Rob Boston is the Editor of Church & State (Americans United for Separation of Church and State). Here we talk about the costs of freethought.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What costs in history have come with freethought in print?
Rob Boston: In the 19th century and into the 20th, publishers of freethought periodicals and books ran considerable risks. Some states were still prosecuting people for blasphemy then. In addition, the U.S. postal service often refused to handle freethought material. There was also a social cost. Freethought was uncommon at this time and was often equated with immorality. I’m sure a lot of people whom we would consider freethinkers today had to stay in the closet.
Jacobsen: How have the costs diminished in some contexts and increased in others?
Boston: Freethought publications are widely available now, and the internet has made it possible for people all over the world to access them, so that’s a very positive change. But there can still be social costs for coming out as a non-theist. A lot depends on where you live. In some parts of the United States, mainly large urban areas in more progressive regions, you can be an out freethinker without much difficulty and freely read freethought publications. But I know people who live in small towns and rural areas in the Bible Belt who continue to experience problems. Some are afraid to have these magazines even come in the mail. There is a lot of social pressure in these areas to go to church, and there’s bias against atheists, agnostics or humanists. It can be difficult for these people to find work or make friends and social connections; being perceived as the “village atheist” does not help.
Jacobsen: What publications have been leading the charge in the work to advance freethought?
Boston: There are many good publications in the world of freethought, but The Humanist and Free Inquiry are, in my opinion, two of the most important magazines published in this area. Each publication has its own style and way of presenting information, but I believe anyone who considers himself/herself a freethinker will find these publications to be interesting and thought-provoking. I’ve written for both magazines so maybe I’m biased, but I think both are doing a great job explaining the tenets of humanism. I just wish they were more widely read.
Jacobsen: Who has been less acknowledged, but deserves more credit, for their contribution to the early 21st-century work and world of intellectual freethought?
Boston: I think Susan Jacoby deserves more credit than she gets. Susan has written some really great books. In Freethinkers, she examines the history of freethought in America and explains its intellectual lineage. Freethinkers who read this book will better understand the proud intellectual tradition of American freethought. She also shines a light on some figures that have been forgotten. Susan’s biography of Robert Ingersoll is top notch, and Strange Gods is also well worth a look. What I like about Susan’s work is that it’s firmly grounded intellectually but also very approachable. That’s a rare combination these days.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Rob.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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