Six Prominent American Freethinkers

From: ralphellectual
Sent on: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 10:02 AM
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 Catholicism.
  • 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 outlook.
  • 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 conclusion:

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.

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