superiority.
Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires
tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth.
Nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor's noisy party than being
-Franklin P. Adams
Our universities are so determined to impose tolerance that they'll
expel you for saying what you think and never notice the irony.
-John Perry Barlow
Rooted in freedom, bonded in the fellowship of danger, sharing
everywhere a common human blood, we declare again that all men are
brothers, and that mutual tolerance is the price of liberty.
Southerners have a genius for psychological alchemy. If something
intolerable simply cannot be changed, driven away or shot they will not
only tolerate it but take pride in it as well.
Stop tolerating in your leaders what you would not tolerate in your
The bleak fact is that new tolerances often resemble the old
intolerances. In many instances, bitterness over having been 'the
oppressed' seems to be little more than jealousy over not having been
The evils of government are directly proportional to the tolerance of
The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is besides the
point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation
to tolerate speech.
The highest result of education is tolerance.
The idea that horrors are required to give zest to life and interest to
art is the idea of savages, men of no experience worth mentioning, and
of merely servile, limited sensibilities. Don't tolerate it.
The most intolerable pain is produced by prolonging the keenest pleasure.
-George Bernard Shaw
The perception of poverty as morally intolerable in a rich society had
to await the emergence of a rich society.
The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a
humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an
exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy.
Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil
than from those who actually commit it.
The world tolerates conceit from those who are successful, but not from
The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often
very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit
There are three intolerable things in life- cold coffee, lukewarm
champagne, and overexcited women.
There's no one more intolerant than a liberal in San Francisco.
To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of
faith but must find his brand of intolerance.
Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.
Tolerance comes with age. I see no fault committed that I myself could
not have committed at some time or other.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Tolerance does not... do anything, embrace anyone, champion any issue.
It wipes the notes off the score of life and replaces them with one long
bar of rest. It does not attack error, it does not champion truth, it
does not hate evil, it does not love good.
Tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.
Tolerance is an admirable intellectual gift, but it is worth little in
Tolerance is just a makeshift, suitable for an overcrowded and
overheated planet. It carries on when love gives out, and love generally
gives out as soon as we move away from our home and our friends.
Tolerance is only another name for indifference.
-W. Somerset Maugham
Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.
Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world
where ignorance rules, and Science, which ought to have ruled, plays the
Tolerance: (n) Openness to all ideas from the Left.
-Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley
Tolerating those who will not tolerate you is more correctly known as
-Perry de Havilland
Toleration is a good thing in its place; but you cannot tolerate what
will not tolerate you, and is trying to cut your throat.
Too much of what passes as tolerance in America is not the result of
principled judgment but is simple moral indifference.
True Patriotism, it seems to me, is based on tolerance and a large
measure of humility.
-Adlai E. Stevenson II
We have to go forth and crush every world view that doesn't believe in
tolerance and free speech.
We should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference.
-Margaret Chase Smith
We tend to idealize tolerance, then wonder why we find ourselves
infested with losers and nut cases.
-Patrick Nielsen Hayden
While the American system may be forgivingly tolerant of people with
wild and dangerous ideas, it doesn't generally let them run the country.
Who teaches you tolerance? Maybe sometimes your children teach you
patience, but always your enemy will teach you tolerance. So your enemy
is really your teacher.
-Tenzin Gyatso (The Dalai Lama)
Whoever kindles the flames of intolerance in America is lighting a fire
underneath his own home.
-Harold E. Stassen
You would better educate ten women into the practice of liberal
principles than to organize a thousand on a platform of intolerance and
-Susan B. Anthony
You would not even tolerate for one moment the conduct in an individual
that is commonplace in the acts of some nations. You would lock up such
-L. Ron Hubbard
... when Jesse Ventura is the voice of reason:
This is simply the protection of religion, again, to gain its foothold into our state houses, and to inflict their beliefs on people like me that don't want to believe what they believe.
You listening to me out there? I don't want to believe what you believe, and you can't make me. And you never will. Enough of this.
You have your religion, you're free to practice it, but stop bringing it into the state house and stop trying to pass now federal laws that protect you.
When the churches start paying taxes, then the church can have a say so."
Where men are people, corporations are people, and women apparently just don't make the judicial cut...
Corporations are people, my friend. Women? Not so much.
-Erin Gloria Ryan
This is the kind of ruling where you look at the dissent and you think,
'Oh yeah, this is definitely going to get overturned on appeal,' and
then you realize 'Oh God, there's no appeal.'
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and
-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (dissenting):
In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith- in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent...
...Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations... The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight...
The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor (dissenting):
Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.
Let me be absolutely clear: I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one's religious beliefs are substantially burdened... does not make it so. Not every sincerely felt 'burden' is a 'substantial' one, and it is for courts, not litigants, to identify which are.
The Court's actions in this case create unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy, and they ignore a simple truth: The Government must be allowed to handle the basic tasks of public administration in a manner that comports with common sense.
The men who wrote this decision on behalf of the Supreme Court have
entered into a war on women. They have become a blatantly political
activist anti-women political organization. There are some [religious]
beliefs that are so heinous that government should not respect them…
Withholding basic health care from women is bigotry, plain and simple.
We should not accept it, no matter how ‘sincerely’ the belief is held.
-Terry O'Neill, President, National Organization of Women
Guess which justices supported corporations' refusal to pay for female contraceptives?
It's good to know that the Supreme Court is dominated by the town elders
Supreme Court rules in #HobbyLobby case that religious preferences don't
have to follow laws.
Your move, Rastafarians.
Hobby Lobby covers Viagra, not IUD; because a fertilized egg is clearly God's will but impotency clearly isn't.
It may be time for some personal sidewalk counseling by liberals outside
of Hobby Lobby doors.
The U.S. Constitution and the Bible have a lot in common. Few people have read them in their entirety; they are quoted out of context and cherry-picked; their official interpreters wear robes and issue pronouncements that sometimes benefit an entitled few or discriminate against women and minorities; and their decrees and commandments are simply ignored when they interfere with the interests of those in power.
The Roberts court has certainly made history. Does the name Dred Scott ring a bell?
Let me see if I understand this: the Supreme Court upheld the Religion Freedom Restoration Act by allowing corporations, which the Court considers to be people, to force their religious beliefs upon those who do not share those beliefs. Ok. Got it. (facepalm)
Re: today's Supreme Court cases: How many 2000 Nader voters still think
it made no difference whether Bush or Gore won?
Pastafarian business owners free to deny coverage of celiac disease.
My corporation was Wiccan for 1-2 yrs after college and would only cover
hyssop for purification and yarrow flower to dispel negative energy.
Take away our sex ed, contraception, and access to abortions, then
condemn us for having children, then make sure we get unfair wages so we
can't support the children we have. Then take away the social safety net
so we're totally screwed. Then call us irresponsible sluts.
