By George B. Kauffman
Damned Good Company: Twenty Rebels Who Bucked the God Experts by Luis Granados, Humanist Press, 1777 T St. NW, Washington, DC, 2012, $15.00. ISBN 978-0-931779-25-1.
The power from religious authority has been at the center of all human societies from time immemorial. However, those sovereignty claims have been disputed for just as long. In this book, Granados explores 20 cases of brave challenges against those claiming a special authority from God. This is a book about people, not about God, people who have preached about God, taken money for sharing what they say they know about God and ordered others about to enforce what they claim to be God’s will—and a small band of heroes who stood up to them. It is a Profiles in Courage for humanists.
Each hero is contrasted with a villain of his or her time and place–either a God expert like Martin Luther or Joseph Smith or a cynical politician like Mussolini, who never believed in God but exploited religion shamelessly to advance his political ambition. The stories should inspire those today who want to stand up to the Christian Right, the Muslim fanatics, the oppressiveness of Catholic and Jewish orthodoxy, the rising Hindu Taliban and everyone who claims a God-given right to tell the rest of us what to do.
The enhanced eBook has been extensively researched with more than 1,100 footnotes. It takes full advantage of state-of-the-art features with more than 100 pictures, online reader comments, linked videos and hundreds of useful Web links.
Here is a summary of the 20 chapters:
Chapter 1: Socrates vs. Euthyphro: Socrates ridiculed Athens’ leading God expert and wound up paying for his insolence with his life.
Chapter 2: Julian vs. Augustine: Roman Emperor Julian “the Apostate” tried to end the monopoly of Christianity, only to be assassinated by a soldier now revered as a saint.
Chapter 3: Han Yü vs. Hsien- Tsung: One of 9th-century China’s most powerful government officials suffered grievously for questioning the veneration of the Buddha’s finger bone.
Chapter 4: Umayyad vs. Hashimite: Islam is the product of a clash of Arabian dynasties with dramatically different views on the role of religion in government.
Chapter 5: Frederick vs. Gregory: Scientist, diplomat, constitution-maker, poet, bon vivant Emperor Frederick II tried to kick-start Europe’s Enlightenment 500 years ahead of schedule.
Chapter 6: Zhu Di vs. the Mandarins: Long before Columbus, China’s emperor sent an astonishing fleet on a quest to expand human knowledge—only to be thwarted by outraged God experts.
Chapter 7: Erasmus vs. Luther: Two challengers to the Pope’s authority emerged in the 16th century—Martin Luther, who thought he knew more about God than the Pope did, and Erasmus, who thought he knew less.
Chapter 8: Spinoza vs. Zevi: One 17th-century Jew launched the modern secular movement; another bamboozled millions with his claim to be the Messiah.
Chapter 9: Caroline vs. Smallpox: Queen Caroline of Prussia introduced smallpox inoculation to Europe by using it on her own children. She had to fight Protestant God experts every step of the way.
Chapter 10: Voltaire vs. the Jesuits: France’s greatest writer brought down its mightiest religious institution by defending a heretic who already had been executed.
Chapter 11: Paine vs. Talleyrand: Thomas Paine, history’s greatest revolutionary, clashes with the supreme religious hypocrite who smirked that treason is “a question of dates.”
Chapter 12: Harris vs. Smith: Joseph Smith’s audacious scam of finding a magic golden Book of Mormon was nearly derailed by a simple housewife, who was quite willing to believe, if only he would show her the plates.
Chapter 13: Zola vs. Drumont: In his open letter, J’accuse (1898), Emile Zola, France’s most successful writer, sacrificed his fortune, his freedom and ultimately his life to defend Alfred Dreyfuss (1859–1935), a Jew wrongly accused by Catholic God experts.
Chapter 14: Atatürk vs. the Red Sultan: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s revolution dragged Turkey into the modern world: rights for women, sensible laws, mass education and even a new alphabet.
Chapter 15: Darrow vs. Bryan: Flushed with success at banning alcohol in America, William Jennings Bryan tried to ban the teaching of evolution as well. Clarence Darrow (1857–1938) stopped him.
Chapter 16: Azaña vs. Mussolini: The extraordinary story of how America and the other Western democracies allowed the God experts to crush Spain’s humanist revolution.
Chapter 17: Nehru vs. Gandhi: One million dead, 10 million displaced, when Gandhi’s religious wackiness derailed India’s natural path to independence. But for the atheist Nehru, things would have been far worse.
Chapter 18: Nasser vs. Ben- Gurion: Western God experts planted a Jewish theocracy in Palestine, subjugating and expelling the people who already lived there. If American statesmen paid more attention to Nasser than to politics, the world would be a far safer place today.
Chapter 19: Biko vs. Malan: South African apartheid was a religious doctrine, conceived and perfected by God experts of the Dutch Reformed Church. Medical student Steve Biko’s heresy that Blacks are fully human brought the entire edifice crashing down.
Chapter 20: Hirsi Ali vs. Obama: Two children of African fathers came to prominence in this century. Dutch-American activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (b. 1969) risked everything to stand up to powerful God experts; Barack Obama did just the opposite, caving in at every turn to further his own ambition.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.