About Susan Jacoby

Susan Jacoby, a regular On Faith panelist, is the author of nine books, including the bestselling “The Age of American … Continued

Susan Jacoby, a regular On Faith panelist, is the author of nine books, including the bestselling “The Age of American Unreason.” Program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, a rationalist think tank, Jacoby is an independent scholar whose work now focuses on American intellectual history. She is a member of the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America. She began her writing career as a reporter for The Washington Post.

Jacoby’s “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” (2004), was hailed in The New York Times as an “ardent and insightful work” that “seeks to rescue a proud tradition from the indifference of posterity.” Named a notable nonfiction book of 2004 by The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, Freethinkers was cited in England as one of the outstanding international books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Freethinkers was featured in an interview on NOW with Bill Moyers.

Jacoby’s previous books, include “Moscow Conversations” (1972), based on her experiences in Moscow from 1969 to 1971. Among her other books are “Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge” (Harper & Row), a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1984, and “Half-Jew: A Daughter’s Search for Her Family’s Buried Past” (Scribner, 2000).

Jacoby has been a contributor for more than 25 years, on topics including law, religion, medicine, aging, women’s rights, political dissent in the Soviet Union, and Russian literature, to a wide range of periodicals and newspapers. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Book World, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Newsday, Harper’s, The Nation, Vogue, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the AARP Magazine, among other publications. They have been reprinted in numerous anthologies of columns and magazine articles.

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  • blasmaic

    Is this the latest re-incarnation of the Secularist’s Corner?

  • snj1

    I’m probably about as liberal as they come religiously, but, I’m sorry, why is an atheist included in a blog titled “On Faith?” I think there is much room to criticize what is done in the name of religion, or even particular religious beliefs or practices, but if you have no religious faith I get it. What more could you possibly offer to a dialogue “On Faith” other than your personal disdain of believers?

  • theFieldMarshall

    “why is an atheist included in a blog titled “On Faith?” … but if you have no religious faith… What more could you possibly offer to a dialogue “On Faith” other than your personal disdain of believers?”That’s where you’re wrong. Atheism is also a belief, as the existence of a God can neither be proved nor disprovedand.

  • right_as_rain

    Well said, atheism is not a religion, and I would not call it merely a ‘belief system’. The primary difference is that it does not rely on belief in phenomena that is impossible to substantiate. I find it most appealing as the apex of rational thought applied to the notion of the mystical/religious aspects of human experience. If god (not one of those fakirs who claim devine mandate) went on a speaking tour and introduced ‘it’ self to the world and made clear ‘its’ will, – well, then I’d have reason to believe. The silly charade that parades around in the guise of religion is immoral, as at its base, it is a lie, and extremely corrosive and destructive to humankind and all we have accepted power over. The fact that religious experience has played a significant role in human development does not afford religion a central role in the future. It is a false pretense because religion is not what has played a significant role, it has usurped the significance of the human minds need to explain the experience of living and existence. That native on-board curiosity and propensity to apply ones intellect to understanding ones surroundings, ones circumstances, that is what has significantly shaped humanity. Too often, that has been mistakenly invested in chasing chimeras, demons, gods and fairies. Too often, the ephemeral nature of mystical/spiritual rooted sentiment has been hijacked, used and abused by those trying to exert power over populations of people. Too often, even today, religion is falsely employed in a perversion of righteousness and compassion. Righteousness and compassion can exist without religion, depending on ones outlook, the opposite might not be true. Today, we have better answers, more reliable and substantive answers that are backed up by empirical evidence. I have been blessed having not been born into some preset dogma. I have looked and felt into a number of flavors of religions. Some are fond of the glib line; “…stand for something, or you will fall for anything….” – how trite and foolish. I would suggest one can stand for what can be substantiated, that which we all can bear unequivocal witness to. That which is and leave the wild fanciful speculation in the field of speculation. The fruits of imagination are many. Some are beautiful and some are monstrous. To commingle these artifacts with the ‘meaning of life’ by expressing them religiously is foolish and dangerous. To the point, god didn’t say it, I don’t believe it, and if I’m wrong – prove it, and that’s that.

  • hyjanks

    I consider myself one of those “kind atheists” simply because I’ve been made aware though the study of religion and personal exposure to all sorts of believers–fanatic and otherwise–that my morals and ethics are usualy far superior to theirs.