Closely held 21,000 employee, 572 store $2.28 billion dollar retail craft store chains are people, my friend.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my Boss my benefits keep
He watches me through day and night
Telling me what's wrong and right
Religious freedom is your freedom to live according to the dictates of
my religion's misconceptions, no matter how wrong.
=Mary W. Matthews
Conservatives are fierce defenders of your freedom to practice their religion.
It's just a coincidence my religious liberty concerns only target women and gays. And you pointing that out violates my religious liberty.
A Christian business that takes a stand against divorcees would impress since Jesus actually, you know, mentioned divorce.
If corporations could have abortions, abortion would be tax deductible.
Work's tough now that my boss decided that coffee breaks actually cause abortions.
This birth control mandate violates my religious belief that Obama shouldn't be president.
If forcing you to provide a resource to your employees that they could use in way you find wrong is immoral, only slavery would be moral.
Be back in a few hours. Boss is making me get circumcised.
Newt Gingrich can now object to your birth control coverage on moral
grounds. Rush Limbaugh. Donald Trump.
On moral grounds.
The Family Research Council is either adorably oblivious,
or their PR outfit is just plain evil.
Variations on a theme:
When this man smiles, a fairy dies:
Speaking of smiles:
(YouTube video: formerly captive ducks see water for the first time).
Motorola shows off tattoo and swallowable password hardware
Mobe manufacturer playing long game for end times
By Iain Thomson in San Francisco
Motorola has shown off an electronic authentication tattoo and an FDA-approved pill that uses the body to transmit passwords, and says it wants to see a new generation of smartphones geared towards such wearable- or edible- technology.
One marketing problem Motorola may not have anticipated is the reaction of biblical literalists to its wearable authentication systems
A surprising number of people in the US still adhere to an apparent literal translation of the current version of the Bible. These include Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions and shun those who take them, to those who look to the finale of the New Testament: The Book of Revelation- or, for you believers of the Catholic persuasion, The Apocalypse.
The text, thought to be written about 60 years after the biblical death of Christ, is regarded as either a description of the end times of humanity, a satirical pastiche on the increasingly subverted tenants of Christian bureaucracy, or a really bad mushroom trip on a Greek island. Nevertheless it contains the following warning:
"It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."
Be reassured that the majority of people of faith in the US and elsewhere aren't quite so inflexible. Those that aren't may be shrill, particularly in the US, but do not form a representative sample of Christianity.
(91 years later, and this sermon is probably even more valid today.)
Harry Emerson Fosdick (May 24, 1878 - October 5, 1969) was an American pastor. Fosdick became a central figure in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy within American Protestantism in the 1920s and 1930s and was one of the most prominent liberal ministers of the early 20th Century. Although a Baptist, he was guest preacher in New York City at First Presbyterian Church on West Twelfth Street and then at the historic, interdenominational Riverside Church. (Click for full Wikipedia article).
"Shall the Fundamentalists Win?": Defending Liberal Protestantism in the 1920s
Urban as well as rural Americans flocked to fundamentalist and evangelical churches in the 1920s. "Liberal" Protestants sought to reconcile faith and science and to slow what they saw as the reactionary tendencies of fundamentalism. Harry Emerson Fosdick's influential 1922 sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," called for an open-minded, intellectual, and tolerant "Christian fellowship." Though the sermon cost him his post at New York's First Presbyterian Church, his views represented those of an influential Protestant minority, and Fosdick enjoyed a long career at Riverside Church, built for him by John D. Rockefeller. Following the Scopes trial and a well-publicized scandal involving well-known pastor Aimee Semple McPherson and a mysterious lover, fundamentalists began to lose the prominence they enjoyed in the 1920s. But religious fundamentalism would remain a vital political force in American life.
This morning we are to think of the fundamentalist controversy which threatens to divide the American churches as though already they were not sufficiently split and riven. A scene, suggestive for our thought, is depicted in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Acts, where the Jewish leaders hale before them Peter and other of the apostles because they had been preaching Jesus as the Messiah. Moreover, the Jewish leaders propose to slay them, when in opposition Gamaliel speaks "Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God."...
Already all of us must have heard about the people who call themselves the Fundamentalists. Their apparent intention is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions. I speak of them the more freely because there are no two denominations more affected by them than the Baptist and the Presbyterian. We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant.
The Fundamentalists see, and they see truly, that in this last generation there have been strange new movements in Christian thought. A great mass of new knowledge has come into man's possession— new knowledge about the physical universe, its origin, its forces, its laws; new knowledge about human history and in particular about the ways in which the ancient peoples used to think in matters of religion and the methods by which they phrased and explained their spiritual experiences; and new knowledge, also, about other religions and the strangely similar ways in which men's faiths and religious practices have developed everywhere...
Now, there are multitudes of reverent Christians who have been unable to keep this new knowledge in one compartment of their minds and the Christian faith in another. They have been sure that all truth comes from the one God and is His revelation. Not, therefore, from irreverence or caprice or destructive zeal but for the sake of intellectual and spiritual integrity, that they might really love the Lord their God, not only with all their heart and soul and strength but with all their mind, they have been trying to see this new knowledge in terms of the Christian faith and to see the Christian faith in terms of this new knowledge.
Doubtless they have made many mistakes. Doubtless there have been among them reckless radicals gifted with intellectual ingenuity but lacking spiritual depth. Yet the enterprise itself seems to them indispensable to the Christian Church. The new knowledge and the old faith cannot be left antagonistic or even disparate, as though a man on Saturday could use one set of regulative ideas for his life and on Sunday could change gear to another altogether. We must be able to think our modern life clear through in Christian terms, and to do that we also must be able to think our Christian faith clear through in modern terms.
There is nothing new about the situation. It has happened again and again in history, as, for example, when the stationary earth suddenly began to move and the universe that had been centered in this planet was centered in the sun around which the planets whirled. Whenever such a situation has arisen, there has been only one way out— the new knowledge and the old faith had to be blended in a new combination. Now, the people in this generation who are trying to do this are the liberals, and the Fundamentalists are out on a campaign to shut against them the doors of the Christian fellowship. Shall they be allowed to succeed?
It is interesting to note where the Fundamentalists are driving in their stakes to mark out the deadline of doctrine around the church, across which no one is to pass except on terms of agreement. They insist that we must all believe in the historicity of certain special miracles, preeminently the virgin birth of our Lord; that we must believe in a special theory of inspiration—that the original documents of the Scripture, which of course we no longer possess, were inerrantly dictated to men a good deal as a man might dictate to a stenographer; that we must believe in a special theory of the Atonement— that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner; and that we must believe in the second coming of our Lord upon the clouds of heaven to set up a millennium here, as the only way in which God can bring history to a worthy denouement. Such are some of the stakes which are being driven to mark a deadline of doctrine around the church.
