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He has written chapters in a number of books, as well as many reviews, essays, blog contributions, and letters to the editor, in the US, India, the UK, and elsewhere.

Now retired, Buckner has served as executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and as president of American Atheists In addition to writing, Buckner has debated and spoken all over the United States and in the United Kingdom about freethought and secular humanism, often about the Treaty of Tripoli and about secularism.

David Niose is the president of the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group for non-theistic viewpoints in the United States. From to he also served as president of the American Humanist Association. Niose advocates for an identity-oriented approach to secular activism to raise awareness of the secular demographic in American society. He has appeared on national and local media outlets speaking on behalf of the American Humanist Association and humanism, among other topics.

BAAm is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between atheism and the black community. The organization has been successful in bringing together black atheists and combating the common misconception of solidarity among black atheists.

Why atheists erect monuments to honour freedom and reason | Aeon Essays

With BAAm, Watson has also brought light to some of the issues that discourage black atheists from being active in both the atheist and black communities. Ultimately with BAAm, Watson seeks to build a stronger and more diverse atheist community. She envisions a world where individuals embrace critical thinking in lieu of faith. Anderson Thomson, Jr. We have taken reasonable measures to protect information about you from loss, theft, misuse or unauthorised access, disclosure, alteration and destruction.

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We will retain your information for as long as needed in light of the purposes for which is was obtained or to comply with our legal obligations and enforce our agreements. You may request a copy of the personal information we hold about you by submitting a written request to support aeon.

We will try and respond to your request as soon as reasonably practical. When you receive the information, if you think any of it is wrong or out of date, you can ask us to change or delete it for you. Leigh E Schmidt. Previously, he was a professor of religion at Harvard and Princeton.


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He is an award-winning author of several books, including Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion and the Enlightenment Edited by Sam Haselby. In the hospital with severe heart problems, Christian Roman had been told he was dying. Then in his mids, the sometime teacher, travelling salesman, farmer and lawyer from the town of Sidney in Ohio was counting up his regrets from his hospital bed, and the one that gnawed at him the most was that he had done nothing to advance the cause of freethinking secularism. Fearing the damage that an open avowal of unbelief would do locally to his business and reputation, he had kept his irreligious views concealed for decades.

Still, he wanted to make good on his hospital pledge, and saw no need now to wait for a posthumous testimonial. Investing much of his savings in the project, he wanted it to be the largest monument in the Sidney graveyard, and he pulled off the installation in August The result was imposing: a giant granite block heralding the freethinking triumvirate of the deistic revolutionary Thomas Paine, the infidel orator Robert Ingersoll, and the Cornell president Andrew Dickson White.

After two world wars and the Great Depression, humanistic self-regard paled before the sterner stuff of neo-orthodox faith and, with the dawning of the Cold War, there was little room for doubting God, Jesus and the Bible without seeming to underwrite Soviet communism and atheism. American freethinkers had long been preoccupied with the public memorialising of their incredulity and anticlericalism.

They wanted to enshrine their commitment to scientific rationality over biblical revelation, their strict construction of church-state separation, and their worldly focus on human happiness in the here and now. They wanted their humanistic beliefs recognised in a nation that routinely pictured itself in godly, covenantal and Christian terms.

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They wanted their secularism to be visible, out in the open rather than closeted away, celebrated rather than hidden. They wanted to render a secular public sphere tangible, to give it corporeality and granite-like solidity, so they strove to erect monuments, memorials and museums. Freethinkers wanted visibility in the packed US topography of memory. As with so many things that the outnumbered secularists of the US have tried to do, there was often a forlorn quality to their endeavours to concretise their irreligion.

In Freedom We Trust An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty

That did not keep US freethinkers from their building projects. The majoritarian odds against them made them only surer of the importance of materialising their politics and their doubts. The Enlightenment would require its own calendar of festivals and rites, its own pantheon of saints and apotheosised heroes, its own monuments and shrines. That was nowhere more grandly apparent than at the height of the French Revolution when Notre Dame was transformed from a Catholic cathedral to a secular altar for a festival of reason and liberty.


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It was never enough for philosophes to dethrone Christianity; a positive civic faith had to supersede churches, sacraments and Sabbaths. A new age of reason, science, liberty and democratic citizenship would need its own religion of humanity — that proposition absorbed any number of 19th-century expositors, from the French positivist Auguste Comte and the English theorist John Stuart Mill to the US radical Octavius Frothingham.

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Freethinkers recognised the functionality of rites, ceremonies and monuments for the upholding of free enquiry, philanthropic benevolence, scientific knowledge and social solidarity. They saw, too, the importance of ritual for solemnising important life passages.

Without Christianity or Judaism to guide them, they had to become their own liturgists. No one exerted a more lasting influence on the ritual life of US freethinkers than Paine, whose Age of Reason attacking the Bible became the holy writ of 19th-century unbelief. The pedestal was, again, a lot more than a metaphor.

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As early as , the freethinker Gilbert Vale had led efforts to commemorate Paine with a monument in New Rochelle in New York State, where Paine had lived for a time after his return to the US in Over the course of the century, they preserved it from vandals and souvenir-seekers, raised money to refurbish and rededicate it, and made pilgrimages there for picnics and processions. All these commemorative efforts had grown into a full-fledged museum by , thanks especially to the roving freethinker Moncure Conway, whose collecting efforts spanned the Atlantic.

Paine got most of the attention among US freethinkers as a founding father, but they were willing to push their calendar back for the heretic Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake in Rome by the Inquisition in From Copernicus and Galileo to Charles Darwin, Christianity was viewed as having continually tried to suppress new knowledge: Bruno, a dissident Italian cosmologist, was transformed into a martyr for free enquiry, a condensed symbol of the murderous violence and dark anti-intellectualism of the church against which modern science had courageously struggled.

The year became , and many US freethinkers, for a decade and more thereafter, relished flaunting the revised dating system in their correspondence, journals and tracts as a tell-tale sign of their emancipation from Christianity. The veneration of Bruno peaked on 9 June with the grand unveiling of a statue in his honour in the very square in Rome where he had been executed. Unlike most of the memorial efforts in which US secularists participated, the Bruno monument was a global endeavour involving anticlerical, freethinking subscribers from Australia to Italy.

More than 30, people gathered for the event — a striking show of liberal solidarity in the very face of Catholic authority. By those standards, the redress freethinkers gained in was far from perfect.