Someone asks, in a comment below, how I read on a treadmill. Here’s how, using a reading desk I built, and suspends from the bookcase — just the right height when I increase the incline. A great way to exercise the mind and body at the same time, like the motto of Dalhousie University: Mens sana in corpore sano.
Over the last few days I have been doing a quick read-through of Susan Jacoby’s new book The Great Agnostic (it has been my companion on my treadmill), about Robert Ingersoll and his place in the history American freethought. I knew little or nothing of the man, and did not realise his stature in the 19th Century United States. He was then a figure larger than life, well-known and loved by many, hated by many more, but an eloquent exponent of freethought, a forward thinking liberal who anticipated many things that are now common knowledge. He would have been surprised at the strength of American religion, which was definitely on the back foot by the time he came to flourish on the lecture circuit in the United States, when both believers and unbelievers flocked to his lectures and were charmed by his speech and charisma. Of all recent American figures, he puts me most in mind of Christopher Hitchens, who, you will remember, made the switch, and gave up his British citizenship to become a citizen of the world’s greatest Republic. I will have more to say about Ingersoll in days to come, but this picture and Ingersoll’s words put so clearly thoughts that have lately seemed so clear to me. Liberty is no safe in the hands of any church. Ingersoll was obviously a very great man, and he should be more often in our thoughts than he has been. It is time for American freethinkers to resurrect this man’s name, and include him in the pantheon of the great liberators of American thought, thought that continues to be in peril, from the church, and from those, also, who forget the tradition in which they stand. Jacoby has an afterword addressed to the new atheists which, I think, we should be wise to read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest what she has to say to us. I should just mention that, though Ingersoll’s English is much better than most English that is read today, he sounds terrifically modern, and many of the things that he was fighting for then, are still not won.
I borrowed the picture (with the quote) from the The Skeptical Teacher. I hope they do not mind.