If a man is a genuine liberal, his primary protest is not against holding these opinions, although he may well protest against their being considered the fundamentals of Christianity. This is a free country and anybody has a right to hold these opinions or any others if he is sincerely convinced of them. The question is— Has anybody a right to deny the Christian name to those who differ with him on such points and to shut against them the doors of the Christian fellowship? The Fundamentalists say that this must be done. In this country and on the foreign field they are trying to do it. They have actually endeavored to put on the statute books of a whole state binding laws against teaching modern biology. If they had their way, within the church, they would set up in Protestantism a doctrinal tribunal more rigid than the pope's.
In such an hour, delicate and dangerous, when feelings are bound to run high, I plead this morning the cause of magnanimity and liberality and tolerance of spirit. I would, if I could reach their ears, say to the Fundamentalists about the liberals what Gamaliel said to the Jews, "Refrain from these men and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be everthrown; but if it is of God ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God."
That we may be entirely candid and concrete and may not lose ourselves in any fog of generalities, let us this morning take two or three of these Fundamentalist items and see with reference to them what the situation is in the Christian churches. Too often we preachers have failed to talk frankly enough about the differences of opinion which exist among evangelical Christians, although everybody knows that they are there. Let us face this morning some of the differences of opinion with which somehow we must deal.
We may well begin with the vexed and mooted question of the virgin birth of our Lord. I know people in the Christian churches, ministers, missionaries, laymen, devoted lovers of the Lord and servants of the Gospel, who, alike as they are in their personal devotion to the Master, hold quite different points of view about a matter like the virgin birth. Here, for example, is one point of view that the virgin birth is to be accepted as historical fact; it actually happened; there was no other way for a personality like the Master to come into this world except by a special biological miracle. That is one point of view, and many are the gracious and beautiful souls who hold it. But side by side with them in the evangelical churches is a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say that the virgin birth is not to be accepted as an historic fact... So far from thinking that they have given up anything vital in the New Testament's attitude toward Jesus, these Christians remember that the two men who contributed most to the Church's thought of the divine meaning of the Christ were Paul and John, who never even distantly allude to the virgin birth.
Here in the Christian churches are these two groups of people and the question which the Fundamentalists raise is this— Shall one of them throw the other out? Has intolerance any contribution to make to this situation? Will it persuade anybody of anything? Is not the Christian Church large enough to hold within her hospitable fellowship people who differ on points like this and agree to differ until the fuller truth be manifested? The Fundamentalists say not. They say the liberals must go. Well, if the Fundamentalists should succeed, then out of the Christian Church would go some of the best Christian life and consecration of this generation—multitudes of men and women, devout and reverent Christians, who need the church and whom the church needs.
Consider another matter on which there is a sincere difference of opinion between evangelical Christians: the inspiration of the Bible. One point of view is that the original documents of the Scripture were inerrantly dictated by God to men. Whether we deal with the story of creation or the list of the dukes of Edom or the narratives of Solomon's reign or the Sermon on the Mount or the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, they all came in the same way, and they all came as no other book ever came. They were inerrantly dictated; everything there— scientific opinions, medical theories, historical judgments, as well as spiritual insight— is infallible. That is one idea of the Bible's inspiration. But side by side with those who hold it, lovers of the Book as much as they, are multitudes of people who never think about the Bible so. Indeed, that static and mechanical theory of inspiration seems to them a positive peril to the spiritual life...
Here in the Christian Church today are these two groups, and the question which the Fundamentalists have raised is this— Shall one of them drive the other out? Do we think the cause of Jesus Christ will be furthered by that? If He should walk through the ranks of his congregation this morning, can we imagine Him claiming as His own those who hold one idea of inspiration and sending from Him into outer darkness those who hold another? You cannot fit the Lord Christ into that Fundamentalist mold. The church would better judge His judgment. For in the Middle West the Fundamentalists have had their way in some communities and a Christian minister tells us the consequences. He says that the educated people are looking for their religion outside the churches.
Consider another matter upon which there is a serious and sincere difference of opinion between evangelical Christians: the second coming of our Lord. The second coming was the early Christian phrasing of hope. No one in the ancient world had ever thought, as we do, of development, progress, gradual change as God's way of working out His will in human life and institutions. They thought of human history as a series of ages succeeding one another with abrupt suddenness. The Graeco-Roman world gave the names of metals to the ages— gold, silver, bronze, iron. The Hebrews had their ages, too— the original Paradise in which man began, the cursed world in which man now lives, the blessed Messianic kingdom someday suddenly to appear on the clouds of heaven. It was the Hebrew way of expressing hope for the victory of God and righteousness. When the Christians came they took over that phrasing of expectancy and the New Testament is aglow with it. The preaching of the apostles thrills with the glad announcement, "Christ is coming!"
In the evangelical churches today there are differing views of this matter. One view is that Christ is literally coming, externally, on the clouds of heaven, to set up His kingdom here. I never heard that teaching in my youth at all. It has always had a new resurrection when desperate circumstances came and man's only hope seemed to lie in divine intervention. It is not strange, then, that during these chaotic, catastrophic years there has been a fresh rebirth of this old phrasing of expectancy. "Christ is coming!" seems to many Christians the central message of the Gospel. In the strength of it some of them are doing great service for the world. But, unhappily, many so overemphasize it that they outdo anything the ancient Hebrews or the ancient Christians ever did. They sit still and do nothing and expect the world to grow worse and worse until He comes.
Side by side with these to whom the second coming is a literal expectation, another group exists in the evangelical churches. They, too, say, "Christ is coming!" They say it with all their hearts; but they are not thinking of an external arrival on the clouds. They have assimilated as part of the divine revelation the exhilarating insight which these recent generations have given to us, that development is God's way of working out His will...
And these Christians, when they say that Christ is coming, mean that, slowly it may be, but surely, His will and principles will be worked out by God's grace in human life and institutions, until "He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied."
These two groups exist in the Christian churches and the question raised by the Fundamentalists is— Shall one of them drive the other out? Will that get us anywhere? Multitudes of young men and women at this season of the year are graduating from our schools of learning, thousands of them Christians who may make us older ones ashamed by the sincerity of their devotion to God's will on earth. They are not thinking in ancient terms that leave ideas of progress out. They cannot think in those terms. There could be no greater tragedy than that the Fundamentalists should shut the door of the Christian fellowship against such.
I do not believe for one moment that the Fundamentalists are going to succeed. Nobody's intolerance can contribute anything to the solution of the situation which we have described. If, then, the Fundamentalists have no solution of the problem, where may we expect to find it? In two concluding comments let us consider our reply to that inquiry.
