The American Founders did not romanticize democracy. They were liberal democrats, which means they were liberals first and democrats second. They thought that liberal principles such as the rights to life and liberty and the freedom of thought and speech were more fundamental than democratic principles such as elections and majority rule. In our time, …
Walking on Eggshells: Discussing Extremism in the West
I am approaching my sixth year since I landed in the United States as a refugee from Iraq. Since then, there have been so many changes—gaining eighty pounds is the most obvious of them—but I can say now that I can speak with some authority when I engage in discussions about extremism, and in particular …
The Failure of Fusion Power
As a young Royal Air Force officer, Arthur C. Clarke helped develop a radar landing system as part of a team with Louis Alvarez, who then aided the Manhattan project, later helped determine when the three shots were fired at president Kennedy, and then proposed that a meteor impact wiped out the dinosaurs. Shortly after …
The Long View
Let’s step back a bit. At a time when we are constantly bombarded with information (true, false, biased, or fabricated), it can be difficult to take note of broader social and cultural developments that have radically changed the simple act of living in the United States at this moment in history—and, in my view, changed …
Truth, Once Again Well-Sought
In her editorial in this issue, Robyn E. Blumner recounts her discovery of “forgotten suffragist” Matilda Joslyn Gage. That discovery was facilitated by Blumner’s participation in the Silver Anniversary celebration of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum held in Syracuse, New York, this past August. A presentation there reviewed Gage’s life and work in preparation …
No Platforms for Bannon?
The slogan “No platforms for fascists” came from events in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. It was aimed at propagandists and recruiters for violent, indubitably fascist, organizations such as the National Front. This was also a time of protests against the South African regime’s odious Apartheid policy, and student unions in the United Kingdom …
The Iron Law of Oligarchy?
Americans tend to have a romantic view of democracy as government of the people, by the people, and for the people. They imagine that democracy is identical to freedom and self-government. They forget that democracy is primarily rule of the majority. They forget that the majority can be hoodwinked by the propaganda of demagogues, oligarchs, …
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 …
Fantasyland, “Mattering Matters” Win Forkosch Awards for 2017
The Council for Secular Humanism has announced the recipients of the 2017 Forkosch Awards, recognizing the book and Free Inquiry article that made the greatest contributions toward the advancement of secular humanism during that year. The Morris D. Forkosch Award for Best Book of 2017 goes to novelist and public radio host Kurt Andersen for …
Brett Kavanaugh, Critical Threat to Church/State Separation if Confirmed to the Supreme Court
Kennedy’s Retirement from the Supreme Court Is a Disaster The president has nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. If we are to rescue whatever is left of legally protected equality for nonbelievers, it is urgent that we oppose this nomination. The Proper Understanding of …
Brett Kavanaugh and the Road Ahead
When the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said in a famous law review article that state courts must “step into the breach,” he was urging defenders of individual rights to start litigating in state court, using state constitutions to continue expanding evolving concepts of liberty. Brennan’s call in “State Constitutions and the Protection …
Vale, Anthony Kennedy
I’ve been a practicing lawyer for thirteen years this summer, with three years of law school before that. The overwhelming majority of that practice and study has been focused on the federal court system, which means, in the final analysis, the Supreme Court. For those sixteen years, one person more than any has dominated the …
End of a Golden Era
I first discovered that church-state jurisprudence existed—and that it could enhance my life—at age seven. On June 17, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 8–1 verdict in the combined cases Abington School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett. Both concerned state-sponsored Bible reading in public schools; the High Court thundered that this practice violated separation …
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 …
John Stuart Mill and the Language of Freedom
Every year or so, I re-read John Stuart Mill’s great statement of liberal principles and values, On Liberty (first published in 1859). More than any other, I suspect, this book has shaped my own thinking about politics, law, and society. Each time I read it, I notice new twists and subtleties. It’s always worth returning …
Burqa Bans and Superficial Integration
For those not used to seeing them, a face veil can be frightening to behold on a person. One is tempted to gawk at women covered from head to toe with their individuality stripped away. If they are wearing a niqab, it is possible to glimpse a set of eyes through a slit in the …
The Christianization of Liberalism
Ever since the debate between Patrick Devlin and John Stuart Mill in the nineteenth century, conservatives and liberals have been arguing over the proper role of law in society. Devlin thought that the function of law is to uphold the moral values of society. In contrast, Mill thought that using the law to enforce the …
The Nastiness of Conservatives
Some months ago, a conservative firebrand named Kevin Williamson was chosen as a columnist for the venerable magazine The Atlantic. The thinking, evidently, was that the magazine’s generally liberal readership might profit (it was never clarified exactly how) by absorbing a point of view remote from and generally hostile to its customary presuppositions. But then …
Does Opportunity Knock?
