I’ll admit it. I probably wouldn’t have picked up a copy of this book if it weren’t for the fact that Russell Blackford is a fellow member of Skeptic Ink. But, hanging out with the incredibly bright individuals at this network and hearing kudos about this title, I figured I’d give it a whirl.
It’s not my normal reading fare. In fact, I recently finished the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy. Didn’t like it, btw. Insipid, stunningly stupid, I actually skimmed the final installment. It’s an embarrassment to writers worldwide.
I mention this because Blackford’s world and mine rarely merge. I write advertising. It’s my job. I need to know what’s popular, experience it, and be able to connect with a very mainstream audience. Hence, my reading popular fiction. I’m quite comfortable living in Mainstream America. Pondering issues such as Freedom of Religion and the Secular State are far removed from my day to day reality.
However, after cracking open Blackford’s book, it didn’t take long to realize that the issue of church/state has a lot to do with my everyday life. Dang it. In fact, it’s an exceedingly sobering topic that needs far more attention than it gets. Double dang.
Blackford begins his text outlining some fairly snarly scenarios that pretty much anyone in modern society could presumably encounter. Issues such as: should the government “disarm a violence-prone apocalyptic sect” and what would be the ramifications of such an event; tax exemption of churches; the role of turbans burqas in business situations; and such. The ripple effects of these decisions contain side effects I hadn’t considered.
His chapter detailing a “short history of religious intolerance,” was refreshing to read. He presents a more objective view of religious history than I was used to. Before my life in skepticism, everything I’d read concerning this particular topic came straight from adult Sunday School classes. Needless to say, the SS version was a bit biased. It was amazing to read another view on the topic.
I was struck by Blackford’s lack of emotional appeal. Some of his subject matter is truly jaw dropping, but he doesn’t resort to histrionics, fear tactics, or overblown stories to express his opinion. He simply states the succession of events while weaving a very readable story. This “short history” chapter definitely caught my imagination as he served one interesting detail after another. Filled with citations, it’s well documented without being heavy handed.
In his chapter on religion based morality, Blackford tackles difficult subjects such as state mandated religiosity, sexuality, morals, self inflicted harms, and such. This is a deep, multi-faceted chapter that deserves a careful read… perhaps two.
And then we have the kids. In his chapter titled, Religious Freedom and the Interests of Children, Blackford tackles a touchy subject: The welfare of children versus religious belief. Here, he deals with issues of education, medical decisions, indoctrination, and welfare. What is the state’s role in helping avoid “supernatural terrors?” His discussion is particularly enlightening.
Despite my hesitance to tackle this book, I’m glad I did. It’s a rare book that changes my perspective enough to make me view the world through a different lens, but Freedom of Religion and the Secular State did just that. This is an exceedingly well written, super organized book. While it’s not the easiest read in the world, Blackford raises very interesting questions and gave me much to ponder. Highly recommended.