The first element that is necessary is a spirit of tolerance and Christian liberty. When will the world learn that intolerance solves no problems? This is not a lesson which the Fundamentalists alone need to learn; the liberals also need to learn it. Speaking, as I do, from the viewpoint of liberal opinions, let me say that if some young, fresh mind here this morning is holding new ideas, has fought his way through, it may be by intellectual and spiritual struggle, to novel positions, and is tempted to be intolerant about old opinions, offensively to condescend to those who hold them and to be harsh in judgment on them, he may well remember that people who held those old opinions have given the world some of the noblest character and the most rememberable service that it ever has been blessed with, and that we of the younger generation will prove our case best, not by controversial intolerance, but by producing, with our new opinions, something of the depth and strength, nobility and beauty of character that in other times were associated with other thoughts. It was a wise liberal, the most adventurous man of his day— Paul the Apostle— who said, "Knowledge puffeth up, but love buildeth up."
Nevertheless, it is true that just now the Fundamentalists are giving us one of the worst exhibitions of bitter intolerance that the churches of this country have ever seen. As one watches them and listens to them he remembers the remark of General Armstrong of Hampton Institute, "Cantankerousness is worse than heterodoxy." There are many opinions in the field of modern controversy concerning which I am not sure whether they are right or wrong, but there is one thing I am sure of: courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right. Opinions may be mistaken; love never is.
As I plead thus for an intellectually hospitable, tolerant, liberty-loving church, I am, of course, thinking primarily about this new generation. We have boys and girls growing up in our homes and schools, and because we love them we may well wonder about the church which will be waiting to receive them. Now, the worst kind of church that can possibly be offered to the allegiance of the new generation is an intolerant church. Ministers often bewail the fact that young people turn from religion to science for the regulative ideas of their lives. But this is easily explicable.
Science treats a young man's mind as though it were really important. A scientist says to a young man, "Here is the universe challenging our investigation. Here are the truths which we have seen, so far. Come, study with us! See what we already have seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth." Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, "Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions. These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results."
My friends, nothing in all the world is so much worth thinking of as God, Christ, the Bible, sin and salvation, the divine purposes for humankind, life everlasting. But you cannot challenge the dedicated thinking of this generation to these sublime themes upon any such terms as are laid down by an intolerant church.
The second element which is needed if we are to reach a happy solution of this problem is a clear insight into the main issues of modern Christianity and a sense of penitent shame that the Christian Church should be quarreling over little matters when the world is dying of great needs. If, during the war, when the nations were wrestling upon the very brink of hell and at times all seemed lost, you chanced to hear two men in an altercation about some minor matter of sectarian denominationalism, could you restrain your indignation? You said, "What can you do with folks like this who, in the face of colossal issues, play with the tiddledywinks and peccadillos of religion?" So, now, when from the terrific questions of this generation one is called away by the noise of this Fundamentalist controversy, he thinks it almost unforgivable that men should tithe mint and anise and cummin, and quarrel over them, when the world is perishing for the lack of the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith...
The present world situation smells to heaven! And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ's name and for Christ's sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!
Well, they are not going to do it; certainly not in this vicinity. I do not even know in this congregation whether anybody has been tempted to be a Fundamentalist. Never in this church have I caught one accent of intolerance. God keep us always so and ever increasing areas of the Christian fellowship; intellectually hospitable, open-minded, liberty-loving, fair, tolerant, not with the tolerance of indifference, as though we did not care about the faith, but because always our major emphasis is upon the weightier matters of the law.
Source: Harry Emerson Fosdick, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" Christian Work 102 (June 10, 1922): 716–722.
(From History Matters)
(Or, if you prefer, today is the birthday of J.M. Barrie, author of "Peter Pan." See a collection of his quotes here.)
A dead atheist is someone who's all dressed up with no place to go.
A little philosophy makes a man an Atheist: a great deal converts him to
All thinking men are atheists.
America is a place where Jewish merchants sell Zen love beads to
agnostics for Christmas.
-John Burton Brimer
An atheist is one who hopes the Lord will do nothing to disturb his
-Franklin P. Jones
Atheism is a necessary condition for emancipation of the mind, but it's
not a sufficient one.
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in
the presence of religious dogma.
Atheism is often merely a variety of Christianity.
Atheism is really a term we do not need, in the same way that we don't
have a word for someone who is not an astrologer.
Atheism, like agnosticism and skepticism, can be a dignified posture
when it is based on careful reflection and civilly expressed. It should
not be mean-spirited. Many of us prefer a kinder and gentler form of
Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.
Don't be an agnostic. Be something.
Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's
the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other
mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and
our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith
in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the
supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
God made me an atheist. Who am I to argue with Him?
He was permitted, without restriction, to speak of himself as immoral,
agnostic and socialistic, so long as it was universally known that he
remained pure, Presbyterian, and Republican.
Hypocrite: a guy who writes a book on atheism and prays that it sells.
I am an Agnostic because I am not afraid to think. I am not afraid of
any god in the universe who would send me or any other man or woman to
hell. If there were such a being, he would not be a god; he would be a
I am an atheist for moral reasons. I am of the opinion that you would
recognize a creator by his creation, and the world appears to me to be
put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was
not created by anyone than to think that somebody created this
I considered atheism but there weren't enough holidays.
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god
than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible
gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an
agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure-
that is all that agnosticism means.
I have heard an atheist defined as a man who had no invisible means of
I think [the Bible] reads as if it were written by men and women, and
men and women, as we know, are one-half chromosome away from chimpanzees.
I'm a polyatheist- there are many gods I don't believe in.
I'm an atheist and I thank God for it.
-George Bernard Shaw
I`am a very hard-line, angry atheist. Yet I am fascinated by the concept
If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.
If God saw the way some Republicans invoked his name, he'd turn atheist.
If I have been wrong in my agnosticism, when I die I'll walk up to God
in a manly way and say, Sir, I made an honest mistake.
If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to
save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the
pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous
atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose
every deed is foul, foul, foul.
If the American Atheists Society or Saddam Hussein himself ever sent an
unrestricted gift to any of my ministries, be assured I will operate on
Billy Sunday's philosophy: The Devil's had it long enough, and quickly
cash the check.
If there is a God, why did He make me an atheist?
In some awful, strange, paradoxical way, atheists tend to take religion
more seriously than the practitioners.
Maybe the atheist cannot find God for the same reason a thief cannot
find a policeman.
Nah, there's no bigger atheist than me. Well, I take that back. I'm a
cancer screening away from going agnostic and a biopsy away from
No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has the Truth. To be
an atheist is almost as arrogant as to be a fundamentalist. But then
again, I can get pretty arrogant.
