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October 9, 2006

The Book So Far

Article on journalism complete. Back to the book on disbelief.

What I've drafted to date:

1. Prologue built around tales of Charles Bradlaugh and Shelley in 19th-century England.

2. Consideration of disbelief among pre-literate societies. Why religion? My sense that while there wasn't as much irreligion as 19th-century Christian anthropologists found, there was more than 20th-century secular anthropologists have found. Tales of headhunters and fake witches.

3. Disbelief in Egypt, India, Greece and among the Hebrews -- of which there was lots. Sisyphus has become a character.

4. Skepticism as a strain (two strains actually) of disbelief. More Greeks and Hebrews, plus Romans and the first Christians. Making fun of Zeus.

5. And I'm currently trying to work out how disbelief was shut down in the Christian West and maybe not shut down further to the east and south.

The Renaissance, the Enlightenment, that remarkable combination of disbelief and abolitionist, feminist, working-class politics in 19th-century England and America, plus the whole, wild 20th century, still in front of me!

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 9, 2006 1:33 PM


I find #2 quite interesting. It reminds me of taking a History of Ancient Greece course for honors credit in college. The professor was discussing a site in Crete, I think, where, on the top of a short retaining wall near a gate they found a series of indentions arranged in a circle with another in the precise center. Historians and the like had NO IDEA what it was so they ASSUMED it was for some vague and unknown religious purpose.
You have your work cut out for you. You have to not only study what anthrologists believe about belief/disbelief amongst different cultures but why they believe it and then attempt to tease out the truth. My sympathies.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 10, 2006 3:53 PM

Happy to see that the book so far is not strictly chronological, and that Sisyphus has become important... I see his character as this tropological nodal point through which multiple historical-mythological-philosophical threads cross & open up possibilities for thinking what was called, on some of your earlier posts, a positive conception of atheism... is that concept still part of the book, I wonder? it was pretty fascinating to contemplate.

Posted by: JM at October 11, 2006 10:05 PM

A positive view of atheism is positively part of the book. finding it seemed my greatest challenge, but it is there in the anacreontic -- "tra-la-la-la-la-la-live-for-today" (not for some post-death tomorrow) -- attitude that is surprisingly easy to locate in ancient Egypt, India and Greece. It is there in, I believe, some of the attitudes of the Academic Skeptics in Greece and Rome.

Posted by: mitch at October 11, 2006 10:30 PM

OK: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the ways by which this 'tra-la-la' ridiculousness folded itself into the presiding discourses of post-ancient cultures, particularly in the west (gosh, why does 'post-ancient sound so bizarre and yet so cool?) ... b/c you know I don't think that it disappeared, honestly. But i think it went into hiding, became concealed, if you will, b/c the 'regimes of truth' didn't 'allow' its speaking. but i'm sure it's 'there,' only tucked away, in folds of other kinds of discourse. (see, fun w/ language & history!)

Posted by: JM at October 17, 2006 10:21 PM

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