A compelling history of atheism in American public life A much-maligned minority throughout American history, atheists have been cast as a threat to the nation's moral fabric, barred from holding public office, and branded as irreligious misfits in a nation chosen by God. Yet, village atheists—as these godless freethinkers came to be known by the close of the nineteenth century—were also hailed for their gutsy dissent from stultifying pieties and for posing a necessary secularist challenge to majoritarian entanglements of church and state. Village Atheists explores the complex cultural terrain that unbelievers have long had to navigate in their fight to secure equal rights and liberties in American public life. Leigh Eric Schmidt rebuilds the history of American secularism from the ground up, giving flesh and blood to these outspoken infidels, including itinerant lecturer Samuel Porter Putnam; rough-edged cartoonist Watson Heston; convicted blasphemer Charles B. Reynolds; and atheist sex reformer Elmina D. Slenker. He describes their everyday confrontations with devout neighbors and evangelical ministers, their strained efforts at civility alongside their urge to ridicule and offend their Christian compatriots. Schmidt examines the multilayered world of social exclusion, legal jeopardy, yet also civic acceptance in which American atheists and secularists lived. He shows how it was only in the middle decades of the twentieth century that nonbelievers attained a measure of legal vindication, yet even then they often found themselves marginalized on the edges of a God-trusting, Bible-believing nation. Village Atheists reveals how the secularist vision for the United States proved to be anything but triumphant and age-defining for a country where faith and citizenship were—and still are—routinely interwoven.
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A much-maligned minority throughout American history, atheists have been cast as a threat to the nation’s moral fabric, barred from holding public office, and branded as irreligious misfits in a nation chosen by God. Yet village atheists—as these godless freethinkers came to be known by the close of the nineteenth century—were also hailed for their gutsy dissent from stultifying pieties and for posing a necessary secularist challenge to the entanglements of church and state. In Village Atheists, Leigh Eric Schmidt explores the complex cultural terrain that unbelievers have long had to navigate in their fight to secure equal rights and liberties in American public life. He rebuilds the history of American secularism from the ground up, giving flesh and blood to these outspoken infidels. Village Atheists demonstrates that the secularist vision for the United States proved to be anything but triumphant in a country where faith and citizenship were—and still are—closely interwoven.
- Author : Isaac Kramnick
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company
- Release Date : 2018-08-21
- Genre : Political Science
- Pages : 240
- ISBN : 9780393254976
If the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious liberty, why doesn’t it protect atheists? God occupies our nation’s consciousness, even defining to many what it means to be American. Nonbelievers have often had second-class legal status and have had to fight for their rights as citizens. As R. Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick demonstrate in their sharp and convincing work, avowed atheists were derided since the founding of the nation. Even Thomas Paine fell into disfavor and his role as a patriot forgotten. Popular Republican Robert Ingersoll could not be elected in the nineteenth century due to his atheism, and the suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton was shunned when she questioned biblical precepts about women’s roles. Moore and Kramnick lay out this fascinating history and the legal cases that have questioned religious supremacy. It took until 1961 for the Supreme Court to ban religious tests for state officials, despite Article 6 of the Constitution. Still, every one of the fifty states continues to have God in its constitution. The authors discuss these cases and more current ones, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which address whether personal religious beliefs supersede secular ones. In Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic, the authors also explore the dramatic rise of an "atheist awakening" and the role of organizations intent on holding the country to the secular principles it was founded upon.
"Permanent Things reminds us that some of the century's most imaginative minds - G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and Evelyn Waugh - were profoundly at odds with the secularist spirit of the age, seeing progressive enlightenment as ushering in, not a millennium of perfect freedom, but a Waste Land whose inhabitants - Waugh's "vile bodies," Eliot's "hollow men," Lewis's "men without chests" - can find refuge from their boredom and anomie only in the ceaseless acquisition of things or in the consoling illusions of pseudo religions - "distracted from distraction by distraction," as Eliot memorably put it." "How does one explain the desolation of a world which, though richly endowed with material comforts, is mentally and spiritually impoverished? The essayists here are united, as were their subjects, by a need to try to answer this question. Modern man's poverty of spirit, visible alike in so much of his art and architecture, his literature and philosophy and political science, reflects his loss of any good reasons for living - his loss of the Permanent Things." "The Christian writers whose work is eloquently interpreted in this book repay our attention for at least two reasons. First is their ability to sharpen our awareness of what, by any previous civilized standards, must be called the abnormal condition of modern man. For all the writers treated in this book, it was never enough to simply capture the spiritual aridity of modern life. It was also necessary to speak of a moral order that may yet be restored by the expressive power and beauty of the written word."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Chronicling the rise of New York as the cultural capital of the world in the early 1900s, an analysis of the cultural impact of the city includes essays on the art, architecture, literature, language, and commerce of the city.