Unintended Irony

One of my duties here at the library is dealing with the mail. Today I received a fundraising letter from Paul Kurtz of the Center for Inquiry, which publishes Skeptical Inquirer, which we subscribe to, and Free Inquiry, which we do not. In the letter, Mr. Kurtz says the Center’s “ambitious agenda” is to “defend reason, science, and freedom of inquiry even as we create new secular institutions as alternatives to the ancient religions.”

(In passing, I’d like to point out that the construction of that sentence implies that defending reason, science, and freedom of inquiry is unrelated to creating new secular institutions, and that new religions (Mormonism? Scientology? Dawkins-Hitchensism?) seem to be exempt.)

The deliciously ironic thing about this letter is that it has as an epigraph the phrase “…all things are possible.” As in, “With God, all things are possible.” In the body of the letter, Mr. Kurtz attributes the quotation to President-Elect Obama, apparently not realizing where Obama picked the phrase up, or hoping nobody who got the letter would recognize it.

I am all for reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and freedom from imposition of belief; I just don’t trust secularism to do a better job of defending them than religion, and expect it to do a much worse job, in the end. And I will mock mercilessly anyone who makes so careless a blunder, in print, for all the world to see.

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3 Comments on “Unintended Irony”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Kurtz attributed the (latest) use of the phrase to Obama because he’s a relevant figure in 2008 and the immediate future. Of course Kurtz knows that the phrase is also in the Bible–that’s the delicious irony. You only look the fool for mocking it when you apparently don’t understand the ironic usage.

    And you trust religions to safeguard free inquiry better than secular societies? Wow. Maybe you SHOULD subscribe to the other magazine and learn a little bit about religion.

  2. h. goldsmith says:

    I’ll grant that Kurtz (probably) knows the phrase’s origin. His usage in that case would not, however, be ironic. Subversive, maybe; an appropriation of an opponent’s words – like a white supremacist saying “I have a dream that one day white people will rule the world” or McCain trying to pull off a “Yes, we can” – but it’s not irony, because he sincerely believes that “all things are possible,” if we just have enough money.

    As far as trusting religion – allow me to clarify. I am fully aware that religious societies have failed often and spectacularly when it comes to safeguarding individual freedoms, but they have also succeeded. I have yet to hear of a secular society that has succeeded. Nazi Germany? The USSR? Secular societies in which individual freedoms did not exist and inquiry would get you exiled or killed.

    I don’t trust any person or institution in power that uses said power solely to his/hers/its own good. Religious leaders or groups meet that criteria, as do secular ones. Christians, at least, have a reason to value individual freedom – we believe that all people are created equal, in the image of God, and possess incontrovertible free will. Secularists ultimately have nothing to fall back on but nihilism.

  3. h. goldsmith says:

    On an unrelated note, I’m a little curious how you stumbled across my blog – I write it mostly for myself, and I’m a bit surprised to have a visitor I don’t know personally.


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