Not one man in a thousand has the strength of mind or the goodness of
heart to be an atheist.
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Properly read, it [the Bible] is the most potent force for atheism ever
Religion ends and philosophy begins, just as alchemy ends and chemistry
begins and astrology ends, and astronomy begins.
Scientists are a friendly, atheistic, hard-working, beer-drinking lot
whose minds are preoccupied with sex, chess and baseball when they are
not preoccupied with science. (Life of Pi)
She was an atheist and I was an agnostic. We didn't know what religion
not to bring our children up in.
The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than
the believer caught up in his own false image of God.
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but
the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.
The two most evangelical groups in the world are atheists and
vegetarians, especially the least knowledgeable and least intelligent
individuals within those groups.
The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has
nobody to thank.
"There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism,
it's an argument against foxholes.
There are no atheists in foxholes.
-William J. Clear
There seem to be only two kinds of people: Those who think that
metaphors are facts, and those who know that they are not facts. Those
who know they are not facts are what we call atheists, and those who
think they are facts are religious. Which group really gets the message?
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever
believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness and an Atheist?
Someone who knocks at your door for no apparent reason.
When agnostics die, do they go to the Great Maybe?
When life is so harsh that a man loses all hope in himself, then he
raises his eyes to a shining rock, worshipping it, just to find hope
again, rather than looking to his own acts for hope and salvation. Yes,
atheism is a redemptive belief. It is theism that denies man's own
Whenever a reporter is assigned to cover a Methodist conference, he
comes home an atheist.
I didn't even know he was Catholic. Oh, wait...
So, a 76 year old Pope with one lung. This will end well.
-Patrick Hyland @uberfiend
You know who should totally be the final arbiter of sexual morality? A
76-year-old man who's never had an orgasm.
Google Reader died for your pope jokes.
Both Paul Ryan and Pope Francis have a commitment to the poor. But
Ryan's commitment is to make more of them.
I think Elvis would have been a good Pope. He was popular and already
had the wardrobe...
-John Hoskins @BigJohnHoskins
If white smoke means they picked a new Pope, Uncle Rick's Bonneville has
been picking Popes for years.
-Pittsburgh Dad @Pittsburgh_Dad
"New Pope Called Gay Marriage 'Destructive Attack on God's Plan.'" Meet
the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Somewhere Lou Dobbs is screaming about this Latino who crossed a border
to take someone else's Pope job.
-John Fugelsang @JohnFugelsang
I guess I'll see you all guys in the Pope Jokes section of hell.
Now that we have a Pope, we get that hour of sleep back, right?
Pope being showed his new office. "This is your computer, Holy Father.
Pick a password, don't make it Jesus. Everyone picks Jesus."
The new Pope came out on the balcony, saw his shadow, and realized there
was six more centuries of scandals.
-Albert Brooks @AlbertBrooks
Most awkward part of conclave is now when Cardinals check out and have
to authorize in-room entertainment charges.
The Pope finished his speech. So refreshing he didn't thank his agent.
-Elayne Boosler @ElayneBoosler
I’m not even Catholic, and I can solidly get behind a Pope Frank.
-Jacque Jo Bland @jacquebland
I was led to understand that Jack Nicholson & Mrs. Obama would be
-John Fugelsang @JohnFugelsang
It looks like there's a new pope but they're still in line waiting to
vote in Florida.
I imagine our Shelties all would have Scottish accents if they could speak, and Lucy, the oldest, would sound just like Deborah Kerr in the original Casino Royale.
They should just create a "Best Quentin Tarantino Film" category and be done with it.
How can you not like an Oscars show with two Captain Kirks?
I wish Spielberg had won best director. How great would it have been for him to talk too long and to have the Jaws music start..
The Pope's tweets come from an Apple device, which is kind of funny when you think about it...
Since I'm not a fan, I was a bit apprehensive about Seth McFarland hosting the Oscars. His performance reminded me of Calvin Trillin's suggested state motto for New Jersey: "Not as bad as you might have expected."
"Why Seth MacFarlane's Oscars were mean spirited and misogynistic, coming up next after our
review of the worst dressed women."
Totally unrelated: It turns out Person of Interest is more of a documentary...
Hey, t-shirt person.
If the "loving" god who demands your worship isn't bright enough to correctly interpret the establishment clause of the United States Constitution, and is so petty and vindictive as to turn his back and allow the slaughter of 20 innocent babies, then I have no use for either of you.
If you don't think teachers should be unionized but they should be
armed, cancel basic cable.
If more guns made things safer America would have the lowest murder rate
The NRA reminds you their right to shoot more clay pigeons without reloading is just a bit more important than your life.
Welcome to America, where some of you will have an easier time buying an assault rifle than marrying who you love.
Once, millions of Americans correctly argued the Constitution gave them
the right to own other human beings, too. We changed.
If the reason to have a thing is to protect yourself against people with
the same thing, maybe that thing is a bad thing.
It took two minutes, between 9:36am to 9:38am to kill 26 children and
their teachers. How many hunters encounter 26 deer in two minutes?
Too many conservatives refuse to regulate assault rifles, but they're
fine with regulating the female reproductive organs. Because liberty.
Sorry, but prayers and giving your kids hugs fix nothing; only having
the balls to stand up to our insane selfish gun culture will.
"The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know
to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently
twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it
is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only
check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against
solid reality, usually on a battlefield."
Diagnosing the Republican Brain
Fact: Conservatives deny science and facts. But there's a reality check that liberals need too.
By Chris Mooney
Mother Jones, Fri Mar. 30, 2012 2:00 AM PDT
We all know that many American conservatives have issues with Charles Darwin, and the theory of evolution. But Albert Einstein, and the theory of relativity?
If you're surprised, allow me to introduce Conservapedia, the right-wing answer to Wikipedia and ground zero for all that is scientifically and factually inaccurate, for political reasons, on the Internet.
Claiming over 285 million page views since its 2006 inception, Conservapedia is the creation of Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer, engineer, homeschooler, and one of six children of Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist and anti-abortion rights activist who successfully battled the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. In his mother's heyday, conservative activists were establishing vast mailing lists and newsletters, and rallying the troops. Her son learned that they also had to marshal "truth" to their side, now achieved not through the mail but the Web.
So when Schafly realized that Wikipedia was using BCE ("Before Common Era") rather than BC ("Before Christ") to date historical events, he'd had enough. He decided to create his own contrary fact repository, declaring, "It's impossible for an encyclopedia to be neutral." Conservapedia definitely isn't neutral about science. Its 37,000 plus pages of content include items attacking evolution and global warming, wrongly claiming (contrary to psychological consensus) that homosexuality is a choice and tied to mental disorders, and incorrectly asserting (contrary to medical consensus) that abortion causes breast cancer.
