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Posted by on Dec 4, 2013 in Secularism | 5 comments

Secularism and the Eternal Schism

Does anyone recall the atheist accommodation wars from a few years back? I was a conscientious objector at the time, refusing to heed the call to battle, but fellow Skeptic Ink writer Russell Blackford was down in the trenches, striving to beat back the accommdationist armies with a fusillade of polite and reasoned discourse. While the argument started out on the particular issue of how to deal with anti-science and creationism in particular, it eventually morphed into a more general set of arguments about tone and tactics, as illustrated in this post over at Friendly Atheist. 

There are those who have theorized that the battle lines drawn and alliances assembled back then have largely carried over to the ongoing debate about the optimal relationship between skepticism and feminism, but I’m not going to go into that here. What I am going to do instead is go way back to the very first accommodationist debates in anglophone secularism, which arose between factions of the British freethought movement around 150 years ago. Right around the time that the Americans were gearing up for the Civil War, the secular movement in Britain was undergoing a far more civil conflict between the militant atheist wing lead by Charles Bradlaugh and the moderate secularists lead by George Holyoake.

Here is how Edward Royle characterized the schism in Victorian Infidels: The Origins of the British Secularist Movement, 1791-1866 (pg 280):

Victorian Infidels pg280

Emphasis mine. Royle also comments on this split in his follow up work, Radicals, Secularists, and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain, 1866-1915 (pg 120):
 
Radicals, Secularists, and Republicans pg 120

On one side we have the more militant atheists who want to aggressively confront religious belief, and on the other side we have those who are willing to work with people of faith to further mutual secular goals. Does this sound familiar?

  • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

    And once again, the lessons learned in the past are forgotten by those in the present. This is why work like Susan Jacoby’s on the history of freethought are so important, IMO.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      People should be more well informed about her inspiring career. ;)

    • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

      Wow, what a great write-up by a stellar writer. He should publish a book, that guy.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Or two. Or more.

    • http://www.caleblack.com/ Caleb W. Lack

      ALL THE BOOKS

  • Pingback: Freethought #FridayReads – Bradlaugh vs. Holyoake | Background Probability()