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The Great Agnostic

Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought

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During the Gilded Age, which saw the dawn of America’s enduring culture wars,Robert Green Ingersoll was known as “the Great Agnostic.” The nation’s most famous orator,he raised his voice on behalf of Enlightenment reason, secularism, and the separation of church and state with a vigor unmatched since America’s revolutionary generation. When he died in 1899,even his religious enemies acknowledged that he might have aspired to the U.S. presidency had he been willing to mask his opposition to religion. To the question that retains its controversial power today—was the United States founded as a Christian nation?—Ingersoll answered an emphatic no.

In this provocative biography, Susan Jacoby, the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, restores Ingersoll to his rightful place in an American intellectual tradition extending from Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine to the current generation of “new atheists.” Jacoby illuminates the ways in which America’s often-denigrated and forgotten secular history encompasses issues, ranging from women’s rights to evolution, as potent and divisive today as they were in Ingersoll’s time. Ingersoll emerges in this portraitas one of the indispensable public figures who keep an alternative version of history alive. He devoted his life to that greatest secular idea of all—liberty of conscience belonging to the religious and nonreligious alike.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 29, 2012 – A rare all-American atheist is celebrated in this provocative if hagiographic sketch. Journalist and atheist intellectual Jacoby (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism) recaps the Gilded Age career of Robert Green Ingersoll, an influential lawyer and liberal Republican orator dubbed The Great Agnostic for his wildly popular lectures on religion, evolution, and other hot-button issues. Her brisk, lucid study makes him an apostle of irreligion in the tradition of Thomas Paine: a minister s son steeped in Christian doctrine, Ingersoll used folksy humor, clear expositions, and conversational language to extol science and condemn religious cant. (He lampooned the notion of intelligent design by touting cancer as the capstone of God s plan.) She also styles him a paragon of progressive politics and culture she appends his luminous eulogy for Walt Whitman and a near-saintly exemplar of secular humanism, complete with deathbed scene bathed in the joyful denial of a world to come. The author sets her frankly laudatory portrait her afterword enjoins latter-day New Atheists to honor Ingersoll s memory in an insightful analysis of the late Victorian clash between a scientific, Darwinian worldview and a fundamentalist backlash. Jacoby is hardly neutral in that culture war, but her stimulating study shows that rationalist skepticism is as authentic and deep-seated as America s fabled religiosity. Photos.
The Great Agnostic
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Jan 08, 2013
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Seller: Yale University
  • Print Length: 192 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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