A History of Doubt

"...right now the truth is I don't think that there is much pride in doubt or much recognition that it has a rich history. And I think that that's really crucial right now, especially because of the way that belief is coming up again as part of policy. That kind of idea, it's got to be met with the voices of people who are looking at things from the other side. And right now, you know, well, I think I'd like to contextualize this a little bit and say that America in the beginning of the 20th century was a wonderful time to be a doubter. You know, Thomas Edison tells The New York Times he doesn't believe in an afterlife. You know, that's something that most people believe in an afterlife wouldn't tell The New York Times today. It was thought of as — the whole idea of nonconformism, of questioning, of bucking the dominant idea was celebrated as part of what democracy desperately needed, really, from John Stuart Mill and Harriet Mill onward, that idea of liberty as being something you have to keep enacting, otherwise you'll lose it.

"And that was celebrated in the beginning of the 20th century. And we really see that close down with the Cold War because the United States felt that it had, well, it had a violent, tense enemy in the communist world, and that communism was equated with making legalist gestures of atheism. Well, that made it seem that atheism was treasonous. And that's when 'Under God' went into the pledge and 'In God We Trust' went on all the money. And when you look at the congressional record, it's very specifically against communist atheism that those things were done.

"Well, we live in a very different world now. In the early 21st century, the murderous tension that we have in the world is with fundamentalist religion that's willing to commit terror. And so it's time to change our stance a little bit."

-- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet and writer of Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth in conversation with Krista Tippeett from On Being (5/3/07)