In this episode, we are diving into the history of the American freethought movement, specifically the “Golden Age of Freethought” from the late nineteenth-century to the beginning of WWI. The orator, essayist, and freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), who was widely known as the “Great Agnostic,” was a key figure during this period, and so we talk about his life and work at length. My guest for this episode is Justin Clark. A public and intellectual historian and graduate of Indiana University, Justin wrote a Master’s thesis on the life and work of Ingersoll and is the co-founder of ReasonRevolution.org, a website about secular humanism, atheism, skepticism, and free thought.
In our discussion, Justin and I covered a lot of ground, including: what differences and similarities exist between the Golden Age of Freethought in the American Midwest and the Enlightenment Deism of eighteenth-century American politics? In what sense can Ingersoll be considered a public intellectual of his time? How and why did the freethought movement in America fall apart by the turn of the twentieth century? Are we living in another Golden Age (or Silver Age) of Freethought in America today? We also tackle the importance and under-appreciation of synthesis and popularization of intellectual endeavors for the benefit of all members of the public.
Reason Revolution website: https://reasonrevolution.org/
Reason Revolution on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReasonOrg
Reason Revolution on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonrevolution
Reason Revolution on YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/ydc8fhe4
Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll
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The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.
The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license.
In this episode, we are doubting the historical existence of a man you may have heard about: Jesus of Nazareth. Ever since critical biblical scholarship began in the eighteenth century, largely a product of the Enlightenment, the consensus among mainstream historians and religious scholars has been that a man named Jesus did historically exist in Palestine and was crucified by the Romans in the first decades of the Common Era. Although these biblical critics did doubt and challenge the reality of the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus as a miracle worker and divinely appointed savior, they did think – or, more precisely, assume – that there was a real man named Jesus upon whom theological legends were later based. But there has always been another school of thought. The mythicists argued that not only was the Christ of faith a theological fantasy, but the Jesus of history was also a fiction. Jesus, said the mythicist scholars, never even existed historically.
Eastern mysticism clashes with rural America in this episode, as we recount a tale of religious bigotry, government paranoia, bombings, wiretapping, poisonings, assassination attempts, and airplane chases. I am joined by my good friend and patron the show Chris Watson, host of The Podunk Polymath Podcast, to review and discuss the six-part Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country. The series chronicles the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram, the once-thriving city established in 1981 in central Oregon by the Indian guru and mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers.
In this episode, we explore the topic of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) within the context of the moral panic and cultural stigmatization that surrounded games like Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s. My special guest is Joseph Laycock, PhD, assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University and the author of three books, including Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. He has also written a book about vampire mythology and the communities that form around them and several journal articles on subjects which include Otherkin, parody religions, and paranormal beliefs.
My guest for this episode is Carly Gelsinger, author, writing teacher, and freelance editor. She holds a bachelor’s in psychology from William Jessup University and a master’s in journalism from Boston University. Her work has appeared in local, regional, and national publications. Her first book, which was released this month, is called Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith, a book about her life inside a fundamentalist Pentecostal church, where she was on fire for the Lord, as they say, until she found the courage to leave and forge her own path free of the toxicity and fear that fundamentalist religion so often breeds.