There’s a fairly new book out called Letters from an Atheist Nation: Godless Voices of America in 1903. How cool is that? It reprints articles from the Blue Grass Blade, a free-thought newspaper from the turn of the century.
In 1903, the “Blue Grass Blade,” a Kentucky/Ohio-based freethought newspaper, which started as the only Prohibition newspaper edited by “a Heathen in the interest of good morals,” requested letters from its readers describing how and why they had become atheists. Lawson has meticulously transcribed these letters from the digitized copies available at the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America” website and has edited them for a 21st-century audience. He touches on the stigma that has been placed on atheism in America and why atheists feel they have to hide their true personalities from their closest friends and family. Like today’s atheists, the writers of these letters hid behind initials and “nom de plumes,” and Lawson has done us a great service by deciphering many of the letter writers’ mysterious pseudonyms to reveal their true identities. Will you find a branch of atheism in YOUR family tree?
The phrases and voices in these letters are over one hundred years old, but the thoughts and sentiments have changed very little, unlike the dogmas and doctrines they were hoping their descendants would have abandoned by now. Their thoughts could be pulled from the latest blogs of non-believers, but these are not merely letters from scientists, scholars, or intimidating intelligentsia, no, these are personal revelations from physicians, lawyers, dentists, veterans, pioneers, settlers, farmers, tradespeople, teenagers, and housewives. These letters are ironically Bible-like in that they are lyrical, repetitive, prophetic, and poetic, but the “revelation” will be left to the reader. If these century-old thoughts sound familiar, it would appear that there is nothing new about OUR century’s “new” atheism.
I didn’t know that there were people who stood up for reason and rational thought at the turn of the century. Though it makes sense – people stood against slavery and for the rights of women; why wouldn’t they also stand against religion and irrational thought?*
*Note: I am not saying here that the same group of people did all three, only that people were willing to stand for what they believed in.