Thursday, August 7, 2014


I got the letter in the mail, mixed in with the usual miscellaneous advertising circulars, credit card offers, and other debris.

"BLASPHEMOUS," it shouted at me in all caps and bright red lettering.  "SACRILEGE!"

Of course, I opened it.  But I knew what was in it.  It wasn't from a church, because churches don't ever send out general mailers that angry.  Ever.  Never happens.  Warm fuzzy love with nonthreatening multiethnic smiling beautiful families?  That's their schtick.  So who produced this?

It was, of course, from a "freethinking secular humanist magazine."

"You and I are under attack," the letter began, sounding for all the world like a coked-up Rush Limbaugh.  And yeah, I know, it was painkillers.  But imagine what he'd be like if he was on blow.  Lord have mercy.

Anyhoo, the schpiel kicked in, and it was pure fear-based marketing hokum.  This is the magazine "they" don't want you to read!  We dare to ask the offensive questions!  We're the sort of free-thinking forum that they despise!

Inside, a smiling insert of Richard Dawkins.

"And if that's not enough, I'll sweeten the pot," it went on, sounding for all the world like a neoatheist Billy Mays.  "Act now, and we'll rush you a free bonus copy of our book attacking religion!"

Wait, that's wrong.  It was a FREE BONUS.  Sorry.  I'm not quick with the bold and the all caps.

It concluded with an anxiety-tag, as all fear-based marketing does.  If you're intelligent and independent, you'll love this magazine.  You aren't a stupid slave, are you?  Surely, you're not stupid enough not to buy our magazine...and did we mention the FREE BONUS?

It was marketing piffle, of course, but what most struck me was just how unfree it was.

The entire pitch and the promised content focused on "them," the terrible religious people who make everything terrible with their terribleness.  "We are not them.  They are stupid, and we are free from them!  Let's talk about how stupid they are, and how free we are from them.  Have we told you about them, and about how terrible they are?

We have?  Well, we're not done."

They are not free, any more than that friend whose every conversation is a bitter rant about their ex is free.  Freethinking involves not being constrained, to being open to new encounters.  In this country, with freedom of speech and access to any information you want any time you want, freedom of thought is utterly unfettered.

What this magazine promised instead was a smorgasbord of focused polemic, locked into a tight orbit around the object of its hatred.  What it offered was neither progress nor liberty, but the dark target fixation of a bilious obsessive.

So I'll pass, thank you very much.

When I want exciting, critical, rational freethinking, I read Scientific American.