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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blasphemy Day

I'm just finishing the book Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Hecht for my Humanist book club. One thing that impressed me, other than the author's depth and breadth of knowledge, was just how much the new atheism looks like the old atheism. I found 13 recurring ideas in the book that just might represent the core of atheism. 

The main thesis seems to be that the nature of doubt reflects the nature of belief and vice versa.   When doubters crave knowledge, belief yields to rationalism. When cosmopolitan life exposes believers to rival faiths, dogma yields to tolerance but leaves doubters craving meaning. (Enter Humanism?)

In honor of International Blasphemy Day I've paired some of my favorite quotes with others from antiquity. The similarities are stunning! 

I've used Hecht's classifications where provided, mainly to link philosophers with their movements, whether or not the ideas presented here are representative of either. It's a dense book, but well worth it. The ideas taken from each philosophical tradition aren't necessarily the most representative, but they serve to differentiate each tradition from the rest.

Blasphemy #1: Rationalism

Everything and nothing is sacred; everything and nothing is profane.

Blasphemy #2: Naturalism

There are no miracles; awe is just mystery without the ignorance.


Blasphemy #3: Atheism

Determined faith is wishful thinking.

Blasphemy #4: Empiricism

Discovery trumps revealed faith; prophesy is hearsay.

Blasphemy #5: Cynicism

Immortality is a narcissistic fantasy.


Blasphemy #6: Epicureanism

Divine intervention is a nepotism fantasy; there is no transcendent meaning or cosmic plan.

Blasphemy #7: Antitheism

Certainty licenses coercion; compulsory faith is often insincere and obscurantist.

Blasphemy #8: Stoicism

Faith calls for resignation of the will.

Blasphemy #9: Skepticism

The incorporeal is immaterial; where there is no mass there is no substance.

Blasphemy #10: Humanism

Compassion is a human quality; faith calls for acquiescence to an arbitrary moral code.

Blasphemy #11: Freethought

Faith calls for suspension of the intellect.

Blasphemy #12: Cosmopolitan Doubt

Rival faiths are mutually contradictory; sectarian dogma is internally inconsistent.

Blasphemy #13: Secularism

Civil law trumps religious law; reason is the common currency of civil society.


  1. well-chosen quotes. Sent several out to friends and would you believe it, high school classmates from way back. Who says people get more hidebound with age!!

  2. Funny you should mention that. I was going to end with a reader challenge to come up with different matches for the quotes from antiquity.

  3. Beautiful. I thought some of those exact same thoughts when I first started to doubt. Love it!