The art of debunking

If you want to understand secularism, Emily Ogden reminds us in Credulity, then you can begin with the art of debunking. Secularism is not only a political project; it is also a way of claiming authority on stage, on the page, and in other popular media. Calling out the frauds and the deceivers, secularism would prove, again and again, that there are no mysteries in the world. Secularism’s bad objects are many and various—priestcraft, hokum, fetish, sleight-of-hand—but it would do the same thing to them all. Secularism would authorize itself, indeed it would summon itself into being, by disenchanting all this bunk. Ogden’s marvelous book shows what secularism loves and not just what it hates, what it desires and not just what it wishes to get rid of; Credulity is, among other things, a study of “debunking’s pleasures.” Could it be that the object of debunking matters less to the secularist than the act itself? Could it be that what secularism really wants is not to banish false prophets but to trot them out, endlessly, so that it can demonstrate its mastery over them?