The whopper, though, has to be Conservapedia's nearly 6,000 word, equation-filled entry on the theory of relativity. It's accompanied by a long webpage of "counterexamples" to Einstein's great scientific edifice, which merges insights like E=mc2 (part of the special theory of relativity) with his later account of gravitation (the general theory of relativity).
"Relativity has been met with much resistance in the scientific world," declares Conservapedia. "To date, a Nobel Prize has never been awarded for Relativity." The site goes on to catalogue the "political aspects of relativity," charging that some liberals have "extrapolated the theory" to favor their agendas. That includes President Barack Obama, who (it is claimed) helped publish an article applying relativity in the legal sphere while attending Harvard Law School in the late 1980s.
"Virtually no one who is taught and believes Relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsells New York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold," Conservapedia continues. But even that's not the site's most staggering claim. In its list of "counterexamples" to relativity, Conservapedia provides 36 alleged cases, including: "The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46–54, Matthew 15:28, and Matthew 27:51."
If you are an American liberal or progressive and you just read the passage above, you are probably about to split your sides- or punch a wall. Sure enough, once liberal and science-focused bloggers caught wind of Conservapedia's anti-Einstein sallies, Schlafly was quickly called a "crackpot," "crazy," "dishonest," and so on.
These being liberals and scientists, there were also ample factual refutations. Take Conservapedia's bizarre claim that relativity hasn't led to any fruitful technologies. To the contrary, GPS devices rely on an understanding of relativity, as do PET scans and particle accelerators. Relativity works- if it didn't, we would have noticed by now, and the theory would never have come to enjoy its current scientific status.
Little changed at Conservapedia after these errors were dismantled, however (though more anti-relativity "counter-examples" and Bible references were added). For not only does the site embrace a very different firmament of "facts" about the world than modern science, it also employs a different approach to editing than Wikipedia. Schlafly has said of the founding of Conservapedia that it "strengthened my faith. I don't have to live with what's printed in the newspaper. I don't have to take what's put out by Wikipedia. We've got our own way to express knowledge, and the more that we can clear out the liberal bias that erodes our faith, the better."
You might be thinking that Conservapedia's unabashed denial of relativity is an extreme case, located in the same circle of intellectual hell as claims that HIV doesn't cause AIDS and 9-11 was an inside job. If so, I want to ask you to think again. Structurally, the denial of something so irrefutable, the elaborate rationalization of that denial, and above all the refusal to consider the overwhelming body of counterevidence and modify one's view, is something we find all around us today.
Every contentious fact- or science-based issue in American politics now plays out just like the conflict between Conservapedia and physicists over relativity. Again and again it's a fruitless battle between incompatible "truths," with no progress made and no retractions offered by those who are just plain wrong- and can be shown to be through simple fact checking mechanisms that all good journalists, not to mention open-minded and critically thinking citizens, can employ.
What's more, no matter how much the fact-checkers strive to remain "bi-partisan," it is pretty hard to argue that, today, the distribution of falsehoods is politically equal or symmetrical. It's not that liberals are never wrong or biased; in my new book, The Republican Brain, The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality, from which this essay is excerpted, I go to great lengths to describe and debunk a number of liberal errors. Nevertheless, politicized wrongness today is clustered among Republicans, conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers. (Indeed, a new study published in American Sociological Review finds that while overall trust in science has been relatively stable since 1974, among self- identified conservatives it is at an all-time low.)
Their willingness to deny what's true may seem especially outrageous when it infects scientific topics like evolution or climate change. But the same thing happens with economics, with American history, and with any other factual matter where there's something ideological- in other words, something emotional and personal- at stake.
As soon as that occurs, today's conservatives have their own "truth," their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels- newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities- to broad- and narrowcast it.
We've been trained to equivocate, to not to see this trend toward anti-factualism for what it is- sweeping, systemic. This is particularly true of reporters. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, and that's precisely where our country stands now with regard to the conservative denial of reality. For a long time, we've been trained to equivocate, to not to see it for what it is- sweeping, systemic. This is particularly true of reporters and others trained to think that objectivity will out. Yet the problem is gradually dawning on many of us, particularly as the 2012 election began to unfold and one maverick Republican, Jon Huntsman, put his party's anti-factual tendencies in focus with a Tweet heard round the world:
"To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
The cost of this assault on reality is dramatic. Many of these falsehoods affect lives and have had- or will have- world-changing consequences. And more dangerous than any of them is the utter erosion of a shared sense of what's true- which they both generate, and perpetuate.
Consider, just briefly, some of the wrong ideas that have taken hold of significant swaths of the conservative population in the U.S:
The Identity of the President of the United States: Many conservatives believe President Obama is a Muslim. A stunning 64 percent of Republican voters in the 2010 election thought it was "not clear" whether he had been born in the United States. These people often think he was born in Kenya, and the birth certificate showing otherwise is bunk, a forgery, etc. They also think this relatively centrist Democrat is a closet- or even overt- socialist. At the extreme, they consider him a "Manchurian candidate" for an international leftist agenda.
Obamacare: Many conservatives believe it is a "government takeover of health care." They also think, as Sarah Palin claimed, that it created government "death panels" to make end-of-life care decisions for the elderly. What's more, they think it will increase the federal budget deficit (and that most economists agree with this claim), cut benefits to those on Medicare, and subsidize abortions and the health care of illegal immigrants. None of these things are true.
Sexuality and Reproductive Health. Many conservatives- especially on the Christian Right- claim that having an abortion increases a woman's risk of breast cancer or mental disorders. They claim that fetuses can perceive pain at 20 weeks of gestation, that same-sex parenting is bad for kids, and that homosexuality is a disorder, or a choice, and is curable through therapy. None of this is true.
The Iraq War: The mid-2000s saw the mass dissemination of a number of falsehoods about the war in Iraq, including claims that weapons of mass destruction were found after the US invasion and that Iraq and Al Qaeda were proven collaborators. And political conservatives were much more likely than liberals to believe these falsehoods. Studies have shown as much of Fox News viewers, and also of so-called authoritarians, an increasingly significant part of the conservative base (about whom more soon). In one study, 37 percent of authoritarians (but 15 percent of non-authoritarians) believed WMD had been found in Iraq, and 55 percent of authoritarians (but 19 percent of non-authoritarians) believed that Saddam Hussein had been directly involved in the 9-11 attacks.
Economics: Many conservatives hold the clearly incorrect view- explicitly espoused by former President George W. Bush- that tax cuts increase government revenue. They also think President Obama raised their income taxes, that he's responsible for current government budget deficits, and that his flagship economic stimulus bill didn't create many jobs or even caused job losses (and that most economists concur with this assessment). Perhaps most alarming of all, in mid-2011 conservatives advanced the dangerous idea that the federal government could simply "prioritize payments" if Congress failed to raise the debt ceiling. None of this is true, and the last belief, in particular, risked economic calamity.
