Monday, May 14, 2007


Doubt: A History

Longtime readers of Red State Rabble will be aware that I'm very much enamored with Jennifer Michael Hecht's wise and wonderful Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson .

I love it so much that several years ago I gave copies to my friends during that over-commercialized gift giving binge that falls just after the winter solstice.

Hecht is a poet and professor of history at Nassau Community College in New York. Those of you are unfamiliar with Doubt, poor you, might want to think of it as a companion piece to Jonathan Miller's equally wonderful "Brief History of Disbelief." (see the sidebar for links to the video.)

But, until this weekend when I was tipped by reader JK of Austin, who in turn was tipped by his daughter, I didn't know that American Public Media's "Speaking of Faith" has a podcast of an interview with Hecht about the book and some "outtakes" of her reading from some of her poetry.

Here's a link to the web page where the podcast resides which features an engraving by William Blake titled "Job Rebuked by his Friends" from Illustrations of the Book of Job published in 1825.

Both Hecht and Miller point out that much of what we know about early nonbelievers comes down to us only through the writings of the faithful who argued against them. Why? Because the writings of skeptics were ruthlessly suppressed by pious censors who thought their texts made excellent fuel for their bonfires of ignorance.

One of the things I particularly like about Blake's engraving is that, as Hecht points out in her book, two of the greatest works of doubt -- The Book of Job and Ecclesiastes -- can be found hiding in the Bible, albeit saddled with pious emendations that attempt to conceal the deep skepticism expressed by their authors.

I'm adding the link under Multimedia in the sidebar, as well, so that you can find your way back to it in the future if you like.


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