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Todd H. WeirSecularism and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Germany: The Rise of the Fourth Confession

Cambridge University Press, 2014

by Marshall Poe on December 1, 2014

Todd H. Weir

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[Cross-posted from New Books in History]  If you look up the word "secular" in just about about any English-language dictionary, you'll find that the word denotes, among other things, something that is not religious. This "not-religious-ness" would seem to be the modern essence of the word. If a government is secular, it can't be religious. If a court is secular, it can't be religious. If a party is secular, it can't be religious.

But, as Todd H. Weir points out in his fascinating book Secularism and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Germany: The Rise of the Fourth Confession (Cambridge University Press, 2014), the origins of what we might call "secularism"–the faith with no faith–were profoundly religious. To understand how this could be so, Weir takes us back to an age and place–the nineteenth-century German Lands–in which belonging to a church was a matter of state. The question then and there wasn't whether you were going to adhere to a faith, but which one. Yet, in the wake of the Enlightenment, there were those who did not want to belong to one of the "established" (as in "establishment clause") religions. They–"dissenters"–were seeking their own path to God and they petitioned the state to allow them to do so. Sometimes the lords of the land (and often heads of the church) granted this wish; sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they did, reversed themselves, and then reversed themselves again. Given the novelty of "free religion" and "free thinking," it was hard to know what to do. In any case, the back and forth between officials and religious dissenters opened a space–narrow at first and then gradually widening–in which the faithful could be not only different but, well, not very faithful at all. Listen in.

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Greta ChristinaComing Out Atheist: How to do it, How to Help Each Other, and Why

April 23, 2014

Coming out atheist isn't always easy,  but Greta Christina, atheist activist and blogger, has tips to make it easier for those who struggle.  After scouring hundreds of coming-out-atheist stories, she comes to the conclusion that difficult as it may be, very few atheists regret coming out.  Most people report feeling happier and more liberated after […]

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Religion] The notion of secularism is something that has a ubiquitous presence in contemporary society. And while there is a general everyday use of this term, meaning ‘not religious,’ the understanding of this term has shifted throughout time. In Secularism in Antebellum America (University Of Chicago Press, 2011) we are presented with a […]

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January 5, 2014

In the depths of the internet there is many an article discussing the infinity of God.  Its authors argue that God is infinite and endless and knows no bounds (what the difference is among those attributes is not usually explained).  Imputing infinity to God is nothing new – one rarely (if ever) hears of a god […]

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December 6, 2013

In the preface of There was no Jesus, There is no God  (Amazon Digital Services, 2013), Raphael Lataster states that "it is not my job to disprove Christianity or any other religion.  It is not my intention to destroy the fait of the faithful; nor do I desire to offend or upset believers in any way."  His new […]

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Todd H. WeirMonism: Science, Philosophy, Religion, and the History of a Worldview

November 25, 2013

[Cross-posted from New Books in Intellectual History] I always learn something when I interview authors, but in this chat with  Todd H. Weir I learned something startling: I'm a monist. What is more, you may be a monist too and not even know it. Do you believe that there is really only one kind of stuff and […]

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Aaron AdairThe Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View

October 27, 2013

"And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the […]

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John W. LoftusThe Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True

August 26, 2013

With so many religions in the world, how can you tell which one is correct? John W. Loftus tackles this question in his new book, The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True (Prometheus Books, 2013). In order to take on this perplexing question, John Loftus argues for a simple test called the Outsider […]

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Sikivu HutchinsonGodless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

August 12, 2013

Why does it seem like everyone in the atheist movement is white and male?  Are African-American women less interested in secularism?  In her book, Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (Infidel Books, 2013), Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson critiques the mainstream atheist movement’s lack of diversity and uncovers some of the reasons why African-Americans seem so connected […]

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Frans De WaalThe Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among Primates

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Big Ideas] Humans are quite a bit like chimpanzees, genetically speaking. Of course humans are quite a bit like fruit flies, genetically speaking. But when it comes to behavior, humans are much more like chimpanzees than fruit flies. And so the question arrises: what can we learn about ourselves from chimpanzees? According to […]

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