A few issues back, I proposed a possible longer-term goal for the secular humanist/atheist/freethought movement (“A Modest Proposal: Get Religion Out of the Charity Business,” FI, December 2017/January 2018). I admitted that seeking to end religion’s role in providing social services was a long shot, perhaps “unattainable.” In this op-ed, I’d like to propose a more …
Voting and the Trolley Problem
Elections are like the trolley problem—and voting is like pulling the lever. If you’re not familiar with the trolley problem, it’s a philosophical thought experiment about ethical dilemmas. A trolley car has lost its brakes and is hurtling down a track where five people are stuck. You can pull a lever and divert the trolley …
Oil is Godly
These days, many who are secular and/or on the center-left just don’t get why so many on the evangelical Right seem so darn dead-set on denying the threat of global climate change, to the point that they thrill in chanting “Drill, baby, drill!” Many may imagine that if duly educated about the science of CO2-driven …
Gun Nuts on the Run
To those of us who wondered when, if ever, a significant majority of Americans would develop a shuddering loathing of the appalling gun violence that occurs daily in this country—rather than passing it off with callous indifference as some sort of inevitable, unavoidable by-product of the “price of freedom”—I can now say: The time is now. …
The Failure of Ideological Purity Tests
I arrived in the United States in March 2013 as a refugee from Iraq. I resettled in Houston, Texas, where two of my brothers lived at the time. A few days after I arrived in this country—of which I am now a permanent resident—I started searching for humanist and freethinking clubs in the local area. …
Facebook vs. Freethought
Far from freeing us, social media has made many more cautious about speaking their minds.
A Step Closer to Human Cloning?
The recent cloning of macaque monkeys is impressive, but we’re still a long way from human reproductive cloning.
Disenchantment and History
The cyclical view of history is not just a testament to human folly but to human limitations.
The Prison of Self
Trump’s inability to grasp the reality of other minds is so extreme it amounts to a handicap.
How Giant Birds Help Disprove the Existence of a Good God
There is no biological necessity for predators; a good God could have (and should have!) arranged the world differently.
The West now is firmly in the Secular Era, when supernatural religion fades to a discredited fringe.
The Myth of Rationalist Dogma
A dissenting view from Greta Christina’s on rationalist dogma.
An Unexpected Milestone
It’s the Ingersoll Museum’s silver anniversary. Celebration will ensue.
Rationality and Nuance
How much nuance is too much? The answer is not a given; it’s up to us where to draw the lines.
Just a Semantic Argument? The Free Will Free-for-All
Disputes about free will may reflect our fears about fatalism and moral responsibility.
Is the GOP Fit for Liberal Democracy?
Many GOP ideologies are profoundly illiberal or staunchly undemocratic—or both.
Let’s Not Split the Difference This Time
Why is it so hard to agree that sexual demands in the workplace are wrong, period?
What Is Missing from the Conversation about Iraqi Elections and Extremism?
Iraq needs a future beyond the dueling sectarians.
The Party of Traitors
How much lower can the GOP’s current incarnation go?
When we replace nuance and context with absolutism, we turn ideas into dogma.
The Illusion of Winning the War against ISIS
To defeat terrorist groups enduringly, we must overcome the conditions that let them to thrive.
Go Ahead, Beat Your Dog—If You’re Christian
The suffering of animals is an overwhelming, screamingly obvious contradiction to the ridiculous notion that there is a good god.