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 Doubt: A History by Jennifer Hecht
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SFN Die Hard

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Posted - 03/19/2006 :  11:41:18  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message
This book is excellent.

The Freethought Society and Humanist Association in Philadelphia co-sponsor a Secular Book Club, and Doubt: A History was the first book we discussed. Surprisingly, the moderator said the book wasn't recommended to him, but rather, he found it by browsing in a book store. That's a shame because this book is such a wonderful survey of religious doubt in the Western World, that also touches on some aspects of doubt in the Eastern World as they influenced and related to the West.

Jennifer Hecht is a historian and award-winning poet. Her writing style is narrative, clear, and full of personality. At the book club meeting we spent several minutes just raving about how much we enjoyed the writing style.

The story begins with the ancient Greeks, then moves into ancient Judaism, Rome, and early Christianity. Jesus himself becomes an important figure in the history of doubt because by emphasizing faith in a way that Judaism never did, Christianity invented the doubt of the believer and the concept of doubt itself as a grave sin. (Jews, Greeks, and Romans were fine with you as long as you practiced religion. Genuine belief was secondary.) From there it moves into Buddhism and some lesser Eastern schools of thought, Islam, and relates them all to how Christianity and Judaism evolved over the middle ages and into the Enlightenment and modern times. Of course it discusses the role of religion in politics, especially in the era of the secular state, covering the French revolution and the foundation of the United States. The book touches on so many figures in the history of Doubt that even the seasoned freethinker is sure to encounter some new names and stories.

Because the book focusses exclusively on doubt, we get to read about all the arguments among doubters, such as Cicero's fictional story of three debating philosophers: an Epicurian, and Stoic, and a Skeptic. Later comes the long line of doubters who go about their doubting with quiet respect toward believers, in contrast to the doubters who view religion as a scorge that should be removed for the sake of bettering the human condition.

In her conclusion, Hecht states why she wrote this book: "The only thing such doubters really need, that believers have, is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. I hope it is clear now that doubt has such a history of its own, and that to be a doubter is a great old allegiance, deserving quiet respect and open pride." I confidently declare that she provides this. Doubt: A History is a wonderful resource for doubters of all stripes to have on their shelves.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Edited by - marfknox on 03/19/2006 11:44:54
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