American Freethought


The golden age of freethought, which stretched roughly from 1875 until the beginning of the First World War, divided Americans in much the same fashion, and over many of the same issues, as have the culture wars of the past three decades. The argument over the proper role of religion in civil government was (and is) only a subsidiary of the larger question of whether the claims of supposedly revealed religion deserve any particular respect or deference in a pluralistic society. The other cultural issues that divided Americans in Ingersoll’s time are equally familiar and include evolution, race, immigration, women’s rights, sexual behavior, freedom of artistic expression, and vast disparities in wealth. In the 19th century, however, the issues were newer, as was the science bolstering the secular side of the arguments, and the forces of religious orthodoxy were stronger.

more from Susan Jacoby at The American Scholar here.