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← Book Review: Freedom of Religion & The Secular State

Book Review: Freedom of Religion & The Secular State - Comments

papa lazaru's Avatar Comment 1 by papa lazaru

Really enjoyed his video presentation of the book.

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 07:31:24 UTC | #934082

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 2 by AtheistEgbert

I am currently reading Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby, which I also recommend. I will be buying Blackford's book soon.

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 09:36:38 UTC | #934099

LaurieB's Avatar Comment 3 by LaurieB


I love Freethinkers. Jacoby's book The Age of American Unreason was also great. I just noticed that she has a new one out this year that I didn't know about so I'll add it to my list.

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 11:29:42 UTC | #934116

Stevezar's Avatar Comment 4 by Stevezar

          [Comment 3](/articles/645574-book-review-freedom-of-religion-the-secular-state/comments?page=1#comment_934116) by  [LaurieB](/profiles/31629)          :

                 AtheistEgbertI love Freethinkers.  Jacoby's book The Age of American Unreason was also great. I just noticed that she has a new one out this year that I didn't know about so I'll add it to my list.

I liked "Freethinkers" too, planning on reading it again.

But "Age of American Unreason" I thought was complete nonsense. Basically it was one long diatribe of "our generation was smarter because we didnt play video games". She starts off with a long complaint about using the word "folk" and how it signals the end of civilization. I don't know what you folk out there think about this.

is there any real research she is using to back up the claims of video games, I wonder. I am of roughly the same age as ms Jacoby, I have two kids, and they are light years ahead of where I was.

I was trying to come up with a science experiment with my son for school. I wanted a question he didnt know the answer to (so the hypotheses would be proven wrong). I thought up a conservation of momentum question, "If you drop a rubber ball, will it ever bounce up higher than your hand, no matter how bouncy it is?" He answered with a very definite "no", very likely because he plays a video game where this comes up a lot (Portal and Portal 2, both of which he can finish all by himself).

He is 5 years old.

So I am afraid I will need some evidence, instead of just a bald assertion followed by a book "knowledgeably" written about a topic. It was a disspaointing read. In my cleaning of the house last summer, it didn't make the cut of books to keep in my personal library. Book, meet recycle bin (I didnt want to inflict it on anyone by donating it someplace)

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 14:32:05 UTC | #934148

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 5 by Enlightenme..

'New atheists' are in favour of burqa bans, and treat religious establishment's arguments with categorical derision?

'Radical' secularists who cannot abide utilitarianism?

Thu, 12 Apr 2012 16:31:52 UTC | #934177

Hamilton Jacobi's Avatar Comment 6 by Hamilton Jacobi

There is a nice juicy bit about halfway through Everett's review:

I’m left wondering, because I’ve never seen anything like it, how Michael Ruse has made a contribution to the secular public debate at anything approaching this quality. Correct me if I’m ignorant.

I'm looking forward to the spectacle of Ruse blowing a gasket when he sees this. (Serving to confirm Everett's point while doing so, of course.)

Fri, 13 Apr 2012 00:32:05 UTC | #934302

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 7 by Russell Blackford

Loved Freethinkers. I'm looking forward to reading The Age of American Unreason - I have a copy waiting to be broached. But the video games thing does sound a bit odd. What's that about?

Fri, 13 Apr 2012 01:01:41 UTC | #934304

LaurieB's Avatar Comment 8 by LaurieB


In defense of Susan Jacoby's book, The Age of American Unreason, I have to start off by saying that she never claimed that use of the word "folk" was the end of civilization. She does explain that there is a trend to dumb down political-speak so that certain candidates will appear to be more the type of guy that someone would be comfortable having a beer with. Intellectual elitism is scorned here in America by the Tea Party and science deniers. Here is a section from that book, first edition, hardcover, page 3:

While the word "folks was once a colloquialism with no political meaning, there is no escaping the political meaning of the term when it is reverently invoked by public officials in twenty-first-century America. After the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005, President Bush assured Americans, "I've been in contact with our homeland security folks and I instructed them to be in touch with local and state officials about the fats of what took place here and in London and to be extra vigilant as our folks start heading to work." Bush went on to observe that "the contrast couldn't be clearer, between the intentions of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who've got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks." Those evil terrorists. Our innocent folks.