American History: Many conservatives- especially on the Christian Right- believe the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." They consider the separation of church and state a "myth," not at all assured by the First Amendment. And they twist history in myriad other ways, large and small, including Michele Bachmann's claim that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly" to put an end to slavery.
Sundry Errors: Many conservatives claimed that President Obama's late 2010 trip to India would cost $200 million per day, or $2 billion for a ten day visit! And they claimed that, in 2007, Congress banned incandescent light bulbs, a truly intolerable assault on American freedoms. Only, Congress did no such thing. (To give just a few examples.)
Science: In a nationally representative survey only 18 percent of Republicans and Tea Party members accepted the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans, and only 45 and 43 percent (respectively) accepted human evolution.
In other words, political conservatives have placed themselves in direct conflict with modern scientific knowledge, which shows beyond serious question that global warming is real and caused by humans, and evolution is real and the cause of humans. If you don't accept either claim, you cannot possibly understand the world or our place in it.
But why? Why are today's liberals usually right, and today's conservatives usually wrong? I devoted a book to trying to understand the science behind the political brain- and though I first wrote about some of my findings in Mother Jones let me touch on a few of its findings here.
One possible answer is what I'll call the "environmental explanation." I've told a version of it before, in my 2005 book The Republican War on Science:
At least since the time of Ronald Reagan, but arcing back further, the modern American conservative movement has taken control of the Republican Party and aligned it with a key set of interest groups who have had bones to pick with various aspects of scientific reality- most notably, corporate anti-regulatory interests and religious conservatives. And so these interests fought back against the relevant facts- and Republican leaders, dependent on their votes, joined them, making science denial an increasingly important part of the conservative and Republican political identity.... Meanwhile, party allegiances created a strange bedfellows effect. The enemy of one's friend was also an enemy, so we saw conservative Christians denying climate science, and pharmaceutical companies donating heaps of money to a party whose Christian base regularly attacks biomedical research. Despite these contradictions, economic and social conservatives profited enough from their allegiance that it was in the interests of both to hold it together.
In such an account, the problem of right-wing science denial is ascribed to political opportunism- rooted in the desire to appease either religious impulses or corporate profit motives. But is this the right answer?
It isn't wrong, exactly. There's much truth to it. Yet it completely ignores what we now know about the psychology of our politics.
The environmental account ascribes Republican science denial (and for other forms of denial, the story would be similar) to the particular exigencies and alignments of American political history. That's what the party did because it had to, to get ahead. And today, goes the thinking, this leaves us with a vast gulf between Democrats and Republicans in their acceptance of modern climate science and many other scientific conclusions, with conservatives increasingly distrustful of science, and with scientists and the highly educated moving steadily to the left.
There's just one problem: This account ignores the possibility that there might be real differences between liberals and conservatives that influence how they respond to scientific or factual information. It assumes we're all blank slates- that we all want the same basic things- and then we respond to political forces not unlike air molecules inside a balloon. We get knocked this way and that, sure. And we start out in different places, thus ensuring different trajectories. But at the end of the day, we're all just air molecules.
But what if we're not all the same kind of molecule? What if we respond to political or factual collisions in different ways, with different spins or velocities? Today there's considerable scientific evidence suggesting that this is the case.
For instance, the historic political awakening of what we now call the Religious Right was nothing if not a defense of cultural traditionalism- which had been threatened by the 1960s counterculture, Roe v. Wade, and continued inroads by feminists, gay rights activists, and many others- and a more hierarchical social structure. It was a classic counter-reaction to too much change, too much pushing of equality, and too many attacks on traditional values- all occurring too fast. And it mobilized a strong strand of right-wing authoritarianism in US politics- one that had either been dormant previously, or at least more evenly distributed across the parties.
The rise of the Religious Right was thus the epitome of conservatism on a psychological level- clutching for something certain in a changing world; wanting to preserve one's own ways in uncertain times, and one's own group in the face of difference- and can't be fully understood without putting this variable into play.
The problem is that people are deathly afraid of psychology, and never more so than when it is applied to political beliefs. Political journalists, in particular, almost uniformly avoid this kind of approach. They try to remain on the surface of things, telling endless stories of horse races and rivalries, strategies and interests, and key "turning points." All of which are, of course, real. And conveniently, by sticking with them you never have to take the dangerous journey into anybody's head.
But what if these only tell half the story?
As I began to investigate the underlying causes for the conservative denial of reality that we see all around us, I found it impossible to ignore a mounting body of evidence- from political science, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and genetics- that points to a key conclusion. Political conservatives seem to be very different from political liberals at the level of psychology and personality. And inevitably, this influences the way the two groups argue and process information.
Let's be clear: This is not a claim about intelligence. Nor am I saying that conservatives are somehow worse people than liberals; the groups are just different. Liberals have their own weaknesses grounded in psychology, and conservatives are very aware of this. (Many of the arguments in this book could be inverted and repackaged into a book called The Democratic Brain- with a Spock-like caricature of President Obama on the cover.)
Nevertheless, some of the differences between liberals and conservatives have clear implications for how they respond to evidence in political debates. Take, for instance, their divergence on a core personality measure called Openness to Experience (and the suite of characteristics that go along with it). The evidence here is quite strong: overall, liberals tend to be more open, flexible, curious and nuanced- and conservatives tend to be more closed, fixed and certain in their views.
What's more, since Openness is a core aspect of personality, examining this difference points us toward the study of the political brain. The field is very young, but scientists are already showing that average "liberal" and "conservative" brains differ in suggestive ways. These differences may be related to a large and still unidentified number of "political" genes- although to be sure, genes are only one influence out of many upon our political views. But they appear to be an underrated one.
What all of this means is that our inability to agree on the facts can no longer be explained solely at the surface of our politics. It has to be traced, as well, to deeper psychological and cognitive factors. And such an approach won't merely cast light on why we see so much "truthiness" today, so many postmodern fights between the left and the right over reality. Phenomena ranging from conservative brinksmanship over raising the debt ceiling to the old "What's the Matter with Kansas?" problem- why do poor conservatives vote against their economic interests?- make vastly more sense when viewed through the lens of political psychology.
Before going any further, I want to emphasize that this argument is not a form of what is often called reductionism. Just because psychology seems relevant to explaining why the left and the right have diverged over reality doesn't mean that nothing else is, or that I am reducing conservatives to just their psychology (or reducing psychology to cognitive neuroscience, or cognitive neuroscience to genes, and so on). "We can never give a complete explanation of anything interesting about human beings in psychology," explains the University of Cambridge psychologist Fraser Watts. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to be learned from the endeavor.
