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Ch. 2 - The Way We Lived Then: Intellect and Ignorance... 
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Post Ch. 2 - The Way We Lived Then: Intellect and Ignorance...
Ch. 2 - The Way We Lived Then: Intellect and Ignorance in a Young Nation

Please discuss Ch. 2 here.



Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:18 am
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Jacoby seems to idealize, and maybe idolize, the founding fathers. But I think only a relative few of them (though an important few) can be called Enlightenment rationalists. They tried against great odds to make their vision for the country stick, but they were overwhelmed by the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalists and those who were against serious attempts to provide public education. This is my quickie summary of her argument.

Rationalism is to be admired, of course, but it doesn't hurt to point out that it's not all a person needs. Jefferson might be our ultimate rationalist, but he has qualities that are fully as disturbing as a lack of rationality. He was a hypocritical slave owner, financially profligate, and probably a swindler (according to a recent book). He was one of our great Americans.

I enjoy a good polemic, which is what Jacoby is writing. Most polemics probably lack nuance and simplify complex matters, which is true of this book so far in my opinion.



Fri Mar 14, 2008 10:54 pm
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Post Mid-term exam question
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It is the greatest irony, and a stellar illustration of the law of unintended consequences, that the American experiment in complete religious liberty led large number of Americans to embrace anti-rational, anti-intellectual forms of faith. p. 46


:idea: Why did this happen?



Sat Apr 05, 2008 5:31 pm
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Post Re: Mid-term exam question
LanDroid wrote:
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It is the greatest irony, and a stellar illustration of the law of unintended consequences, that the American experiment in complete religious liberty led large number of Americans to embrace anti-rational, anti-intellectual forms of faith. p. 46


:idea: Why did this happen?



It seems to me and this is just a stab in the dark, The Puritans and other groups that came to this continent to practice their religions in freedom were practicing religions that were anti-rational and anti-intellectual. My question is, how did we get so damned intolerant? Was it always so?


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Sun Apr 06, 2008 1:34 am
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Saffron -

Will you (or anyone else) please elaborate on this theme? What religions were they practicing which were so anti-rational and anti-intellectual?

And wouldn't you say that all religions are anti-intellectual? There are even those who would say that all religions are anti-rational.

But were our founding fathers more irrational or less intellectual than we are today? That's a big, resounding "NO!," isn't it?

Ralph



Sun Apr 06, 2008 1:58 am
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Yes, this did have something to do with the Puritans. Jacoby describes them "...Puritans who had left England for the New World in order to obtain religious liberty for themselves but who did not wish to extend the same privilege to others."

ralphinlaos, One could say all religions are anti-rational or anti-intellectual, but some are worse than others. The Puritans believed in predestination (whether or not you are saved from Hell is determined before you are born), that minor sins such as disobeying your parents are just as bad as murder, every word of the Bible is literally true, etc.

However, there were other faiths competing for converts that were more rational and intellectual such as Methodists, Quakers, and Unitarians. Jacoby is asking why, given our religious freedom, America chose more fundamental forms of faith over others. I'm not going to answer this, we need to dig into Chapter 2 for Jacoby's thoughts...



Sun Apr 06, 2008 6:43 pm
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[quote="LanDroid"] Jacoby is asking why, given our religious freedom, America chose more fundamental forms of faith over others. I'm not going to answer this, we need to dig into Chapter 2 for Jacoby's thoughts...


Statistically, I'm not sure we could say fundamentalists were a majority, though, or even that this modern distinction has much meaning for those times. I've seen "evangelical" used and would prefer that, I think.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that religion is incompatible with intellectualism and rational thought. There have been many, many people worthy of the name intellectual who nevertheless operated from within the framework of a religious tradition. It is impossible for anyone to be open to all ideas, so the fact that someone doesn't entertain all notions can't disqualify him/her.

Do you agree with the statement that no matter what quality is being discussed, it is possible to overvalue it? I'd say rationalism/intellectualism is not an exception. Some people who are quite rational apparently choose to use a different part of their mind to participate in their religion. This alone doesn't make them anti-anything, though.

Just wanted to try to keep the middle of the road in sight...
Will



Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:53 pm
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Jacoby does mention evangelicals and contrasts them with fundamentalists. She is not saying all believers are anti-rational, but she is interested in why fundamentalism is so strong in America. Again, given our religious freedoms, why didn't less superstitious forms of faith become stronger?



Mon Apr 07, 2008 8:58 pm
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Post Education
Chapter 2 also discusses early proposals for education.
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In the 1790s, Madison and Jefferson had stood nearly alone in their advocacy of general taxation for schools, then thought to be the responsibility of parents who wanted education for their children and were willing and able to pay for it. p. 49

A rather surprising attitude, education as a luxury?

Another interesting development resulted from schools becoming more pluralistic, with children from a wide variety of (Christian) denominations. This was actually a force for secularization of schools as parents did not want their children indoctrinated by other denominations...

