Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The perfidy of Christians

Robert Ingersoll was perhaps the 19th century's most well-known atheist. A new, approving, biography has just been published. Alan Jacobs notes a review of the book that is critical, not so much of Ingersoll, but of the book's repetition of seemingly indestructible myths:
Few American publishers these days will fact-check an assertion about the perfidy of Christians (or of religious believers more generally). And Yale University Press apparently continues that practice of benign neglect of gross error in publishing Susan Jacoby’s new book about Robert Ingersoll. My friend and colleague Tim Larsen reviews Jacoby’s book....:
.... Christians opposed the use of anesthetics for women in labor because Genesis is supposed to teach that childbearing should be painful. Especially Calvinists, we are informed, believed that “new drugs to ease pain were ungodly.” Alas, this is completely an urban legend perpetuated by an ill-informed atheist subculture. If the warfare-of-faith-and-science myth is the equivalent of thinking that President Obama is anti-American, then the anesthetics clincher to prove it makes one a “birther” in another sense. ....

The first of Jacoby’s two appendices is a letter that Ingersoll wrote against vivisection. This is the humane Bob that we all love at his best. Nevertheless, for Jacoby’s polemical purposes, it is still a part of her enclave’s groundless and twisted conspiracy thinking. She imagines that cruelty to animals was happening because it was “justified by biblical precepts.” It is strange to imagine this counter-factual history in which ministers of the Gospel were giving addresses across the nation in favor of vivisection.

Who was actually doing that? The scientists and medical researchers who Jacoby has heroically benefiting mankind by defying and supplanting the clerics. Who actually founded the American Anti-Vivisection Society? Caroline Earle White, an adult convert to Roman Catholicism (a form of Christianity that comes in for Jacoby’s special ire.)
.... It’s fascinating, in a dreary sort of way, to see how many things people write about religion that they just know to be true, and that are never looked up because editors and proofreaders also just know them to be true. Consider for instance the myth that Christians long believed and taught that the earth was flat. ....

Somebody who already just knows that Christians opposed anesthesia in childbirth will read Jacoby and have that belief confirmed, then will tell someone else, or write it in a blog post, and so we continue to go round and round and round in the circle game. ...
Slander is Indestructible | The American Conservative
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