Jacoby doesn't single out video games for special criticism. In fact she does concede that at least they are interactive. She mostly addressed the problem of the large amount of time that we spend passively in front of screens of any sort, absorbing whatever is presented to us. Video games, TV and internet are what she is discussing. Here is another section where she presents this idea. Age of American Unreason page 251-252:

Of course different media and different activities provide different cognitive rewards by challenging different parts of the brain. Riding a bicycle, milking a cow, and reading a book require the services of different, as well as some of the same, neurons, but only reading is indispensable to intellectual life. The more sophisticated video games require intense concentration, but in the end, the cognitive reward for the master of the game amounts to little more than an improved ability to navigate other, more complex video games. Reading good books, by contrast does little to improve reading skills --certainly not after the age of seven or eight--but it does expand the depth and range of the reader's knowledge and imagination in just about every area of conceivable interest to human beings.....We are reading less because there are only so many hours in a day, but the other half of the explanation is that growing numbers of people, especially the young, prefer to spend t hose hours engaged in various forms of video entertainment, including completely passive forms of video entertainment, including completely passive forms on noninteractive screens, as well as the more cognitively challenging, interactive offerings of video games.

and from page 247:

The more time people spend before the computer screen or any screen, the less time and desire they have for two human activities critical to a fruitful and demanding intellectual life; reading and conversation. The media invade, and in many instances destroy altogether, the silence that promotes reading and the free time required for both solitary thinking and social conversation. Above all, the media extend their domination of cultural life by lowering the age at which children's minds -boy brains and girl brains alike - are exposed to large and continuously increasing doses of packaged entertainment.

Stevezar, I see from your comment that you have a 5 year old, but I recommend that you talk to parents of teens and 20-somethings to get a better idea of what Jacoby is talking about in this book. Although my three 20-something kids were enthusiastic readers when young, and we had no internet in those days, and they spent their free time out running in the neighborhood with their peers, I have had to fight what is sadly, a losing battle with "screen-based" entertainment that she is talking about here. My latest tactic is to give my kids Kindles loaded with books that a young adult couldn't resist. It's working out pretty well. But it's still a screen.

Sat, 14 Apr 2012 11:55:44 UTC | #934597

Stevezar's Avatar Comment 9 by Stevezar

          [Comment 8](/articles/645574-book-review-freedom-of-religion-the-secular-state/comments?page=1#comment_934597) by  [LaurieB](/profiles/31629)          :

                 Stevezar,In defense of Susan Jacoby's book, The Age of American Unreason...

My main complaint against the whole book is that, unless I missed some pretty big sections, she never offers any evidence for her musings. Its just a long series of "our generation is smarter than those new young whippersnappers".

Of course, since IQ scores have been going up and not down, it might be because the evidence doesnt support what she is saying.

But of course, these kids dont text each other as much as I did when I was sixteen! Oh wait, I didnt have texting...yeah I hardly ever wrote anything at all at that age, actually, aside from school assignments. I didn't keep a diary...what other opportunity or motivation did I have for writing back in the 70's? Would anyone care to guess how many more out-of-school words the typical, current teenager wrote compared to me (and I was a compartive bookworm compared to most of the kids I knew back in those days)? I am not sure I even want to try, the numbers would scare me. Maybe they write more in one month than I would in 3 years, thats a good first estimate.

If there is a generation in history that reads and writes more than the current one, please stand up!

Like every other generation in history that predicted the new generation is not going to be as smart as they were (and every generation, as far as I can tell, has done this) this current, old generation will be proven wrong, once again, by the upcoming new generation. Thats my prediction.

Sun, 15 Apr 2012 11:02:36 UTC | #934794

LaurieB's Avatar Comment 10 by LaurieB


No evidence?! There are 9.25 pages of references and citations in the back of that book. Did you miss that? I can't possibly argue every challenge to her presentation of evidence of lack of it in this thread. We are already way off-topic and I apologize to Russell for this diversion.

Russell, your book is on my list now and I will file a request with my local library to purchase it for public access. When I read your book I will be so happy to have the opportunity to discuss it here with others. I wish we could have a book discussion section on this site devoted solely to that.

Sun, 15 Apr 2012 15:00:32 UTC | #934841

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 11 by Russell Blackford

Well ... I hope you enjoy it, Laurie.

Tue, 17 Apr 2012 13:37:36 UTC | #935204