Robert Ingersoll was a late 19th-century agnostic who spoke to more Americans than U.S. presidents did, at a time when public lectures were a source of information and entertainment. Known by his clerical opponents as Robert Injuresoul, he argued that the United States was the first secular government in world history, and he introduced Darwinism with skillful humor. Ingersoll was the son of an unsuccessful Presbyterian minister and, like his hero Abraham Lincoln, self-taught. Though little known today, he influenced such figures as Clara Barton, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain and Margaret Sanger (American Scholar, Winter).
Now or never
Jan 17, 2013
An open letter from scientists published in the MIT Technology Review urges President Obama to make addressing global warming the top priority of his second term. The letter, which recognizes that many Americans remain skeptical about global warming, criticizes the president for bungling efforts to create green jobs. It calls on him to impose a carbon tax and fund trillions of dollars worth of research. “We can no longer pretend that addressing climate change will be without real costs” (Washington Examiner, January 12).
A cut apart
Jan 17, 2013
Theologian and Bible scholar Rudolf Bultmann grew up in a family shaped by the pietist revival in Germany. His father, a pastor, eventually became a liberal, but his mother remained attached to the pietist tradition. The two took their theological differences to their graves. The tombstone of Bultmann’s father reads: “I believe in God my father,” a line that reflects the theological liberalism of Adolf Harnack. His mother’s tombstone declares, “I know that my redeemer lives” (Konrad Hammann, Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography, Polebridge).
Jan 17, 2013
As late as the mid-1970s the National Rifle Association (founded in 1871) focused on hunting, conservation and marksmanship. But at its annual meeting in 1977 it was taken over by radical gun rights activists, who reshaped the group’s orientation. The old guard had plans to move headquarters to Colorado, but the new leaders decided that the real action was in Washington. Today the NRA is arguably the most powerful lobbying organization in the country. William J. Vizzard, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms official, says the NRA has no interest in compromise. “They’re not interested in fixing things. They want to stir things up, and the more they stir things up, the more members they get and the more money they make” (Washington Post, January 12).
Jan 03, 2013
This month is the sesquicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, popularly thought to be the act that freed the slaves. In reality, it didn’t free all the slaves, only those in parts of the Confederacy that were in rebellion against the Union. Since those slaves were behind enemy lines, the proclamation couldn’t be enforced, at least not while the Civil War was in progress. The proclamation didn’t apply to parts of the South that weren’t in rebellion or to four border states with slaves who didn’t join the Confederacy. The proclamation, however, set the stage for the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment two years later, which outlawed slavery (USA Today, December 25).