Six Prominent American Freethinkers
by James Farmelant and Mark Lindley
Featured here are:
- Col. Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), in his day famous throughout the
USA as an attorney, a top-level political figure, a great orator, a
colorful writer and, most saliently, a public spokesman for agnosticism.
- Felix Adler (1851-1933), who founded The Ethical Culture Society, a
rationalistic, humanist, non-theist religion promoting ethical conduct as
its central aim and sponsoring an historically important social-work NGO.
- George Santayana (1863-1952), a sophisticated philosophy professor
well known in the USA for a best-selling Bildungsroman and fairly well
known also as an atheist, but also a lifelong admirer of Roman
- John Dewey (1859-1952), an eminent pragmatist philosopher whose
outlook was avowedly naturalistic and non-theist but who proposed to
retain much of the traditional language of religion while redefining many
of its traditional concepts to make them compatible with a scientific
- Ayn Rand (1905-1982), an outspoken atheist who considered altruism
and all other forms of social concern to be "anti-human" and
whose advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism provided to her close
personal disciple, Alan Greenspan, the ideological platform upon which
he, as executive head of the central banking system in the USA from 1987
to 2006, played a leading role in pumping up the financial bubble which
is currently in the process of bursting.
- Michael Harrington (1926-1989), an atheist who was in his day the
best known Socialist in the USA. One of his books, The Other
America, motivated the national government to conduct in the latter
half of the 1960s a "war on poverty." Another of his
books, The Politics at God's Funeral: The Spiritual Crisis of Western
Civilization, is in our opinion equally notable.
For those not familiar with one or more of these figures, this
is a lead-in to their views. I disagree mainly with the
- The "New Humanists" referred to at the end of the essay to
which this one is a sequel accept the view that religion, even when
outmoded in various particulars, is nevertheless always capable of being
in some sense a profound expression of the human spirit which atheist
Humanists ought, in a display of mutual respect and human siblinghood, to
appreciate as such. Such a stance would tend to wash away from New
Atheism the traces of overheated hostility which some of its critics
think they have perceived in it. There is a vast difference between
honorable disagreement and demagogues preaching hatred.
I disagree that the "new atheists" preach hatred
generally, though the writings of Hitchens and Harris are conducive to
promoting Bush's wars and torture camps. Also, I disagree that the
value that some of these six profiled persons see in religion, while
discounting superstition and supernaturalism, is formulated in the most
insightful way possible.