Gimme that Old-Time Irreligion

Norman Levitt in Skeptic:

Irreligion_cover_2The very first thing I did in drafting this review was to Google Chester Alan Arthur. I trust my readers will recall the name, if only after a bit of head-scratching, as that of one of the most obscure and unmemorable of American presidents, a run-of-the-mill New York politician who attained to the highest office in the land by virtue of the assassination of his almost equally obscure predecessor, James A. Garfield, who picked the party wheel-horse Arthur as his running mate for reasons now totally forgotten.

What has this to do with John A. Paulos’s recent book Irreligion? It is well known, of course, that some our most eminent presidents—Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison—spurned orthodoxy in religious matters, even to the point of—to use Paulos’s convenient title—irreligion. This, of course, is sufficiently embarrassing to our fundamentalist ayatollahs that they have been furiously rewriting history, chiseling away at the facts with all the fury of the restored priests of Amun hacking off Nefertiti’s heretical nose. What interested me more, however, was the question of whether disdain for religion was purely the province of politicians who where gifted intellectuals as well, or whether it was at one point so widespread and socially acceptable that even routine mediocrities, hacks, and tub-thumpers could espouse such views without being banished from public life and high office.

More here.