  • jinnyhann

    While I respect everyone’s right to their beliefs — regligious, atheist, etc. — I just don’t get why an atheist view is included in “On Faith.” I understand that the moniker “On Faith” may encompass having none in a ‘supreme being.’ Yet I’m uncomfortable that many atheists, by exalting reason and the ‘limitless potential of the human mind,’ seem to denigrate the views of those who admit possibilities wider than what we can prove or disprove. Another question: Human beings have had a long time to solve a lot of problems, and we have in fact plumbed the depths of many mysteries. But if reason really rules, shouldn’t we have been able to — by now — successfully address some of the horrific and univeral problems our world continues to experience, and in many ways, seem to be getting little better? While faith in a God also has not solved these problems, it provides a basis for hope and compassionate living for millions of people. And again, it admits the possibility that there might be more to “life” and “time” that what we can see and prove.

  • mhr614

    Atheists don’t believe in God- that’s fine. But, pray tell, why have them become so militant about it? Proselytizing once was the province of religious people. If atheists are certain they are correct, why not leave conversions to religions and stay home and contemplate their belief in nothingness?

  • mccormickellen

    Some interesting ideas about “faith” and spirituality can be found at bespiritual.info.

  • dclb

    This is, without question, the most eloquent explanation of the values underpinning atheism that I have ever encountered.Thank you.

  • csintala79

    A misimpression is given by this article that the only choices are theism and atheism. Even among theists there is disagreement as to the nature of god. For example, polytheists believe in multiple gods, with, perhaps, and overarching deity, while dualists, such as Zoroastrians (today surviving as Parsees in India) and Manichaeians believe in dual deities, one of whom is good, the other malevolent. On the subject of polytheism, scripture, for example Exodus 34:13-14, seems to imply that the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the only god: “Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. 13You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles* 14(for you shall worship no other god, because the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” Note that this passage does not command believers to not worship “false” gods, but not to worship “other” gods. Also this passage, as well as many others in the Old Testament, attribute what we mere mortals would consider faults and weaknesses to its supreme deity; in this case, jealousy.

  • chatard

    “On Faith now will allow somebody who doesn’t have any to take over this column twice a week. Proving once again that Quinn and Meacham could care less about your faith.

  • LaBarge

    I’m an atheist, and I can’t for the life of me understand why preposterous beliefs — particularly when carried into the public, political realm — need be protected from rational critique in the case of religion but nowhere else.People of course are free to believe whatever they like but that doesn’t mean their belief is beyond criticism or counter. They are free to hold it. That’s all. Once in the public realm, their belief is in play like any other.Take the case of laws or proposed Constitutional amendments: Hear this: I don’t care what it says in the bible about this, that, or the other thing. What it says in the bible matters not at all to those who aren’t believers.

  • johnturkal1

    Personally I find no reason to be upset. If you can’t accept that others don’t have your beliefs, maybe you’re the one on shaky ground. Regardless of your beliefs, the literal belief in creation is just as naive as the believe that the universe occurred from a “Puff the Magic Dragon moment”. Neither positions are logical.

  • klausdmk

    Do you believe in God? Yes, and here is why,I remembered the words of those angelic beings who spoke to the followers of Jesus on the first Easter morning. “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!” (Luke 24:5-6, KJV).Celebrate Easter with the living God from Christ who lives within us by the Spirit in the name of Jesus.

  • IliadTerra

    Aargh!Okay okay, so okay… I mean how dense!How does one penetrate an obtuse obstinate and oblivious “obo” with a fresh breath of the obvious if she is so obnoxiously obfuscated in her observations… Ewwww!Susan Jacoby obviates transcendence with her immanent profundity and expertise and wisdom. She writes: “…as an experience that goes beyond and defies the usual limits of nature…”Whoa!! “USUAL” limits of nature?!!! Um, where do she get off on that bit of garnish? Won’t she please define each of those pretty little words she uses wantonly? I’d like to know.

  • cadam72

    For those who wonder why an Athiest is on the “on Faith” panel, Jacoby adds to the discussion in that she can show another aspect of morality that had inherant meaning, but happens to be outside of the Judeo-Christian realm. As many Christians and Jews would point to a God-given morality but would still have very distict views on certain moral questions, even within their own faith (historically – Homosexuality, slavery, role of women in church, working on sabbath, capital punishment, etc), Jacoby can lend a voice to those of us who have a morality that is personal and shaped by society but are not driven by Judaic law. In fact, we may argue that the great moral laws cross all religions at their best (Christian, Buddhism, Judiasm, Islam, Hinduism) BECAUSE they are universal (give to take) human ideas of how to treat one another and create a stable society that were elivated to the ideals setforth by a higher power. Atheism, in a mature form, is not angry anarchy that lashes out at religion, but simply looking for a collective and personal moral code independant of an external god and an uneasiness with god driven framework that seems to many of us to be extranious to the equations of 1) How do yo treat each other well, 2) How do you set a common sense of morality, 3) How do you set a balance between duty, punishement, etc. Athiests are “evil” but are normal folks who want to build a moral society outside of personal religious worship and the fractionalizatoin that it may cause (your religion or mine!).