A sad discussion of the differences in education between the North and the South...
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By the 1830s, it was already clear that urban areas would have better schools than rural areas, that wealthy communities and states would have better schools than poor ones, and that the most literate, best educated citizens would finance better schools for their children than their less literate and educated fellow citizens. Above all, it was clear that the North would have better schools than the South. p. 52



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Landroid wrote:

Quote:
Chapter 2 also discusses early proposals for education.
Quote:
In the 1790s, Madison and Jefferson had stood nearly alone in their advocacy of general taxation for schools, then thought to be the responsibility of parents who wanted education for their children and were willing and able to pay for it. p. 49

A rather surprising attitude, education as a luxury?


Yes, in 1790 Madison and Jefferson's attitude would have been revolutionary.

In France, free, compulsory and secular primary school education (until age 14) was only implemented in 1882 with the Jules Ferry laws.
But then all schools got exactly the same funding. This was seen as very progressive at the time I think.


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Tue Apr 08, 2008 2:12 am
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LanDroid wrote:
Again, given our religious freedoms, why didn't less superstitious forms of faith become stronger?


Could you give an example of a less superstitious form of faith?



Tue Apr 08, 2008 8:33 pm
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DWill wrote:
LanDroid wrote:
Again, given our religious freedoms, why didn't less superstitious forms of faith become stronger?


Could you give an example of a less superstitious form of faith?


Hi DWill. I think this is a great question. The common sceptical assumption is faith = superstition, based on the view that if it is true you don't need faith to believe it, so faith is reserved for propositions which are prima facie absurd. However, we do require non-superstitious faith for daily life, for example the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, that the future will somehow conform to the past, that people can be trusted, and that values such as goodness and mercy and love can be understood and promoted. All statements of value boil down to claims of faith, in that logically they cannot be derived from statements of fact. Whenever we need to make a leap in the dark, a judgment based on intuition, a confident guess based on partial information, we are applying faith.

Regarding LanDroid's point, I also think it is a mystery that dominant forms of religion are so irrational in such a smart and free place as the USA. It is possible to construct a rational story about why Jesus Christ can be viewed as 'Lord and Saviour' which does not rely on superstitious claims which have been debunked by science. If Jesus was simply the most spiritual person in human history, an avatar like the Buddha, all the good bits of Christianity remain equally valid. It is only the false rubbish, such as belief in heaven and the virgin birth, that needs to be junked. Christianity is in essence compatible with the atheism of Benedict Spinoza who equated God and nature. Such an atheist Christianity is much more moral than the superstitious foolishness we now see, as it demands that ethics of love and friendship be based on evidence rather than on empty and false threats of hellfire. I think an evidence based religion is what Jesus wanted, but the corruption of the church found that evidence did not serve its political interests so they turned instead to terrifying people with imaginary lies.



Tue Apr 08, 2008 10:45 pm
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I agree, DWill, excellent question - and one still waiting to be answered.

Robert, are you saying that in order to be a good, decent human being, I must have faith? Faith in what? A higher power? My own abilities? What?

"Dominant forms of religion;" what are these? Catholics, Baptists, Methodists - these seem to be dominant forms of religion in the US, right? And "such a smart and free place as the USA." Well, I am a citizen of the US and I would argue that we are a lot freer than we are smart.

Ralph



Wed Apr 09, 2008 2:15 am
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ralphinlaos, We could contrast the faith of Thomas Jefferson which inspired him to write the Jefferson Bible with fundamentalism. We could also contrast fundamentalists on one hand with Unitarians and Liberal Quakers on the other. I've attended a Unitarian Church that had an atheist minister, half of the congregation was atheist and the other half a conglomeration of new agers, Wiccans, etc. Some Liberal Quakers believe that if following your inner light leads one to Buddhism, that's an acceptable form of Quakerism. I doubt these extreme wings existed during the time of the founding fathers, but still the question is why did fundamentalism thrive under our system of religious freedom? I can't find the quote, but Jacoby wonders why this happened when even Unitarianism was too restricting for R. W. Emerson.



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Oh, LanDroid, you are way ahead of me. I didn't even know that Thomas Jefferson wrote a bible. He wrote one? Or translated one into English? Do you know of anywhere on-line where I could read a portion of Jefferson's bible?

I would enjoy comparing Jefferson's beliefs with today's fundamentalists. I'll wager there are more similarities than differences.

What did he really think about adultery? Theft? Has the "Sally Hemmings" story ever been proven or disproven? Is it a fact?

So, if someone asks me what religion am I and I reply, "Unitarian," it means nothing, right? Same with Quaker? I know that if I say "Methodist" or "Catholic," they'll have an idea of my beliefs.

My Buddhist friends here in Laos will be surprised to hear that they are practicing a form of Quakerism. Interesting!

Ralph



Wed Apr 09, 2008 7:22 am
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