The Picnic Is Over
Sir Thomas Browne wrote in “Urn Burial”: “The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying.” It’s an aphorism I love, because it’s applicable to so much more than life and death. The long habit of (so many things) indisposeth us for (being unable to keep doing them). We love our habitual ways of doing …
Just One Damn Thing after Another
In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote that of the two great twentieth-century dystopian warnings, it wasn’t Orwell’s Stalinist Big Brother we had to worry about so much as the seductions of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that …
Malthus Says I Told You So
It seems unfortunate that climate change is speeding up and pushing us toward the cliff with accelerating force at the same time we are also putting ruthless authoritarians in power all over the heating-up planet. Maybe the two are not coincidental but linked—I suspect there’s a hope that if the authoritarians are authoritarian enough, they …
Not His Call
It’s hard to believe we’re back to “Love It or Leave It” again—it seems so very embedded in the years of the Vietnam War, Johnson-Nixon, Jane Fonda, George Wallace. Where does Donald Trump fit into that? He wasn’t an anti-war protester, but he wasn’t an angry homecoming veteran either. He was Mister Medical Deferment because …
The View from Mount Patriarch
I’ve figured out who it is that President Trump really reminds me of—not Roy Cohn, not Hitler, not Bernie Madoff, though they all certainly resemble bits of him. The guy who all but shouts “Donald Trump” is the original Peak Narcissist himself, Mister God. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that’s a good thing. …
The Cult of Authenticity
The literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote in Sincerity and Authenticity: “The concerted effort of a culture or of a segment of a culture to achieve authenticity generates its own conventions, its generalities, its commonplaces, its maxims, what Sartre, taking the word from Heidegger, calls the ‘gabble.’” test Trilling said that in 1970, but it hasn’t …
Medical Advice of the Stars
It’s a funny thing that many people take amateur medical (or “wellness”) advice seriously if it comes from a shiny blonde movie star with a pleasing smile. The public doesn’t flock to buy health products promoted by car mechanics or dog groomers, but people who read lines in front of a camera—now that’s a whole …
The day after Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Norman Eisen and Noah Bookbinder, of the watchdog organization Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, D.C., wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on the ethical trainwreck of Pruitt’s tenure. They recalled a long string of horrors, and then …
The Prison of Self
Trump’s inability to grasp the reality of other minds is so extreme it amounts to a handicap.
Let’s Not Split the Difference This Time
Why is it so hard to agree that sexual demands in the workplace are wrong, period?
Navel-gazing and explorations of the Self may lead the Left to destroy itself from within.
Populism and Its Discontents
It’s been a cliché of political campaigns for decades that liberals are effete snobs, while conservatives are salt-of-the-earth workin’ folks constantly wounded by the scorn of the pointy-headed intellectuals (a.k.a. the Jews).
Springtime for Bullies
“We think of bullying as something children and adolescents do to each other, but really it’s pervasive.”
Panic and Emptiness
“It’s a humiliation for the whole country and all of us in it to ave an ignorant, dim-witted, narcissistic bully as head of state, one without even a façade of grown-up decent behavior.”
“What I would like to learn from Shriver’s critics is how cultural appropriation differs from what we call ‘education.’”
Sense and Sensibility
“Humans are not so constituted as to be able to function in world of pure rtionality.”
Revulsion and Habituation
Given human nature, genocide is always a possibility.
“Why were conditions in South Africa and East Germany treated as human-rights issues while those in Saudi Arabia were not?”
What is Identity
Identity is a far more complicated concept than it appears at first glance.
Destruction is the fanatic’s way of clearing away reality for a better view of the nonexistent divine.
Bigger, Better, Shinier Human Rights
Countries such as Saudi Arabia hide behind a Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which isn’t about human rights at all.
A review of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy.
With Friends Like These
Condemning the Charlie Hebdo assassins while praising Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah makes no sense—they’re on the same side.
The Roar of the Crowd
It’s all obvious and predictable enough: of course high status tends to confer immunity from the social pressure and sanctions that keep the rest of us in line.
What’s Good for the Bishop
In an authoritarian Facebook post, one Catholic bishop reveals more than he might have meant to.
“A major battle the no-choice side has won is that of convincing a great many people, including many of those who support abortion rights, that abortion itself is tragic.”
Share, Yes; Force, No
If only more believers could recognize that their taboos apply to them, not to everyone.
Doctoring the Script
Have you ever noticed how fundamentally boring God is? I think that’s a slightly neglected subhead under atheism and secular humanism.
Do people still talk about feminist epistemology? I haven’t kept up.
Atheist Birthday Cake
I’ve been unusually steeped in the history of atheism and freethought in the United States and the United Kingdom recently. Barry Duke, the editor of the UK magazine The Freethinker, sent me a history of the magazine published in 1982 to mark its hundredth year of publication (Vision and Realism: A Hundred Years of The …
A Response to Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer is very indignant about being criticized: he wrote a two-and-a-half-page article (“A Guy Thing? Secularism, Feminism, and a Response to Ophelia Benson,” FI, February/March 2013) for Free Inquiry in reaction to four paragraphs in an article of mine (“Nontheism and Feminism: Why the Disconnect?” FI, December 2012/January 2013) that criticized something he said …
Religious Health Care Under the Radar
Last October, Savita Halappanavar died at University Hospital Galway in Ireland. She was a dentist with a popular practice in Galway, thirty-one years old,and seventeen weeks pregnant. Having woken up with back pain on Sunday, October 21, Savita went to the hospital and was found to be miscarrying. Sherequested an abortion, but the fetus still …
Nontheism and Feminism: Why the Disconnect?
You would think that nontheism and feminism should be a natural combination. Women have the most to gain from escaping religion, after all: monotheism gives men higher status, starting with their allegedly being made in the image of God. But atheism hasn’t always been very welcoming to women. Maybe there’s an idea that men created …
Who’s Oppressing Whom?
This past January and February were a very busy time for theocratic enemies of free speech, thought, and inquiry. On January 11, U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled a school prayer mural on the wall of a Cranston, Rhode Island, public high school unconstitutional. The suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on …
The Trouble with Gods
It could have been a good idea, the invention of gods. It could have been a way of solidifying thoughts about how humans could be better than they are. It’s an impressive and touching thing about us that we realize we’re not good enough. Gods (or God) could have been a helpful or even inspiring …
The Presence of Justice
One of the pleasanter changes in morals and manners over the last few decades has been the marginalization of ugly talk about “the Xs”—the Jews, the Mexicans, the Chinese, the queers. Thoughtful people don’t talk like that anymore, and what a relief that is, grumbles about political correctness notwithstanding. The old style now reeks of …
Getting It Wrong
The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, by Nicholas Wade (New York: Penguin, 2009, ISBN 978-1-59420-228-5) 310 pp. Cloth $29.95. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI told his followers and other Christians, “While we are on the path towards full communion, we are called to offer a shared witness against the ever more complex …
A Broader Horizon
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (New York: Free Press, 2007, ISBN 978- 0-7432-8968-9) 353 pp. Cloth $26. The issue of Islam and women’s rights is both a hot topic and a neglected one—a subject some people worry about and others ignore or sweep under the carpet. It is, in fact, an issue on which progressive …