Complex phenomena like human political behavior always have many causes, not one. Human brains are flexible and change daily; people have choices, and those choices alter who they are. Nevertheless, there are broad tendencies in the population that really matter, and cannot be ignored.
We don't understand everything there is to know yet about the underlying reasons why conservatives and liberals are different. We don't know how all the puzzle pieces- cognitive styles, personality traits, psychological needs, moral intuitions, brain structures, and genes- fit together. And we know that the environment (or nurture) is at least as important as the genes (or nature). This means that what I'm saying applies at the level of large groups, but may founder in case of any particular individual.
Still, we know enough to begin pooling together all the scientific evidence. And when you do- even if you provide all the caveats- there's a lot of consistency. And it all makes a lot of sense. Conservatism, after all, means nothing if not supporting political and social stability and resisting change. I'm merely tracing some of the appeal of this philosophy to psychology, and then discussing what this means for how we debate what is "true" in contested areas.
Now, conservatives won't like hearing that they're often wrong and dogmatic about it, so they may dogmatically resist this conclusion. They may also try to turn the tables and pretend liberals are the closed-minded ones, ignoring volumes of science in the process. (I'm waiting, Ann Coulter.)
But what about liberals? Aren't we wrong too, and dogmatic too?
The typical waffling liberal answer is, "er . . . sort of." Liberals aren't always right, but that's not the central problem. Our particular dysfunction is, typically, more complex and even paradoxical.
On the one hand, we're absolutely outraged by partisan misinformation. Lies about "death panels." People seriously thinking that President Obama is a Muslim. Climate change denial. Debt ceiling denial. These things drive us crazy, in large part because we can't comprehend how such intellectual abominations could possibly exist. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a fellow liberal say, "I can't believe the Republicans are so stupid they can believe X!"
And not only are we enraged by lies and misinformation; we want to refute them- to argue, argue, argue about why we're right and Republicans are wrong. Indeed, we often act as though right-wing misinformation's defeat is nigh, if we could only make people wiser and more educated (just like us) and get them the medicine that is correct information.
In this, we both underestimate conservatives, and we fail to understand them.
To begin to remedy that defect, let's go back to the Conservapedia-relativity dustup, and make an observation that liberals and physicists did not always credit. Whatever else Andrew Schlafly might be- and no matter how hard it is to understand how someone could devote himself to an enterprise like Conservapedia- the man is not stupid. Quite the contrary.
He's a Harvard law graduate. He has an engineering degree from Princeton, and used to work both for Intel and for Bell Labs. His relativity entry is filled with equations that I myself can neither write nor solve. He hails from a highly intellectual right-wing family- his mother, Phyllis, is also Harvard educated and, according to her biographer, excelled in school at a time when women too rarely had the opportunity to compete with men at that level. Mother and son thus draw a neat, half-century connection between the birth of modern American conservatism on the one hand, and the insistence that conservatives have their own "facts," better than liberal facts thank you very much, on the other.
So it is not that Schlafly, or other conservatives as sophisticated as he, can't make an argument. Rather, the problem is that when Schlafly makes an argument, it's hard to believe it has anything to do with real intellectual give and take. He's not arguing out of an openness to changing his mind. He's arguing to reaffirm what he already thinks (his "faith"), to defend the authorities he trusts, and to bolster the beliefs of his compatriots, his tribe, his team.
Liberals (and scientists) have too often tried to dodge the mounting evidence that this is how people work. Perhaps because it leads to a place that terrifies them: an anti-Enlightenment world in which evidence and argument don't work to change people's minds.
But that response, too, is a form of denial- liberal denial, a doctrine whose chief delusion is not so much the failure to accept facts, but rather, the failure to understand conservatives. And that denial can't continue. Because as President Obama's first term has shown- from the healthcare battle to the debt ceiling crisis- ignoring the psychology of the right has not only left liberals frustrated and angry, but has left the country in a considerably worse state than that.
(American Humanist Association photo.)
Paul Kurtz (December 21, 1925 - October 20, 2012) was a prominent American skeptic and secular humanist. He was Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, having previously also taught at Vassar, Trinity, and Union colleges, and the New School for Social Research. (Click for additional information.)
A skeptic is one who is willing to question any claim to truth, asking for clarity in definition, consistency in logic, and adequacy of evidence.
Atheism, like agnosticism and skepticism, can be a dignified posture when it is based on careful reflection and civilly expressed. It should not be mean- spirited. Many of us prefer a kinder and gentler form of secular humanism.
Each person must face death: life has meaning only if we realize that it will end.
Far from living in a moral vacuum, secular humanists wish to encourage wherever possible the growth of moral awareness.
Homo religiosus invents religious symbols, which he venerates and worships to save him from facing the finality of his death and dissolution. He devises paradise fictions to provide succor and support... In acts of supreme self- deception, at various times and in various places he has been willing to profess belief in the most incredible myths because of what they have promised him.
Human life has no meaning independent of itself. There is no cosmic force or deity to give it meaning or significance. There is no ultimate destiny for man. Such a belief is an illusion of humankind's infancy. The meaning of life is what we choose to give it.
Humanists hold that ethical values are relative to human experience and need not be derived from theological or metaphysical foundations.
I believe that a person should take an affirmative outlook. There are always problems in life, old and new, uncertainties, and unexpected contingencies. The optimal way to deal with this is not to give up in despair, but to move ahead using the best intelligence and resources that we have to overcome adversity.
Life, when fully lived under a variety of cultural conditions, can be euphoric and optimistic; it can be a joy to experience and a wonder to behold.
Most humans feel the transcendent temptation, the emotional drive to festoon the universe with large-scale meaning.
No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.
Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humankind possesses. There is no substitute: neither faith nor passion suffices in itself.
Secular humanism is avowedly non-religious. It is a eupraxsophy (good practical wisdom), which draws its basic principles and ethical values from science, ethics, and philosophy.
The beginning of wisdom is the awareness that there is insufficient evidence that a god or gods have created us and the recognition that we are responsible in part for our own destiny. Human beings can achieve this good life, but it is by the cultivation of the virtues of intelligence and courage, not faith and obedience, that we will most likely be able to do so.
The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.
The skeptic has no illusions about life, nor a vain belief in the promise of immortality. Since this life here and now is all we can know, our most reasonable option is to live it fully.
Three key humanist virtues are courage, cognition, and caring- not dependence, ignorance, or insensitivity to the needs of others.
We need to be skeptical of utopianists who offer unreliable totalistic visions of other worlds and strive to take us there. We need some ideals, but we also need to protect ourselves from the miscalculations and misadventures of visionaries.